mind your business: Onward and Upward
Research on high-performing organizations that adapt rapidly to change increasingly points to the crucial role of middle and lower managers.
INSEAD professor Quy Nguyen Huy found that at companies making lasting, effective changes, middle managers are far better than most senior managers at leveraging informal networks and staying attuned to employees' emotional needs. He also discovered that the successful ones manage the continuity between extreme inertia and extreme chaos during turbulent times.
In his book "Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge," Geoffrey M. Bellman challenges upward-looking managers: "You may be thinking, 'But someday I will be in charge of the committee [or agency or division or team] and I will change things!' Well, think again. That's akin to getting married with the plan to start changing your spouse immediately after the ceremony."
Instead, managers need to practice upward leadership now. Here are some tips:
• Try to better understand the bigger picture that your boss and those above you in the organization are operating within. Do you know what keeps them awake at night? What their key goals and priorities are? Don't wait to be told—find out.
• Take the initiative to keep communication channels open with your boss. Set your top five goals. Get your boss' input and adjust accordingly. Meet periodically to review progress and reset priorities. Ask, "What do you think I should keep doing, stop doing and start doing?"
• Are you part of the solution or part of the problem? Are you a reactor or leader? Does your attitude and do your actions just reflect the temperature of your more-senior managers to the people in your part of the organization? Or do you try to readjust and change the temperature?
• Focus most of your own and your team's energy on those things within your control. Pick carefully the areas or changes you would like to influence. Figure out how to let go of those things or circumstances over which you have no control. Not doing this just increases everyone's misery and creates paralysis. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was right on when he observed: "The best thing to do when it's raining is to let it rain."