Leading from the middle isn’t easy. To do it well, you must be able to manage up, down and sideways, juggling the demands of your boss, the needs of your direct reports, and the collaboration desired by your peers. You need to understand the company vision and strategy while at the same time be able to manage the details of your department. You must handle the pressure of needing to be all things to all people and balance the competing priorities within the organization.
The key to succeeding in a middle management role is to stay focused, communicate often, and don’t take things personally. You can make a significant difference in your organization by figuring out how to navigate the ins and outs of the company structure to get things done. And when you lead well from the middle, you’re not likely to stay in the middle for long. Here are some tips.
Communication is Critical
In most organizations, communication has a trickle-down effect and the ‘why’ gets diluted the further it gets from the top. Do not let this happen to you. Great middle managers know how to ask for information and then distill it down to actionable tasks that his or her team can execute. Make sure you are on the same page as your boss, ask for advice when appropriate, and talk to your team as often as possible.
Great managers are honest and direct in their communication. Both your manager and your employees should always know where you stand. To give feedback effectively be clear, be positive, focus on the behavior rather than the person, be specific, and make it a two-way conversation.
Giving feedback is hard to do and great managers take it like a champ, making it as easy as possible on those who are forward with constructive criticism. Show your willingness to take feedback by listening closely to what’s being said. Ask clarifying questions and refrain from making excuses or getting defensive. Say thank you and then take action to show that you heard and valued the feedback.
Middle managers must be able to handle stress, uncertainty, and setbacks with grace as shifting priorities and miss-communication can put them in difficult situations. Don’t take setbacks personally...they are part of the job. Treat every problem as part of your learning process, don’t over dramatize the issue, find a positive outcome, and then move on.
Stop talking and start listening. To be a great middle manager, you need to understand what your boss, your employees, and your customers are truly saying so you can make better decisions. There are nuisances in every conversation and if you catch them, you’ll be better able to navigate office politics. Pay attention to your employees’ feedback and suggestions; act to show that you can effectively solve problems.
As management guru and author Kenneth Blanchard said, "The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority." To get things done, you must be able to influence those around you. While being a manager gives you a certain amount of influence, you can be more effective if you take the time to build trust and prove that you want to help others succeed. To cultivate influence, learn about others’ working styles, goals, and priorities, be personable, and listen mindfully. Get out of your office and engage.
Great middle managers know that they must work well with their peers to break down silos and get big projects done. Forging ties with management peers enhances individual success and improves the company’s bottom line. Seek out opportunities to connect with your peers, bridge gaps between departments by being helpful, share information and follow up often.
Do Your Work with Integrity
Effective leadership is all about getting results the right way. Do your work with impeccable integrity and intention. Don’t cut corners, cheat, violate values, or step on others to get the job done. If you make a mistake, take ownership of it. People who demonstrate integrity draw others to them because they are trustworthy and dependable.
More than ever, great managers are needed at every level of an organization. Be bold and accept the challenge of middle management. You’ll emerge a far better leader and you’ll create new opportunities to stretch yourself and your team.
As always, thank you for reading! I welcome and encourage likes, shares, and comments.
“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime.” -- Babe Ruth
There’s nothing better than being surrounded by really stellar teammates. Each teammate fulfills a role, helping to build the team and move the ball down the field. When a team clicks, all kinds of amazing things can happen. Since most of us can’t truly go it alone, why not do your best to be an excellent teammate? Here’s how…
To be a great teammate you have to show up every day, fully engaged in the work that needs to get done. Showing up means you are fully present and prepared, ready to listen and speak, offering insightful solutions to problems. It means you are there to participate, support your teammates, and give 100% effort. Showing up means you don’t check your emails and texts during meetings, walk in late, or exhibit other disrespectful behaviors like not returning emails and calls, staring off into space during conversations, or giving short, non-helpful responses to questions.
The best teammates offer to help whenever help is needed. They are the go-to people when deadlines are at risk or when a project is losing steam. They don’t say things like, “that’s not my job” or “I’ve already put in my 40 hours.” Be helpful by putting your teammates first. Roll up your sleeves when the workload is heavy, partner with people to develop new processes when old ones no longer work, be willing to answer questions whenever asked, and lend an empathetic shoulder to lean on when times are tough. If you don’t have the answer, direct your teammates to someone who does.
Don’t Keep Score
Just because you did something to help a teammate doesn’t mean that you are owed something in return. Score-keeping is the fastest way to erode trust on a team and it shows that you really aren’t being authentic in your giving. Lose the ‘tit for tat’ mentality and be a great teammate because it’s the right thing to do.
Great teammates are honest and direct in their communication. Your teammates should always know where you stand. If you don’t agree with a direction, share why. If you feel that something is being overlooked, speak up. If someone’s communication style is shutting down other team members, pull that person aside and share your observations. Being candid doesn’t mean you have to be rude or discouraging in your choice of words….kindness matters when you have open, honest, and reciprocal communication. And don’t forget to give praise and talk about the good things that are happening…candor can and should highlight the positive, too.
