Staying In Middle Management Hell – What Are You Telling Your Staff?

Middle Management Hell
Not long ago I wrote an article about the lessons I learned in my first foray into management. I use that word intentionally – management – not leadership. I had not training, no mentoring and no clue.

The other day someone told me after reading that article they wondered, in applying it to themselves, if it meant ‘suck it up cupcake’ or ‘time to leave’. That is a question that can only be answered by the individual.

To read that article, click here: 4 Lessons Learned Surviving My First Leadership Role – Barely

However, she asked a wonderful question, one that I felt so important that it deserved its own article.

She said, “But what will my staff do if I leave?”

This was not meant as a, ‘they can’t get their job done without me’ type question, it was more of a ‘who is going to protect them’ question.

She is in a situation in which she leads a team and reports to the executive management team. Again, I use these words intentionally.

Her boss and his cohorts are not leaders. They diminish her on multiple layers, deflate her sense of worth, demean her contributions and devalue her leadership. This is done on a daily basis in subtle and not so subtle ways, in front of the executive team, her team and anyone else around.

She is a generous person who truly cares about her staff. She wants them to succeed and be happy at their firm. Her fear is that if she leaves the bad behavior will be directed to her staff without her there as a buffer.

My question to her was what happens if you stay? Not just to you professionally and personally; but more importantly: will they think that being mistreated is acceptable because you accept it?

By being a buffer, how much are you protecting them? They most likely stay in the firm because of her and they like their jobs. Of course, you do not want to see your staff injured in any manner, professionally, mentally or emotionally.

Being the shield between a bad big boss and your staff becomes second nature; a fixer transforms into a buffer. You take punches from above and keep a good staff shielded, productive and happy. You take all the hits and this compromises your professional, mental and emotional health – possibly leading to your physical health. You sacrifice so much to make sure your staff is protected.

But they are not.

They see the punches, the disrespect and the horrible way in which you are treated.

You are not a martyr, you are a punching bag.

If they do not know any better, they may think this is the way management works. They may become conditioned to do their jobs in fear rather than a positive prospective like joy, passion or commitment. They may let go of any ambition to move up in their career for fear of being treated like you are treated. They may lose respect for their direct leader due to allowing bad behavior from the big boss.

Staying in a crappy middle management job is not doing you or your staff any favors. It helps all of you to find an environment that is positive, supportive and in line with your professional mission, goals and aspirations. You get the heck out of there and they have a more clear view that the management behavior is not acceptable. You did not have to put up with it, left and are happy; and they can do the same.

✰✰✰✰✰✰✰✰✰✰

I help identify and set a path to achieve individual career and company goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business, grow your company and strengthen your team.

–Lisa

Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a speaker and seminar facilitator at companies and professional organizations speaking to leadership, sales, teams, transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about career mobility, personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

4 Lessons Learned Surviving My First Leadership Role – Barely

Colosseum

My first foray into leadership was a way to keep a job. It was either advance into the unknown or advance to the unemployment line.

Considering I had a young son at home, it was not a hard decision.

One day I was part of a group, the next I was the leader. It did not equate in my head and it certainly did not translate well in the minds of some of my former peers.

There were benefits to being promoted to a leadership position and they were tempered with drawbacks:

  • More pay, countered by a salary which meant 40 hours was now considered part time.
  • A title that would look good on a resume, countered by resentment by my former peers and the added bonus of not being respected by colleagues who still saw me as “just one of the girls”
  • The chance to learn new things, countered with anxiety from realizing I knew nothing at all beyond my previous scope.
  • The chance to be seen and recognized by executive leadership and possibly move up in the organization, countered with the spotlight always on and feeling like I was constantly under a microscope from, and failing, both sides of the field.

It was a field, literally feeling like a battlefield some days.

My supervisor was kind in teaching me my new responsibilities. She was patient, extremely knowledgeable and kind. She also told me the worst thing I had heard to that point in my career:

“You realize, no one is going to like you now. You get used to being alone at work.”

Yikes.

I thought that couldn’t possibly be true, I was a likeable person. My former peers liked me, we had lunch together and laughed. Just because I am now doing something a little different, they can’t not like me for that.

Oh yes, they can.

I was no longer invited to lunches and conversations stopped when I approached. I was an outsider not by anything that I had done, but by a title I accepted.

Mean things were said and I heard my mom’s voice in my head, “Be the bigger person; two wrongs do not make a right.” Plus, I didn’t’ think my supervisor would accept the reason for unprofessional behavior of, “She started it.”

Lesson One: Do Not Take It Personally

There were several departments that I now had to interact with and have decision making in; I knew nothing about them really.

