How to Lead When Stuck Between Upper Management and a High Performer! Middle Management can be hard! It’s one of the first steps of professional growth; as you’ve graduated from a Front-Line position, higher-ups have seen your professional worth, and believe you have what it takes to be in a position of leadership… It’s an exciting time; full of pride and anxiety! What no one tells you is the eventual and ever-lasting pressure of meeting the desires, pressures, and sometimes unrealistic expectations of those above you… attempting to lead those under you! In a perfect world, you and upper management are on the same page, are understanding, patient, and willing to brainstorm and build together… while the front line love their job, accept all duties, expectations, rules, and changes without a problem or breaking a sweat. Yeah right… Even if this is the case… it rarely stays the way for long!
Perhaps you and upper management aren’t on the same page and your expected to follow through. The expectation has been set but you have front-line superstars that do their own thing and are more protected professionally than you. This happens in quite a bit… The owner like a certain player, pays him/her a lot of money, the player performs, the coach’s job is to make it work… even though the player breaks all the rules, is a locker room problem, and is uncoachable… sound familiar at your job? So, what to do?
The first step, as the person in the middle, is to meet with the top! It’s important, and necessary, to be on the same page. Remember, your job and professional advance may depend on it. Whether you stay at the job or venture elsewhere; news and your reputation will travel… Be sure it’s saying what you want it to say!
In your meeting with Upper Management, it’s you goal to walk out of the room or close the laptop with a clearer understanding of a few powerful things:
- What’s the exact mission of my job? – Get clear on what you are expected to do and accomplish.
- How much control do you have within in your position? – A position of leadership with zero decision-making abilities may quickly become and position of frustration. What issues or decisions need to be discussed with upper management first regarding decisions and employee issues?
- What do we absolutely agree with regarding the Vision, Expectations, and Rules of the organization and team… along with how to best deal with infractions?
Whether you agreed with the conversation and the answers your received or not… the answers to these questions will prove you more clarity, direction, and confidence moving forward. However, it will not always play out this simple and like with everything, there are outliers… That all-star employee that’s a high-performer and doesn’t have to follow the rules, that employee that was hired as a family favor and will never get fired, or the employee that has all the potential in the world but never reaches it and hurts the team with mistake after mistake after mistake. I could go on, but you get it!
I’ve had the pain and privilege of working with and leading all three types and have been professionally impacted by them all as I’m sure you have. The All-Star is undeniable, you see their talent and potential to be the best at what they do and advance quickly. However, as a leader, we may need to get out of their own way by praising their ability, letting them know the intention of our role for individuals on the team, the team, and the organization (it helps when you actually know this about yourself and your role), your belief in them, and your dedication to fine-tune their skills for the pitfalls you know are coming and they don’t. When I was a Mental Health Therapist in an Alternative School and worked with a gentleman that was an all-star connector and was eager to fix every issue for every student and staff. My job became helping him to hone his skills, teach him how to teach other staff to do what he did, and to increase his patience and decrease his ego; allowing other people to lead… all in efforts to improve the entire team and save him from sure burn-out and frustration when the luster of the job begins to fade.
I’ve worked for the “Family-Hire” that was not a best fit for the position and was not going to get fired. I’m sad to say, I did not behave my best. I grew frustrated quickly, vented to anyone who’d listen, disconnected from my passion and team, became the worst version of myself professionally, and was presented with an option to transfer sites. Looking back, it was the turning point of my professional life; leading me to the very beginning of what I am today as a professional speaker, author, and leadership trainer, However, I still wish I’d handled it better! Lastly, I employed “The Potential” and let way too many things; negatively impacting my leadership and reputation. He was a good person, but not every good person is a fit… Lesson learned! So, how do you connect, build, motivate, and move forward… keeping your job, enhancing your leadership and work/life harmony, and building theirs?
Now that you’ve come to an understanding with leadership; it’s time to bond and connect with your people and the one causing you so many headaches and sleepless night! I know it sounds dramatic, but isn’t it? I recommend a marriage… I’m big on marriage when it can be done to best understand and care for the needs of others; all with the vision and mission to create and achieve a desired a lifestyle. This applies to the professional relationship you may be in, and you have two choices.
1. “The Jimmy Johnson Approach” – Jimmy Johnson is most famous for being the head coach of the Dally Cowboys in the 1990’s, winning three Superbowls, and creating a dynasty. His approach to leadership and star players was tough… but not necessarily fair or equal. It’s reported he told his team… the stars will be treated differently and had a longer rope. It was also reported, he shared with his stars when he was going to yell at them in front of the team; to make an impact on everyone and to let back-up players they’d better not make a mistake. Agree or disagree… he was upfront and consistent. Granted, there are some concerns to the approach as star professionals tend to use the extra rope to hang themselves.
2. The Marriage – involves sitting with your high-performer to share:
- The positives of their abilities and potential as an individual, on the team, and within the organization.
- Increase your understanding of what they want to get out of working for and with you? Why are they there? Help to develop their Vision & Vision Factors.
- Share your Vision & Vision Factors as a leader
- Marry your goals
- Agree to become a team; exhibiting a combined vision, plan, expectations, and rules that can be revisited regularly to effectively maintain the relationship, the team, and the business!
I know, the above sounds “cheesy” and it may rarely work as neatly as I described. However, what does? The truth is… this initial meeting is simply the beginning… and when done with sincerity and an honest passion to get to know someone, really work together, and win (however you define “winning”) is powerful. What happens next usually tanks results… you get busy as a leader and neglect to follow up, maintain 1-on-1 connection, and the relationship never gets to flourish. Or your get busy and during times of high stress… people revert to what they know… and behave accordingly. Don’t be so busy being busy that you forget to build and be better… Be Mindful!
After you’ve had “The Meeting”, “The Marriage”, and Followed Through and things are still not going the way you like… sad to say, but the job or position may not be for you, and you have a choice to make.
You can gripe, pout, and vent your frustrations to anyone who will listen. Believe me; you will find someone to listen, you will be right about everything you say, and you will find momentary comfort in them agreeing with you. However, it will not change the reality of your situation… and will make it worse over time as your negative thoughts and words will drip into your actions… making you as much a part of the problem!
Therefore, the option that will enhance your Leadership & Work/Life Harmony is to understand and marry YOUR WHY. Why are you at that job, continue to show up daily, and collect a check every two weeks? Whatever your reason… money, advancement opportunities, experience, etc… Marry your Why! Know what your getting out of showing up daily and that’s your vision and mission. Next, enhance your Superpower; whatever your good at get great at! If things get better at work… you’ll be better moving forward. If things get worse and you leave… you’ll leave as an asset, not a liability. Enjoy your relationships and network better… Who do you enjoy at work? Who’s positive, productive, and inspiring… hang out with them and enjoy your day or engage in brief positive chit-chat when you can! Lastly, when all this has failed; the writing is on the wall, and it may be time to walk away with your head held high and eagerly ready for the next chapter and gift of your professional and personal life!
“Marry the vision, not the path!” – Andre Young
Written by: Andre Young
Enhance Leadership and Work/Life Harmony in your Organization, your Leaders, Employees, and Teams with Andre Young’s Speaking Engagements, Evolve & Lead Training Programs (on-site, online, or virtual), and1-on-1 Growth Sessions! www.youevolvingnow.com