So, if you’re a line manager, inspiring your team is pretty high on your list of priorities. But how do you do it? How can you become that rare thing: a truly inspiring line manager?
There are some common phrases – “hit by inspiration”, “inspiration struck me” – which suggest that inspiration is outside our control, that it arrives suddenly, without explanation. That we must simply wait in hope.
But that’s baloney. Certainly, the right mix of circumstances must come together to inspire your team - but it’s your job, as a line manager, to make them come together. This can seem like a daunting prospect, especially if you're new to the job, but a simple adjustment of your outlook can be enough to transform you from an average line manager into a great one. Here's what you need to do to be at the top of your game:
1. Know your strengths, and use themAs a line manager, it’s your job to direct your team and oversee their work. That can feel rather hands-off, in terms of contributing directly to the team’s output. And it can cause two problems:
- Staff see you purely as an authority figure, telling them what to do without getting your hands dirty.
- You don’t get to use the technical skills you may have built up in your previous role, before you were promoted to line manager.
If your staff (and you) see your role as purely supervisory, they won’t be inspired – and you might not feel too inspirational, either. The answer is to know your strengths, and keep using them in your line manager role.
Make a list of your strengths. For example, you might have excellent technical skills, experience from past successes relevant to your team, or knowledge of regulations. Then make sure you use your strengths to support your team. They will start to see you as a highly capable leader – you might just inspire them to achieve more.
2. Be more transparentAs a line manager, you’re often party to information from higher levels of management. This can include knowledge of the company’s latest strategy, or planned changes in your department.
Some of this information is confidential. But if you have non-confidential info that could affect your team, why not share it with them?
When staff feel informed about what’s happening in their company, and its future direction, they feel more involved. On the other hand, when staff feel left out of key decisions and changes, the relationship can be damaged.
As a line manager, you have the power to help your team feel included. They will respect and trust you more as a result.
3. Build relationships with your teamIt’s easy for line managers to fall into the trap of becoming obsessed with performance. When this happens, you stop caring about your team members as people. You want results from them, and nothing else.
It’s not hard to see why this can actually damage performance. Work is a huge part of most employees’ lives. They spend most of their days there. They want to feel part of a team that cares about each other – not to be driven like a carthorse.
This isn’t just about small talk. You can build strong relationships with your team by:
- Giving more responsibility to capable team members – this builds trust and helps staff feel empowered.
- Getting to know team members over time – showing you care about employees’ personal lives also builds trust, and can help you manage more effectively.
4. Appreciate and reward good performanceNothing inspires people like the prospect of reward and recognition. When we work really hard, we always have a personal reason to do so – be it money, accolades, or the respect of our peers. It’s just human nature.
As a line manager, you have the power to make your staff feel rewarded for their endeavours. Rewards you could give include:
- Team awards – Give a small trophy or prize to the best-performing team member each month. Having the team vote for the winner gets everyone involved.
- Share your credit – As line manager, you may receive the praise from upper management when your team wins big. Make sure you pass this along to the people who helped make it possible.
- Everyday praise – when an employee hits a goal or improves their performance, tell them!
These methods can boost team spirit and really inspire your people to shoot for the moon.
5. Be the team’s problem solverLeaders are people with the power to make things happen. That ability to get things done is what inspires people, and convinces them that you are worth following.
But “getting things done” isn’t just about action. It’s also about solving problems and removing obstacles to success - especially when you are line-managing a team that will be doing most of the heavy lifting.
Work on your problem-solving skills. Be the calm mediator in personal conflicts. Identify technical issues and resolve them. Help your staff fill skills gaps with training.
When you become your team’s problem solver, not just the boss, staff will trust and respect you even more.
6. Lead your wayAs a line manager, you’ll receive a lot of advice and feedback on how to get the most from your team. This might come from:
- Upper management and your company’s work culture.
- Informal comments from your own team on how they prefer to be managed.
- Books, articles, and accepted wisdom on how to line-manage effectively.
All of the above can be useful. But if you are to really inspire your team, you must lead your own way.
Part of this is about playing to your strengths, which we talked about above. But it’s also about the person you are. Ask yourself, “why will the team follow me?” Your answer will be about your professional skills, your character, and the ideals you stand for.
Know your own standards, and strive for a line-management style that achieves them. Then, your team will be inspired by someone they see as a true leader.
Ready to inspire?From Apple’s Steve Jobs to Virgin’s Richard Branson, inspirational leaders are key to the success of every world-leading organisation. But great leading comes from the top down, so if we looked closely, we’d find inspiring leaders at every level of these companies, not just the elite. That includes line managers.
So, what are you waiting for? Make a few simple changes today, and who knows how far you and your team could go.