Exert Influence While You’re Stuck in the Middle

Are you stuck in the middle when it comes to your job?

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Perhaps you supervise many, but you still answer to a few. Or maybe you frequently advise a superior who seems less competent than you. Leading from the middle is tough. But managers who influence from the middle are often in a perfect position to collaborate with others, solve problems, and have significant organizational impact.

Want to make the most of your time in the middle? Here are three ways to hone upward influence in this transitional season:

Honor Decisions You Disagree With

People who lead from the middle are sometimes forced to settle for less than the ideal.

In your position, often you’ll receive instructions you don’t like or decisions you disagree with. In frustrating moments, you may be tempted to badmouth the decision or the organization. In a meeting you may say something like, “I would have done it differently, but . . .” Or during office chit-chat, you may casually question your leader’s judgment.

Real leaders make the best of a situation and honor decisions in healthy, unifying ways. If you want to be respected by those around you, speak with integrity and uphold the reputation of others. This builds trust, which gives you more influence when it’s time to speak up or offer solutions.

Be Intentional

One challenge for mid-level employees is knowing when or how to speak.

When you are strategic and consistent in sharing, your perspective can make a more significant impact. What is the best way for you to communicate? Consider a short, weekly e-mail update to your boss. Highlight 2-minute success stories in meetings to put a face on your “win.” Or use printed presentation notes when sharing needs or asking for additional resources. This demonstrates thoughtful preparation and makes your request more memorable.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind

If you want to be taken seriously as a leader, take a serious interest in the organization as a whole.

Don’t just focus on your department. Instead, look for ways to lend a hand to those above, below, and around you. When your supervisor sees that you care about the whole company, you may be surprised how quickly your influence grows.

This may bring friction. Working from the middle gives you a great vantage point to see the big picture, to recognize patterns or uncertainties, and highlight tension within the organization. When you bump into turbulence, remember that trying to please everyone is impossible.

Global Portfolio Management Director Michelle Maloy, says it’s easy to doubt yourself when you’re always trying to please:

“[This balancing act] requires self-control and clarity. You need to have understanding and empathy for others, but you can’t let everybody’s ‘stuff’ allow you to lose focus.”

It’s All About Perspective

While there are times that leading from the middle is difficult, you are often ideally positioned to collaborate with others to generate new ideas and solve problems.

This allows you to gain experience, be involved in meaningful work, and affect large scale change. It is possible to successfully lead from your position while developing skills that serve you throughout your career.

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Avoid These 3 Management Blunders (with Four Teamwork Tweaks)

Want to liven up your next dinner party?

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Just ask people for their “worst boss” stories. Here are some painful (anonymous) stories from those who’ve lived to share:

“When I was an intern at a PR firm, my manager would make me run her personal errands (pick up dry cleaning, ship things, drive her and her friends to SXSW events, etc.). She would get my attention by calling me ‘Intern.’ Needless to say, when they asked me to stay on full-time, I politely declined.”

“I once had a boss who multi-tasked in meetings by being on her phone and present in the meeting. In both 1:1’s and in group settings she would shift her attention constantly from the speaker to her phone—back and forth, back and forth . . . At first, I just thought she was extremely busy, and it was the only way for her to get everything done—until one day, I caught her doing crossword puzzles on her phone while doing a check-in with me.”

“I once had a boss who, while I was replying to a question addressed to me by their boss in a meeting, actually put their hand less than an inch in front of my face to silence me so that they could answer instead.”

Whether you’re the CEO, an intern, or a new manager, working with others is a key part of success in every job. But managing well while empowering others requires a delicate balance.

Beyond learning the names of your interns, here are four tweaks you can make in your leadership.

Listen

Good listening is essential to management, and it begins long before you start a meeting.

Keys to listening well include generating questions in advance, keeping an open mind, and not jumping to conclusions before or during conversations. Don’t assume you know what someone is thinking; instead, listen with the intent of understanding before “solving.” And give your team conversational breathing room by personally checking in for “no good reason” on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. You may be surprised by what they share!

Pair Criticism with Compliments

The Harvard Business Review says a good rule of thumb is to give more praise than criticism, but surveys show that 40% of respondents claim they never gave positive reinforcement.

People need a balance of both praise and criticism in order to thrive. Top performing teams typically give five positive comments for every critique.

Distinguish Between Personal and Organizational Issues

Employees will have challenges, and it’s your job to address them.

But workplace problems are typically either personal or organizational and treating them differently can be hugely helpful. Personal problems should be handled with compassion and accountability. But organizational issues may involve hiring, restructuring, or strategic planning. Don’t confuse bad attitudes with bad workflow policies!

Finish Meetings with a Question

Want to boost communication in your team?

Conclude every meeting with this question: is there anything else? Whatever is top of mind (concerns, challenges, excitement) will bubble to the surface quickly. This question signals you care and gives people permission to share things that aren’t explicitly on the agenda. Try it and see what happens!

From mediating personality clashes to enabling great leaders, your management skills are the key to growing great teams. Keep the conversations flowing as you encourage others, and your business will flourish.

How Building Effective Teams Can Supercharge Your Business

GettyImages-881068442.jpgTeam building can be an overused cliche in business circles, but there is something truly magical about what a cohesive team can create together. Individuals working alone are able to contribute specific tasks towards a goal, but a team working together adds energy and power to push their achievements higher. This is one of the reasons there are so many books and manuals focused on building effective teams. If you have never seen this in action you may not believe the synergy that can be attained — it is almost like a force of nature. See how building effective teams will maximize employee productivity and happiness as well as helping you retain your hardest workers.

Effective Teams Bring Their “A” Game

A Gallup article from a few years ago stated that up to 70% of employees are showing up to work disengaged, costing the American economy billions of dollars every year in lost productivity. When you find ways for these individuals to connect to one another, they become invested in seeing each other become successful. Engaged, enthusiastic employees are ones who are constantly looking for ways to innovate and exceed expectations. If you could move the needle on even 20% of your mediocre performers, the impact to your bottom line would be significant.

Effective Teams Provide Diverse Ideas

The age-old saying that ‘two heads are better than one’ is extremely valid in today’s business world. The complexity of ideas and interconnectedness of our systems means that it is difficult for any one person to have the knowledge needed to innovate and excel. Bringing together your team in a safe space allows for the free flowing of ideas between members — and the ability to synthesize these great ideas into something actionable for leadership.

Effective Teams Blow Through Restraints

Where one person working alone may be worried about going down a specific — and potentially risky — path, a cohesive team has the bravery to take the leap. These leaps are what drive lasting change in an organization. Without this shared risk-taking and an ability to literally blow through restraints, your business can become stuck in the rut of doing things the way they’ve always been done.

Effective Teams Inspire Others

Let’s face it, everyone wants to be a part of a winning team. When you see one team that seems to get all the awards, recognition and respect, you want to see what makes them special. Many times, it’s their ability to work effectively together and collaborate to achieve a shared vision and goals. When one team in your organization is able to attain this level of cohesiveness, it will inspire and motivate others to do the same. This breeds a more positive working environment for all.

Effective Teams Have Fun Together

When work ceases to be work and becomes something that you enjoy doing during the day, you are able to devote your heart more fully to the tasks at hand. This joyful passion shines through in everything that you do. Ineffective teams can cause this light to dim, but having fun together can create a bond where individuals connect at a deeper level.

There are so many ways that effective teams create a sum that is greater than the individual parts. When the team truly works together as a single unit, the strengths of each person are multiplied allowing for an oversized impact on your organization’s effectiveness. Bring your teams together if you want to truly supercharge your business!