What do you do if you’re a middle manager who sees the big picture but you work for a boss who only focuses on the here and now?
That was the heart of question I received at recent workshop I conducted on leading from the middle for a national conference of training and development professionals. It was clear that the questioner had had first-hand experience with a boss who wanted his direct reports to know their place and not be thinking or acting big. And therein lies the challenge for eager, upwardly mobile self-starting managers: you want to put your ideas into play and see their results, but your boss only wants you to do what you’re told.
Once upon a time, organizations functioned just fine when orders flowed down from on high. But as the global business environment has evolved, the need for decentralized rapid decision-making has become critical. We need creative men and women to step up and lead from the middle. So what do you do if your boss wants you to keep your place?
First and foremost, do your job: make certain that you do everything you are asked to do. (It is your job, after all.) Once you have established yourself as a credible performer, there are three things you can to do give your big idea a better chance of success:
Align your initiative with corporate objectives. Whatever you propose for your company must complement its strategic direction. For example, if you work in human resources and there’s a head-count reduction in place, it may not be the ideal time to propose a new recruitment strategy. On the other hand, it may be the perfect time to do so, since your company will need to be prepared for the eventual upturn in business. Build the business case for your idea by showing how your idea does not conflict with current priorities, but in fact supports them by planning for the future.
Work through your boss. Once your business case is well along in development, you are ready to pitch it up through the organization. But do not go around your boss