Middle Management is tough ...

I've been in industry since 1973, in roles as diverse as sales, technical support, call centre management and Best Business Practice.

Throughout the past 15 years, I've served in various middle management roles, and it has been a great experience.

We are 'designated hittters," "trouble shooters," "counselors," and, most of all, team builders.

It's the toughest spot in an organization ... you're tougher ... keep going.

~ Jim

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Blind Spot #1 "Don't forget to check your rearview mirror".

Under the pressure to produce improved financial and operational performance, it's easy to default to the idea that we don't have time to persuade or sell an idea to our vision to others. 

I've seen 'leaders' (reluctant to call them that, because they're not leading, they're pontificating) who think that they can bulldoze through their team and assume all is well. 

In polite society, followers may sit quietly and nod approvingly, but their hearts are simply not in the vision.  In fact, they may have a better collective vision to share. 

Don't forget to check your rearview mirror.

If you lack the emotional intelligence to pick up on the fact that your team is not with you, you're in BIG trouble.  No matter how bad the pressure gets, take 30-45 minutes to check in and listen.  Teams will understand the pressure, but they will not put their backs and hearts into something they haven't bought into. 

If you don't stop talking and listen, you'll be driving down the road at 120 miles an hour, thinking your team is right behind you.  But you'll be wrong.  They're heading down a different road ... the road to a different team.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Creating the world in your own image - Beware

"Experience is the best teacher."  You've heard that all your life.  Nothing like experience to teach.  Few would disagree, but ... not all experience is created equal.   Some of it is simply poor experience, whose only benefit is the awareness of failure.  Unless a middle manager does some serious soul-searching, they're likely to accept their experience as valid and useful.

Be careful of creating the world in your image.

I've seen well-meaning managers make this mistake.  Looks like this: "I managed something in one organization, and it worked.  Therefore, I can use the same approach here and it will work." 

While all organizations have similar pathologies (more on that down the road), that's where the similarities end.  Every organization has it's own personality of people, process, business demands, and culture.  The very idea that we can simply cookie cutter what has been done before is foolhardy.  Take the time to think through the application of an old idea.  Don't let the efficiency of something you know take the place of good judgment in management. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Leadership always trumps Marketing

As a Middle Manager, keep focus on real leadership.  In this world of powerpoint, it is tempting to think we've lead because we had a polished presentation. 

Presentations are Marketing ... Leadership is Reality

Leaders move well beyond Marketing to decisions and action.  Leaders apply effort and energy until something 'moves'.  Marketing is words, leadership is action.

I've seen hundreds (thousands?!) of powerpoint presentations in my career.  Some of them are amazing ... highly polished, remarkable and impressive.  Lots of good words behind them ... but ... they often vanish away into the ether without leadership.  Don't let anyone fool you into believing they are the same.  If you haven't moved something, you may be a great presenter, but you're not leading. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

People Management is Energy Management! PART I

I'm always astonished by the standard corporate meeting: hours upon hours of the same one-way communications, with little to no break in style, leaving most participants exhausted. 

Ultimately, the approach does not inspire.  It drains energy, both physically and mentally ...

If I see another powerpoint slide, I'll scream ...

Other energy drainers include ineffective conference call leaders (another post for another time), meetings without an agenda or purpose, and analytical sessions without structure.  Think process mapping...

Effective Middle Managers know how to manage energy, how to build energy, how to store energy, how to tap energy, and how to restore energy.   People get tired!  They will give and give and give, but ultimately, they will tire.  The bright managers know when to pull back, when to support, when to push hard ... like sports coaches, the really good ones know when people have had enough. 

Manage the energy of your team and you will be respected, admired, and most of all, you will get things done with enough energy for next time!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Do you know the names of your maintenance staff?

Do you know the names of your Cafeteria Team?  Cleaning Crew?  As a Middle Manager, those names are important.  Why? 

I've noticed that there are a group of Middle Managers (and Upper level Managers) who slowly develop an organizational 'caste system'.  In other words, we can become insensitive to those who hold 'menial' jobs.  Yet those people serve every day, work hard, and are often struggling to 'make it all work'.  They deserve as much respect as anyone in your company.  And respect starts with knowing their names.  So ...

Do you know the names of your maintenance staff?

Why is that important?  That goes back to my previous post.  Is it easy for people to work with you?  If you know the names of the maintenance staff, you're more interested in people than your career.  That goes a long way and ...  you never know ... you might be working for one of them one day. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The one question a Middle Manager should ask themselves every day.

As Middle Manager, you're competing with scores of other leaders for resources, for help, for funding, and for executive time.  How do you gain what others  (legitimately!) want?  Resources, even in the most powerful organizations, are still limited.  You need to ask yourself one question every day.

As a Middle Manager, you need to get things done with people who do not report to you.  Now, as a supervisor, you had some of that experience, but in the world you're in now, you have 'bigger fish to fry' and those fish often require the help of other teams and departments.  You need to ask yourself one question every day. 

"Do people find it easy to work with me?"

The answer to this question will tell you how well you'll do in the workplace.  It doesn't mean we need to make people feel all fluffy when they work with us, or that we need to be a pushover for every decision or request.  It means this: do people feel like they're respected when they're in your presence?  Do they feel like they matter when you ask for their help?  If so, you're easy to work with ... and that is one of the most powerful means of influence in the world. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The art of the Letting the Team Struggle

My granddaughter and I were working with Tinkertoys a few days ago,.  I showed a picture of the design we were trying to build.  Though she got frustrated a few times along the way,  I encouraged her and said "You can do this."  She put more effort into solving the problem.  Along the way, I offered support, but let her struggle with the challenge.  

"The team can do this." 

A genuine, heartfelt word of encouragement at the right time clearly serves team members well.  They sometimes need to hear a few cheers ... but ... it's a mistake to solve the problem for them ...even if you know the answer.   The struggle is worth long-term sustained learning. 

Need some help?

There were parts my grandaughter simply couldn't assemble.  It was too difficult for her.  There was a place where my support was absolutely necessary to help her complete the task. 

As a Middle Manager, I have found that there are times when I have had to step in very directly in complex, problem solving situations offering days of support ... but ... when we solved the issue, I went back to letting them struggle.  We learn through the struggle, and the best Middle Managers know how to balance support and struggle.