Jerome Miles | Focus on your craft and results
The 21st century middle managers have found themselves under increased pressure, as the demands to effectively manage their roles have expanded significantly. Among the many expectations is a strong desire for them to strengthen their leadership skills, as it is no longer just about holding employees accountable for getting tasks done.
While this is true, I believe it is paramount that I emphasise in this article that middle managers cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that they must be an expert at their craft first. There has to be a healthy balance between management and leadership.
Leadership and management are different and both are needed to effectively do the job. However, there is only one thing that separates you from everybody else as a middle manager, and it’s the results that you deliver. It is the only thing that cannot be argued. Everything else can be debated: how hard you work, how much people love you, how you get along with the community, even your performance appraisal, but the results you deliver are undeniable and will ultimately protect you against the weight above and below you.
To deliver these results, you must hone your craft and know it well. You are also expected to have a strong awareness of global trends and, in turn, be able to apply that knowledge locally and even expand it. The executives and senior managers are depending on your expertise. My warehouse and distribution manager (at Rainforest) is an expert in warehouse and distribution first. He gets the job as manager because he has people skills and he will ultimately become a leader in the business because people identify with his ethics, his values and the way he treats people.
It is therefore paramount that middle managers know what exactly is demanded of them. You need to be clear with your superiors about what is it that defines performance at your particular organisation and what your particular tasks are. Also, don’t be afraid to ask the pertinent questions and check if you are on the right path.
THE SENIOR MANAGER’S ROLE
Senior managers must understand, too, that they have a responsibility to ensure that middle managers are given an enabling environment to deliver the results and quality output required. What you need to do is provide the motivation and resources and remove blocks for them. If they are having issues with cross departments, help them deal with those issues. You’re really a facilitator to ensure that your middle managers perform well. The better your middle manager, the easier your life is going to be. Your roles and responsibilities are demanding enough already, so make sure you have good leadership and talent in that area. It is critical for both your success and the business.
The importance of middle managers cannot be disputed – they are needed. These are the people who sort of operate the engine of the business. Middle management is a tricky place to be because you’re getting pressure from both sides and prioritising response can, well, be tricky. As such, I would encourage them simply to first make sure they have a vision and mission for themselves.
In fact, it does not matter the role, the senior manager does not require any more vision than the lower-level staff like the janitor – everyone must have an understanding of where they are going.
I strongly suggest, too, that you always try to have an open mind because changes are inescapable and such an attitude makes it easier to adapt under differing circumstances and understand.
I have worked in Africa, and in the United Kingdom. I spent a lot of time working in Canada and went to school in Canada, and every culture is different. You find that in business, especially, what you might think is unacceptable in one region, you go to another place and it is the norm.
It is no longer a secret that higher-level skill sets and competencies are crucial. The skills I needed when I graduated in the ancient days are different from the skills you need now. The things I took 10 years to learn, you need to learn in two, so you have to read widely and be able to demonstrate what you have read into actions and results.
If we are to be honest, back then many of us were not allowed to think. You were basically a robot, you watch your superiors and you learn and do what you have seen and experienced. There were little or no avenues for initiative and innovation. That has changed drastically. Executives are craving creativity and initiative.
Again, I emphasise that you focus on results and find out what is it you are good at and lead where you are strong.
Jerome Miles is general manager at Rainforest Seafoods. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Make Your Mark Consultants team, this year, celebrates 10 years of hosting its annual Middle Managers Conference, slated for May 7 and 8.