Mid-Level Management Bog
by Richard M. Highsmith, M.S.
The Leader’s Institute
When I was first promoted from the rank and file, I struggling mightily
with being a newly minted manager. I was written up twice within my first
several months for insubordination and failing to carry out managerial
directives. That clearly points out how unhappy my boss was with my
performance. Unfortunately, my former peers were angry with me too. I had
“abandoned” them and wasn’t helping improve their situation.
At that point I hadn’t figured out it was not possible to maintain the
status quo in relationships with co-workers. I thought I had a really neat
chance to express all the frustrations they felt to my boss and get the
system changed. Unfortunately she saw my role differently and was
determined that I implement upper management policy. My big mistake has
been clearly expressed by Bill Cosby - "I don't know the key to success,
but the key to failure is to try to please everyone."
So there I was… stuck in a managerial bog. Over twenty-five years later
I have come to understand that the position of first level supervisor is
one of the most difficult in the business world.
In order to get unstuck you must first understand that, while your
friendships and maybe even loyalties might be with the hourly crowd, you
are now part of management. Your primary responsibility is to ensure
whatever policies, directives, orders and notions trickle down your way
get implemented to the best of your team’s abilities. In some sense it’s a
mindset. You must come to think of yourself differently. That doesn’t mean
strutting like a peacock, ruling the roost. Put more simply, you must
recognize things have changed. Understanding all the skills in the work
and/or expertise in the product of your team are not enough anymore.
Knowledge is certainly important. Coupled with performance, your
understanding of your team’s mission is probably what got you promoted.
But it won’t keep you employed now, because expectations of you have
changed. It isn’t enough to simply know how everything works. Now you have
to deal with sometimes conflicting interests. So how do you manage the
middle ground once you recognize that’s where you are?
To succeed you must understand the importance of communication or as
Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “…the art of getting someone else to do
something you want done because he wants to do it.”
There are three components necessary for mastering the communication
skills you need to maintain the middle ground without losing control.
Step One – Make people feel important. Possibly the most
universal character of mankind is the desire to be seen as valuable or
important. Think of how you feel when someone discounts you, makes you
look foolish or talks down to you. Everybody knows these feelings. It
follows then that people will be more responsive to you in direct
proportion to the degree you make them feel important.
Les Giblin in his book, “Skill With People,” expressed this clearly:
“The most universal trait of mankind – a trait you and everybody else
have – a trait so strong that it makes men do the things that they do,
good and bad – is the desire to be important, the desire to be
recognized... Remember the more important you make people feel, the more
they will respond to you.”
The skills involved here are to listen skillfully, compliment
frequently, call people by name, pause before answering, use “you” and
“your” more than “I” and “Me” and attend to every individual in a group.
Step Two – Agree with People. Quoting again from Les Giblin, “As
long as you live, never forget that any fool can disagree with people and
that it takes a wise man, a shrewd man, a big man to agree – particularly
when the other person is wrong.” Being agreeable is possibly the most
effective strength a middle manager can develop to maintain position.
These skills involve focusing on being in an agreeable frame of mind.
Be open in your agreement; when you agree with someone tell them. Unless
absolutely necessary, do not publicly disagree with someone. Avoid
arguments. By the same reasoning, when you are wrong, verbalize your
mistake – own it.
Step Three – Master the skill of Listening. To make proper
decisions you must clearly understand a situation. To fully understand you
must have the people involved share their perspective. For people to talk
openly, they must feel heard. For them to feel comfortable, you must be a
There are two main attributes to being a skilled listener. The first is
body language. Look at the other person. Sit on the same level with him or
her, shoulder-to-shoulder. An imaginary line drawn between the points of
the four shoulders should form a square. Lean in slightly toward the other
person. If you do these three things – eye contact, squaring and leaning
in, your body will strongly communicate attention and interest.
The second attribute to effective listening is your verbalizations. Ask
questions that are on-topic. Use the words “you” and “your”. Reflect back
what you believe you heard in short summaries. This will demonstrate you
are listening and allow others to clarify anything you missed.
By practicing and becoming skillful in these steps you will find your
way out of the “bog”. You will find you are not stuck in the middle, but
at the center of an exciting dynamic team.
Richard Highsmith, firstname.lastname@example.org,
is President of Quality Team Building. He has twenty-five years
experience training and coaching. He has built and sold two successful
businesses. To learn more about becoming a team leader visit our website
at http://www.qualityteambuilding.com or
call Rick toll-free at 1-888-484-8326 X101.