Building trust from the middle

Leading from the middle of an organization can be one of the most difficult leadership challenges.  And I’ve discovered that almost everyone is in the middle.  Years ago I had a conversation with an executive vice president.  I thought she would be a subject matter expert to help me train middle managers, but then I realized that she thought of herself as being in the middle between the Board and her staff.

A recent research report from Harvard Business Review provided several good observations about what makes some middle managers more effective than others.  They identified the “Three A Model” of effective middle management.  At the core, I think the model leads back to building the credibility and authenticity necessary to be trusted by those above and below in the organization chart.

  1. Alignment
    Effective middle managers understand their own values and professional goals, and they are able to communicate how their values connect to organizational initiatives.
  2. Authorship
    Effective middle managers were the drivers of organizational change.  They used their positions and their 360-degree view of the organization to create cross-functional teams and champion solutions.  They took responsibility and identified what needed to be done.
  3. Action
    Effective middle managers were able to work effectively with other leaders to drive change.  They encouraged individual contributors to actively participate in change initiatives and removed barriers that kept others from being effective.  And they promoted the three A’s among those that reported to them.

By contract, the article said that ineffective middle managers:

  • Focused on pleasing people rather than doing their jobs
  • Procrastinated on decisions for fear of failure
  • Blamed others for mistakes
  • Were cautious and unsure of their authority; avoided taking risks

Following the Three A Model and avoiding the pitfalls of ineffective middle management can help us as leaders build the trust needed to be more effective ourselves, and to bring out the best in those around us.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Source:  Behnam Tabrizi, New Research: What Sets Effective Middle Managers Apart. HBR Blog Network, May 8, 2013.  http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/05/reinventing_middle_management.html

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