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Trevor E. S. Smith | Whose fault is it really?

Published:Sunday | August 11, 2019 | 12:09 AMTrevor E. S. Smith - Contributor

“Sensible suggestions fall on deaf ears.”


“I am facing more resistance and obstacles inside than from the competition.”


“This leadership is disconnected from our reality.”


Working with Competency Frameworks – the skills, knowledge, aptitude and attitude required to meet the objectives of the organisation – provide an opportunity to go below the surface to identify obstacles that are in the way of the effective functioning of the organisation.

Much has been written about leadership challenges, and I have countered with problems that arise from inappropriate followership.

However, there is a missing competence that has not been given sufficient attention. It is the ability to ‘manage upwards’.


We get feedback about initiatives that were aborted or did not achieve the desired result because of failings on the part of ‘management’.

The story from the ground floor is that their supervisors are only interested in handing down instructions from the top. There is a one-way flow of information. Nothing goes upstream.

At the middle-management level, their frustration is that they are charged with ensuring that instructions not only flow smoothly downwards, but that they are executed and reinforced.

At the same time, they are disappointed at not being able to get more of a listening ear from top management. Middle managers are closer to the action and get regular, direct feedback from those at the front line. Consequently, they feel that greater value should be placed on their insights.

There is little doubt that leaders should be more attentive to feedback.

However, isn’t that a comfortable deflection of responsibility?

Is there no responsibility on the part of supervisors and middle managers to be as persuasive and insistent when channelling information upwards as they do when communicating with those they lead?


It appears that the skill of presenting persuasive arguments to superiors is not widely available or is being suppressed.

A review of training plans and leadership training outlines no sign of skills development related to the capacity to manage upwards.

Evidence gathering would be a good starting point. Supervisors and middle managers need to present their cases on the basis of relevant data. They can conduct mini-research projects, where they compare results from different situations to demonstrate the impact of their recommendations.

Persuasive writing is another useful topic. Presenting a well-constructed proposal is more likely to get the desired result than moaning about an issue meeting after meeting.

Role redefinition is also important. Middle managers and supervisors must see themselves as being an integral component of the leadership of the organisation. From that perspective, they need to appreciate their role in ensuring that the organisation implements appropriate policies and procedures.


We are short-changing our team leaders and middle managers by not adequately preparing them for roles that are significantly different today than even 10 years ago. They need to be trained and empowered to be a two-way conduit for information exchange and informed decision-making. They need to be taught how to keep their fingers on the pulse of their domain and to relate effectively to the diverse personalities that they lead.


The stalemate in the middle of the organisation has implications for engagement, empowerment and effectiveness.

Employees cannot understand how basic needs and missteps that are so obvious to them can go unattended. They interpret that as a lack of interest higher up, and may tone down their level of engagement in response.

In situations in which all the energy is pushed into meeting deadlines and targets, there is limited focus on skills development and the empowerment of staff. Organisations must pause to reflect on the competences they need to remain relevant and achieve their objectives.

Front line staff have a feel for what works and what does not. Blocking the upward flow of feedback negatively impacts the effective functioning of the organisation.

Our SHRM-backed 3-D Leader certification and ICF-accredited Certified Behavioural Coach programmes prepare supervisors and middle managers to facilitate the two-way flow of information.3-D Leader Certification: Leading Dominant, Difficult and Diverse Personalities. October 2019.

Become an ICF/SHRM-backed certified behavioural coach. The programme starts September 19. Enrol now! Contact: 876-315-1345 or

- Trevor E. S. Smith Success with People Academy interpersonal relations, group dynamics and performance enhancement catalysts. Providing learning & empowerment and productivity-enhancement technology solutions. Behavioural assessments from Extended DISC on the revolutionary FinxS Platform. Email: