Here’s why you need to ask whether you have ‘people’ managers or ‘line’ managers

I was in the pub the other day with a friend of mine. He works in the charity sector and was recounting his challenges with his current line manager. She’d been somebody who had been in the organisation for between six to eight years and it was the first company she’d joined from university.

My mate was frustrated because his approach to people management, having had to learn the hard way through a few years of experience, was slightly different to hers. He currently has a team of people and his management ethos is focused on outputs i.e. if his team are delivering on the objectives of his department then he is happy. It means they are progressing and meeting targets and that is for the benefit of the company.

His boss, in comparison, seemed more focused on being an ‘enforcement officer’ for their part of the business. She was somebody who was a stickler for timekeeping, who was focused more on treating people more like unruly school kids who needed to be Victorian-era style ‘whipped into shape’. Of course, whilst practicing my ‘active listening’ I was also taking time to understand and empathise with a friend over a jar or two of a Danish-based lager, but as we spoke there was something burning away in the back of my mind.

What influences a Manager's leadership style?

Is this a personality trait of the individual in question? Or is this a cultural issue within that business?

I posed this question to my friend and he wasn’t exactly sure. It had occurred to me that whilst he was frustrated with her management style specifically, there was perhaps a wider issue within the business that had in fact caused the way in which she managed others.

Was she treated similarly by her line managers when she had first started and, without any frame of reference, had simply followed on her experiences with her own staff?

We started to muse over this and a wider issue that – bit of a work-related plug alert – my company LACE Partners touched on in a whitepaper we wrote last year. The report is HR on the Offensive and one of the key themes is around line manager capability. What got me thinking about the report and, as a result, had me questioning with my friend, was whether this particular line manager had ever been given any guidance or training on effective people management.

We see it so often in workplaces. Individuals join a business, are good at their job, are promoted and the expectation is that they will simply be able to line manage others as they move to more senior positions. But effective people management isn’t something that is intrinsic in every individual. Just because someone is good at the technical aspects of their job, it doesn’t mean they are the best person to manage others if they are promoted into a role with team management responsibilities.
Giving people the tools to improve their people management skills is something that I think is essential, but as a line manager myself for many years and with a few different businesses, I feel it is often overlooked.

So, I would challenge any person reading this: does your organisation have the kind of culture that supports its line managers to be good people managers? Do you recognise the need to train your people in people management?

If the answer is yes, then I raise my Danish-based lager in your direction and say “keep up the good work”. If it’s a ‘no’ then perhaps ask a question:

How do we train our line managers to be better people managers?

All of this whilst deciding who gets the next round in at a bar in Stratford. It’s amazing the benefits of a good beverage and good company, eh?

If you'd like to talk to LACE Partners about your people management strategy then get in contact with us on +44 (0) 20 8065 0310 or email info@lacepartners.co.uk. You can also connect with Chris on LinkedIn.