Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Who Is Coaching the Middle Manager? Sally Foley-Lewis

Who’s Coaching the Middle Manager?
Guest blog post by Sally Foley-Lewis, www.sallyfoleylewis.com

The connection guru, Iggy Pintado, and I were recently discussing workplace coaching and he put a great question to me, ‘Who’s really coaching the middle manager?’  At first glance of the question, it might seem quite obvious or even rhetorical: the senior managers, executives and C-suites are coaching the middle managers!  Aren’t they? 

Those who do
I am confident there are senior managers, executives and C-suites out there who are truly engaged with their middle managers by providing quality thought provoking and insight creating coaching moments.  I very respectfully tip my hat to you and encourage you by saying, from someone who was once stuck ‘in the middle’ without quality support, thank you and please keep going!

Those who think they do
Now let’s turn our focus to the senior managers, executives and C-suites who think they are coaching.  Do you feel as though I just put a target on your back?  That is not my intention, I want you to step back from your current thinking and processes and have a moment to ponder what you really do.

All I ask is that you sit with some questions, think them through as you allow the answers to emerge:
§  When you are with your middle managers, who speaks the most? 
§  What sort of questions do you ask, are they open or closed, do they inspire solution and vision-driven answers? 
§  Do you wait for an answer? 
§  When a middle manager comes into your space seeking a solution to a problem, do you just give the answer (because let’s face it, that often saves time, and time is money) or do you choose another process? 
§  Do you guide, mentor and train or do you coach.  Alternatively, do you ensure a mixture of these approaches and you can clearly identify when you are playing the respective roles? 
Let these questions sink in, you do not have to answer them to me as such but I would ask that you be honest with yourself. 

So, are you really coaching your middle managers?

What’s really going on?
Often when a problem emerges in what I like to term the ‘middle squish’, the affected or offending middle manager is sent on a training course because it is earnestly believed that the training will ‘fix’ the problem.  Three days away from the office sitting in a conference room somewhere discussing application of theory and a case study will not in itself create the change needed.  That said, it can lay a very solid foundation for development; it’s important for further expansion of knowledge; allows for networking; and also helps clear the head-haze / brain-fuzz by being away from the workplace for a short period. 

The issue I have is that in most cases the training course is considered the treatment, the band-aid, if you will.  What’s missing is thorough diagnosis or identification of the real challenges; there’s fuzzy, limited or no focusing on the vision and way forward; and whatever vision there is, is set without input from the middle manager. 

The case for quality coaching the Middle Manager
§  Middle Managers often serve many leaders within the one organisation.
§  Middle Managers are often assessed by leaders they don’t normally or regularly report to. 
§  Middle Managers oversee projects being executed by teams who don’t report directly to them. 
§  Middle Managers have demands, gripes and challenges (and great successes too) all coming up from the ranks. 
§  While also competing with their peers for resources, approvals, and projects, and the top-down demands to do more with less and understand, articulate and implement the organisation-wide vision. 

This is the ‘middle squish’!  Surely this evidences the need for middle managers to receive good quality coaching and thoroughly diagnosed and customised training that inspires, energises and is solution- and vision-driven.

What can you do to truly coach your middle managers to survive and thrive the ‘middle squish’?
Sally has helped managers in a range of industries, such as oil and gas, finance, telco, aviation, education and ship building, to be more effective, efficient and passionate about their management role.  Sally is a certified trainer and coach who helps fast-track managers to productivity.