Leveling Up on the Line: Frontline Leaders Face Unique Challenges

Posted on December 13, 2018

Not just a job: a career!

That was the heading on the flyer in the employee break room at the restaurant chain where Emilia was hired a year ago. She has worked the drive-through window and rotated through all the food preparation stations. Today, though, she’s taking on a new role and it’s both exciting and a little nerve wracking. Emilia’s new name tag says “supervisor.”

Being promoted from the front lines means that Emilia is uniquely qualified to understand the ups and downs of working on the front lines. She has felt the stress of the busiest times, when the customer orders keep rolling in, and has experienced the wrath of angry customers. She has answered questions about calorie counts, coupons, and the contents of meals until she can recite the menu in her sleep.

But while she is an expert on doing the jobs of her staff, leading a team is a whole new challenge. In order to take on the supervisor role, Emilia had to complete a series of online training courses in her company’s learning management system. These courses covered a wide array of topics, from filling out incident reports to giving feedback. She has a whole new set of processes to follow, including what to do if someone doesn’t show up for their shift and how to handle a customer complaint.

After her training, Emilia shadowed another manager, observing his daily activities and getting to see the supervisor perspective in action. She will be observed this week by an experienced supervisor and given feedback to help her grow and develop into the role. But despite all the training, she wasn’t prepared for some of the tough parts of the job.

“I used to work side by side with these people,” says Emilia. “Now I’m their boss. If they are late, I have to give them a warning, which is hard because some of them are my friends."

Leading your former peers is a challenge that many new managers face. It can be challenging to create a little distance so you can be an effective leader, avoid looking like you’re playing favorites, and stay focused on your new responsibilities.

One unique challenge of leading peers is knowing things about their personal lives that could impact their work. Mike was late to work last week, but Emilia knows that his daughter is out of school for the summer, and he hasn’t been able to leave for his shift until his sister comes over to babysit. It’s just for a week until summer camp starts, but unlike when she was his coworker, now it's her job to hold him accountable to his schedule.

That may lead to another challenge that Emilia has seen frequently over the last year: turnover. Food service has one of the highest rates of turnover in the service industry. Some employees have issues with transportation or child care, while others find another role and move on to what they think could be a better opportunity. All of that means that Emilia will have to find ways to get new people up to speed quickly, keep them motivated, and juggle shift schedules to make sure she’s covered for the breakfast, lunch, and dinner rush times.

The responsibilities, as well as all the things she needs to learn are a challenge that have caused Emilia to lose some sleep. But the promotion comes with a pay raise, as well as a more consistent schedule. This, even without the extra money, would make it worth the effort. But Emilia has her eyes on a bigger prize. Managers receive tuition reimbursement for college courses, which she hopes to be able to leverage to keep moving up. She first took this job for a simple paycheck, but now she’s hopeful that if she can master the skills she needs to be a great supervisor, she can make this job a step towards a successful career.

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twitterLeading your former peers is a challenge that many new supervisors face. What is it like to be accountable for their performance when you know what they're struggling with in their personal lives?


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