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


The following excerpt is taken from “How to Exert Influence When you have no Authority”

The AAA Middle Manager Power Process: Three Stages

Part Two

In part one we detailed the rather tricky business of being a middle manager and proffered a strategy for what to do about it.

In this segment, we will address the first of the three things a middle manager can do to be more effective.

There are three stages in which a middle manager or any executive for that matter can create a shared power process.

Stage One: Awareness

Stage Two: Attitude

Stage Three: Action

Stage One: Awareness

It is extremely important that you understand the level of authority that is needed between the Driver (them) and the passenger (you) in each given situation.

One clear indicator that something is wrong is when you feel irritated by what others are doing.

There is only one key question in Stage One:  What kind of driver-passenger relationship do we need in this particular situation?

You can recognize the seven driver/passengers relationship types by how they ask their supervisor (or others) for help (Figure Two).

The Seven Driver Types and Their Telltale Reactions:

Figure Two

Fit the Task to Their Level of Authority

People perform in a more committed and positive way when they “drive” their tasks at the level of decision-making authority that best fits them.

Skilfully getting an agreement about this best authority fit is what makes a middle manager successful.

So remember:

1)     Junior people execute (reality).

2)     Senior people decide (hope).

3)     Middle managers are the “facilitative” link between the hopes and realities of the two parties

The Key: The Driver-Passenger Relationship Must Be Aligned At 100

Figure Three




Note how there is a perfect 60/40 agreement totaling (or 80/20, 70/30, 50/50 depending on the task at hand) 100 between the employee and the manager with respect to the authority and process needed to effectively do this job.



Stage Two: Attitude

 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 disempowering 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.

So that is Awareness, Stage One in the Power Process.

In the next article, part three we will discuss the last two elements, Attitude and Action.

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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