The First Line Manager As Leader
In the Jaycee organization there is a simple definition of a leader; a leader has followers. I learned there are several types of followers; voluntary, hired, and assigned. Mostly, a first line manager deals with assigned followers, he did not hire them, and they are certainly not voluntary. Your company pays them to perform. This is the first line manager’s challenge, to treat them as volunteers while accomplishing the department and company mission.
A first line manager is a leader when he takes his organization to a future state that no one imagined possible. How is this possible, when most times the future state is always changing? Here are the thought processes a first line manager must have to be an effective leader.
First, an effective first line manager realizes to lead employees he (she) must lead himself. I know this is a shop worn concept. Here is my take on this concept. You must come to work with a mission to accomplish every day. This mission must have an impact on the actions of your company and department. You must always be studying your business and your company to keep up with the tremendous changes in both. A manager came into my office to make a request of me. I agreed to the request. On leaving, he said he will send me a specific customer service order, an order that was eliminated twelve years ago. This manager retired the next week; actually he retired several years ago. Change is constant and mandatory; you must commit to stay up to date to be an effective leader for your organization. You cannot retire on the job and be effective as a leader.
Second, an effective first line manger must make a “plan for action” that moves his organization from its current state toward a better future state. Sometimes a manager can only share broad concepts in the plan without the bitter details of the how. There is an old saying, “I did not plan to fail; I just failed to plan.” Not having a plan the surest way to a stagnant department or company just bumping along doing the same thing every day. Your plan must change as your business environment changes. This plan over time will morph your department into the effective organization you envision. It is similar to my son’s braces, they were not comfortable, but the constant force moved his teeth. Changing employees or departments is not pleasant or comfortable; but, it is necessary to be effective.
Third, the effective first line manager leader moves toward this future state in relation to what is possible now. Let’s face it; if we are aggressive in our vision or the mission for our department, we may have problems. Most employees will not believe your mission is possible. Some will actually work against where you want to take them. I went to one of my employees to tell him he was going to help another work group as a flagman, he through his glasses against the wall and said, ” I bid out of that group to get out of that work, I am not going to help them.” But, the employee, for his own good, decided to help that work group. In six months, all my employees and I were working with that work group to build a big job in our area. We were not just flagging for them, we were working with them. This is the point. My workgroup was going to do whatever it took to make our company effective, no matter whom we work with or what we do. I heard some say change is like boiling a live frog. Drop the frog in boiling water and he will hop out, slowly bring him to a boil and he is cooked before he knows it. Dealing in the current state means you are patience and consistent in pursuing change.
Lastly, an effective first line manager as leader is flexible and is constantly dealing in the current state to accomplish his ultimate goals. Leaders in an organization realize there are setbacks during the move to effectiveness. The manager has a standard of performance in his plan for action. During a setback with an employee or for his department, the leader manager emphasizes this standard. This is the constant in the organization, things happen and employees change, but the standard remains. Yes there are temporary setbacks, get over it, handle it. Your plan is for action not stagnation; it is flowing. Your plan will work. There is a saying in Tao; the hardest substance in the world is water.