Are you just muddling through your job? Are you trapped in middle management and wanting to advance? If so, Nigel Dessau has some advice for you in his book Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack (Infinity Publishing, 2015).
The book is billed as a manual for any worker who wants to behave like and become an executive, with a focus on how to thrive in middle management. Dessau, who has a marketing background and has held several senior executive positions, says 21st century executives don’t just let things happen. They learn from those around them and from their own mistakes. They take ownership and always keep in mind the needs of their companies and their teams.
Recognizing that a strong manager builds a career based on a series of good choices, each of the book's 36 chapters gives advice on specific issues middle managers face.
Here’s a sampling of some of those topics:
Finding the right mentor. Before choosing a mentor (or multiple mentors), you first have to ask yourself what you hope to get out of the relationship. Your answer will help you find the right fit. Do you want a mentor who can help in a specific aspect of your work or one who will provide you with contacts? Ultimately, you want a mentor who will help to guide your choices. Before starting a mentoring relationship, talk about each party’s expectations of the relationship. In other words, don’t get married before you have dated for a while.
The takeaway, according to Dessau: When picking a mentor, find someone you connect with and who has similar—but not the same—job experience as you. Make sure they operate as your management consultant, not your psychiatrist.
When to find a new role. Always have a career plan, and never stall out in a “comfort zone” position. Managing a career is like playing a video game. You want to move up to the next level as soon as you can. But first, you need to master the three phases common to most positions: learning, fixing structural problems and innovating. Then you’ll be ready for the next big thing.
The takeaway: Balance the need to get the most out of your role with the need to keep developing and breaking away from the pack.
Managing your boss. Managers need to do more than just manage their teams. They need to manage their bosses, too. Part of that is making your supervisor aware of your achievements and how you accomplished them. Make the most of the time and attention you get from your boss. But beware that communicating too much information is sometimes worse than communicating too little. Don’t be a pest.
The takeaway: Managing your boss has almost as much impact on your performance and future career track as managing your subordinates.
Dealing with passive-aggressive behavior. Middle management is rife with passive-aggressive people. They deliberately miss deadlines. They’re stubborn, manipulative and resentful. The challenge is to recognize passive-aggressive people before they significantly affect your team’s ability to work productively. Document these instances and address the problem with the individual or her supervisor. In the end, you’ll need to put some distance between this person and your team, perhaps even through termination.
The takeaway: There is no upside to passive-aggressive behavior.
Organizational savvy. To operate successfully in any organization, you need to understand people’s emotions and behaviors as well as how a team, department or organization operates. Listen for and observe patterns in the organization’s behavior and expectations—its psyche. Then consider your own style and adapt it to the organization.
The takeaway: As the song says, “You’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run.”