The Challenging world of the Frontline Leader
Written by John Bradbury on 18th May 2019
The Challenging world of The Frontline Leader

I’ve done a lot of research into the Front Line Leader role. Apart from being one myself for 8 years I’ve coached Front Line Leaders and I’ve listened to them talking about the challenge of the job.

Here’s some of the challenges:

Realising that you are the person who has the most daily contact with the majority of employees in your organisation. When you add all the Front Line Leaders together, you can see how many employees they control and it becomes apparent who has most influence in an organisation.
You have this very visible role and you are on view all the time. You are literally performing every minute of the day to large audience. In fact you could say there’s an invisible line in everybody’s job description which is “watch the Front Line Leader’
Your job is stressful, often very stressful. You have a manager holding you accountable. You have a team whose expectations of you are higher than the ones they set themselves. You are expected to work closely and effectively with your peers and other departments. This is 360 degree responsibility.
You are expected to interpret the direction given to you from the organisation and this comes from people who don’t always understand your job and what’s involved.
Your job involves a lot of relationship management. More than anyone else in the organisation so you have by necessity learned good relationship skills. I often find that it’s the Front Line Leaders who are the best “people people” because they get so much practice. However it is challenging to have to be constantly available to deal with relationship issues.

How best to manage Front Line Leaders:

The first skill to apply when managing Front Line Leaders is listening. They have a lot to deal with so listening and understanding their world will take you a long way towards being able to influence what they do. 
Ask “What support do you need? A manager’s position allows them to remove road blocks to progress. If your Front Line Leader is struggling, assume that you can do something to assist and support them. 
Making sure that your relationships with other departments managers are good. There’s nothing worse for a Front Line Leader than seeing turf wars break out above them and have to take sides. This destroys the ability of an organisation to deliver outcomes efficiently and wastes so much time.
Take a big picture view and explain that to the Front Line Leader. What are you trying to achieve as a manager, what are your goals and how do those align with the goals of the FLL. (If they don’t align, this needs to be fixed so they do)
Watch your Front Line Leader’s level of stress and learn to read the signs and offer support when stress cranks up for the FLL.
Acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of your FLL’s. They control their effort but they don’t always control the results. Usually a bad day is when the most effort is made so don’t miss those bad days and say something about the great effort made rather than complain about the result.
Front Line Leadership can be a lonely place. It’s very difficult to demonstrate good leadership in this role without the support of your manager. If that support is missing, many FLL’s look for it from team members which can compromise their leadership skills.

There’s much more to say about the Front Line Leader. I will add more in future posts.

My experience as a Front Line Leader and related advice for managers
Written by John Bradbury on May 11th 2019


When I left University I went to work for Unilever in their research department in the UK.
I started my first job as a Front line Leader. 
I had no experience in full time employment or much experience in leadership.
I didn’t realise it at the time but now when I look back I can see that my first manager was totally disinterested in helping me develop. Following his role modelling, I became totally disinterested in my self development.
It wasn’t as though he didn’t have brains. He was very smart intellectually but he was hopeless with people and as a new employee I experienced very little in the way of development. In fact I learned more from my peers and my direct report than I did from my manager. I didn’t know any better back then but now I do.
In my second role as a Front Line Leader, I became a Supervisor of 50 women working in a factory in Merseyside. I did this job for 4 years and I learned so much from those dedicated employees. They showed me how team members look after each other. It was like joining a community which was very caring. When my mother was dying of cancer, these lovely people would have a collection to pay my train fare to go home and see her at weekends. I learned that a young Front Line Leader can learn so much about how to treat people from his own team members as long as he or she is open to learning.
Later in my career, when I had the experience of working with other managers I realised that their impact on me and my performance was huge. If a manager showed interest in my development and in the goals we were working towards, I became highly motivated and engaged with what I was doing.
One manager in particular stands out for me. Let’s call him Paul. He was very interested in my development and he would give me direct feedback on my performance and set expectations with me regularly. By now I had become a manager and Paul offered me a balance of challenge and support. This was tremendous for my growth and development. He presented me with opportunities that stretched me and I also knew that he wanted me to succeed. I experienced rapid growth and a high level of motivation during the time that I worked with Paul.
It has been very useful for me to reflect on these experiences as I develop training programs for Front Line Leaders. 
If you are a manager of Front Line Leaders, one of the actions you can take straight away is to invest time in the development of those leaders. They will repay you with a high rate of interest in most cases. It doesn’t take a lot of time to do that and it can be satisfying for you and the leader to see them develop. There is also the knock on effect that a highly motivated and appreciated leader hs on his team. It’s infectious!!
So in summary, 
    1. Staying open to learning from others regardless of rank or status is a good idea
    2. A manager can have a tremendous, positive impact on a Front Line Leader just by taking interest in their development
    3. Front Line Leaders are more likely to motivate their team if their manager is showing an interest in their development. It’s like compound interest. As a manager, consider the ripple effect of your actions through the team. 

Managers trapped spending too much time working “in” their business
Written by John Bradbury on May 19th 2019
Managers trapped spending too much time working “in” their business

Are you a Leader in Manufacturing or Supply Chain with front line leaders reporting to you?
Do you spend more time working in the business than on it?
There are a number of symptoms that go with this:
The stress of working “in” the business and managing problems when you know you should be working “on” the business and leading and developing people
Front line leaders who depend on you for answers and don’t think for themselves
Front line leaders who aren’t collaborating well with peers and across functions
Demotivated disengaged front line leaders
Employees waiting for permission rather than taking initiative
Front line leaders who aren’t developing

What is the Jelly Wobble?

When front line leaders attend a training course and a few weeks later, it becomes evident that nothing much has changed. The jelly has wobbled and come back to centre.
A much more effective way to develop front line leaders is with coaching from their immediate manager.
This has a number of benefits:

The coaching is aligned with business needs
The manager becomes a better coach
The front line leader becomes highly motivated because their manager is taking an interest in their development
When the coaching is focused on mindset, relationships, collaboration and delivering results the front line leader’s performance increases significantly. This has a positive impact on their team
The manager can build the confidence of the front line leader to make decisions by themselves
The manager begins to have more time working on the business and less time in the business

Developing Front Line Leaders isn’t always a straightforward process. Deciding to focus on a person’s development as a leader is completely different from managing and directing their work. It takes a different set of skills to do this well. It also takes a commitment and persistence from the manager to learn and do what is necessary to get a result, the result being a high performing Front Line Leader.
Our focus at Workplace Culture is in taking managers through a process of developing their Front Line Leaders. We give you the materials to do this very effectively.
The result is what I like to call a “high performing relationship” where you work very effectively with your Front Line Leaders to deliver business outcomes.
And you are working “on” the business more and less “in” it.
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