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ATD Blog

Leadership Starts in the Middle


Wed Oct 10 2012


Remember the good old days when the boss sat in his office barking orders and everyone did what they were told? Those days are nothing more than a memory, yet some organizations operate as if nothing has changed.

Leadership starts in the middle and if you don’t believe me, then go ahead and try to mobilize your workforce on your own. Pulling your people together to quickly achieve targets set by top management requires a team of managers who can effectively lead from the middle. Here’s how you can accelerate this movement in your organization.**


Elevate middle managers**. In some organizations, middle management is the right of passage one must go through in order to move up to bigger and better things. That’s unfortunate. There are many people in the middle who are perfectly fine remaining there and they are doing a terrific job.

Make it a big deal to be a middle manager. Recognize and reward your managers who are responsible for those who interface with your clients and customers. Provide opportunities for growth within the position, so people don’t have to give up a job they love, to make more money.Strengthen your core. Get your middle managers into fighting shape so they have the stamina to make it through the ups and downs of this tumultuous economy. Help them tone their leadership skills so they are fit to handle whatever may come their way. Keep in mind that a one size fits all approach to training and development will not yield results for everyone. You will get faster and more sustainable results by creating individualized plans based on each person’s need.

Solicit input. All too often, decisions are made at the top with little input from those in the middle. Solicit input from those who are responsible for carrying out the strategy before agreeing on how to best move forward. This approach will prevent you from making costly mistakes.

Don’t assume all the great thinkers reside at the top of the organization. Middle managers at Japanese brewer Asahi are a testament to the power of what can happen when you unleash the talent that resides in the middle layers of management. Their middle-management team developed Super Dry Beer, an innovative product that allowed Japanese brewer Asahi to capture new market share. This success is credited with the struggling company’s turnaround.

Strong leadership in the middle will produce outstanding operational results. A strong middle management team also will proactively develop a constant stream of new ideas to remedy problems and seize new opportunities. Can you see now why leadership starts in the middle and not at the top?


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