I’ve written several times about leadership and all the places leaders have influence. I believe leadership occurs at all levels – from entry level to the C-Suite. Everyone has potential to be a leader. To grow into greater roles, a person must manage their influence and use it to lead in whatever position they hold. None of this is new news. I’ve said it. Others have said it. We all know it.
So why do we still get hung up on titles and why are we still dissatisfied in our current positions? I wrote an entire dissertation on developing leadership skills in mid-level leaders. If simple leadership at any level is enough, what’s the point and was all that work in vain? Truth is – maybe it isn’t enough.
As I walked across campus today headed to a meeting with others in similar middle level management positions, I was reminded of a recent conversation in which I lamented a lost leadership opportunity that did not come my way and my desire for greater roles. Although my mind understood that leadership in my middle position was valuable my heart understood it wasn’t my fulfilled desire. It struck me that my unrest might have something to do with the description “middle level.”
Think about it; it’s the middle. The middle is rarely used in a positive manner –in the middle between a rock and a hard place, stuck in the middle with you, in the middle of no where. In most areas of popular culture, the middle doesn’t seem like the best place to be. Most people in the middle are stuck there by chance and not choice; they are hungrily waiting for a chance to get out. It’s hard to lead from a place you are trying to leave.
How do we make the best of it? A couple months ago, I wrote about five things necessary to lead in the middle and move forward from that place. One of those things was go the extra mile – over deliver. This is extremely important to those in the middle – it’s also extremely difficult. Middle leaders must seek opportunities to do strong, promotable work that benefits the organization in order to prove their value and heighten their impact. But they must carry out their action in a manner that is not self-seeking or desiring recognition. Is this even possible?
Motivation is key. This impacting work must benefit the organization and not exist solely for the benefit of the leader. Work that is self-promoting and inconsiderate of organizational goals and mission is easily seen for its egocentric nature. True leadership impact is best achieved through authentic leadership designed to move the team and organization forward and not simply benefit the leader. Any leadership benefit becomes a byproduct rather than the original product.
My challenge to all of you Middle Leaders is this – check yourself, and check yourself often. Find your WHY. As Simon Sinek said,
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. What you do simply proves what you believe.”
You were originally attracted to the heart of your organization, its mission. Don’t forget it; instead, let it be your motivation and your impetus for continuing to give all of yourself. Remember why you are there and why you care. I cannot guarantee you will receive a promotion. I cannot even say your work will be noticed. I can promise, however, that you will find renewed love for your work and purpose in whatever position you are in.