March 17, 2020

94: Be a Rockstar Middle Manager with Donald Meador

Do you ever feel like you are sandwiched between upper management and your team members? Being a middle manager is tough, especially when you’re feeling the pressures from all sides. Learning to manage up as well as down will make your job much easier, and make you a rockstar middle manager.

Donald Meador has survived mergers, promotions, re-organizations, and downsizing. He is an author, award-winning speaker and the host of the podcast “The Corporate Middle” where he answers the most common middle management questions.

We talk about the challenges of being a middle manager, how to approach autonomy so that it builds confidence and not a sense of desertion, how to manage up when your boss isn’t giving you the support you want, what to do when you’re handed unrealistic expectations, and how to lead your team when you don’t believe in the work you’re doing, and how to make your boss successful so that you’re successful.

Read the related blog article: Leading Successfully From The Middle

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  • Being a middle manager is tough because there is no preparation for it and you’re responsible to people above and below you.
  • Managers, especially senior ones, want you to bring them solutions, not problems.
  • There will always be firsts for you as a manager (first time firing someone, sharing bad news, etc). If your manager isn’t helpful, find someone who can help you through these situations.
  • Great managers facilitate their team members to find the answers. They ask questions like ‘what do you think we should do?’ or ‘what are your instincts telling you’. This shows support while providing autonomy.
  • When going to your boss for advice, come in with a recommendation or options, and ask for their input or perspective. This is a great form of managing up.
  • If you’re given an assignment with an unrealistic deadline or goal and you’re unable to sway the decision-makers to modify it so that it’s attainable, you need to communicate early and often on the status. Share challenges that will inhibit you from accomplishing the goal on time.
  • People are not logical and we’re terrible at projecting timelines. So it’s likely that no matter how often or how strongly you share that the goal will be missed, your boss will still be disappointed.
  • Sometimes you need to lead your team to do work that you don’t believe in. (unrealistic expectations, poor strategy, etc) Be candid with your team members about the issues you see, but also affirm that the team needs to do its best regardless. By pointing out flaws ahead of time, you minimize the chances that the group will disagree or be deflated.
  • Look for the one or two perceived benefits of the work. Point out what the group will learn, develop, gain, etc and why it’s worth the effort.
  • As a manager, it’s likely you will make an unrealistic request of your team and some point. Give your team an opportunity to voice their concerns and truly listen. Take their ideas into consideration as they often know more than you do.
  • Focus on making those around you successful – your team members and your boss. When you make them successful, you’ll be successful.
  • Understand what your boss cares about so that you can align your work with what they need. Ask your boss what opportunities they see, what they’re excited about.



Book: Surrounded by Insanity

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