The Two Leadership Skills Your Middle Managers Most Need
How well do the middle managers you serve manage others? Not just technically, but interpersonally -- and not just down the chain of command, but also up it?
You can be honest. Interpersonal skills are the most challenging to develop.
The good news for you is that managers know they need additional support to develop people skills and leverage their sweet spot in the middle. A recent cross-industry study by Grovo and Wakefield Research revealed that 98 percent of U.S. managers want better management training.
You can help your managers to manage up and more effectively. But, you’ll need concise, practical tools to do so. The study found that 80 percent of managers who change their behavior after training go back to their old ways within six months, often because the training was too voluminous, hard to remember and difficult to apply.
To deliver strategic, bite-sized support your managers will actually remember and use, apply a pair of straightforward acronyms: P.E.R.S.U.A.D.E. and I.N.S.P.I.R.E. While the former model helps with managing up and the latter with managing down, both help managers learn the art of holding tough conversations.
Managing Up: P.E.R.S.U.A.D.E.
You can use the P.E.R.S.U.A.D.E. model to help managers effectively “manage” their bosses, even when they don’t agree with them:
When you adamantly disagree with your boss, do so in private. Don’t confront him in front of your team, his team, your peers or his peers. Take it offline.
Let your passion inspire your argument instead of detracting from it. Keep calm while appealing to your boss’ heart and mind. Overly emotional appeals will weaken your argument. If you want to use a story to illustrate your point, really think it through first. Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.
Do your homework, prepare for questions and do the math. Do more math. Do the math your boss’ way. Poke holes in your own argument before you meet. If your boss is more persuaded by stories than math, collect plenty of compelling ones. Then, do more math, just in case.
Be frank in sharing your concern. Don’t beat around the bush or waste your boss’ time. Speak your truth with courage. Share why you’re concerned for the business. Be equipped with a solid line of reasoning and several supporting points.
Once you’ve made your point, ask for your boss’ feedback and listen carefully. In their position, their perspective is broader and their context deeper. Learn as much as you can from them. Hear them out completely, and suspend judgment.
Appreciate your boss’ point of view. They have pressures, too. Acknowledge them and understand them. Again, learn all you can. Consider your argument in the context within which they’re hearing it.
If you’re still convinced your solution is better, bring on the data. Build graphs. Draw pictures. Gather more stories. Benchmark against the best.
Engage your supporting team. Seek out a partner in finance. Convince key (pragmatic) partners to care about your point of view. Get a slight but steady current of whispers ready to support your cause in their own words.
Managing Down: I.N.S.P.I.R.E.
Next up is the I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model. Use it to help managers inspire behavioral change and deepen engagement in those they lead:
Initiate tough conversations respectfully. Establish respect by asking your employee for a convenient time to talk an issue through.
Share your concern or observation without judgment or emotion. Address only one concern. Even if you have more than one, letting loose with a tirade of complaints will be counterproductive.
Provide specific, supporting details about what you’ve observed. How, exactly, did their behavior deviate from your expectations? Be concise.
Ask what happened. Give them a chance to explain why they behaved the way they did. Seek understanding.
Invite them to develop their own solution to the issue. If they can’t, provide suggestions for how they can improve. Co-create a path forward.
Ask an open-ended question to check for understanding and a closed-ended question to secure commitment. This can be as simple as, “How would your experience at work change with this new approach?” and “Do you commit to this approach, going forward?”
Make it clear how important the behavioral change is, why it’s important to your shared work and why you are confident that they’re capable of improving. After all, if they don’t think you believe that they can improve, they won’t believe it.
Equip the middle managers you serve to learn the art of tough conversations and manage more effectively. Use the P.E.R.S.U.A.D.E. and I.N.S.P.I.R.E. models with the managers who need it most.
Karin Hurt and David Dye are the award-winning authors of “Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul.” Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David is a former executive and elected official and the president of Trailblaze, Inc., a leadership training and consulting firm.