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The Hazardous and Perilous Plight of Being a Middle Manager and What to do About it – Part Three


The following excerpt is taken from “How to Exercise Influence when you have no Authority

The hazardous and Perilous Plight of Being a Middle Manager – Part Three

Stage Two: Attitude

In the first article of this three-part series on middle management, we discussed why being a middle manager is so tough and the three things he/she can do about it.

In article two, we detailed the first of the three steps a manager can take, awareness.

In this part we will cover the last two steps.

In theory, each of us is capable of operating at any performance driver level.

If your boss wants you to be a Permission 40 driver, then start asking for permission.

If you want your subordinate to be a Self Directed 80 driver, just tell her and let her run with it.

How complicated can this be? In practice, however, we have comfort zones.

A good middle manager will stop dis-empowering himself and facilitate the comfort level of his workers.

On the other hand, you also want to pull/inspire them “up” or push them “out”. In other words, a good middle manager will make people feel a bit uncomfortable.

Remember, there is no growth in your comfort zone and no comfort in your growth zone.

The Two Main Reasons People Get Upset

People get upset when the authority level they need and want is not given to them.

1) The first or main reason is the threat or risk they feel.

The benefit of knowing the seven needs and reactions your workers have is that they will know they have done the most they can within their limits and obligations (your expectations with regard to both the “what” and the “how” of their job).

2) A second reason people’s attitude gets negative is when the accepted decision-making norms get shifted or revised after the fact.

For instance, you negotiate a plan at the expected Permission 40/60 Approval Level. Then midway through the job, your boss decides not to approve it.

Later, your performance rating is lowered because you didn’t get something done which required a key step that you weren’t permitted to do in the first place.

This is where the upfront understanding is so important to pre-empting later problems.

Disagreements about who gets to decide and how much say we get is the root cause of so many emotional issues in the workplace.

These “pissing contests” make it hard or impossible to get people onto the same page.

By now the horse is out the barn and on a slow boat to China. Mid-level managers need to understand this Driver/Passenger dynamic and what to do to “engage” workers.

Conflict: When the Driver Passenger Agreement Exceeds 100%

Figure Four




Attitude Problems Are Caused By A Driver-Passenger Mismatch About who gets to Decide

Remember, the two sides are interactive and interdependent.

The one defines and determines the other.

They both must always add up to 100%.

Note in Figure Four on the previous page, how both parties have not agreed to a 100% understanding of who does what, when and how but one that well exceeds 100% (total in Figure Four is 160).

In other words, the driver and passenger both want a higher level of control than the other.

This overlap is a recipe for disaster indeed.

They need to negotiate an agreement that better clarifies the roles, goals and responsibilities for this task.

Being Stuck: Neither the Driver nor the Passenger Wants Control

Figure Five




In this instance, no one wants to decide.

Again, the two sides must always add up to 100%; this scale adds up to only 40.

Please note that with only one of seven options will equal 100%, so there is an 86% probability of conflict in any work relationship

No wonder being a middle manager can be so difficult.


Stage Three: Action


To get both parties on the same page, a good middle manager begins by defining the core issue that is in dispute.

This is a lot harder than it sounds but it is the key to success.

The core issue could be about priorities, not wanting to do the work, or the work process to be used.

And before that the first action is to decide “Who gets to decide?”

The great danger for middle managers is to get sidetracked by the many red herrings arising out of attitude problems.

Never, never take the bait.

Realize that the emotional reaction is a symptom of a poorly defined role.

For corporate middle managers, this applies upwards as much as it does downward (remember Napoleon) in the hierarchy.

Key question: to manage upward using this approach, what would your conversation with your manager/boss look and sound like?

So there is your three step process to manage the rather hazardous and  perilous plight of being a middle manager.

The best thing you can do as a middle manager is to remind yourself that you are in training so to speak; that if you can pull off the tricky business of being a middle manager:

1. How much richer will your repertoire be

2. You will be known as a person  who gets things done

3. People will like you

4. You will feel, indeed be, like a more complete and powerful leader

5. Deepen and hone your political skills

I wish you every success.

By the way, this article is from my book, “How to Exercise Influence when you Have no Authority”

If you want to improve your political savvy I recommend (of course) that you read the entire book.

For more on this topic, we recommend the following


How to Exercise Influence When
You Have No Authority

Political Cunning, Shrewdness, Savvy and Power
for the Unschooled and Disinclined

Click Here For Video and Full Description


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