Leadership | Thinking like a Leader: Front-Line Management Essentials

Thinking like a Leader: Front-Line Management Essentials

First-line leaders are the largest and arguably most important group of leaders in any organisation. Without them, strategic and change initiatives simply will not happen. They are close enough to customers to be pivotal in the feedback/continuous improvement loop. They hold the power to make or break your company’s employee engagement efforts.

The role of the front-line leader today is more challenging than ever. Advances in technology, constant and increasing levels of change, and the pressure to deliver business results despite unprecedented cost and resource constraints have created a more complex workplace.

In an effort to quell some of the anxieties and stress that comes with leadership today, it's important to provide these front-liners with essential leadership practices.

In our nearly five decades of research, we've found that leaders do many things well, but it’s significant that, early on, highly effective leaders develop mastery in several key areas. They start to think like a leader and recognise that they now need to delegate and empower others in order to get results. They develop and drive their team to success, grasping the importance of engaging people and coaching their teams.

Here are four questions to ask of your first-line leaders

1. What’s getting in the way of ‘thinking like a leader’?

Lack of time is one of the main reasons that people give for not carrying out people management responsibilities such as coaching or delegating. It’s common to continue approaching the role of a line manager as if you were an individual contributor – focusing on the task and ensuring the work is done.

Our recommendation: First-line leaders should examine the barriers to purposeful action – what is truly getting in their way? Are they still holding onto the most interesting projects? Are they not finding time to spend with team members? Only by listing these out as honestly as they can will they begin to overcome the barriers.

2. How do they know where to invest their time?

With all the best intentions, it can still be difficult for leaders to prioritise their time when diaries are full and an inbox of urgent emails demands attention.

We recommend focusing on value, using the matrix below. How much does an activity contribute value to their own goals and objectives? To the organisational strategy? To the team’s ability to succeed?

Once they’ve analysed the work, they then have to make a decision about what to do next. This is where the decision tree below is useful. It helps the leader to make sure they are continuing to focus on getting results through others and thinking more strategically, rather than piling more and more work on themselves.

3. How do they choose the right person to delegate to?

As a new leader, it can be difficult to feel confident delegating. Some people tell us they’re uncomfortable giving other people what they see as ‘their’ work, whilst others find it hard to let go of controlling the outcome. A key part of delegation is making sure that you choose the right person for the right task.

We recommend considering the following:

  • What technical and interpersonal skills are required?

  • Has anyone got similar experience?

  • Do they have sufficient knowledge of the organisation?

  • Do they have the required degree of self-confidence to carry out the tasks?

  • Who has enough time to take this on?

4. How do they support their team’s engagement?

High engagement results from a deep sense of ownership for the organisation and strong feelings of involvement, commitment, and absorption in one’s work. It’s critical to take the time to understand what drives the engagement of every individual in a team. Accomplishment? Recognition? Enjoyment? Belonging? Advancement? All are important, but how much they matter will vary hugely between different individuals.

Support your front-line leaders today

As part of our mission to empower all leaders to lead in all situations, we have made course materials dedicated to First-Line Leadership Essentials available for free on our open-source platform, Universal Access.

Access First-Line Leadership Essentials course materials here - it’s free!