A manager helping an employee in the aisle of a grocery store, displaying how to be a good line manager.

What does it mean to be a good line manager? What are the responsibilities of line managers?

The first stage of the Leadership Pipeline is the line manager. They are the ones who manage a team of front-line workers who directly handle the organization’s day-to-day operations.

Continue reading to learn how to be a good line manager to your employees.

What Is a Line Manager?

Often, line managers are former front-line workers who showed enough leadership potential to get promoted. According to the authors, it can be hard learning how to be a good line manager at first. Many new line managers struggle to make a necessary mindset shift: to value the results they achieve through others rather than only identifying with their own work. This shift is challenging because line managers used to be front-line workers, to whom it often seems like managers don’t do real work at all. New managers need to realize that skilled management is just as important and productive as front-line work, even if it’s a level removed from the work they’re used to accomplishing.

When Managerial Work Really Is Pointless

The authors note that line managers fail to reach their full potential when they falsely assume that their new work is valueless. That said, some experts believe that many managerial jobs truly are valueless. In Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber argues that some companies maintain unnecessary positions to keep up the appearance of productivity or because they assume a team needs full-time management when it doesn’t.

While being paid to fill an unnecessary position may seem appealing, staying in a job that you know is pointless is psychologically damaging over time. When the work you do doesn’t matter, it makes you feel like you don’t matter. Furthermore, many people in pointless jobs are constantly stressed that others will discover that they’re not doing real, valuable work, leading to feelings of isolation. Thus, if you end up in a line management role that’s truly unnecessary, consider looking for a way to make your work more impactful or searching for a different position.

Line Managers Must Learn Management Basics

Since they typically lack management experience, line managers must learn the basics of management from scratch, explain the authors. Specifically, line managers must learn how to delegate well: They must understand what work needs to get done and divide it up among the team in a way that empowers everyone to do their best work.

(Shortform note: In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey warns that managers need to avoid “gofer delegation”—that is, telling people exactly what to do and how to do it. This strategy results in micromanagement, as managers end up hovering around their team to ensure that they’re doing everything the “right” way. Instead of telling their team what to do, they can let the team discover their own solutions as long as they communicate six expectations: What needs to get done, any parameters they must obey, ineffective solutions to avoid, the resources they have at their disposal, how the results will be judged, and the consequences of their success or failure.)

Additionally, line managers need to build strong interpersonal skills. When subordinates see their manager as approachable and trustworthy, they’re more likely to collaborate to accomplish the team’s mission.

(Shortform note: In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek asserts that managers don’t need to be exceptionally charismatic to build this kind of trust with their team. If you empathize with team members and show them that you’re there to support them, feelings of trust will grow naturally over time.)

How to Be a Good Line Manager: Learning the Basics

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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