The first couple of weeks I was in full panic mode thinking the only way I was going to earn any respect was to, within two weeks, learn everyone’s job and how they did it.

That faded fast.

Lesson Two: You Do Not Have To Know Everything

I was now partnering with co-workers who I used to report to and support. They treated me like I was their secretary and blew me off.

Most of them were men and would “tease” me, which is a nice way of saying a form of schoolhouse, playground bullying on the gentler side of the scale. I heard a lot of “girl” and “gal” as a constant reminder I was not one of the boys.

Lesson Three: They Will See You For What You Present Yourself To Be

I started to see processes that were duplicating efforts or just made no sense in the way they were being done. When I brought this up to my supervisor, I was told it was the way it had always been done, or I was still too new to really know better. Shot down at every turn.

Lesson Four: If They Are Not Going To Hold The Door Open For You, Open It Yourself

In the beginning, it was a constant battle ending each night like I had just stepped out of the ring and got the crap knocked out of me by a prize fighter. I would put on a happy face at work then lick my wounds on the way home then put on the happy face for my son.

I lived a lie all the time and I got tired of it.

I had no leadership training, no tips on how to be a good manager, time management, communication or relationship building – no mentoring.

I was thrown into the wolves like entertainment akin to the Roman Coliseum Fights.

Lesson Five: Opportunities Are What You Make Of Them

I had enough. I realized that I was ruining an opportunity I was given. I had a chance to learn and grow as a person in this position and it was about time that I appreciate the gift I was given.

I drew upon something my dad had taught me: if you do not stand up for yourself, no one else is going to.

I decided I was either going to kick this opportunity’s butt or I was going to go down in flames, either way, it would be one heck of a ride. This is not a management style that I would recommend.

——————–

Not everyone hated me, maybe just a few. They only made my life hell if I let them.

I stopped responding. I learned to control my body language to not give away that I was either hurt or ticked off.

I was polite, patient and skipped over the nasty comments.

I was consistent in my actions and words. I treated everyone with respect even when they did not deserve it, even if I did not personally like them. I focused on the value they brought to the table instead of the personality and I made sure to recognize them for that value.

I approached my team members and asked for their help. I explained what we were trying to do, recognized them for their expertise and told them I needed their help.

I asked questions as to why they did things the way they did and made it clear that I was not judging or confronting, I wanted to learn and understand.

I had no hesitation in admitting when I did not know something. If someone gave me kudos for something, I recognized the team and the team members that made it happen. I shined the light on them for their value they gave every day to the organization.

Growing up with boys helped, I knew how to talk boy. I also had a son at home so I knew how to use the mom voice when I needed to and to quiet the schoolyard blowhards.

They wanted to make sure I knew I was not one of the boys – damn straight – I’m a girl!

I moved across the office from one of the leaders and the blowhards were having a grand time. One told me, “You better watch out, when he gets mad he throws things out of his office!”

I calmly looked at him and then the gentleman in question and replied, “That’s okay, I’ll just throw it back – and I don’t throw like a girl.” I smiled sweetly (as my mother would tell me to do) and walked away.

No, I am not one of the boys, but you are not going to pull my pigtails, either.

Tired of trying to change things and being told “it has always been done that way” or not being there long enough, I stopped asking for permission.

I started small, just little tasks or projects that I recreated, applied and then showed to my supervisor. At first there was pushback, but since I had started earning the trust of my team, they would let her know how these changes had helped them do their job.

In time, she began to trust me when I had an idea, although not completely and sometimes it was a tug of war, but I persisted. I also told her that I valued her opinion and I would really like her thoughts on a new way when presenting bigger ideas. We began to partner.

I started keeping a mental list of accomplishments and things I learned each day and reviewed them on my way home. I stopped beating myself up for mistakes, and I made many, and focused on the positives.

The lions and I made peace.

——————–

Nearly 20 years later I am now coaching on leadership, communication, moving careers and businesses forward. Although the journey has not always been a pleasant or smooth one, I cherish every twist and turn because it allows me to connect.

For those venturing into leadership for the first time know this: no CEO started as a CEO.

After many years of leadership, development and coaching, may I humbly offer the following bits of advice:

  • Take head from the lessons and paths of others.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Accept your flaws, amplify your strengths.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself.
  • Learn to ask and more importantly, learn to listen.
  • Do not try to please everyone – it will never happen.
  • Love and appreciate yourself.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Get a hobby outside of work, get a life outside of work.

And lastly:

  • To heck with not being afraid to fail – embrace failing miserably! That is where your greatest lessons come that lead to your greatest successes. Plus it is a lot more fun when you free yourself!

