Us consultants focus intently on increasing the number of truly values-driven companies. Much of our time is spend with senior leaders defining their desired culture and coaching those leaders to demonstrate defined valued behaviors and to coach others throughout their organization to do the same.
This is important work. Yet, during this pandemic, us humans’ most significant test of the last 100 years, we must also invest our time and attention to lift up our middle managers, the leaders who are doing their best inside our organizations, making hundreds of decisions daily – both good decisions and lousy ones.
The pandemic has caused devastating impact across businesses, society, and the economy. Across the globe, all leaders’ feet are being held to the fire. This is especially true of our middle managers — those shouldered with the responsibility to share and sell decisions and strategies they may be ambiguous about, or even deeply disagree with.
Working hard and humbly, one steady step at a time, these leaders — the soldiers in the trenches — are preventing backward slides. Their leadership is just as valuable (and perhaps even more valuable, long-term) as engineering big, noticeable steps forward.
I spent fifteen years as a non-profit executive. The great majority of that time, I was a middle manager. During my career, I enjoyed a few great bosses, tolerated a great number of “okay” bosses, and was driven nuts by a few really world-class lousy bosses.
I know what my great bosses did to equip me to lead effectively. Every one of my great bosses did these four things consistently.
Ensure performance expectations and values expectations (how people treat each other) are clearly defined and widely communicated. Every company is having to accommodate tremendous demands due to the shutdown. By formalizing performance expectations and values expectations – for teams and individual players – you equip middle managers to communicate what’s expected. They can respond to team members’ questions and frustrations more effectively if expectations are clear.
Middle managers need both the responsibility to hold their team accountable for results and respect as well as the authority to hold their team accountable. Accountability is about consequence management. Effective middle managers earn team members’ respect when they validate and praise good things that are happening daily as well as, when necessary, redirecting efforts when outcomes are missed.
Middle managers typically embrace the leadership behaviors they experience and observe from their bosses and from senior leaders. If senior leaders demean, discount, and dismiss others’ efforts, ideas, and accomplishments, it is highly likely that middle managers will do the same. If senior leaders treat others with dignity and respect, it is highly likely that middle managers will do the same. Respect generates confidence, willingness, and creativity – all are really good things from team members.
People appreciate knowing the lay of the land – what’s coming, why “X” decision was made, how secure our business is., etc Be honest and open. Share team results and feedback.
Celebrate traction on performance expectations, on respect and civility across your team and customers, and on the team’s focus to coordinate and cooperate to solve problems and leverage opportunities.
There will be some information that you don’t have permission to share – it may be financial information, personnel plans, or strategic opportunities. Keep protected information safe – and share what you can.
With the pandemic and the impact of business shutdowns, everyone has questions about the future of the business. If you don’t know – and there is much we don’t know at this stage – say so. And, say that you’ll inform people as soon as information is available.
By providing middle managers with these four approaches, you equip them to be respectful, proactive, and inspiring.