Being a mid-level leader is “important but difficult!” This is according to a leadership research report recently publicized (March 2014) by PDI Ninth House “Mid-Level Leaders Are Key to Strategy Execution.” The report defines mid-level leaders as those who “manage other managers or a business function, and are accountable for growing revenue or managing costs” and goes on to say “they must influence both upward and downward... Although they often are invisible within the organization, their efforts have a direct impact on an organization’s results.” So given this difficult job, how can mid-level leaders succeed in their role? The report clarifies some key points.
Here are the key success factors for effective mid-level leadership along with further considerations “et alors”.
The success of mid-level leaders mainly depends on being able to lead through others. Whilst most mid-level leaders show above-average intelligence, that in itself is not a leadership differentiator; rather it is their ability to learn which distinguishes them. In the context of learning and self-awareness, the three key factors to success have been identified as follows:
1. Factors common at all levels of leadership
Three competencies are critically important for all leaders: Drive for Results (i.e. relating the business to the strategy and wanting to deliver); Execution (actually getting the job done, not just starting it); and Analysis/Judgment (in other words, making good decisions).
2. Factors particular to mid-level Leadership
The key is: “people skills.” Skills such as Influence, Engagement/Inspiration, Talent Management, and Relationship Management are all critical at this level. This builds on and assumes that Execution is achieved but in a way, Execution is becoming more dependent on people skills.
At a lower level, Execution might have been achieved through technical skills but with little regard to people; now it is all about people: influencing inside and outside the organization without recourse to direct authority; and actually motivating people – something that managers often overlook.
3. Customer Focus
Whilst communication skills are most important for “first-level” leaders and it is assumed that mid-level Leaders will have this skill; the research of approx. 5000 leaders found that “customer focus skills” is the most important differentiator for mid-level leaders.
The rationale is that “customer focus skills” emerge as essential for mid-level leaders because they are “vital to driving execution by aligning diverse teams around the common ground of customer needs.”
It could be argued that anyone who has a boss and a subordinate is a mid-level manager; and that what distinguishes a mid-level manager from a mid-level leader is not the “Execution” part, but the “people skills” part. Engaging, motivating, developing are all aspects of leadership. So one thing is the “level” of leadership, but the other is the leadership per se. Similarly with “customer focus”, the executive who is going to succeed in the organization is the one who starts to look outside the organization and not just inside. Knowing your customer can change your whole perspective on what you do and how you deliver – something not to be overlooked!
The report also looks at the “other” side of leadership – what characteristics are most commonly found in mid-level leaders which might derail their progress, all of which are worth noting here as something to avoid: “1/ Excessive attention to detail, which hinders the big-picture view and leads to spending too much time on one task before moving on; 2/ Avoidance/passive-aggressive behavior, which interferes with resolving problems and conflicts; and 3/ Micromanaging, which not only interferes with delegating, but once work is delegated, may be very demotivating because people redo the work.” It is important to not only focus on the success factors, but also focus on how to avoid these “failure” factors…