Line management is not a reward!

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When we treat line management as a reward, rather than a development path, are setting teams up for success or failure?

You’re really good at [insert job description here], so here are some people to line manage.

For many of us, that is how we got our first management position. Or it certainly feels like that’s how our boss got theirs!

However, there is a massive difference between being a brilliant salesperson and a brilliant sales manager. The top customer service administrator is not necessarily the top customer service manager.  

Yet that is pretty much how companies operate. You get ‘rewarded’ for being good at your job…with people to look after.  Your team get ‘rewarded’ with ….well…you.

But management is a skill and responsibility, it is not a reward. We could be setting up our best talent and teams for failure if we fail to support our managers. 

In my first experience of line management, I had been temping for an arms-length Government body for two months. I was told I was doing a great job and then given a team of six people to manage. No training, no guidance, and no support, just left to get on with it.

Fast forward to now where I have two decades of line management experience under my belt. I did benefit from some training but mostly those 20 years were a bit of trial and error. Thanks to the kindness and honesty of those around me, I learned a lot. Now I enjoy mentoring and advising managers in businesses big and small.

Thanks to my PhD in hindsight, here are my top ten tips that I wish I’d known before I jumped in at the deep end:


  1. Your team members are not you. You won’t get them to perform better by telling them to copy you. Treat them as individuals.
  2. You can’t fix them by focusing on their weaknesses, you help them by bringing out their strengths.
  3. You can’t come up with your functional plan in a darkened room and then say ‘ta-da’ and expect them to follow it – involve them early.
  4. Align on expectations early – get clear on what you expect from each other. It saves you a lot of angst in the long run.
  5. Allow team members to make their own mistakes, stop rescuing them. Your position does not come with a cape and mandate to wear your underpants on the outside.
  6. Delegate. It might be quicker in the short term to do it yourself, but this allows them to grow and learn.
  7. Be specific with praise as well as criticism. Given with evidence, this is far more meaningful for their development than well-meaning platitudes.
  8. Check in with them often, invite them to give you feedback and share ideas and concerns. Don’t say ‘does that make sense’? Ask them what they have taken away…it may surprise you!
  9. Give them credit where it is due and support them with their career ambitions. Don’t panic if they are after your job, celebrate!
  10. Most of all, be curious and kind. Being kind does not mean avoidant. You are kindest when you tackle big issues head on.  

Whether you are a new line manager, or have been doing it for years, we all need support. If you have line managers in your team, what support are you giving them?

If you are really lucky, you will get to work with some of the organisations that I have partnered with. They recognise that line management is more than handing out jobs and signing off on their expenses.

I think every line manager should have their own private sounding board – like your own personal Non-Executive Director. Someone outside of their organisation to talk to and who can flip between being a mentor, a coach and an advisor. Whether you are a VP or team leader, that confidante is invaluable in giving you a fresh perspective, stories and experiences you can learn from and questions to make you think. They can challenge you and hold you to account to make changes. Investing in a mentor can even help ease some of the loneliness that managers can feel.

Please get in touch with me if I can help you or the line managers in your business. Even if I am not a good fit for you, I might be able to find someone who is.

Natasha Bye, Strategy Doctor (

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