Step-by-step advice to middle managers about how to become better leaders and help their organizations succeed. He illuminates the unique nature of middle management — the opportunity it affords to influence both those in positions above and below — and teaches those working at this level to hone their skills for both the good of their organizations and their own future advancement. In this “how to” manual, Baldoni provides nine strategic steps for the committed, dedicated, and passionate manager who wishes to engage in this style of managing up that he aptly labels “leading up.”
STEP 1: LEADING UP
“Leading up” is becoming a person a boss can depend on to think, act, and be accountable for results. Baldoni opens with general advice on how to approach leading through others:
*Energize Yourself. A person who wishes to inspire others should know where their energy comes from, what they can do with that energy, and their limits.
*Think Like a Boss. A good leader keeps an ear to the ground, comes out from behind their desk, and interacts with team members and customers.
*Persuade Up. All leaders, whether political or corporate, need to be compelling. They must be well versed in the facts when they have big ideas (for example, how do their ideas improve the bottom line?), present these ideas well, sell them, get involved with planning, channel their passion, leverage their customers, and keep pushing even if an idea is rejected the first time around.
*Assert Yourself Diplomatically. While there are times, like in an emergency, when leaders need to act overtly assertive, in general a quiet confidence gets better results than a “hey, look at me” attitude. Effective leadership means listening to others, speaking calmly, and acting decisively.
STEP 2: THINKING AND ACTING STRATEGICALLY
Baldoni explores how to successfully lead up, emphasizing talent development, teamwork, and using one’s influence to achieve good for an organization. To this end, he offers advice on how to disengage from moment-to-moment activities and look at the big picture:
*Strike the Right Balance. Middle managers need to take a step back and consider broader strategies and possibilities.
*Rip Up the Box. Managers leading up need to do more than just ask people to think “outside the box.” They must set clear, realistic expectations. It may also be helpful to look at a problem from an alternative viewpoint. When team members come back with ideas, it is important to hear them out; even if the idea is not exactly what the manager had in mind, it may be the kernel on which to build.
*Unlock and Apply Creativity. Managers should attempt to stimulate discovery. They might do this by inviting outsiders to speak to their teams, or conversely, by sending their teams out to work in the community. Managers should also reflect on their own actions.
*Encourage Imagination. Managers have an opportunity to lead by example, emboldening their team members. They must give their people time and space to engage in experimentation, and combat the resistance to change that often comes from those in the middle.
*Innovate at the Edge. This means challenging convention, encouraging ideas that reflect new realities, finding a home for these ideas, appreciating incremental innovation as well as big ideas, and celebrating creative efforts.
*Inspire Hope and Innovation. According to Baldoni, hope can be a building block if it is linked to tangible results. It is critical to have a vision — such as where does the organization want to go? Once that is established, it is necessary to market the vision both inside and outside of the organization and then to execute it.
*Promote Strategic Idea Gathering. Baldoni advocates looking outside of an organization, and even an industry, for ideas on how to improve function.
*Apply What You Learn Strategically. The challenge for those who lead in the middle is to figure out how to apply information strategically, but first they have get on top of its flow. Managers can assign people internally to monitor the flow of information. Other team members can be tasked with going out into the world to observe competitors and customers. Then all team members come together to share and apply.
*Think Counterintuitively. Sometimes doing the opposite of what is expected is effective. Managers can think ahead to what obstacles their teams might face and brainstorm unconventional solutions.
*Hold to Your Values. Acting counter to expectation has its pros, but in the end, leaders’ actions need to remain in keeping with their true characters.
*Leverage Peer-to-Peer Networks Strategically. Facilitating peer-to-peer communication ensures appropriate knowledge transfer. Managers can encourage functions where members of networks mingle. They can also appoint ambassadors to visit functions of the supply chain and report back. Finally, they can promote the use of e-channels to foster communication.
*Ensure Credibility. Middle managers must rely on peer-to-peer networks, but in doing so, they must vet their sources to ensure that they do not become mired in gossip and innuendo.
All of this aside, the larger point is that the boss needs someone who can think first, and then act from a position of knowledge.