Mid-Level Leadership: The Art of Balance

Do you as a leader often find yourself between two or more bad decisions, and none of them are really your choice? When policy is written it is with the best intentions, but at times formed in a nascent way, leaving a lack of funding or specificity in how to make the changes necessary to comply. The practical implementation of policy can be messy. It is often left to individuals and teams who do not specialize in the type of work to be done. This can prove frustrating for all parties, particularly those who are made aware of the changes without specifics, and who then must pass along the message, and try to allay fears of the staff. This often falls on mid-level leadership.

Mid-level managers have power over their teams, but nothing beyond the scope of their immediate circle. They are often 4-5 layers down the hierarchy from the commissioner, or other executive leadership team members. This can often lead to vast gaps in information between people, and breakdowns in communication. Simply because the scope of power and realm of influence is limited, that does not mean that they (you!) have no recourse, or that the staff will always feel unsupported, or in the dark.

Below is a list of 5 tips that can help mid-level management feel engaged, and supported, in a way that enhances choice and decision making to support their teams and thrive in their work. If you are a leader, in any level, the following tips can be useful, especially if you are, or support, mid-level managers.
Five worthwhile Tips:

1. Be clear and don’t make excuses or skirt the issue.
One clear sign to employees that they are not getting the full picture, is if they cannot get a straight answer, or a commitment by when something will happen. It is important to set clear timelines by when you will follow-up on questions, or concerns of the staff and team. If you don’t have the information by the time the deadline hits, acknowledge that it didn’t happen, re-commit to a new time before the deadline hits, and give feedback as to why you were unable to get the information by when you said that you would. Vague statements about what will happen in the future can cause unease, panic, stress, and ongoing tension in the workplace.

2. Acknowledge you do not know if you don’t know.
If you are unsure about something, do not make up an answer. Always commit to a time by
when you will find out the information and get back to the person asking about it. If you
are not authorized to tell them, let them know that. Respect yourself and your team.

3. Have a regular check-in schedule with your manager, with set agenda items, and some time for open discussion.
Having set agenda items will help ensure that topics are kept in mind, and checked-up on, even if there is no progress on them. Hearing that there is no progress, in itself an update on the matter. This will also be a point that you can refer to with staff, that you are remaining up to date, even if there is no tangible change.

4. Set-up multiple pathways to communicate with your team.
With time-off, absences, and flex-schedules, it can be helpful to have multiple ways of communicating updates. Shared drives, white-boards, or group emails are all very effective. It is important to make sure each person on your team feels supported in the way they are communicated with. E-mail can be tricky, because of the fatigue that can happen with the volume of emails received.

5. Be proactive in addressing concerns, and keep an eye out for signs of stress, or frequent questions.
Everyone presents stress differently. It is common for people to continue to bring up issues, or ask questions about what is on their mind, or that is making them nervous. Keep an eye out for this and be proactive in following-up with people. It could be worth taking extra time each week to check-in and have a brief 1-1 update on what is going on.

The thing to remember is that ambiguity is fine and will happen no matter what. The way to empower yourself, and your team as a manager is to create structure within the ambiguity. Staff want to know they have an ally, and someone who is “on their side,” even though the situation may be completely unknown, or unclear as to how a policy will be implemented or will affect them.

Be clear, be honest, and remember to be a stand for yourself, your team, and your organization.

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