Lead From the Middle:
How to Impact Results Regardless of Title
By Dan Coughlin
boss wants three projects done immediately, your peers are focused
on hitting their department’s planned goals, your employees want
raises and promotions, and your customers are demanding faster,
better, and cheaper. So what are you as a mid-level manager supposed
Leadership means influencing how other people think in ways that
generate better, sustainable results both for your organization and
the people in it. Notice: leadership equals ability to influence,
not your title. There are four keys to influencing others:
Create a Leadership Framework: You only need three things to
lead. You need to know your organization’s three most important
desired outcomes, the three most important outcomes the person
you’re trying to influence wants to improve, and ways to influence
how the person thinks. Take out a sheet of paper and answer these
What are my organization’s three HPOs (highest priority desired
What are the three HPOs for the person I’m trying to influence?
How can I influence that person to think in ways that will
generate better results both for the organization and for what
he, or she, wants to achieve?
you’re ready to lead. It doesn’t matter what your title is or what
role you have in the organization. It also doesn’t matter what title
or role the other person has. Just lead.
the Tools of Influence: There are at least five ways to
influence other people: demonstrate, ask, share, clarify, and
challenge. Here’s a brief description of each:
Demonstrate - In everyday situations, demonstrate the behavior
you want to see in others. I’ll never forget the manager who
screamed, “We have to be more hospitable with our guests.” Ironic,
- Ask your boss, “What is the most important business outcome
you want to improve over the next six months, and what three things
do you think we could do that would have the greatest positive
impact on improving that outcome?” By asking that question you have
narrowed the focus going forward, and clarified where not to spend
your time. You can use this same question with your peers and with
- If the other person is into sports, share a sports analogy. If the
person is into music, share a music analogy. Find a connection
outside of the topic at hand and share a story or an analogy that
could influence the other person’s way of thinking.
with a former college track star who was the Senior Director of
Operations for a $4 Billion division. He was very talented, but not
effective with working with the operations and human resources
departments. I asked, “When you were in college was it possible for
you to win your event, but for your team to lose the track meet.” He
said, “Of course. That’s why I had to focus on supporting my
teammates. It wasn’t enough for me to just win.” I waited silently.
And then he said, “Ok, ok, I get it. I need to support the other
Clarify – Clarify the risks and rewards of taking action by
asking the group, “What are the potential risks of we take this
action, and what are the potential rewards if we take this action.”
Write the answers on a flipchart, Simply clarifying what lies ahead
can influence the group to make better decisions on what to do and
what not to do to improve results.
Challenge – Ask, “Is this our best effort?” That gracefully
concise question penetrates through long-winded reports and Power
Point presentations. It forces people to be honest with each other.
If it was their best effort, then they can move forward with a clear
mind. If it wasn’t, then they can determine what they still need to
do. Use this one sparingly, and you will find it is very powerful.
enemy of the leader is sameness.” The late Bill Gove, a
magnificent professional speaker for over fifty years, used to say,
“The enemy of the speaker is sameness. Even if you tell the best
stories or have the best analogies or use the most effective humor,
your impact will eventually wear off if you do the same thing over
and over and over.”
is true for leaders. Be flexible and use a variety of approaches to
influence the way people think. If you don’t, even your best efforts
will be negated because people will think they know what is coming
next and will tune you out.
be a Mood Ring Leader:
Susan, the director of marketing, had eight bosses in three years.
You read that right. Without leaving her company, she reported to
eight different executives over a three-year span.
One day she said to me, “Dan, my boss says I’m a mood ring leader.”
said, “He called you a what?”
She said, “Do you remember the mood rings in the 1970s?”
She said, “They changed colors whenever the person wearing one had a
mood change. My boss says my reputation is that I change my
leadership style every time I get a new boss. Consequently, nobody
trusts me when I say we should go in a certain direction. What
should I do?”
Susan had a common challenge. She thought leadership meant doing
what her boss wanted her to do. That’s not leadership. That’s
compliance, that’s taking the easy way out. It’s also a shortcut to
career disaster. I gathered input on Susan from her peers that
supported what her boss had told her, and shared it with her.
I shared this input with Susan, she at first put her head down, and
then she looked me in the eye with a transformed look and said, “I
don’t care if I fail. I’m going to lead my department the way I
believe is the right way.”
She went back to her preferred leadership style, which was to give
people personal attention, coach them behind closed doors, allow
them to make mistakes, and remove barriers that other people
insisted on putting in place. At first, she struggled trying to be
herself, but in the end she did extremely well and was promoted to
the next level.
be a leader, take a stand on a given issue, decide what you believe
in, and work to influence how other people think in the way you
believe to be most effective.
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about Dan Coughlin..
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