5 Skills Middle Managers Need to Become Better Leaders

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5 Skills Middle Managers Need to Become Better Leaders

We’ve all heard and likely executed, the notion that the example and company culture starts at the top with senior leadership. While it is tremendously important for those in senior leadership positions to embrace, embody, and champion organizational changes and organizational culture, middle managers play a crucial part in implementing and executing organizational strategies and cultural changes.

Neglecting to strengthen the middle of an organization may lead to high turnover, a decrease in employee engagement, or poor succession down the line. In fact, ERC found that only 10% of organizations feel well-prepared for the departure of their top leaders or subject matter experts in the 2017 Talent Management Practices Survey. ERC research also shows that less than one-quarter of organizations have career development or mentorship programs. Two key findings that suggest it may be time organizations put more focus on those challenges.

Strengthening the middle leads to better leaders, prepared for managing change, coaching emerging leaders, and executing the strategic vision of the organization. So how does an organization strengthen the middle? Train and develop mid-level managers.

Middle managers face a whole new set of leadership challenges as they begin to progress their careers. It’s no longer just about holding employees accountable for their work and their contributions. Here are five skills your mid-level leaders need for success:

1. Strategic Leadership

Leadership is much different from management. Middle management is the cornerstone of an organization’s strategic initiatives and the execution of those initiatives. Making the transition from manager to strategic leader requires much more critical thinking.

While managing demands planning, budgeting, organizing, performance managing, and staffing, it takes a true leader to understand the significance of setting direction, aligning people, empowering, motivating, and inspiring.

It’s when a manager finds his or her ability to go beyond the managing and embrace being a leader that success is reached.

2. Retaining and Engaging Talent

Building a greater awareness of how talent development is a critical success factor in ensuring the future of the organization in a competitive marketplace. ERC’s 2018 Workplace Practices Survey found that employers ranked “hiring & retention of talent” as the number one challenge facing their company. This challenge speaks to the great need of utilizing mid-level managers as a key tool to retain and engage talent in an organization.

Middle managers should obtain the knowledge of what defines the top talent in an organization and what qualities or characteristics are associated with talented professionals.

Managers can also learn a variety of techniques for more effective delegation to provide challenging development opportunities.

3. Developmental Coaching

Managers have a lot of responsibility. They have routine team management to look after and often have a plate full of work only they can complete. It’s crucial for middle managers to not only manage their day-to-day but to strategically think about how they can improve the way their team works.

One of the key aspects of their role is to help their team members grow, develop, and flourish. This can be achieved through coaching.

A great leader is someone who manages workload and performance but also someone who nurtures their individual team member’s abilities. Someone who is one their employee’s side, who encourages, and works with employees to set goals that challenge them.

Turning middle managers into developmental coaches can have an incredible impact on the success of an organization. Coaching employees turns into engagement increases, performance boosts, and job satisfaction.

4. Finance for the Non-Financial Professional

Financial acumen is a skill that can be invaluable to a mid-level leader. Having an understanding of how a department, division, or team financially impacts people, expenses, revenue, margin, and indirect costs such as time, inconvenience, etc., puts middle managers in an advantageous spot for their group to strategically align with the organization.

The results of a mid-level manager understanding basic business finance include the ability to identify and quantify key drivers, develop, measure, and report key metrics, budget, present effective business cases, and interpret key financial statements, among many more.

5. Emotional Intelligence

Evident from a variety of research and publications, emotional intelligence (EQ) is a key predictor of success. It is also possible to learn EQ. For mid-level leaders, this starts with self-awareness and self-management and continues to progress with social awareness and relationship management.

Understanding self-awareness and social awareness begins with discovering more within oneself and others. For organizations, this is usually done through assessments such as MBTI and DiSC. These assessments teach concepts that help understand the natural differences among people and organizations can train their employees on how to manage themselves and their relationships with others based on the information from the assessments.

A mid-level manager should use their emotional intelligence to improve their own communication, conflict management, and the communication with their team.  

ERC provides customized mid-level manager training for organizations nationwide.

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