Tuesday, 04 February 2020 21:31

Do you have magic, mediocrity, or a mess in the middle of your organization? 3 ways to strengthen mid-level managers

Written by Leadership Louisville Center

Green Room 900

Whether your business is in the midst of transformative change or your goal is to stay the course, the middle managers in your organization are critical to driving results. In fact, they are your most important leaders. Executives set the vision and strategy, and middle managers are responsible for turning those ideas into reality, while also keeping employees informed, engaged, and happy.

"You either have magic or a mess in the middle of your organization," says Lisa Zangari, vice president at the Leadership Louisville Center, who also spent over a decade as a management consultant in New York City. She worked with companies around the world such as AARP, Citibank, The Hershey Company, and Pfizer, to create more innovative cultures. Zangari goes on to say that "if your middle managers don't have the ability to influence up, down and across and to effectively project manage, progress will stall, or results will be mediocre. They’ve got to understand the big picture of your business and then translate that into actions and behaviors that front-line employees can effectively implement each and every day."

Here are three ways to accelerate the effectiveness of your mid-level leaders.

  1. Lead your boss

Middle managers often find themselves in a situation outlined by John Baldoni in his book, “Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.” They have to take the lead for their boss – they must develop a plan, get the boss’s approval, and move it forward.

Baldoni writes that senior leaders should encourage leadership from the middle ranks – without concern that their authority will be undermined.

“When managers in the middle are taking ownership of issues, making decisions, and becoming accountable for results, then senior managers have the freedom to think and act strategically without getting bogged down in tactical matters.”


And leading from the middle not only creates a stronger organization in the short run, Baldoni argues, it prepares emerging leaders to be more equipped for senior leadership positions.

Managers who learn to lead up effectively demonstrate their potential as a senior leader, which strengthens your organization’s leadership pipeline.

  1. Lead your team

You recognize a high-performing team when you see one, but what enables their success isn’t always clear. Developing and leading high-performance teams can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a person's career – and one of the most challenging.

As the Society for Human Resource Management notes, work teams – executive teams, project teams, marketing teams – are the backbone of contemporary work life. When teams are winning, they have a sense of purpose, ambitious goals, and trust among members. When they’re not, relationships and results deteriorate.

Winning teams don’t happen by chance - there’s science behind what makes them tick. Leaders need to understand characteristics, behaviors, and the range of leadership styles required. Middle managers must know how to overcome and manage team dysfunctions and how to allow for productive conflict. Every individual on a team brings strengths and creativity that can be harnessed for outstanding results.

If teams in your business are stuck in the cycle of endless meetings, miscommunication, ineffective collaboration, and not hitting the mark on goals, your middle managers might need a crash course in leading teams.

"At the Leadership Louisville Center, we've designed a course for leaders specifically around creating psychologically safe environments for their teams,” says Zangari. “Initial research around the power of psychological safety was published over twenty years ago, but it didn't come into the mainstream as a management concept in a big way until Google released their own findings about high-performance teams. The Google teams with the highest levels of psychological safety bring in more revenue, are rated as ‘effective’ twice as often by executives and have the highest levels of employee retention."

When leaders know how to create and sustain high-performance teams, as well as how to develop the skills and confidence of each individual, everyone can enjoy the benefits of being on a winning team.

  1. Lead yourself

A third way in which middle managers can excel is by practicing self-development while also developing the individual contributors that they lead. Another essential ingredient in organizational success is the proactive behavior of individual contributors. Fifty percent of individual contributors feel their jobs are stagnant, according to Gallup’s 2015 employee engagement surveyOne-third of individual contributors just do their job, and nothing more.

Imagine how resilient your organization could be with people who have the skills and confidence to get what they need without unnecessary guidance or wasted time.

Organizations don’t execute well when individual contributors aren’t taking initiative or being as effective as they could be. Performance is often stalled because employees don’t know how to ask for what they need when they need it. If your people don’t reach their full potential, neither will your organization.

The Ken Blanchard Companies has developed one of the world’s most popular leadership models, Situational Leadership II (SLII). The organization has now integrated the latest research into this model to teach self-leadership for individual contributors.

“What group spends their days working with customers and making your business run? It’s your individual contributors,” says The Ken Blanchard Companies. “They are the silent majority of your organization and without their motivation and commitment, nothing happens.”

When it comes to empowering self-leaders, the Ken Blanchard Companies’ Self Leadership development course teaches team members a shared language for discussing their own development and performance, allowing them to have more effective conversations and build more trusting, open relationships with their managers.

These skills and more are included in the upcoming course lineup of the Leadership Louisville Center’s Leadership Green Room, a leadership development solution designed to help organizations grow the confidence, knowledge and networks of their most valuable asset – their people.

  • Best-selling author John Baldoni will teach Influencing from the Middle: Lead Your Boss, Lead Your Peers on April 21, 2020.
  • Lisa Zangari, vice president of the Leadership Louisville Center, will lead a course on Developing & Leading High-Performance Teams on May 14-15, 2020.
  • Neil Haverson, senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies, will lead the course Self Leadership & The One-Minute Manager on June 18, 2020.

Learn more about these courses and others in the series by visiting the Leadership Green Room website.

The Leadership Louisville Center is a nationally-recognized resource in leadership development. With over 40 years of experience, they've trained leaders at over one thousand companies with the purpose of inspiring and equipping leaders to be better and do better. Learn more at LeadershipLouisville.org.

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