Clowns to the left of me (leading from the middle)

Although I work regularly with leaders from across all sectors, I very rarely find someone who has sole responsibility for their organisation. Even those at the top of their profession have other board members, trustees or stakeholders to consider.

The tension of being both a leader and a follower, of being ‘stuck in the middle’, is something that I often get asked to give advice on. My favourite reference in answer to the problem of being ‘stuck in the middle’ is the fantastic work ‘between a rock and a hard place’ by Barry Oshry (available from his Total System Power website).

Oshry sets out the ideal tasks for the different levels in the organisation. The ‘top’ should develop the vision, the ‘bottom’ should deliver and fix the day-to-day issues, while the ‘middle’ has the crucial role of integrating those above and below. If you feel powerless in the middle; consider this:  where else in the organisation can you influence the whole system?

As John Adair says: “success in an organisations depends on excellence at all levels”.  I believe the most powerful place to bring about transformation is often the middle.

Don’t let the excuse ‘my boss won’t let me’ limit you. You owe it to yourself and to your team to be braver than that, to model, inspire and lead change from where you are. Don’t fall into the trap of limiting information flow between the top and the bottom of your organisations. Your key role is to be an effective integrator.

Done well this role can be transformative. Think about the two way communication and how you can be more effective as you lead from the middle:

From the top down: do you negotiate the work that comes to you from your boss before handing it down to your team?  If you don’t then, frankly, you could be replaced by a post-box! An excellent integrator will redefine tasks that are given and fight for sufficient resource to deliver successfully. How well do you tell the story and sell the vision of the organisation to your team? Do they understand their role in the bigger picture because you have explained it to them?

From the bottom up: do you make your superiors aware of the brilliant work that’s being done by your team? Are you generous with praise? Do you carve out space and capacity to deliver above and beyond what’s expect, are you able to surprise and delight the ‘top’ with the innovative solutions and ideas that come up from the ‘bottom’?

Join the conversation & get the skills:
Clear vision, task focus and effective communication are the keys to making a success of leading from the middle.  These skills can be developed and you may well want help and support to do that.  There are a range of excellent courses and coaching options available from Government Knowledge and we would love to help you on your way!  Do get in touch via twitter or our blog. We’d love to hear your tips and stories about how you make a success of leading from the middle.

Connect with us on twitter:  @GovKnow   @pashleyfisher

This blog was commissioned by GovKnow and first appeared on their site.