Michael Sterling

Leading from the Middle: How Leaders Emerge from the Middle


Middle managers who succeed at leading upwards [Leading from the Middle, The Case for Middle Managers] are both skilled and artful in taking the reins to accomplish these tasks:


  • Establish goals
  • Plan projects
  • Organize people
  • Execute projects on time and on budget


In order to lead from the middle of a firm, you must rethink what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it. In essence, you’re not acting for yourself, but for the good of the whole. This requires initiative, persuasion, influence, courage and persistence.


Perhaps the most crucial element is a large dose of passion.  I have seen this in my work coaching the best leaders: You must care deeply and want to make a difference because such efforts can carry big risks.


“Leading up requires great courage and determination,” says Michael Useem, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the seminal book Leading Up: Managing Your Boss So You Both Win. “We might fear how our superior will respond, we might doubt our right to lead up, but we all carry a responsibility to do what we can when it will make a difference.”


3 Questions to Ask


According to John Baldoni, author of Lead Your Boss, managers who lead up demonstrate they’re aware of the bigger picture. They’re ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to strengthen the organization and team.


Baldoni urges readers to ask themselves three questions:


  1. What does the leader need? The boss is responsible for motivating her people to get things right. What does she need to do her job better? To help her, you’ll need to think more strategically and act tactically.
  2. What does the team need? Teams don’t always pull together because egos get in the way. The boss ends up spending valuable time soothing hurt feelings. What if a team member were to step forward and help bring everyone together? This would free the boss to focus on bigger issues, and the team would be more productive.
  3. What can I do to help the leader and team succeed? Perhaps you can take on more responsibility or step back and let others rally. Maybe you can sacrifice a personal need that allows the team to conquer a challenge. What will it take to help everyone push ahead?


When you can answer these questions and formulate an action plan, you’ll have a roadmap for leading your boss in ways that make her look good and help the team succeed. You’ll emerge as a team player who is adept at making the right things happen.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you! Send me your comments. And connect with me on LinkedIn.


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