Video: How to Make a Successful Transition to Middle Management
Why is Middle Management Difficult?
Middle management is a difficult place to occupy. It is often the place where careers are either broken or made.
In fact, many business professionals find middle management roles more difficult than entry level or senior level management positions. The middle manager is not really in charge of setting direction and whatever direction is set must be done by working through others. It makes perfect sense why this role is difficult! Being a middle manager is difficult, but it is not an impossible role.
So, how can you make a successful transition to middle management?
Middle management is difficult. It's often the place where managerial careers either take off or die. Click To Tweet
How to Make a Successful Transition to Middle Management
The first step to take to be effective in your new role is to understand that middle management requires a different set of skills than front-line (first-level or supervisory) management. Specifically, the technical skills that were instrumental in your promotion to middle management are less important to you at this higher level.
As a middle manager, you must now excel in your leadership, interpersonal and big picture (conceptual) work. Your communication, interpersonal, planning, and delegation skills are more important at this level than your technical skills.
While management (getting the work done right) is still important, leadership (doing the right work) becomes more important at the middle management level.
Your ability to build effective relationships and influence others at all levels of the organization will be critical to your continued managerial success. This is because your success is tied more closely to your ability to influence and collaborate with others at all levels of the organization. As a middle manager, you cannot be successful based on your superior technical skills alone. If you adopt this mindset in your new managerial role, you will set yourself up for eventual failure.
To make a successful transition to middle management it's important to realize that you cannot do this alone. Your success as a middle manager is tied to your ability to work WITH and THROUGH others. Click To Tweet
The second step to take to be effective is to be proactive about your own leadership development. Look for internal and external opportunities to improve your interpersonal and conceptual skills.
The reason why this is critical is because many organizations do not take a proactive approach to middle management development. These organizations incorrectly assume that past success equals continued success. This is flawed organizational planning as middle management requires a different skill set.
If you work in one of these organizations and if you do not get the additional development that you need, you may find your managerial career harmed or worse broken as you struggle to work at this new level in the organization.
So, what can you do to take charge of your own leadership development?
The best methods for improving your interpersonal and conceptual skills are continuing education and mentorship. Taking high quality internal and external management seminars, taking quality behavioral assessments (for example, the MBTI), doing volunteer work, and joining a professional association are all viable continuing education methods.
Mentorship creates some challenges as this development option will probably fall solely on you to make it happen. (However, if your organization or a professional association to which you belong has a mentorship program, this can be a viable option.) Assuming you have to find your own mentor, seek a person to be your mentor whom you respect and who is respected and effective in your organization. Sometimes all that it takes is you making the request of a higher level manager who has shown interest in your success. Some words of advice here: this individual should not be your boss, however, as boss and mentor roles can conflict!
To make a successful transition to middle management, leadership skills are critical to your continuing success. If your organization is not helping you to further develop these skills, then you must help yourself. Click To Tweet
The third step you can take to be effective is to find reliable sources to provide you with ongoing feedback on your performance. This is different from formal feedback systems in your organization. In this third step, you are in effect creating your own informal system to get ongoing quality feedback from others who genuinely want you to succeed in your new role. You are creating your own council of advisers to help you transition successfully to middle management.
360 degree feedback (people below your level, at your level, and above your level) is preferable. The key for an effective informal 360 degree feedback system is to pick your advisers carefully. You will want to identify individuals who will provide you with honest feedback and who do not have their own political agenda against you. Keep in mind that you do not have to actually tell people that they are an informal adviser to you. It's fine to establish a productive working relationship with people and let it evolve to the point where you can seek and obtain their feedback as needed.
So, who are some possible sources for this help?
Peers with whom you have an effective relationship are one source. Your boss is also an important feedback source (of course, the better your relationship with your boss, the easier it will be to get and accept the feedback). Finally, the best source of feedback for you as a middle manager is the managers that you now supervise.
Creating an informal feedback system with your direct reports does not happen easily however. You have to create an environment with your team of managers that fosters this healthy two-way communication. To do this, you will have to create trust with your team that you will not penalize them for any feedback that they give you AND you will need to establish and maintain your leadership credibility.
Here's a couple of things that you can do to start creating the right environment for this helpful feedback to occur:
- First, you will have to create a no-penalty environment where your direct reports feel free to give you their feedback. This starts with you letting your direct reports know that you want and value their feedback. (Some warning here: to receive feedback from your direct reports you will need to manage your emotions so you can hear and accept all feedback — including frank feedback that is uncomplimentary. Managing your emotions is critical because employee feedback about our failings in certain situations can sting our emotions. If the feedback from your managers is correct however, it's better for you to accept it than ignore it.)
- Once you get valid feedback, you will need to act on it appropriately. This is done by thanking your direct reports for their feedback, acknowledging how their feedback can help your organizational efforts, and responding appropriately to the concerns of your direct reports without emotion or punishment.
After several instances of this behavior, you will start building credibility with your managers. You will find that they appreciate you giving them a real voice in the operations. And, you may find that your direct reports will begin to look out for your best interests as well.
A final point for this third step: using some external sources for your informal feedback system can be effective as their outsider status may give them an unbiased perspective on your actions.
To make a successful transition to middle management it's important to realize that the perceptions of others about you matter. You need ongoing 360 degree feedback on your performance. Click To Tweet
Your key to success as a middle manager is realizing that the skills that brought you success in your former managerial role are less critical at this higher, middle-level of management. Since many organizations do not adequately prepare first-level managers to be middle managers, you'll need to be proactive about your own development. You can do this through leadership development and mentorship and by creating your own system for receiving 360 degree feedback. By taking these steps, you can improve your chances of being successful in the difficult role of middle management.
SUCCEEDING IN YOUR MIDDLE MANAGEMENT ROLE
12 Steps to Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness
The one area that is critical to your success as a middle manager is leadership. This is because your success depends more on your ability to work with and through your team of direct reports. This book with its accompanying workbook can help you to take the next step to enhance your leadership effectiveness and succeed in your middle manager role in your organization. Available in ebook and paperback formats.