✰✰✰✰✰✰✰✰✰✰

I help identify and set a path to achieve individual career and company goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business, grow your company and strengthen your team.
–Lisa

★ In order to be kept up to date on all my articles, please visit: LisaKMcDonald.com ★
★ Click the “Yes Please!” button on the right side. ★
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Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a speaker and seminar facilitator at companies and professional organizations speaking to leadership, sales, teams, transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about career mobility, personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

Their Perception is on You, Not Them

Guess who the kids are more afraid of...

My son’s dad is 6’4” tall and somewhere around 200 pounds – I’m a smidge above 5’ and maybe 100 pounds soaking wet so when I found out I was pregnant there were two things that immediately came to mind: “If it is a boy please take after your dad and don’t have colic.”  When he was born I knew my son would take after his dad and today at 19 my son is 6’1’ and about 190 something – whew.

Growing up I knew it would not take long for my son to surpass me in height, I was hoping to at least make it through elementary school.  We were the house where all his friends could come and hang out, eat and have a safe place to vent or ask questions.  All his friends were sports kids – football, baseball, wrestling, rugby – you name it these boys played it and they were all going to be big and eat a lot.  I knew I had to get in control of the situation quickly as I was going to have a lot of adopted second sons who towered over me.

So I did, I learned how to scare the crap out of them.  I knew I was successful when one day a gaggle of them were sitting around my table waiting for their favorite salsa scrambled eggs and they said, “You know Momma McDonald, you would think that we should be afraid of Jake’s dad – but you’re really the scary one.  We’re all kinda afraid of you.”  I put extra cheese in their eggs that morning with a smile.

I managed my perception because having a gaggle of teenage boys in your home is a frightening thought – giving them the opportunity to overrun it was terrifying.  I didn’t manage this perception by telling them to be afraid of me (they would have laughed) it was by my actions.  The “mom” look, the occasional smack on the back of the head, the voiced expectation of respect and controlled behavior – I set the tone.  And by the way, I wasn’t that scary as they are now all young men they know my door is always open and still frequently come by to say hi and hang out on the deck.

I thought about that conversation the other day when I was in a group meeting and we were talking about perception.  It was stated by a couple of people in the group that others need to realize that their perception is wrong and take actions to view it differently.  My tongue was bleeding I was biting it so hard.

You cannot tell someone that their perception is wrong and they need to change it, all I could think of is – seriously?  That would be like having a boss that you think is a total jackass come up and tell you that they are really a nice person and you need to change your thinking about them.  What would your reaction be?  As a whole people are not going to believe what you tell them – they will believe what you show them.  Big difference.  Big, big, big.  Huge.  Gigantic. Seriously.

Perception is something you create and as such it is your responsibility.  By trying to put it off on someone else you are being a big weenie.  Even if it is a poor perception and completely unintentional it is still your responsibility.

When I worked in corporate as a manager I tried to keep my team apprised of any technology or procedural changes as soon as possible so it made their life easier.  I once wrote a memo that had one little sarcastic comment, which I knew my team would appreciate (and they did) but management did not.  Oopsie.  It was brought to my attention that the one little comment could be perceived as negative toward the organization.  Oh crap.  That was not my intention but it was the result.  Crap.  So I had to be mindful of any future information I passed along that it could not be perceived in the same manner.  It never became an issue again nor were any future communications perceived as unsupportive.

Sure I wanted to tell management to get the stick out of their butt; however, it was not on them, it was on me – I was the one that said it so it was all on me.  I got my hand smacked, took responsibility and moved on.

If you are in a working situation where you are being perceived as uncooperative, unmanageable, or uncommitted (I don’t know if that is really the best word to use but I was on an ‘un” roll) then it isn’t up to your co-workers and managers to change their mind – it is on you to change your behavior to change their perception.

Take a look at your behavior, how you respond to others not only in words but in body language.  No more eye rolling or sighing when someone talks to you, no more “if I have to” type responses and no more crossing of your arms across your chest when someone tries to talk to you.  Taking ownership of your own behavior is the only way to change perception.  You created it and only you have the power to change it.

Realize that it takes a split second to make an impression or perception yet to change this takes a lot of work and time.  We fight change – good or bad we fight it.  So if you are off to change your perception it is going to take time and consistency.  One good day will not change someone’s mind.  It takes lots of good days, consecutively with the same positive intent before others will begin to think about changing their mind.  But like anything else – if it is something you truly want then all the hard work and focus is worth it in the end.

 

 

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.

http://www.CareerPolish.com

 

 

 

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