The Mid-Level Leadership Vacuum
(November 26, 2012)
As a business consultant and facilitator working with diverse businesses in India, I have witnessed people experience almost frantic career growth in the last 15 years. Those who have begun leadership careers in times of exponential growth have seen their career graphs skyrocket, and have often grown from front-line employees to upper-middle or senior managers inside a decade, sometimes less.
The consequences for the organisations that employ them have often been dire. Business leaders can have entire teams of middle managers reporting to them who still function like front-line staff. They can manage the business function just fine, but when it comes to leading people, they are not sure what they should be doing differently to be effective in their new roles.
As a result, senior leaders feel overly responsible for numbers and on-the-ground results, and micro-manage their second line far more than they should. This leaves middle managers feeling a lack of confidence when it comes to their own decision-making capability. The resulting paralysis, or leadership vacuum, hamstrings the organisation’s agility and flexibility.
Almost paradoxically, the best way to address this leadership vacuum at the middle-management level is to first fill the skill gaps of senior management. Wilson Learning’s point of view on leadership has long stated that leaders – at any level – play the same four roles (Visionary, Tactician, Facilitator and Contributor) at differing levels of intensity and application. Implicit in this is the reality that without knowing how to fulfil the roles at one level of leadership, the average person is almost incapable of fulfilling them at a higher level.