The Leadership Dilemma

Mid-level managers and frontline supervisors continue to face quite a challenge as senior leaders and owners become further removed from the day to day operations and challenges on the frontlines. Regardless of the industry segment, staffing shortages, supply chain challenges, transportation issues, rising costs, and a whole host of other problems are making it more and more difficult for mid-level managers and frontline supervisors to deliver target results. Senior leaders and owners, while aware of these issues at varying levels. are facing uncertainty in the economy, volatility in the market, and are likely ramping up the pressure to deliver targeted results. The mid-level managers and frontline supervisors are caught in the middle of real pressure from above for results and real pressure from the frontline to take care of their teams, create desirable workplaces, battle all of the obstacles in front of them, and still deliver results.

These mid-level managers and frontline supervisors face this ongoing dilemma on a regular basis. Regardless of time in the job and experience level, the dilemma can be tough and wear down even the strongest of leaders if not handled well. The dilemma is nothing new and is quite understandable on all accounts. Results are important, but so are the people that drive the results. Problems and obstacles are present at every level, and the associated pressures can be passed down or self-imposed. Regardless, mid-level managers and frontline supervisors are facing an increasing challenge today with this dilemma. I would like to suggest the following approach for the entire organization to consider as a means to address this dilemma and ease the strain on the mid-level managers and frontline supervisors.

  1. Purpose: The owners, senior leaders, mid-level managers, and front line supervisors need to identify purpose in their organization beyond just results. Results are absolutely important, but they are not purpose. Purpose is “who” not “what”. Results are the “what” that we need/want to achieve. Purpose is focused on “who” we are going to impact. The “who” can be employees in the organization, customers using our product or service, or people in the community we serve. The “who” can be any focus group of people and provides a real foundation for why we are organized together. Hopefully, the organization exists for something beyond just making money. This purpose provides a basis, a focus, and a motivation for existing in the most difficult of times. The purpose will take precedent over results and provide direction in times of uncertainty. Purpose can be the guiding light and calm things down in uncertain times.
  2. Perspective: Leaders at all levels need to have a proper view and understanding of their organization. Far too often, owners and senior leaders get so short-term focused that they lose perspective of the damage done on the frontlines of short-term decision making. Organizations are not in the business of making short-term profits, but rather should want long-term relevancy in the market and the segments served. Leaders with perspective can navigate through short-term challenges with long-term thinking in mind. Leaders with perspective can make daily decisions with a focus on long-term relevancy as the basis for their strategy. Leaders with perspective aren’t thrown off course by a bump in the road, but stay focused on purpose and strategies that will serve them for the long-term!
  3. Plan: Leaders at all levels need to plan well and have solid strategies that allow for flexibility as variables change in the market and in the workplace. Leaders should continually be asking “Are we doing right things” (strategy) and “Are we doing things right (execution). Strategies that can’t be executed at a high level are a poor plan regardless of how they look on paper. Be honest with your view on execution. If you can’t get there consistently, change the strategy! A well conceived strategy at the senior level will have honest execution buy-in at the mid-level manager level. Strategy and execution have to go hand-in-hand for optimum results. If an organization wants to reduce unnecessary pressure and strain on the entire team, do the planning phase well and balance strategy discussion with execution evaluation.
  4. Poise: A leadership team at all levels that can remain composed and calm regardless of the situation is a strength for any organization. The ability of leaders to remain poised in the midst of challenging times provides confidence, self-assurance, and stability to the workforce, the customer base, and the market. Leaders that are poised make better decisions. Leaders that can avoid unhealthy emotional responses and maintain composure will be more effective leading both short-term and long-term. Poise is an attribute that can make a solid leader a great leader. Poise in the leadership team in challenging times can make an organization a great team, and one this is desirable for people to be a part of long-term.
  5. Persistence: At some point, every organization or team will be challenged. Leaders that have a strong commitment to purpose will work through the most challenging of times together. The leadership team that can press on together and just embrace the grind at times together can form a very solid foundation for the organization. Times are tough in many respects. These tough times require tough leaders to navigate through these times without placing excessive burdens on the workforce. Perseverance and persistence are key attributes for any leader in the organization and are a great example to the workforce.

The key is for senior leaders and owners to recognize the dilemma and consider working with the mid-level managers and front line supervisors on the above progression of management / leadership considerations. We can create great workplaces that deliver results over time if we are willing to communicate and care about one another. There will be tough times, market volatility, economic pressures, and the need to just grind through some days. However, if we approach leadership with the progression of concepts noted above, these tough times will solidify our teams and strengthen our impact. We can create great workplaces that people want to be a part of and reduce this strain on mid-level managers and frontline supervisors!

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