Most organisations have a set of principles and values that assist in guiding staff as a collective towards reaching the vision, mission and values statement of the organisation. Usually these are the aspects of Values Leadership, something that is asked of all staff to perform at a certain level culturally, and something that is holistically assessed in annual appraisals.
Second to this is the system of the Transactional Leadership, which of course is the dictatorial, authoritarian, policy, procedure, flow chart and form. A stepped process that is guided by best practice and legal and ethical frameworks. One that requires strong leadership and management skills from people in certain roles and staff across the business, in order to meet accreditation standards and hold individuals or teams accountable and allow transparent improvement when things go wrong.
Finally we then have the section of Transformation leadership, the place where we ask some of the key people in the organisation to work well with others, engage in the transaction, make decisions, set directions and hopefully build better workplaces and improve the performance overall. This of course is where the majority of the action is needed for the Middle Managers. The direct supervisor of the team and the individuals within that team. The person who’s KPA will clearly state they must meet the benchmarks in all aspects of leadership, management, collaboration, dealing with conflict, effective communication, engaging in performance management and empowerment through working with diversity and demonstrating innovation.
Sounds and looks great on paper!……..and there is often a great document system for a facilitator like me to follow when working internally to build leadership within an organisation. Sadly, the reality is that more often than not, I find myself today facilitating a group of “Leaders” who are simply hand tied and tired of being treated like the meat in the sandwich. Mainly this refers to the Middle Management of an organisation and in particular to care services I make reference to the RN Team Leaders.
The people in a position of responsibility and ‘power’ by role and expectation. Leading a team, delegating work tasks, guiding and mentoring and being held accountable when things go pear shaped. Focused on risk management, safety, and prepared to engage the teams for performance management……… That is until the action of performance management is needed. Then we truly see the level of respect, empathy and empowerment that middle managers have had taken away and devalued over time and are now nothing but the meat in the sandwich when it comes to workplace performance.
Not actually being able to transact with the staff they are directly responsible for, as staff performance needs to be elevated up to another manager that doesn’t really know the staff in a ‘person centered way’. Not being able to hold the Values Leadership as a matter of principle to the codes of conduct on a daily basis. They are just words on a document. Quickly being labeled a bully when making a leadership decisions to engage staff for transformation towards best practice and improvement, as staff can easily see this as intimidating rather than professional and personal development for team building. Not being trained well enough in the soft skills for conflict resolution and performance management as issues occur hot on the frontline of the business, as this is meant for HR and higher management to stake claim within the flow chart. Asking for cohesion, discipline, respect and leadership when the system and culture are at conflict with the reality of building and managing a team towards better outcomes.
Middle management are the key to successful team building and making positive workplaces come to fruition. We need to value their role and function and provide respect to their KPA through revision of the Transactional Leadership processes. Real team leaders engage their staff with emotional intelligence. They sit back and give empathy towards the person and their role before taking action. They care about keeping the individuals happy and performing within the team and at times this includes some measures of discipline and goal setting for success.
Middle managers like to be known in a personal way with their teams, so that individuals understand the leadership characteristics and can feel valued and lead by that middle manager in a meaningful way. Transparency and honesty go a long way to holding integrity when trying to lead and mentor today’s workforce. Giving the middle manager true value and respect in their KPA when it comes to resolving conflict and managing performance in the workplace needs a complete functional and cultural review from the organisation that will include the input from middle managers.
Its obvious when you penetrate a workplace and get down and dirty on the frontline with the workforce, that there is much more confusion, disconnection and less direction when it comes to making better teams through positive leadership. No middle manager wants to be the meat in the sandwich. As with any meal the likely outcome will be that the meat is eaten first and all you will be left with is plain old bread.
More and more I am seeing good leaders and managers disappear from the workplace where they are needed the most. If we truly value Leadership as it is the big ‘buzz’ word these days, then we should have the integrity to build it through dressing up our middle managers by providing the training in skills and review the practice they are asked to operate in. Listen to what they have to offer and take their approach as professional partners in the workplace, not just the meat in the sandwich.
Paulatim ……… Dr Drew
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