Michael Sterling

Leading from the Middle


Leading Upwards: The Case for Middle Managers


There’s a serious lack of trust and confidence in senior leaders of organizations according to employee surveys. Middle managers are in a position to step into this gap and assist their overworked bosses by leading from the middle as well as throughout their networks.


Middle managers have unprecedented opportunities to proactively step forward and offer course corrections.


According to a 2014 survey by the human-resource firm Towers Watson, this lack of trust in senior management is evidenced by the fact that:


  • Only 55 percent of employees have trust and confidence in their senior managers.
  • Just 47 percent of respondents agree that leaders are flexible in their approach to new situations.
  • About 48 percent believe that their leaders are unaware of how their actions impact the thoughts and emotions of other workers.
  • And 46 percent say that their leaders don’t inspire employees to give their best.
  • Clearly, much is going wrong in the workplace. Some 40 percent of surveyed executives doubt their leaders have credible plans to address the economic situation. Certainly, this lack of confidence harms an organization’s ability to move forward.


In light of these problems, middle managers should act with deliberate speed. Good times allow organizations to ride out challenges, but today’s tough financial climate won’t permit a wait-and-see approach.


While senior executives don’t set out to fail, research shows they make several common mistakes:

  • 80 percent fail because of ineffective communication skills and practices.
  • 79 percent fail because of poor work relationships and interpersonal skills.
  • 69 percent fail because of person/job mismatch.
  • 61percent fail because they didn’t clarify direction and performance expectations.
  • 56 percent fail because of delegation and empowerment breakdowns.


When strong leadership doesn’t come from above, it’s up to others — in particular, the managers in the middle — to launch a rescue operation.


Here’s an Example…


You see a problem. There’s a clear need for action within a certain time frame. You’ve discussed the issues and possible solutions many times with your boss, and she has agreed with your way of thinking. For unexplained reasons, she hasn’t acted or given you the go-ahead. What do you do?


This could be a situation in which you take action and lead your boss. You develop a plan on your own, gather data (both pro and con), suggest a course of action and ask permission to move forward.


In doing so, you’re filling a leadership void through prompt decision-making and follow-through. You’re demonstrating what it takes to “manage upward,” or lead your boss. But you’ll soon discover that you need buy-in from more people, including peers and subordinates. You’ll have to become a leader without authority — an ambassador sans portfolio.


What do you think? Has this happened to you? How did you win over your boss?


I’d love to hear from you! Connect with me on LinkedIn.



Find Public Accounting Jobs

© 2024 Sterling Freeman   |  Privacy Policy