Does your Line Manager Embrace Your Potential or Keep You Stuck?

Here’s one of the most fascinating and challenging dynamics in the workplace. The line manager relationship. Have you got a line manager that embraces your potential? Or does your line manager keep you stuck and keep you held back?

Having worked with a wide range of women leaders in a variety of sectors, I’ve identified some common patterns as to how and why we get stuck. I’ll also share my thoughts on what you can do about it too.

But first, let’s start by understanding the characteristics of a line manager who embraces potential. Here’s a selection of some excellent best practises:

  • The line manager gives regular, specific, supportive feedback. He or she focuses equally on what is being done well and identifies areas for growth.
  • Feedback is encouraged in return. I once knew of an executive in a UK retailer who consistently asked and acted on the following question:
    • “How can I be the best boss you have ever had?” This is a courageous and highly empowering question to ask. The lovely thing was he really did act on the feedback. Don’t ask if you don’t want to hear the answer!
  • Offers up opportunities for growth and progression, e.g. suggesting you run a larger team, a bigger p&l account; presentation opportunities; projects; international assignments; etc.
  • Provides a coach and other external development, e.g. a MBA course or attending an Executive development programme.
  • Sharing examples of work and achievements with peers and other direct reports in a positive and supportive manner.

If you have a line manager like this, hang onto them! And, if it is time to move on, ask if they would continue to be a mentor for you.

Okay, so what happens when a line manager ‘doesn’t have your back’? Our response is to work harder, to take on more work, to try and prove ourselves further. There are many reasons why he / she decides not to embrace your potential.

Why Line Managers Keep Us Stuck

 A lack of technical competence (in their eyes). “You are good, but not that good.”

  • They feel, or they have been told, that you have little impact or presence with influential others, Board members or key stakeholders in the business.
  • He / she might not know about your ambition. (You may have expected them to read your mind).
  • You doubt yourself and it shows.
  • Maybe he / she doesn’t think you could take the pace – they may rightly or wrongly believe that you have a busy home-life or you might not be able to cope with the hours.
  • Perhaps the most powerful reason of all. Your boss does not want to let you go. Why?
    • You may do all the crap that he / she doesn’t want to do
    • You do a great job and always deliver on the numbers
    • You haven’t got a clear successor in place and that will leave them with a whole

If this sounds like you, what can you do?

Here’s my top four strategies:

  • Firstly, get to know your line manager differently. What I mean by that is to find out what’s really important to him or her. What are their ambitions and goals? What does success look like to them? How do they like to make decisions? What are their blind spots? How do they take risks? (This is a key one to understand why you maybe held back).
  • Secondly, build a strong powerbase. You’ve probably heard this one before. Your boss is not god. You must have a strong network across the business – other people who can validate your perception of your line manager; advise you on different approaches; support you in your progression.
  • Thirdly, tell your line manager what you want and over what timescales. Don’t expect them to have a crystal ball.
  • Finally, actively grow a successor in your team. Who is going to take over your role? What visibility are you giving him or her? How are you helping them to grow professionally and personally?

You are not alone. You have to be brave, be clear and have the mind-set to push aside your own fears about what may or may not happen. Trust me on this. You have so much more potential than you will ever know. Don’t let someone hold you back. Life is too short.

If you are interested in coaching, then please contact us by email: or call 01829 770159. We’d love to send you more information about how we may be able to help.

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