Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Moving into middle management – Part 4: working with managers who report to you

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 10, 2011

This is my fourth installment in a developing series on making an effective transition into middle management (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 142, 143 and 144) and I start it by suggesting you read through my series on transitioning into a first management position (see the Guide, postings 105, 108, 110, 111 and 113-123.) Think back to your early experience as a lower level manager and think through the issues you faced where you found your supervisor helpful and where you would have wished for something more from them. Now you are going to be that more senior manager, and the focus of this posting is on the complex of issues that arise as you lead and supervise other managers.

I remind you here of a point that I have made many times but that is particularly applicable in this context. You can learn a lot from the good and even inspiring managers and leaders you have had opportunity to work with, but the deepest, most profound lessons learned in how to manage often come from the worst managers you have had to put up with. They teach you what not to do and precisely why you should not do that. Think back on your own personal collection of lessons learned.

I find myself running mentally down a checklist of issues and details I have seen handled, sometimes adroitly and sometimes very badly. And I develop this posting from that as a starting point.

• Be supportive of the people who report to you, but remember that a big part of that can be in demanding excellence and in helping them to achieve to their fullest potential.
• Listen at least as much as you speak, and keep your door open so you can do both – be there and be involved. Some of the worst managers I have ever seen were ineffective as supervisors because they were not involved enough to even know when their teams were getting into trouble – and when the team’s manager is uninvolved and disconnected, with time that will happen.
• And remember that your management style and approach has to fit into and work in the context of the corporate culture and context that you and your team work in. Be context-aware.

Think back. Have you ever had a manager who was so busy trying to stay on their supervisor’s radar that they were unavailable when a problem was developing in their own team? Have you ever had a manager who would give conflicting messages, or play one member of their team off against another? Review your own list as a series of learning opportunities, and keep them in mind as you move forward. If you have any significant amount of experience as a line worker and lower level manager, you already know a lot of the positives and pitfalls that a more senior manager can create for their teams.

Most of the time when I post to this blog I find myself offering specific analytically organized facts and details and directions as to approaches. Here, my principle take home lesson is to really listen to the voice of your own experience. Yes, learn from others, but listen to your own counsel too. And strive to be the best of the best of all that you have experienced coming from the people you have seen supervise and who have supervised you.

My next posting in this series will shift to finding an effective operational and strategic balance in what you do, and that will switch back to a more detailed and analytically oriented format.

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