Succeeding in middle-level management
Middle-level management is thought to be one of the levels where one has to learn how to balance expectations and people. It is typically the level below senior management and above lower levels of an organisation. At mid-level management, you will be responsible for an entire department and this means that there will be people who need your guidance while you must remain accountable to top level management. Therefore, you need to have excellent skills to ensure that those working under you are motivated, skilled, and fully engaged for you to be successful.
Typically, the most important skill at this level is seldom technical. Instead, your people-management skills will get you the results you need with minimum friction. Here are important skills that you will not even learn in top MBA schools;
Listening is more important than talking
It has been said many times that you have two ears to listen more and one mouth to talk less. Well, that is absolutely true in management. Your subordinates deal with customers and other stakeholders all the time. They know what needs to be done and from their experiences, they can offer a wealth of information about how to solve that little problem that has been giving you sleepless nights. Moreover, listening more will help you hear what is not being said and you will be more informed for it.
Most people mistake leadership with the absolute right to be heard but you will rarely learn something new from always talking. Listen more, ask more questions, be intuitive, and always ask for clarification. This way, you will gain a lot of information and you will be able to make more informed decisions.
Sometimes you have to tolerate undesirable habits
Karis is the top performer in your department. In fact, he manages to hit all his targets by the middle of the quarter. However, he just can never come to work on time and if you need him in a meeting, you better lie to him that it is starting 30 minutes earlier. Apart from that, there is really nothing else wrong with him. In this case, you are allowed to be more lenient with him in terms of time management.
However, this does not mean that you can look the other way if he delays other people’s work, is condescending, and totally impossible to work with. These are things that will eventually affect the productivity of other people on your team and should, therefore, not be overlooked. However, if some things like his ability to come to work on time, are your only issue, then you can look the other way. It may seem like favouritism but part of management is to learn personalities and work with individual needs and traits. Eventually, you will realise that you will have to tolerate something from almost everyone, as long as it does not affect productivity.
It is okay to be close to the people you manage
Once upon a time, being in management meant creating a barrier between you and your subordinates. You only interacted with them when issuing orders or reprimanding them. The relationship was mechanical and fear-based and not much was really achieved.
Well, if you want to succeed in the modern organisation, it is important to build relationships with your subordinates as this will make it easy for them to approach you, take your guidance, and correct their behaviour. If you cannot form a relationship with your subordinates, no one will come to you when there is a problem or one is about to happen and you will always find yourself putting out fires you could have easily avoided.
Ask people to volunteer for the less glamorous tasks
People will often avoid unpopular tasks but at the end of the day, they have to be done. So, instead of assigning them, why not ask people to volunteer for them? Throw in some incentive like getting an extra day off or working from home. Volunteers are likely to be more committed to the task that those who have been forced to perform the task. Offer your support for even better results and you will find it easy to enlist volunteers whenever you have an unpopular task.
Avoid rumours and gossip
It goes without saying that rumours and gossip tear apart relationships. It is even worse when those in management encourage such behaviour. Gossip and rumours within the workplace will often have missing bits and pieces. If someone wants to tell you something, make them provide evidence and ask them to repeat what they say in front of others. This way, you will avoid taking sides and having cliques, which only destroy relationships and slow down work.
Train people in such a way that they can replace you
Most people don’t want to work with subordinates who can challenge them. They see them as a threat and will often hire people who are less skilled or crash those who are more skilled. Well, this is detrimental because it will take a lot of personal effort on your part to get things done. Having skilled people around you is also good for your career because you will be hitting those targets like a boss and you will also learn from your team. Everyone wins so do not be sad about your subordinates being better than you. It works for your benefit.
Furthermore, realise that you cannot do it all by yourself. Empower your subordinates to take charge of their work and responsibilities. They will get better at it and you will spend less time keeping tabs on them and more on doing what matters.
Don’t be afraid to go hard on your subordinates
The general rule is that you should incentivize people to perform well and praise them when they do a good job. Well, while that motivates people to work harder, sometimes you have to go hard on people when their performance is below par. You have to be firm and let them know that you expect better results. It is not likely to be as effective as giving praise, but it is absolutely necessary.
Middle-level management can be challenging as it involves handling the expectations of senior management while ensuring that your subordinates are doing their job. Therefore, it is important to learn how to be in charge of your team so as to get the best results.