Does being a boss mean being lonely?
“I don’t want to be bossy, it might spoil the team spirit.”
Anne is young and talented. She was the best in her team. No wonder she was the one to get promoted when their team leader went on maternity leave. But after 6 months of being the new team leader, she is in trouble. Her team’s performance is gradually decreasing.
“They are my friends after all,” she keeps saying. “Me and my team members have been working together for 4 years now. I don’t want to spoil the team spirit by becoming bossy all of a sudden. But then how can I make them perform better without being bossy?”
This is a common dilemma of young managers. They are reluctant to be firm with their team members, hesitant to tackle performance issues for fear of losing their team’s affection. Deep inside they would like to be part of the team, like they used to be, even though they know that those times are over.
It is painful experience when the conversation suddenly stops as they enter the room, or when people go down to have lunch together but no one asks them whether they would like to join. So young managers often avoid conflicts or giving negative feedback for fear of increasing the distance between them and their team members.
The fear of loneliness
The fear of becoming lonely and isolated is the most common cause of young managers’ hesitation to be firm.
“You shouldn’t be tolerating underperformance. You are a manager now. You should put your food down.” they are often told by their bosses. But this rarely helps. They know they should be firmer, but the fear of loneliness proves stronger.
You are part of the middle management team now
Wise companies have long recognised that new managers can assume their roles as bosses much more quickly if there is a supporting middle management team behind them. Belonging to a middle management community where members share the same dilemmas and have similar challenges can ease the pain of the loneliness of leadership.
But a mutually supporting middle management team rarely happens on its own. It has to be built and it has to be looked after.
Practical solutions for strengthening cooperation within middle management
Solution 1: In one multinational organisation a Leadership Club was formed. The Leadership Club is a forum where middle managers meet on a regular basis to talk about leadership issues. Often they invite external lecturers; sometimes they watch relevant films together. The key thing is to provide a relaxed social forum where managers can exchange ideas and build relationships with each other.
Solution 2: In several companies the internal supporting network of middle management is strengthened by a mentoring system. Every new manager gets a mentor – a more senior member of middle management – to help them through the difficulties of the first months (or first year). It is a very cost-effective method of providing support and knowledge to new managers in times when the training budget is getting smaller and smaller.
Solution 3: At an international telecommunications company “action learning” teams were formed at middle management level to facilitate practical knowledge sharing and network building between managers. “We recognised that our managers don’t have time to go on long courses, but they still need a lot of practical support to become good leaders,” says the HR director of the company. “In an action learning team, a small group of managers meet for half a day with the purpose of helping each other as coaches to solve their real-life leadership dilemmas. Initially, we hired external experts to facilitate the process, but since then we have trained our own in-house facilitators.”
So what solutions is your company implementing to form a cohesive middle management team?