Are always the meat in the sandwich, mid level leaders (or middle managers) face very distinct challenges.
Firstly, they are responsible for front line leaders (first time managers) who run teams that get most of the work of any organisation done. They have a pivotal support role in helping these front line leaders develop the capabilities to build high performing front line teams. Making the transition from being a front line leader (leading individual contributors) to being a leader of leaders is often a difficult transition to make. In this role of “facing down”, mid level leaders are often the most crucial group when it comes to driving change initiatives down through the organisation.
Secondly, they are also responsible for their own careers, and are focused on “facing up” – getting ready for the next move up the leadership pipeline. Accelerating the readiness of this group for new or higher responsibilities is often the focus of many leadership programs. Groups within this cohort are often labelled “emerging talent”, and are invited on programs designed to cement effectiveness at their current level, and accelerate readiness for promotion.
HFL designs and delivers many such programs for our clients.
Our approach in developing mid level leaders is based on two key principles:
• Principle 1: Plan for succession. Few mid level leaders get promoted unless ready made successors are clearly available to move into the role they are vacating. This means that a critical component of any “accelerated readiness” program for mid level leaders must be building capabilities around succession planning, development of reports, coaching capabilities, situational leadership, and delegation.
• Principle 2: Stretch assessment. Fundamental to getting any mid level leader ready to move up to senior leadership is getting each individual to understand what is required for a successful senior leader, and what gaps currently exist in their capabilities. HFL uses stretch assessments to provide mid level leaders exposure to what a day in the life of a senior leader actually looks like, building a strong development plan for the individual to execute. Often these development plans require us to build in the ability to undertake responsibilities and experience activities that will be common place once they are promoted, but which they have little exposure to in current role. We do this via experiential workshops and action learning projects.
• Principle 3: Senior leaders need support and encouragement and honest feedback, from people who understand just how big a change in their habits (formed over a long time and nurtured by past managers) to shift from managing (telling) to leading (asking). What senior leaders don’t need is judgemental leadership consultants slyly questioning how a senior executive got his or her role without knowing this stuff. The honest feedback is critically important – the higher senior executives go, the more prominent their blind spots, because they receive less honest feedback from those around them.
As with most of our other leadership development initiatives, our designs ensure that the senior leaders who the mid level leaders report to are heavily involved in supporting the accelerated development of their reports.
Investment in mid level leader development has two significant advantages for most organisations. One outcome is that the development of front line leaders should be accelerated by mid level leaders. Secondly, the organisation is building a “ready to step up” cohort for the next level of leadership.