Want To Be A Better Manager? Work The Front Lines.

Front LineSo, if you are director, go out with the sales team. If you are an engineer, work at the factory assembling line. If you are an architect, work construction. If you are a practice manager, work the front desk.

Working the front lines…

  1. Helps managers gain first hand insight into what customers/patients want, what they call about, what their complaints are, what they like and dislike about the office, the product and the service.
  2. Brings awareness of all the task required of the front line. In our medical practice, we give the front desk a lot to do. Working along side helps us put into perspective everything we ask them to do. First hand account encourages managers to think twice before giving front line employees more things to do.
  3. Provides an opportunity to lead by example. Ever had to put together furniture or assemble a toy for your children? The instructions are helpful, but the pictures of how to put together everything are much better. Working the front line helps demonstrate how things are supposed to be done. And who better to show them how it is done, if not you.
  4. Enables one to reinforce protocol. Let’s face it, front line employees sometimes get sloppy. They start cutting corners, overlook things and get lazy. They’ll complain why they don’t have time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. But by having a presence, one is able to underpin the importance of certain things.
  5. Creates and opportunity to train employees. Leading by example and reinforcing protocol are essentially opportunities to train. Furthermore, give front line employees the tools and resources they need in order to do their job better.
  6. Fosters communication. Communication is the staple of business, right? But we don’t always do it very well. Spending time and working alongside with the front lines creates a different kind of opportunity to communicate. It is one thing to discuss things in a meeting or in your office; but there is something to be said about talking with employees on their turf.
  7. It helps me earn respect and gain authority. Remember Mel Gibson’s movie Brave Heart or Russell Crowe’s Gladiator? In both these movies Gibson’s and Crowe’s character fought side-by-side with their subordinates. Despite having leadership roles, the characters chose to be on the front lines, and as a result, their men respected them.

Working the front lines gives you a better insight into your customers, into your employees and frankly into the business. It is one thing to make decision and affect change from your office and it is another thing seeing first hand how those decisions get played out in the real world.
Do you ever work the front-lines? Have you learned any valuable lessons as a result? Or do you think working the front desk is a waste of time? What are your thoughts on this subject?

7 thoughts on “Want To Be A Better Manager? Work The Front Lines.”

  1. Extremely superb post, genuinely enlightening stuff. Never ever considered I would discover the tips I want in this article. I’ve been hunting everywhere in the web for some time now and was starting to get frustrated. Thankfully, I came across your site and received exactly what I had been looking for.

  2. I think this was a great summary what it takes to be a good manager. By any chance, would you know of any published academic papers that could back this up? I’m conducting research that concerns this topic and I am struggling with finding sources. Any input would be appreciated!!

    1. I don’t know of any academic papers that specifically address this “front line” concept and how it may improve one’s management skills, but I know of several academic “leadership” type books that I used when I was in school. Here are two that come to mind.

      McShane, S. L., & Von Glinow, M. (2005). Organizational behavior: Emerging realities for the workplace. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies.

      Kreitner R. & Kinicki A (2004) Organizational behavior (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.


  3. I wholeheartedly agree with everything in this piece, Brandon, regardless of industry! My first thought when I read the headline was what you articulated in point #7. Getting in the trenches is the best way to build credibility and respect for yourself among the people on the front lines. It’s influencing without authority, which (hopefully) leads to higher retention levels, efficiency and lower recruitment costs. So many benefits. Great post.

    1. Stephanie,

      Happy employees tend to perform better. And employees that like their bosses, tend to work harder as well.

      Thus, gaining their trust is very important. And working the front lines with them is a good way to earn that trust.

      Thanks for stopping by. It is always nice to know people enjoy your thoughts and we love it more when they leave comments.


  4. Absolutely! Being able to do their job gives you so much credibility with your staff. And how can you do a performance review if you don’t know how to do the same work?

    Great piece.

    1. Credibility… that is really what it is all about as a leader.

      And your comment about how much more effective a performance review can be when you’ve been in the trenches, is spot on. I wish I would have thought about that when writing the post.

      Thanks for taking the time to give us your feedback. I appreciate it very much.


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