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What I learnt being a First Line Manager

N.B. This post was first published by the author on LinkedIn on 17 November, 2014.

In August 2013, I became a First Line Manager for the first time at The Oxford Group ( Having been in the workforce for over 12 years I had seen my fair share of good, bad, and downright terrible people managers. Going into the role, I made a commitment to keeping the lessons I’ve learned from them at the front of my mind. While this was a useful tactic, there were a number of lessons I learnt being a manager myself that really made an impact on my development:

It’s not about me The biggest lesson, and change, I faced was going from contributor to manager. I was secure in my knowledge of how I could contribute to team goals, and reach my own, but it was now time to take a step back (or up above) and look at how I could best manage my team so that we reached our team goals and those of the organization.

I wasn’t just looking after number one anymore and ensuring I held up my end of the bargain with projects. Workload planning no longer meant looking after my own ‘to do’ list, but took on a more strategic shape.

This meant two things:

  • Delegation! One of the scariest concepts known to new managers, but I came to understand that this is a good thing! It not only reduced my workload so I could focus on larger strategic activities, but it made sure everyone had a chance to participate in activities and understand how to undertake tasks if someone is away.

  • Recognising and understanding people’s passions and building a team where each person works to their strengths. This is a more efficient way of working (if someone loved what they were doing and were good at it, they were more productive), allowed me to tailor projects so they offered solid development opportunities, and made for a happy team.

Listen – don’t just hear I have had to make a very conscious effort to really take time to listen to my colleagues. Not just hear the words they say, but understand what they mean, and feel the words that aren’t being said. The constant ping of emails, ring of the phones and people coming to my desk made for a very distracting environment, and I am the first to admit that if people are talking to me while I’m at my desk, I’m not always the best listener.

The best way to do this was to schedule weekly 1:1 meetings with my direct reports in a quiet room, with no technology, so I could really find out how they work and listen to what was going on for them. This will be a lifelong challenge for me, but becoming aware that I wasn’t doing this well has been the first, and most important, step.

Relax and embrace vulnerability

Contrary to what I believed to begin with, being a First Line Manager didn’t involve changing my naturally energetic and playful personality to fit in with a model of a perfect, serious and sensible manager. Retaining a sense of fun, play and openness has been a key learning point for me. When I had fun, it gave permission for my staff to do so – and in turn encouraged better creativity.

A step further has was recognising that it is ok to be vulnerable at work. Although an incredibly difficult thing to do, being honest about what I didn't know (even if it felts uncomfortable to do so), and admitting that I faced the same stress that my team did helped me build trust and rapport, and brought us closer together. It also opened up the opportunity for people to offer their solutions and answers.

While it was a challenging year, the feeling I had seeing my team achieve their goals, grow, and develop their talents was incredibly fulfilling. I was lucky enough to have a supportive team who allowed me the space to feel my way through the minefield that is people management, gently steering me if I strayed off-course.

I’m certainly not saying I have conquered these points, but I am now much more aware and know what I have to work at. I’m sure I will make more mistakes – but I now know that it’s ok, everyone does, and people are very forgiving – so long as you change as a result.

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