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How to be a middle manager with greater impact

I remember, with stark clarity, when I realised how to level up my leadership – how to be more consistently confident, strategic and have a greater impact. I was working at one of the world’s largest international health funds, and my boss had just told me I didn’t have a strategic bone in my body.  

Insights Rebecca Houghton 17 November 2021
— 4 minute read

Geez, that hurt – and I wont deny that it still does!

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But what hurt more was the fact that she couldn’t teach me what to do about it. I had to go away and work it out for myself, which I did – a journey that took far too many years.  

Middle managers these days don’t have the time to work it out for themselves – they, and the organisations they work for, need them to become “B-Suite Leaders” with C-suite impacts more quickly than that.

B-suite leaders are already experienced people leaders. As they own a function, a team or a cluster of teams, they are definitely not in the trenches, but they’re not quite inner circle either. They typically dont have a say in policy development or strategic direction. Yet, its their job to enforce those decisions, even if they – or your teams – disagree, or even object to them.  

Others look up to them as a senior leader, yet they feel too junior to wield any real authority. 

B-suite leaders want to be able to operate like C-suite executives – seemingly effortlessly handling the pace, using the space to think confidently, and wielding the influence to assure the outcomes they seek.  

That’s the ultimate in high impact leadership, right?  

The problem is that few firms are guiding their B-suite to achieve C-level impact, so those leaders who can do it are standing out in the crowd. Learning to manage the pace so you can create the space to think is one of the most useful skills that any leader can master.  

Here are the three areas that you need to master to be a B-suite leader with C-suite impact:

Control the pace of work

Work is beyond frantic, and we are desperate to get organised, manage conflicting and ever-changing priorities, make decisions and generally get some semblance of order in place for our teams as well as our own sanity.

  • To stop feeling like a victim to the relentless pace of work, you need to establish your own strategy and priorities. It can be really difficult to motivate yourself to do so, especially when we often find ourselves working in areas or for employers who are themselves without a strategy and therefore have constantly moving priorities! Despite this, don’t wait for them. Develop your own. Without your own priorities you are at the mercy of others.
  • Establish your boundaries. This is more important than ever as we all battle overwhelm at levels never seen before. Set your own personal boundaries and stick to them – you are always the person undermining your own boundaries, so this is something you have more control over than you think.

Hold the space and use it to think

I hear a lot of B-suite leaders bemoaning their lack of time to do strategic work. But few of us are taught to think strategically, so even when we get a tiny sliver of time, we often don’t know where to start.  As a result, we don’t have the confidence to hold the space and do the deep thinking. The result? We bury ourselves in busy work and complain we don’t have time to think.

  • To resist this urge to get busy again, redefine your relationship with what the work is. Thinking time is equally as important as doing time.
  • Take time to frame your problem and your approach thinking before you jump into problem-solving mode.
  • Lastly, build your confidence – you’ll need to hold the space long enough to think, as we often undermine ourselves just before we have a breakthrough.

Deliberate influence gets results

Being able to make a compelling case for your senior leaders, your peers or your teams is an essential element of success in the B-suite. Making a compelling case is essential to leadership and being skilled at it enables you to operate at a totally different level.

Many B-suite leaders assume that it comes naturally to C-suite leaders, which is not the case.

Influence is learnable and must be mastered. There are three critical skills to master that will see you get more influence, more quickly:

  • Work on your mindset before your skill set. Address your dislike of deliberate influence, managing up or whatever else you want to call it. Once you hit a certain level of seniority, it becomes the job and if you’re not engaging in influencing on a daily basis, you’re not doing the job.
  • Plan your pathway of influence – stop winging it, tackling it head-on, or having one go and giving up. Be smart, and relentless, about how you’re going to get there.
  • Observe what triggers positive and negative behaviours in key stakeholders and experiment with pressing their buttons. Avoid the negative reaction – they may not always say yes, but you’ll be surprised how much further you can go if you can simply avoid a no.

Making an impact in the B-suite is not just luck, it’s about strategically using approaches that make all the difference. By focusing on controlling the pace, using the space and making the case, you will find yourself having more impact, more easily and you’ll shed unhelpful old habits in favour of those that make leading in the B-suite more viable and more enjoyable.

Rebecca Houghton is the author of “Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership”, as well as a leadership and talent expert and founder of BoldHR. Rebecca builds B-suite leaders with C-suite impact by working at an organisational, team and individual level.

How to be a middle manager with greater impact
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Emma Ryan

Emma Ryan is the deputy head of content at Momentum Media and editor of the company's legal publication, Lawyers Weekly.

Emma has worked for Momentum Media since 2015 and has been responsible for breaking some of the biggest stories in corporate Australia. In addition, she has produced exclusive multimedia and event content related to the company's respective brands and audiences.

A journalist by training, Emma has spent her career connecting with key industry stakeholders across a variety of platforms, including online, podcast and radio. She graduated from Charles Sturt University with a Bachelor of Communications (Journalism).

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