Middle Management Leadership – Resolving Conflict Around the Board Table
You’ve worked long hours, grafted hard and cultivated those precious C-suite relationships to gain your coveted middle management leadership position. You’ve received your reward for all that ‘emotional labour’ – welcome to middle management!
But your professional career now enters a whole different dimension. You have a closer line to those with executive power, but are equally vulnerable if you fail to deliver. Accountability rules.
So how can you foster continued success, build upon existing personal relationships and gain credit for initiatives that are truly transformational?
The answer lies not in the old ways of leadership by function, but through leadership by consensus
The answer lies not in the old ways of leadership by function, but through leadership by consensus. What do I mean by this?
When you cleverly pitch your first big idea, you may believe you have collective commitment to your cause. But the understanding of your aims and how to achieve them can be subject to shifting sands: everyone develops a different view of your project plan. The consensus you thought you had ends up fragmented.
This is just one of three common sources of conflict that regularly face middle management. The second is that some members of the C-suite realise that what you propose could be a threat: if not to how they do things, then certainly to what they do.
Finally, a disengaged CEO can fail to provide adequate support for your idea. Or simply delegates the detail to individual board members who then proceed to fight it out according to their interests.
So where to start? All great works are built upon a solid foundation. Preparation is key and the task of aligning the interests of apparently disparate parties needs to be skilfully tackled. Professional politicians know this. When they suddenly find themselves out of office and seeking new horizons, they often point to their key transferable skill as being able to align polarised opinions and beliefs.
Work through the three Big C’s: Consensus, Commitment and Conviction
Invest time in spotting points of potential conflict among the executive team. Work through the three Big C’s: Consensus, Commitment and Conviction. Steel yourself for a few bouts of boardroom political infighting, but hold fast to your principles. Modern organisations must face up to the cross-functional, collaborative model of leadership and let go of old silo mentalities.
In a VUCA world, there will always be questions that are ill-defined or not yet materialised. You’ll therefore need to tackle the naysayers for whom ‘Not Knowing’* is a poisoned chalice. Try to get them comfortable with uncertainty.
The key players tend to be those with direct bottom line responsibility. Focus on those individuals tasked with driving income and costs, as they live or die by results. Talking one-on-one is often a good way to discover where vital overlap lies and where gaps can be plugged.
Difficult conversations often involve a period of shock, where the discussion can run off track as parties react to what is being said. Don’t be fazed by this. Allow things to calm down before proceeding at a steady pace. Give time for key messages to sink in. Choice of place and space can be important, as is delivery using warm, collaborative body language.
All transformational ideas involve ambiguity and risk
If this sounds like a plea for open communication, it is. But one that also recognises the difficulties that can underpin this statement. However, this is the roller-coaster ride of middle management.
All transformational ideas involve ambiguity and risk. The best defence for the middle manager remains careful preparation, precise messaging and the promotion of open dialogue.
*Highly recommended is the Chartered Management Institute Book of the Year 2015: Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner’s ‘Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty Into Opportunity’.
Darryl helps professionals to develop their people networking and career management skills. He works extensively with individuals, companies, not for profits and professional membership organisations. Follow the Strategic Business Networking® YouTube channel and join the SBN LinkedIn Group.