Yes, that’s right. Peter Drucker said, “the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer”, and much of that work happens smack-dab in the middle of companies.
Now, ten solid reasons why You " Managing in the Middle " Are More Valuable than Your Company’s CEO:
You know how stuff really gets done. Let’s face it, process maps mean very little when you know that to get your PC up and running again, the fastest route is to buy a muffin for Oscar in IT.
You know what motivates individuals. You’re with them every day. Sometimes it’s cash, time off for a kid’s event, or just some simple recognition. Whatever the case, you’re in a position to help motivate both in- and extrinsically more than anyone else.
You know the customer well enough to get to the truth. You are them, they are you, and there’s a symbiotic bond. More than anyone, the customer will tell you exactly what they need and how to sell to them.
You know the vendors as well as the competitive landscape. All that shooting the bull with Marvin, who supplies the whole industry, really pays off when he tells you that your biggest competitor is never going to get that new launch off the line. With some tweaks, your firm can make a killing!
You don’t have to defend the original strategy. This is BIG! Since you didn’t devise the strategy, you aren’t obligated to defend it. Instead you can speak openly and tell it like it is. Do tell brothers and sisters…do tell!
You have the skills to get people of diverse backgrounds and in cross functional groups to work together. That’s because you live with them every day. There’s a big difference between telling people what to do and really working it out. You know how to work it out.
You know exactly what point your company is in the movie. You’ve been living it with the team, and more than anyone else you know if the team is ready to take the hill or go back and lick its wounds.
You know the believers. When the team needs to get motivated, you know who they turn to, and more importantly, you know what gets them fired up.
You can motivate with humor. You’ve got their trust; therefore you can joke a bit and have some fun. Fun is a great motivator, and you’re the one best positioned to get them laughing.
You have the power to heal. When things go wrong you’re best positioned to get people on the path to recovery with a vision for the future.
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.
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.
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.
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 skillful listener.
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.
Thirteen tips for new middle managers
The following observations from a new supervisor completing his first lap around the track may spare someone else a few unnecessary missteps.
Tips for new middle managers
1. You supervise the people in your unit. You don’t own them. Congratulations, now you’re a supervisor! For the first time, you’ll get to tell other people in your library what you want them to do. (Don’t forget too soon what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an order.)
Before you commit someone else’s time to a project, ask for their input; in some cases, ask for input from your unit as a whole.
Get advice; get volunteers. Your staff and colleagues are much more likely to do what you ask of them, if they know what needs to be done and why and are allowed to act on their own ideas.
2. Everyone in your unit will be better at something than you are. Many of the librarians and support staff you work with will be highly qualified and experienced at doing their jobs. Your job is to manage them, not to outdo them. Be grateful for their skills. Why should your limitations act as a cap on what others can accomplish? Would you take your car to mechanics who worked that way? Would you take your child to a hospital run along those lines?
3. Don’t confuse your goals with the process of attaining them. If organizations could solve problems simply by writing down answers, the world would be a happier place. Announcing what you hope to do isn’t enough to make it happen. You’ll need to identify the specific measures necessary to reach your goals, put those steps into logical order, gather resources and support, and start at the beginning.
A good manager may spend his or her whole tenure trying to reach final goals that were identified the first day on the job.
4. Remember that procedures exist to help people be effective. The larger the library, the greater the necessity for procedures to ensure consistency and identify the organization’s shared beliefs about the best ways to get things done. But procedures can also get in the way in some specific situations.
When the burden of following procedure is interfering with someone’s ability to get the job done, consider setting the procedure aside for a while.
5. Invert the table of organization: act as if employees are bosses. This is hardly an original thought, but it will make more sense after you become a middle manager.
Consider some stereotypical ideas about the ways in which we have to deal with “the boss”: most of us expect to report frequently on what we are doing; justify what we have in mind; and ask the boss what we should do to help with getting his or her work done.
You can help your staff by doing the same kinds of things: report to them often about what you know; ask them how you can help them succeed with their assignments; and go to bat on their behalf to get the computers, facilities, time, and other resources they need. Work for your employees, not over them. At the same time:
6. Act as if bosses are employees. If you “work for your employees,” it makes sense that your boss can work for you, too. Tell your supervisor exactly what your goals and plans are; spell out what you need from the supervisor to make your unit successful; and ask for frequent reports on what is going on in other units.
Tell your boss what worked and what didn’t, what you saw in his or her actions that you liked, and what shouldn’t be done again. (Naturally, you will need to strike the right tone when you do so.) Whether you are communicating up, down, or across the table of organization, courtesy is a wise policy.
7. Not every problem needs to be solved"at least not right away. More precisely, not every apparent problem proves to be a real one after more light falls on the situation. The real problem may reveal itself to be substantially different from the apparent problem as it first came into view. Some situations do require an immediate response, but most permit you the time to observe, to gather information, and to reflect before you act"or decide that action is no longer required.
8. Sometimes doing the supervisor’s job well just means not doing it badly. Making a decision, even if later it proves to be a mediocre response, generally is better than neglecting to act all.
Read your mail, submit your paperwork on time, go to the committee meetings you’re assigned to attend, return your telephone calls and e-mail messages (even if your best answer is sometimes, “I don’t know”). Other people in the organization are relying on you, or at least waiting for you. Don’t hold things up.
9. Doing your job well is not enough"you must also appear to do it well. If you and your unit want full credit for the work you do, let people in other areas know what you are doing. No one can act on the basis of your accomplishments if your work remains a secret. No one can learn from your experiences if they have never been shared. Nor will your staff have a fair shot at recognition and merit, unless their ideas and achievements are known.
10. Save your supervisor from being surprised, especially when the news is bad. There are few things worse for a higher level administrator than being asked to comment on an unfamiliar situation, whether in a committee meeting, conference with the director, or telephone call from the media. The pain you spare your boss in the short run is not enough to justify the embarrassment and indecision that could occur in the long run. Most bosses won’t shoot the messenger, at least not fatally. On the other hand:
11. Don’t be a snitch. Feel free to tell your boss about the business of your unit. Think twice before “telling” on your fellow managers. If the situation in another unit is affecting yours, talk to your colleague and try to resolve the problem. If the solution requires authority outside your joint resources, go to your supervisor"together. No one trusts a snitch, and when the flow of information in your direction vanishes, so will your foundation for making accurate decisions.
12. Never put anything in writing that you couldn’t live with if you found it tacked on your office door. This goes double for e-mail communications. After a memo, comment, or report leaves your hand or your hard drive, it takes on a life of its own. If what you are writing has the potential to offend or embarrass someone in your organization, send a copy to them; if you find that you would be embarrassed to do so, revise your text until you could. If what you have to say is too sensitive to pass this test, handle it verbally and say it in private.
13. Don’t take your good employees for granted. Much of your time will be taken up with problems: budget problems, patron problems, personnel problems. As this is going on, don’t forget about the members of your staff who aren’t problems, or they’ll become problems while your attention is focused somewhere else. Find out what will keep your best workers happy, productive, and in your unit. Ask them now what it would take to keep them on board"not later, when they already have an offer in hand from someone else.
One thing distinguishes supervisors, especially new supervisors, from the people around them: they asked for, or were willing to accept, the responsibility that comes with taking on new duties. That task involves learning new skills, and while one is learning, mistakes are inevitable. Not everything comes out the way we might like it the first time we give it a try.
Behind every one of these observations is a story, sometimes with an unhappy ending. If new supervisors can read, watch, and learn from mistakes (their own and others’), most will make the transition successfully and enjoyably in the long-run.