Supervisors to Superstars: Authentically Engaging Middle Managers — Part 2
Last time I left you with a cliffhanger.
We dove into a common challenge that companies face: mid-level managers struggling to excel. We talked about their incredibly high rates of burnout, their failure to hold their former peers accountable, their barriers to effective communication. We explored why those things happen — how people come into management at different places, how they are not empowered with the leadership tools and skills necessary to transform from employee into supervisor.
As I wrote my December blog post, I was preparing to coach a team of supervisors at a small company. The majority of this group was newly promoted to their roles. They were high performers in their previous positions; however, few had experience managing other people.
These individuals were standing at the starting line of their management careers, and already there were some concerning indicators:
- They felt they didn’t have enough communication from executive leadership.
- They were pessimistic about whether things could or would change.
This session was structured as two day-long workshops, spaced about one month apart. I’ve found that this structure works well in order to lay the foundation, then circle back on action items. Here’s what that looks like:
I guided the team through a conversation around challenges and opportunities. This is a key reason to utilize a trained, professional facilitator in these types of discussions. Employees often won’t open up to leadership about their true challenges. Or, once staff begin talking about what frustrates them, the conversation can spiral and descend into toxicity. As an external party trained in facilitation, I can steer participants toward productive dialog: What do you want to see from your leaders? What do you want to embody as leaders yourselves? What systems and processes are or are not working? You’d be surprised how much employees want to share their ideas when they know they are being heard and empowered to make changes.
But the best output of this type of exercise is that employees begin utilizing one another and building on good ideas themselves. This immediately instills ownership. It isn’t management telling them to behave a different way; they are creating the solutions on their own.
In the December session with my client, one participant suggested a weekly team huddle to help supervisors communicate more consistently and tackle challenges more immediately. The rest of the team loved the idea and began brainstorming what these huddles would look like. Presto! Solutions owned, the camaraderie built.
One month after our first session, I reconvened the group for a check-in. Day Two is all about implementation and accountability: What steps have you taken toward operationalizing your ideas? Is there anything holding you back? How are you holding yourselves and each other accountable? People need highly specific, tactical ways to implement their ideas. That’s when talk turns into action. For example, the team had struggled to make the huddle a regular part of their week. We circled back to the basics: a standard agenda, a calendar invitation so the time was respected, and a rotating huddle leader. These may seem like small steps, but I’ve found that you cannot get too granular when it comes to effectuating change. A trained facilitator can make this happen.
Ensuring this progress continues is the work of both the supervisor team and their executive leadership. Here’s the key takeaway: When it comes to making supervisors into superstars, early intervention is critical. Mid-level managers have a special power because of where they are situated on the org chart: They can spread positivity — or toxicity — both up and downstream. I’ve seen it time and time again. When new supervisors are trained, informed, and empowered, they become a positive contribution to workplace culture and blossom into their roles.