When seeking to become a better middle manager or to coach someone into becoming a better middle manager, there are two key concepts to review.
The first is to understand the difference between leadership and management. The best way to do this is to review the following key material by Marcus Buckingham in his delightful book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005. As he writes, “To excel as a manager you must never forget that each of your direct reports is unique and that your chief responsibility is not to eradicate this uniqueness, but rather to arrange roles, responsibilities, and expectations so that you can capitalize upon it. The more you perfect this skill, the more effectively you will turn talents into performance.
To excel as a leader requires the opposite skill. You must become adept at calling upon those needs we all share. Our common needs include the need for security, for community, for authority, and for respect, but for you, the leader, the most powerful universal need is our need for clarity. To transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future, you must discipline yourself to describe our joint future vividly and precisely. As your skill at this grows, so will our confidence in you.”
In order to become a better middle manager, the first step is to clarify roles, responsibilities and expectations. While this sounds easy, it is most often forgotten in the daily rush to just get stuff done. A good executive coach can make a profound difference in helping this process take place. They can ask questions and share insights which build awareness and understanding. So, in review, to understand the difference between management and leadership is vital to long term success in management positions. When we manage well and lead well, we create capacity within the organization at a whole new level.
The other key concept is to recognize the power of building on strengths. As Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Gallup Press, February 2007), noted, “If your manager primarily ignores you, your chances of being actively disengaged are 40%. If your manager primarily focuses on your weaknesses, your chances of being actively disengaged are 22%. If your manager primarily focuses on your strengths, your chances of being actively disengaged are 1%.”
The above numbers related to engagement are stunning. Yet, we as managers and leaders have to recognize that we often get stuck focusing on what is wrong and trying to fix it, rather than building on people’s strengths. While building on strengths takes time, it also results in longer term commitment and success.
Putting the two concepts together is the key to being a successful middle manager. In the beginning, you must recognize the unique talent in each of your direct reports and then to build on these strengths. When we do this, then we will achieve a greater level of engagement and performance by all involved.