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spike bullet February, 1999 - Managers and Leaders (a continuing series)

The Middle Manager Role Revisited
Tips for Success
Effective Leadership and Communication

The Middle Manager Role Revisited

Guest author: Steve Towers (stevetowers [at] workmail.com) with an update to his article in our October 1996 newsletter.

The original article 'Reengineering - Middle Managers are the key asset’ swam against the tide of popular opinion back in 1996. 

However, as many organizations came to realize in their rush to down size and restructure, losing this most vital knowledge resource cost them dear.

This article focuses on those enlightened businesses that saw wisdom in not only retaining this asset but also revamping the Middle Manager role to provide that new ‘Corporate Wisdom’ which allows them to dominate their respective market sectors.

There are ideas here for those seeking to learn from their mistakes and make good the lost years of the mid 90's.

Corporate Wisdom

Many companies shed that vital knowledge base of the Middle Manager which when leveraged correctly  results in the new concept of ‘Corporate Wisdom.’

Combining experience and knowledge provides the top performers with sustained advantages.

In the UK Marks & Spencer consistently outperform their competitors through rigorous and continual renewal.

Mixing new ideas and innovation with current knowledge and experience provides amazing energy.

New roles

Harnessing this corporate wisdom involves the revamped Middle Managers role, now given such names as the Stage Managers (Egg, the banking subsidiary of Prudential), in activities such as creativity centers, Energy groups and Tai Chi.

A massive leap forward for many companies now working with their people to free up skills and talents previously only mentioned in ‘new age’ magazines.

Banging the drum

The new Middle Manager now finds himself leading a quiet revolution typified by concepts such as 'dancing with customers' whereby the whole organization seek not only to serve their customers but to provide a truly individual experience.

The Middle Managers practical experience coupled with knowledge in the market allows the new people-centered approaches to deliver substantial improvements to the bottom line.

Sustainable Growth

Organizations charting these approaches report continued growth.

They are able to identify new concepts and bring them to bear in their businesses before the competition even suspects a change in he way of working.

They can consistently offer better products and services customized to their customers often changing needs.

While undoubtedly technology plays its role, the major contributor to this new found agility is the good old Middle Manager role.

Tips for Success

1. Free up the front line

  • Keep management out of the customer front line.
  • These front line guys know what they're about and it’s the Middle Managers role to keep senior management out - don't let them interfere.
  • The new Middle Manager role protects this vital resource from internal politics and all things not focused against the customer.
  • New ideas are born here and should be nurtured to provide the business with continual sources of new approaches.

2. Adopt holism wholly

  • Include in the corporate agenda new ways of thinking and doing.
  • Turn creativity ideas into practical programs targeted against key corporate objectives.
  • The Middle Manager becomes the conduit to coordinate the new thinking along side successful current practices.
  • The key here is to adopt a non-cynical approach to new ideas.
  • If they work adopt them quickly. Internalize the best bits and move on to the next innovation.
  • Too much Analysis results in Paralysis.

3. Success breeds success

  • Enthusiasm is infectious.
  • People like to belong to a winning team.
  • Involve the customer in the success - they are after all the reason for it!
  • Publicize and share winning approaches.
  • The competitors become so busy emulating they miss your key to success.
  • Again the Middle Manager role is both the catalyst and the implementer.

4. Don't stop looking

  • Good ideas are like good people - they need developing and stimulating to deliver their best.
  • Never neglect a good idea - your competitors certainly won't.
  • Look for corporate metaphors everywhere.
  • Dancing with customers is only the beginning.

As we have discovered, organizations ignore the role of the Middle Manager at their peril.

Those who retained and developed this vital resource have reaped benefits.

The future is a bright prospect for the aspirant Middle Manager.

After an early career in the Utility and then the Financial Services sector Steve Towers co-founded Utilisense Consulting, now established as a leading BPR consultancy.   He is Chairman of the Business Process Management Group (BPMG) and has recently been appointed Chairman of IntraNet Solutions, a systems consultancy currently undertaking Internet/IntraNet assignments with leading blue chip companies.  

