I keep trying to get a university to realize first line management is different from upper management, to no avail. Lately, I spoke to a fraternity brother of mine, an associate dean of a management school. John told me they taught management. This program includes teaching in key areas of management. John said, “Delegation is one of the key traits of successful first line managers.” I do not agree. First line managers are enablers.
In 1980, I am the president of the Tuscaloosa Jaycees. The Jaycee organization is a leadership training organization. We teach classes on leadership. We teach the concept of delegation. We teach that delegation is the key to management success. We never talk about enabling.
The West Alabama State Fair is our chapter’s primary fund-raising project. We plan for this project all year. Dr. Joe, the fair vice president, is in charge of the fair. The fair’s project areas break down to many chairmen. I see their activities. I see David Lewis, chairman of the livestock area, working in his area. He is always on site directing the activities of his volunteers. Also, Greg Kosloff, chairman of the poultry tent, is always on site directing the activities of that area. Both of these areas became great successes. I did not see some other chairman in their area. I asked them, “How is your area coming along?” I got the response, “Oh I delegated this to my workers.” These areas become problem areas. We all pitch in to pull out these areas. I start to question the concept of delegation on the first line.
Now, I know the most important aspect of first line management is enabling your employees to do their jobs. Yes, in a way, you are delegating because you are not performing the work. Your employees do the activities of your department. Your manager delegates the functions of the department to you. You enable your employees to make a product or provide a service. You must train and check your employee’s activities. Like a successful chairman you are on site to make sure your area is a success.
How is enabling different from delegating? Delegation is key to your manager’s and their manager’s success. They supervise many areas; as I did as president of the Jaycees. I delegate the fair management to the fair vice president. He delegates areas to his chairmen, his first line managers. The chairman’s success depends on the members assigned to them. Successful chairman train and coordinate the activities of their members. Their actions enable their assigned members success. These chairman are always on site in their areas. The area chairmen who delegate to their members are like absentee first line managers. These chairmen are always in the fair command headquarters drinking and chatting. They delegate all the activities of their area to their assigned members. I see a big difference in the success of the areas at the fair. The successful chairmen are on site directing the activities of members. I learn, enablers are on site and helping their members.
I am a first line manager. I take great pride enabling employees. It is my responsibility to make every employee in my department successful. My personal responsibility is to spend several weeks training new employees. I talk about our company mission, our department mission, other departments missions, and their mission in our department. We talk about how their role contributes to the success of our department and company. How they will became an important member of the department team. The new employee and I come to know each other. They know I will be reviewing their activities and helping them be successful. I will be monitoring their activities and providing feedback. This feedback is to make sure they do the department’s activities in line with the procedures and policies of the department and company. My real-time monitoring of the department allows me to enable my employee’s success.
Enabling is like a boy rolling a wheel. Once he gets it rolling, every now and then, he pushes it to keep it rolling. If he does not push the wheel, it soon slows down and falls over. You, the first line manager, must keep your department rolling. This means you have to enable the employees to keep rolling. Everyday you must monitor the critical functions of your department. When you see actions that do not match the goals, you provide real-time feedback. This keeps your department rolling; meeting the goals of your company and satisfying customers.
You as the first line manager are on site enabling employees. You are daily working with employees on the front line. You are their coach, training and encouraging. You are not on the field making the plays. You are on the sidelines calling the plays. You investigate and solve the problem when a play goes badly. You are responsible for making each employee successful. Your activities are real-time and the key to your department’s success.
Take great pride in being a first line manager. Most new employees start with you. You sustain them. You train them. You create the future leaders of your company. You enable employees to become great employees.
You can not delegate greatness; you can enable it.