How to Unleash the Power of Your Middle Managers

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Nov 8, 2016

Miscast and disengaged employees are a problem wherever they’re found in an organization, but when middle managers join those ranks it’s especially troubling because of their broad sphere of influence on so many other employees.

The Gallup Organization warns us just such a problem is brewing within our management ranks – Gallup’s research found 82% of managers “miscast in their roles” and 25% “dangerously lousy.”

So what can we do to better identify, support and retain managers so they will be successful in the role?

Responsibility without authority

No matter how talented and engaged managers may be when they enter their role, one of most destructive factors causing frustration and derailing their success is being given responsibility without also being given full authority. Authority is the ability to make decisions without asking someone else’s permission.

Really good managers won’t stay if you won’t let them lead.

How to unleash your managers

Tim Stevens, the author of Fairness is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace, suggests doing these six things to create a great culture in which managers remain engaged and thriving:

  1. Train them so their blood pulses with the mission, vision and values of the organization.
  2. Set them up to succeed and tell everyone they have your full confidence.
  3. Give them the authority to make decisions and set direction for their areas of responsibility.
  4. Get the heck out of the way and let them lead.
  5. Be available as a sounding board to help them determine the right course of action.
  6. Celebrate their wins publicly and reward them with greater responsibility when appropriate.

Identifying new managers

The other half of the solution is to establish a pipeline of new managers-in-waiting to keep your leadership bench strong and spur your company to new heights. Your organization is probably full of hidden leaders who are committed to their jobs and to the organization.

In The Hidden Leader, authors Scott Edinger and Laurie Sain have developed four key indicators to help you identify the hidden managers in your organization or on your team.

  1. They demonstrate integrity. Consistently displaying a strong ethical code of conduct that’s focused on every employee’s welfare. Their consistent adherence to their beliefs makes them predictable and dependable, and they have the courage to do the right thing even when it’s difficult.
  2. They lead through relationships. They get along with and value others. They lead and inspire because of who they are and how they interact with others and they don’t depend on their position to influence the actions of others.
  3. They focus on results. The hidden leader maintains a wide perspective and acts with independent initiative. They use the end to define the means, which can mean working outside of strict processes to achieve results. They aim for their goals and feel responsible and accountable for achieving them.
  4. They remain customer purposed. This is different than customer service – it’s an awareness of how an action in a specific job affects the customer. It’s a big-picture focus and having a deep understanding of the customer value promised by the company.