… And What You Should Do About Them.
You have been there; you have done that. You’ve got an enormous amount of experience delivering value for your clients, bringing profitability and growth to your organization. You thrive being in glass buildings sealing off huge contracts for your company. Your department banks on you to jump in during project blizzards and save the day. Yet, you are always overlooked during that promotion. The jump from being a mid-level manager to a member of the senior management team seems within your reach yet doubtful. Every time you speak to your manager you only get a prodigious nod but nothing really happens beyond that. You get frustrated being denied growth opportunities from time to time, but being the high achiever that you are, you continue to perform at elite levels in your role. Your boss acknowledges your accomplishments; your teams celebrate your wins; your clients applaud the well-crafted project deliveries, and occasionally you may even get that prized email from the MD or CEO commending your contributions towards the organization. But, over time your name isn’t even considered for the next rank. Your company strives to keep you in the same position.
At times, you may think of switching jobs. But the certainty of your current responsibilities and challenges puts you on the backstep. You’ve grown comfortable with them. If you switch jobs, you might have to re-prove your worth to your new employer. You are also at a point in your life where you have to consider other aspects such as future-proofing your kids’ growth and the well-being of your parents. It’s not just about you now after all, isn’t it? So what can you really do now?
Here are some of the pitfalls you may be unknowingly finding yourself into that very well could be hurting your growth as a mid-level manager.
You fail to create necessary boundaries
Approachability is a healthy trait for a leader, but not at the expense of professionalism. Notice if you catch yourself ‘buddying up’ with your subordinates, and becoming too friendly with them. If you do that, there is a big chance that you are depleting your energy in the wrong direction. Don’t get me wrong here. I am not telling you to alienate your colleagues and team members. We all need to understand that they are people, with real lives outside of work. Knowing what’s going on in their lives can help you preempt difficult situations, and also help them perform at their highest potential. That’s part of your role as a mid-level leader – to ensure the well-being of your subordinates and peers. But there is a very thin line between creating loyal and content employees and becoming too friendly.
When you fail to create professional boundaries, you also fail to create the necessary visibility for you to grow in your organization. When decision-makers are behind closed doors making up their mind on whom to promote into that soon-to-be-vacant Assistant Director or AVP role, you are nowhere on their mind. You can snub back and say, “But I always am discussing deals, pipelines, deliveries, team performance, and profitability with my manager on a weekly basis.” That’s part of your job and the reporting you do to your manager. Are you showing up in places beyond your immediate manager’s cabin and getting to know people outside of your regular group? Are you taking initiatives where you’d get noticed by other departments? No, I am not asking you to be the guy who gets donuts on Fridays or runs home deliveries for the CIO’s family. Rather are you raising your hand to mini-projects and initiatives that are beyond your daily tasks? Are you interacting with senior leaders during company events or volunteer activities? Are you joining them over random lunches getting to know more about the company and sharing your accomplishments and results? Rich Litvin, a leadership coach, constantly tells you to put humility on one side and boast a little about your professional successes. “It’s not bragging if you’ve done it,” he reiterates.
Most of you would start sweating in your pants at the thought of this. But you need to move out of your comfort zone of cozy pals. The key to landing the opportunities that you want is in being visible in the right sense. Start small, but start now. As a mid-level manager, ask yourself, “Am I really spending my energies on the right things?”
You fail to see the dark sides of your strengths
As a high-performing and high-achieving middle-manager, you are constantly on the top of your game. Because when you’re a high performer, you set the bar really high. Your arena is so much bigger than others around you. As a high performing leader, you are extremely focused and thrive on winning and success. One thing becomes everything for you.
As you continue to play to your strengths, you often fail to see their dark side. When you tend to overuse your strengths it is possible that they turn out to be more harmful than beneficial for your long term growth. As Marshall Goldsmith says, “What’s got you here isn’t going to get you there.” While your current strengths will keep you successful in your current role, they will not necessarily take you beyond to the next level.
It is possible that one of your key strengths is being flexible and collaborative. Think for a moment, what could be the dark side of this strength, which could possibly hinder your onward journey? As a next-level leader, could your current strength be looked at as a sign of indecisiveness, lacking a strong leadership voice?
Maybe, you are a visionary and madly creative at imagining newer features for the products your company builds. But, while your team is barely strategizing the next two key features to add to your products, you are already running ahead 2 -3 years in time. This could be overwhelming and frustrating for your team because you are not fully present to current-day challenges.
As a high achiever, you often do a great job at what you do and rarely settle for ‘good enough.’ While you may look at it as being deeply passionate about what you do with an intense attention to the quality of your craft, you may be perceived as a difficult person to work with. You don’t ask for help. Your instincts for controlling everything may take over from time to time and you develop a reputation as a stubborn manager. You may also be considered as someone who does not prioritize professional development for your people.
This is one of the biggest mistakes that middle-managers make. They hold on so tightly to their strengths and end up extensively overusing them. When that happens, it is more than likely that these very strengths end up hurting you leading to your eventual downfall.
Take a moment to evaluate each of your current strengths. Don’t let your egos get in your way –“How does using your strengths in extremes undermine your success?”
You fail to create the space for you to move up
If you are getting all the accolades for your role but still not moving up the ladder, there are big chances that you are not creating the space for you to move up. I am not suggesting waiting for that higher position to open up. Instead doing what you can to create the opportunities and environment for someone else in your team to step into your shoes. If you are the ‘go-to’ person for everything at your level, your company will never risk taking you elsewhere.
One of my coaching clients realized this early on in our coaching sessions. If he was present to everything that was happening at his level, how could he prepare his second-in-command to operate autonomously and handle things for the company at that level. Everyone in his team relied so excessively on him to help with daily operations, decisions, and tradeoffs.
The business has to run as usual at your current level for the decision-makers to consider moving you to the next level. As you are mulling over your growth and promotion, you also need to ensure that you are preparing someone to take your place and fit in well or even better than you did.
You need all the help from your team to get you to the next level. Start thinking on the lines of creating your very own personal support team. What can you let go of and let your team handle autonomously? Does anyone in your team need more of a challenge? Are you developing your employees to the best of your abilities? Did you help someone succeed today?
If you are a high performer and find yourself in a comfortable mid-management position, slow down to notice if you are making any of these mistakes that are holding you back from your growth and next-level success. Let me know in the comments below on which mistakes you find yourself making the most or if there is anything else that I could I have missed.