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.


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