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On Sunday, I was catching up on my blog post reading when I found one by Tom Peters titled “A Peerless Strategic Opportunity: The First-line Manager20/1LM20.” Here’s the opening.

“The evidence is clear: Employee satisfaction and like variables are significantly, even overwhelmingly, linked to the employee’s relationship with her or his first-line manager. While first-line managers are considered to be of great importance, in my experience few companies truly obsess on every aspect of their care and feeding. In fact, my observations suggest that such things as first-line manager training regimes are often of questionable quality. This is a strategic mistake. More important, a lost strategic opportunity.”

Tom continues the post with 20 points designed to “stir your analytic juices.” They will do that. I encourage you to read the full post.

I’ve added a comment on Tom’s site, reacting to each of his points. Here are a few of my own thoughts, developed over a quarter century of observing, training and coaching first line supervisors. They are in no particular order.

As long as most organizations make “management” the only way to get more compensation and preferment, you will have people seeking the work who are unfit for it. Create ways for people to increase their income and get recognition in other career paths as well.

Don’t try to predict who will turn into a good boss. Instead, provide opportunities for those who are interested in it to try it out on small projects.

Look for three things. Do they talk to others about behavior and performance? Do they make decisions? Do they enjoy helping others succeed? People who do those things have a shot at becoming good bosses.

Allow a long enough probationary period. I suggest a year to eighteen months.

Provide training. Not one or two full day classes. Have lots of short, skill-specific training spread over the probationary period.

Teach new bosses about their role. Help them identify and use role models. Teach them to seek and use feedback, including their own self-critique.

Provide support to new bosses and to all bosses. Peer support is best. There are some things you can only discuss with a peer.

Follow the guidance of the Marine Corps. “All commanders should consider the professional development of their subordinates a principal responsibility of command.”

Learning to be a great boss is a lifetime endeavor. Most of the great ones I interviewed felt that it took them a decade or more to achieve basic mastery and that there was always more to learn.

Boss’s Bottom Line

If you do your job well, everyone benefits. You open up new career and personal possibilities. Your people grow and develop. And your organization improves both performance and morale.

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