Navigating Leadership’s Toughest Role…the Middle!

Posted October 5, 2012 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

I don’t care what any C-level executive says, it’s not just lonely at the top… it’s lonely in the middle on the way to the top!  And today, the people who have the toughest job in any organization in my books are the mid-level leaders.  If you’re a Senior Manager, Director or two or more level down VP… hats off to you my friends… you’re some of the bravest people in leadership out there.  This week, we were joined by three leaders who’ve navigated their way through the middle ranks to sit in the drivers’ seat of their respective areas: Stephen Marshall, General Manager of Staples Promotional Products Canada; Mary Proc, Vice President Customer Service at Metrolinx/GO Transit and Theresa Smith, General Manager and VP, Product at Olive Media.  Each shared with our members their top tips on how to thrive in leadership’s toughest gig.

It’s all about self-insight… get a 360 done and act on it.  Actively seek ways to get a perspective on your leadership so that you’re aware of your blind spots.  The higher you get, the more important it is to know where your strengths and opportunities lie.

Manage your own career… don’t expect the organization to do it for you.  Be proactive about developing yourself and managing your network.  Your career is an investment – when things don’t go right you want to be armed with resources and a network to help you get back on track.

Stand out by getting curious… be proactive about learning about other parts of the business.  Ask questions.  Get to know how your area impacts others.  Not only will you be seen as a “go-getter”, you’ll also be building your “strategic” muscle and be better able to position yourself as someone capable of taking on bigger scope.

Follow your strengths not the status… try not to be seduced by title and dollars.  Look for opportunities that allow you to continually hone what you’re good at.  Continually pay attention to your strengths… If you find yourself in a role that isn’t working for you, address it quickly.

Be the leader in your peer group… connect with your peers regularly.  Actively seek ways to take the reins around shared issues.  When you are seen as the natural leader of your peer group, chances are you’ll be seen as the natural choice for promotion (and will have the good will of your former peers to back you).

Tune in to the top… know the priorities of your boss’ boss.  What are the things that keep them awake at night?  Understanding these drivers will make your boss look good and will help you prioritize your day-to-day activities.

Seek support… find a mentor – internal or external – and work with a coach.  Most importantly, look for a boss who is supportive and whose values you align with.  (*And if your boss really stinks, try to see if you can make it work, but if not… move on.  They’ll likely be a blocker for your career.)

As always, there was so much more.  Thanks again to our fabulous panel – Stephen, Theresa and Mary – and to our engaged members who were in attendance.  Our next session will feature Eileen Mercier, Chair, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan in a roundtable chat on leadership, courage and how she navigates life at the corporate director level.  Hope to see you there.

Happy leading!


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