There is a definite pendulum swing in business today; social media and access to fierce competition has put many companies in an operational fear-based place. The question they ask themselves all the time is; how can I become one of the most powerful organizations so that the noise of the outside doesn’t affect my success? The answer is through alignment. The source of the answer is to remove all middle management and replace them with Leaders in the Middle.
Who exactly is middle management and how do we replace them? Middle management is any leader in any organization that has a boss as well as employees. This could be a President, Vice President, Director, manager, etc. Most likely it is over 95% of the leaders in any given organization.
What is a Leader in the Middle? A Leader in the Middle is a leader that serves up and coaches down; who has a boss and also followers and has the same titles as listed previously.
This change, this ‘removal’ of middle management, is a real change, but less about bodies and more about organization culture and mindsets. In some cases, more than we would like to acknowledge, it will also require a body change for those that can’t get their minds right. The three areas we will look at to create this transformation from middle management to Leaders in the Middle are: 1. Serve Up, 2. Coach Down, and 3. Keep the Power.
Serve Up: How many leaders would want an employee who believed their job is to make their boss look good? All of them. As leaders, we all want that employee, but we don’t always want to be that employee. A Leader in the Middle has those employees because they are that employee. This is a mindset of serving up, NOT sucking up. As a Leader in the Middle, if my boss has great intention, belief in the organization and team and a true passion for success, then the only way I make them look good is by being good myself. Serving up means I want to be the leader my boss and her boss knows they can count on. Not only the leader, but that customers and my peers also see as the one they can count on. The key is to serve those that lead us, pay us and ultimately promote us. Real success is not based on who you know and what you know, it is based on what you are willing to do to serve and help others!
Coach Down: We serve those we lead, those that call us boss by coaching them. Servant leadership of the past is just that “of the past”. A Leaders job is not to remove the obstacles for their employees and protect them from the ‘big bad corporate’ or upper management. That is the type of behavior that created this pit fall called, “Middle Management”. When leaders coddle and protect their employees under the blanket of entitlement, it creates weakness and complacency. The way middle managers become Leaders in the Middle is they coach their employees, they challenge them, they make them better, more disciplined, hold them accountable and never accepts excuses. To serve those we lead is to coach them to become who they want to become.
Keep the Power: Middle managers have no real power, ultimately they just do what they are told and they don’t have any say so in the actual decision. The key to keeping the power as a Leader in the Middle is to first recognize you have the power and only you can give that power away. Power is not about making the decision or having input, rather it is about owning the direction and decision. A Leader in the Middle has the mindset that our job as leaders in the middle is to seek to understand, not to question- but to understand. Middle managers with limited mindsets may see this as “being a yes-man”, but more than just saying yes, its about believing in the organization you work for and the leaders you follow, so that those that follow you will believe in you too. Keeping the power is as simple as never blaming the boss or company on a decision or direction. Never saying ‘I don’t have control’, because as soon as a leader says or believes this, they are not capable of being a great Leader in the Middle- they are destined for the pit of middle management and middle management mindset.
The Result: As Leaders in the Middle we all struggle with serving our boss, especially when we don’t see the value of the decision or are not privy to the reason decisions are made. Also as Leaders in the Middle we know there are times that we must make decision for our teams and we can’t tell everybody why or the benefit, we just need them to trust and act. I have found the more we believe and trust those we follow, the more those that follow us will believe and trust us more. Lastly when an organization has a Leader in the Middle serve up & coach down mindset they have not only laid the groundwork for success, they are creating alignment from top to bottom. And, as we mentioned earlier, with alignment everybody wins and organizations become powerful and impervious to fears, economies or competition.
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