Giving feedback is hard to do and great teammates take it like a champ, making it as easy as possible on those who are forward with constructive criticism. Show your willingness to take feedback by listening closely to what’s being said. Ask clarifying questions and refrain from making excuses or getting defensive. The best possible response is to say thank you and then take action to show that you heard and valued the feedback.
Commit When a Decision is Made
The worst thing you can do as a teammate is walk out of a meeting when something has been agreed upon and badmouth or sabotage the decision. Debate the pros and cons, state your opinion, and provide input, but if a decision doesn’t go your way, you must still commit to a common course of action and implement it as if it were your own idea. Being passive (or passive aggressive) in your support and effort to make the decision a success with undermine the team and your credibility as being a great team player.
Build Relationships and Trust
Great teams are built on relationships and trust. To build these, you must connect with those on your team, always being transparent, honest, and dependable. You must take the time to get to know each person on your team, understanding personalities and working styles, strengths and weaknesses, and hopes, dreams, and fears. You must also let them get to know you; be vulnerable, open, and willing to share personal aspects of yourself. You might be the smartest person on the team but if you fail to connect, you fail at being a great teammate.
Hold Yourself and Other’s Accountable
Accountability is the cornerstone of personal and professional growth. Personal accountability isn’t just about admitting when you made a mistake. It’s about being humble and willing to learn from others. It’s about taking ownership for your attitude, performance, behaviors, teamwork, and life in general. It’s also about holding other’s accountable when they show up with a bad attitude, perform poorly or let the team down. Great teammates understand the importance of accountability and live by the mantra, “I am always accountable to myself and my team; the buck starts and stops with me.”
I am sure there are many other dynamics that could be on this list, but if you start with these eight things, you’ll be well on your way to being seen as a rock star teammate…one who is dependable, accountable, trustworthy, and fully engaged. One on which others can count on through thick and thin. We would all be so lucky to be on teams filled with people who all exhibit these kinds of behaviors. And not these...
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What if we committed to helping each other with the same amount of effort that we put into competing against each other? What could we all achieve?
I recently read a blog post by Daniel Pink and he was praising a book called “Friend and Foe” by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer. This book discusses the science behind our brain’s hardwiring to both cooperate and compete (I haven't read the book yet but I added to my ever growing reading list). This is a snippet from the blog…
“We are hardwired – in the very architecture of the human brain – to both cooperate and compete. We do both all the time, in every relationship, often unconsciously. That means that all of our relationships are characterized by the tension between being a friend and being a foe. At work, we collaborate with our colleagues to complete projects, but we compete for raises and promotions. As new parents, we cooperate to raise our infants, but compete for sleep. As siblings, we experience both “brotherly love” and “sibling rivalry.” Simply recognizing that this tension exists in every relationship can help us find the right balance between these forces and achieve better outcomes at work and at home.”
What great food for thought! This sparked the idea for a little experiment...
As I went through my work week, I intentionally paid attention to when I felt the need to cooperate and when I felt the need to compete. I then challenged myself to better define the specific emotions and drives behind each of these needs. I made a list throughout the week.
To me, this was incredibly eye opening. Looking at these black and white words describing such powerful emotions and recalling how each situation made me feel made me want to challenge myself to cooperate more and compete less. As competitive as I am, I would rather help someone else win even if it meant I lost. I would prefer to feel the joy of helping someone succeed rather than stand by and do nothing because I feel threatened. I would rather share the limelight with my team and and receive less recognition as an individual.
I am not saying that there isn’t a place for competition in the workplace or on a team. Being competitive can aid in moving things forward. It can motivate us to perform better. Competition can be energizing and helps to get the creative juices flowing. Some of the world’s greatest innovations have come from the need and desire to compete. But this little experiment helped me better recognize the potential of cooperation and the powerful effect it can have on the emotional health of individuals and the team. In my opinion, cooperating encourages leadership, builds self-esteem, creates a sense of belonging, and generally improves your health. It feels so much better to work together as a team than is does to work against each other as individuals.
I challenge each of you who read this blog post to take just 10% of the effort you put towards competing with those you work with and instead direct it towards cooperating and helping your teammates become successful. My guess is that you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more you are able to achieve and how satisfied and positive you feel.
I’ll leave you with some wise words of Franklin D Roosevelt…
“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”
I welcome your thoughts, comments, and results,
A Quick Blurb on what this blog is about.
Welcome to my blog! My name is Kerry Siggins and plain speaking, honest leadership is my mantra. My intention is to help those who lead (or want to lead) become better at saying and doing what needs to be said and done in a way that it can be heard and seen, one person at a time.