Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Leading From the Middle

How’s this for an opening hypothesis: middle management are the mainstay group in any firm and play a critical life and death role in its business success.

As such, if the above is true, middle management therefore possesses the following leadership skills: networking, influencing (both in the Board-room and in the trenches), problem solving and the communication skills to keep the company from sliding rapidly to Hades in a hand basket.

However, ask most managers and they will politely inform you they spend most of their time ‘’doing things’ and little time on that ‘leadership’ bit.

That’s a problem… because it’s not really managing, and it’s certainly not leadership.

Consider this: you have just been promoted to manager and now float in your own personal Petri dish under the microscope of higher management and staff, where they observe you, before passing verdict on whether your promotion was justified.

What to do?

Understand and Train Your Subordinates
Good middle managers concentrate on helping staff understand the wider landscape – the importance of strategic planning, together with building knowledge of the organisation's overall direction – so as to generate a mutual awareness of the total business intent.

Accordingly, you should dedicate time to appreciating their staff’s own individual goals, strengths and training needs - particularly as it relates to their own value for when they become managers. Most managers agree that to prevent failure in your next position; train people to replace you in your current position.

Understand Your Business
Seems like a no-brainer, but it really is imperative that middle managers totally understand their firm’s commercial goals and strategy – together with any politics that exist - and, importantly, how these goals, objectives, and politics - directly apply to their piece of the corporate puzzle. The more familiar one is on how the firm works (and doesn't work), the more able a middle manager can avoid the land mines.

Don’t Forget the ‘Me’ in Us All
Stay ahead of the management curve by intensifying your assimilation of new knowledge. Most companies already provide management training, but if not lobby hard for courses that will take you to the next phase of your career.

Network with your new manager peers to gain their points of view on the issues you - and they - are dealing with. This activity will help you through difficult management times.

Also, remember this: the most important consideration in leading from the middle is to spend approximately three-quarters of your day away from your desk and with others - staff, co-managers, your boss and other stake holders – learning, sharing, training and strategising. In a nutshell, leading.

The voluminous emails you are now carbon copied in on since your promotion to manager will only anchor you to your desk and all of the considerations above may as well go out the window. Check your emails twice a day and prioritise accordingly.

Having written that… go forth and lead.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How to Tell if You're On Your Way Out

Some people need no indication as to the precarious nature of their job status. Take, for instance, the team in Washington - war in Iraq, sliding economy, randy congressmen, second-in-commands that shoot their 'friends' during gated hunting trips...

Multiple reasons for a sacking if ever there were any.

However, in the real world, it's a little subtler, and deadly important to know if you're living on borrowed time.

Not all employment situations work according to expectation and, as such, the ability to sense approaching waves on the horizon can ensure you control the employment situation should your days be deteriorating. By staying ahead of this important curve you can either take action to correct the situation or action a plan to hunt for another job.

Consider the following in determining if your days are dwindling:

Have you achieved your ‘Peter Principle,’ - the process of being promoted up the employment ladder to the point where you are ‘in over your head’ - or are you under-performing in a position at which you were once good?

Have you received a disapproving appraisal or missed out on your bonus? How about you and your manager? Have relations broken down? Perhaps, you are now omitted from the normal Friday memo.

The reasons for the above are many: from unhappiness with responsibilities to your individual principles colliding with those of the organisation. From changes in the firm’s business objectives reducing your skill worth to a merger or buyout that may, indeed, cost you your job.

Perhaps, you have character qualities that impact your ability to get on with colleagues? The devil is not the only one wearing Prada… well, at least Armani.

So, in the immortal words of philosopher and former Clash frontman, Mick Jones…

“Should I Stay...
If staying is an option - and you really want to stay - talk to your manager privately. Secure clarification on expectations and what will be necessary to get the wheels back on the road (be aware you may have to take a demotion as a condition of continued employ). On the up-side, this could be the chance you need to turn the situation around or, at a minimum, allow you time to conduct a job search and leave on your terms. If faced with this scenario, stay positive and remember your former accomplishments in the view you can succeed.

… or Should I Go?”
If you see your own reflection in the cross hairs of termination, you may wish to resign before being sacked. As such, the decision will have been yours and, as such, most employers will speak well of you when questioned about your reason for leaving. In regard to reasons for leaving, distance yourself from ‘left to follow other interests’ or ‘take a break from working,’ as they both scream of termination.’

If your choice is resignation, ensure your resume is updated and your networking list ready as, dependent on your position, you may be asked to immediately leave your place of employ.