CIO Leadership

Strengthen Your Managers: Move Them From Caught In The Middle To Leading The Way

Managers are your critical factor for success. They hold a unique position and yet an undervalued perception. Here is how to change that and to change them for the better.

Scott Smeester


April 27, 2023

I’m usually offended by people who emphasize the difference between a manager and a leader. Having been a manager and a director and a CEO, I take issue out of my experience, not just theory. The differentiators are not only playing to an audience, they are exacerbating a problem.

Here is an example I found that fuels my fire:

  • Managers do things right - Leaders do the right thing.
  • Managers care about what we produce - Leaders care about what we give
  • Managers control resources - Leaders multiply energy.
  • Managers promote compliance - Leaders promote engagement
  • Managers drive from the back - Leaders drive from the middle or front
  • Managers make you do it - Leaders, you want to do it

Typical. Wrong. Infuriating. 

If I had more hair I would pull it out. If I didn’t edit, I would cuss a blue streak. And I’m not alone. Your managers feel the same way. I’m pretty sure you do too.

You know better. Managers are the key to your organization’s success. They lead in all the ways leaders lead in the example above.

But Do They Know That?

Because of false messages, your managers deal with significant issues that undermine your organization, leadership, mission, and their well-being.

  • The role of the manager is undervalued.
  • Managers look at their position as a stepping stone to “real leadership.”
  • Bad manager focus and behavior is reinforced.
  • Emphasis is placed on promotion instead of development. 
  • It’s all about climbing the ladder, even if the ladder is leaning against the wrong building.
  • It’s not about the expanding circle of influence (which it is all about).
  • It’s about “who you know” rather than “what you are known for.”

Instead, you know what effective managers do. They are the presence of the why, the personification of the how, and the proponent of the what. 

Because of managers, the vision, values and mission of the organization will either be lost in translation or loved in translation.

For twelve years running, bad manager behavior has been in the top five for reasons why employees leave companies. Managers are the bridge between you as an executive and the elite talent you rely on to accomplish your mission.

Good managers multiply your internal and external ROI.

And they are under attack. 

Gallup has reported manager stress and burnout to be higher than the leaders they report to or the employees they supervise.

I’m not surprised. The pandemic focused more on how executives were adjusting strategies and how employees were adjusting to their conditions. Your managers were caught in the middle of high-pressure execution and high-value service.

If you have ever cared for aging parents while raising your children, you get it. Most of the time, focus on one’s self gets lost in the demands of competing concerns.

How Do We Strengthen Managers So That They Dig In More, Look Around Less, And Feel Good About Themselves While Continuing To Increase Their Influence?

We contend for two dynamics: the value of being a manager, and their value as a manager.

The Value

It’s time to set the record straight. No more manager vs. leader comparison. No more suggesting that being a manager is less valuable than being an executive. 

I know my own journey. I was restless as a manager. I had an executive capacity to mature into. For me, the manager role as defined could not have been an end. 

On the other hand, I have had managers who were far more effective than I ever was, and who had no desire to be other than in the role they served. They were exceptional, and their influence was different from mine and as significant as mine. We needed each other.

Our organization needed us to be in the roles we served. As did our customers. 

Contend for the value of the manager by implementing three constants:

First, create a healthy environment. You’ve heard me say this: environment before living things. A healthy environment is about sustainability: the processes are efficient, the people are equipped, the platforms are effective. Set your managers in anything less and frustration builds.

Second, set the right expectations. Raise the bar. Communicate to managers the key role they play as presence of the why, the personification of the how, and the proponent of the what. They translate and communicate your noble purpose, your values and your unique deliverable. 

Managers don’t just matter; they are the frontline of inspiring what matters most.

Third, honor the great efforts. Executives don’t need the spotlight; we are already in it. Put it on your managers. Celebrate when their work models what you are all about. I hope your contributors aspire to be managers, and I pray your managers have to be dragged out of being anything else.

Their Value

We invest in what we value.

To strengthen our managers, we increase our investment. We pour in more.

Managers want to grow in four key areas:

  • As professionals who are maturing in their identity, capacity and purpose.
  • As leaders who are developing their team and team members.
  • As partners with their executive report and organization’s leadership
  • As experts in their field of contribution

To provide that growth, we are to them:

  • Champion - who affirm them, accept them, advocate for them and align with them
  • Guide - who draw out their best and develop and implement individualized growth plans
  • Mentor - who pour in our best
  • Resource - who connect them to what and who they most need

In order to be those, we provide four key services:

  • Assessment to determine real-time personal, relational and vocational needs
  • Coaching to customize areas of growth that they identify as high-priority
  • Training to raise their level of competence in areas they are being coached in
  • Support for immediate need (availability) and long-term work (assets)

As executives, we provide the above directly and indirectly. You surround yourself with the talent you need (such as coaches) to provide the best that your managers need (which may not always be you). 

And one last thing. The one thing you cannot outsource. Your presence. Be with them. Bring them with you. My favorite executives had me travel with them; they shared meals with me. More is caught than taught. I learned by watching and interacting. 

 Model the very thing you want them to be for their team. 

How do we strengthen managers? Raise the perception. Increase the investment in who they are and what they can do. Build your relationship with them. 

Do I hope they get maximum compensation? Absolutely. But first they want something more. They want to matter in the organization. They want to matter more to themselves and to those that they are around. 

Your managers have been pummeled by wrong thinking. They have been weighed down by lack of relevant training and personal coaching. They have been torn apart by pleasing you and serving their team. 

Say “Enough.” Elevate them. 

PS: There are two ways I can help you with this courtesy of my CIO Mastermind Co-Founder and Executive Coach.

Coaching. Book a free exploratory call to see how we customize the most effective solution for your managers.

Training. Explore our unique, customizable training that equips your managers to improve employee development, increase engagement and inspire retention.

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