To contact Steve: Tel/fax (in the UK)   +44 121 711 7099 ), e-mail: stevetowers [at] workmail.com, Web site:

Thanks, Steve for sharing your experience!

Effective Leadership and Communication

Guest author: Karlene Sugarman, M.A., Sports Psychology Consultant

Great leaders come in many forms

  • In one sense solid leadership is a subjective thing, in another there are certain characteristics that are consensus when it comes to quality leadership.
  • A great leader is hard to define, but they incorporate whatever traits are necessary to motivate others to work hard to pursue their goals.
  • Leadership isn’t just a characteristic of one person but rather a complex social relationship.
  • It’s the process of influencing members of the group to work hard towards, and be committed to, its’ goals.
  • What makes a good leader is based on your own perceptions.
  • If you move the team and people follow then you are a leader, says former San Francisco 49er, Dr. Jamie Williams.

The great leader is a master in the art of communication

  • He/She is aware of the strong need for his actions to match his words.
  • Leaders need to possess a willingness to listen to input with an open mind.
  • Two-way communication is essential in a team environment.
  • Being approachable and having an "open door" policy makes for very good relations among the group.
  • This is crucial in building a trusting and open environment.
  • It must be an established norm that it is okay to ask for help.
  • It is critical that the members feel that they can communicate openly without fear of punishment.

Communication is a Circle

  • There has to be a feedback loop where the group members give input and tell you what they think, and you have to give them both constructive criticism and positive feedback - it’s a circular process.
  • Firmness and fairness are important components in this.
  • The way you communicate with and lead your group will play a big part in your member’s motivation to work hard.
  • Disclose things that you feel will strengthen your relationship with them, as well as the relationship they have with their group members. You should not use your role to protect yourself from honest and direct interaction with the members.
  • Feedback to and from group members is very crucial to success and productivity.

Leaders Continually Look Forward

  • The goal is to push the group to achieve maximum performance.
  • You, along with the members, have to set obtainable yet demanding group goals.
  • Strong leadership becomes a moot point if the group members are uninterested in the mission and goals.
  • You must develop a strong rapport and you all need to be on the same page.  This involves trust and confidence on both ends.
  • As a leader, you want to motivate people by giving them a chance to utilize their strengths to obtain positive results.
  • They provide opportunities to fulfill their goals and dreams.
  • Outstanding leaders are able to influence others to work toward their goals.

Leaders Live Their Vision

  • Murray & Mann stated that a proficient leader "has a vision, an intense focus on outcome and results, a realistic strategy to carry out the vision and the ability to communicate the vision and rally support of others" (Williams, 1993, p. 87).
  • Leaders are there to coach, direct and nudge people in the direction of the goals.
  • They have a strong ability to pass their intensity along to their others.
  • They are always in the trenches right along with everyone else.

Leaders Set an Example

  • A leader guides a group, not rules the group.
  • He/She charts a course, gives direction and develops the social and psychological environment (Martens, 1987).
  • Ultimately, you are responsible for providing a great atmosphere for members to learn, grow and help them identify obstacles in the path you are providing for them.
  • You must give some responsibility to the group and have the courage to foster independence.
  • Otherwise the members will feel that you don’t trust them to take care of themselves, and will thus live up to this expectation by being irresponsible.

Copyright Karlene Sugarman, M.A. This article was adapted from Chapter 2 of Winning the Mental Way.  To obtain your copy of Winning the Mental Way, contact Step Up Publishing in the US at (650) 347-0826 or you can contact Karlene at karsug [at] newsguy.com. 

Karlene Sugarman received her B.A. from St. Mary’s College in 1991 and her M.A. in Sports Psychology from John F. Kennedy University in 1993.  She has worked with numerous schools, organizations, clubs and businesses teaching team building and mental training.  She is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sports Psychology (AAASP) and a member of the Sports Science Committee for the U.S. Tennis Association. She has written articles for many magazines.

References:

  • Martens, R. (1987). CoachesGuide to Sports Psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.
  • Williams, J. M. (Ed.). (1993). Applied Sports Psychology. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

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