Traditional leadership paradigms are pretty “top down,” but as modern leadership gurus help us see that such hierarchical decision-making structures are reaching their limits, it’s time to start exploring ways that employees can lead from the middle.
Conveniently for those who want to rise in the organization, “leading from the middle” is also an excellent way to be recognized as a high-potential employee by potential executive sponsors who can help you get ahead.
So what does it mean to “lead from the middle”?
I believe that the most important implication of this concept is that you have to envision yourself as a leader, voluntarily shouldering the burdens of those above you and acting in alignment with the interests of the organization as a whole – all while doing your job extremely well. This is easier in some positions than others, but working to imagine yourself at peer level with your boss and bosses’ boss can help you elevate your perspective and make your work more relevant. (I explore this concept more and provide exercises in my complimentary eBook.)
Leading from the middle also means, however, that you value the experience that you and those below and around you gain “in the trenches.” One of the structural weaknesses of traditional hierarchical organizations is that those at the top become too isolated from the day-to-day realities of customers and front-line employees.
When you lead from the middle, you value this experience and combine the higher and lower perspectives within the company to make informed operational decisions aligned with strategy. One of the challenges and opportunities of being stuck in the middle is also that you can translate the strategies and objectives of those above to those around and below you at the same time you can communicate on-the-ground insights to those at the top.
No one says it’s easy to be in the middle, but it can certainly be very important and rewarding.