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Crossing the Middle Management Abyss

I read 10 Reasons Why You -- Managing in the Middle -- Are More Valuable Than Your Company's CEO with interest. I was fascinated that 202 of you bought such patronizing, delusional crap ... with all due respect.
Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of truth to it. But the bigger truth is that, if middle managers were more valuable than executives, they would be compensated accordingly. And they're not.
If you're one of the 202, and you're happy to be stuck in middle management purgatory, that's fine. Have a nice day.
But if you're driven and seek continuing advancement of your career; if you view middle management as part of a journey, a stepping stone on the way to executive management, then read on.
I managed to climb the corporate ladder and learned a few tough lessons along the way. Will they work for you? Honestly, I have no idea. But I do think they're fundamental and not too obvious, so you'll probably have a considerable jump over the self-help crowd.
Five lessons for crossing the middle management abyss

  • Get in the line of fire. Find a way to get yourself into a critical position on a program or managing a group that can make or break the company. Stick your neck out and take big risks. Executive management will respect your willingness to put your butt on the line for the company. Don't get hung up on winning; success or failure is secondary.
  • Aggressively manage your career. Rarely will anybody hand you a promotion. You have to negotiate, schmooze, and work your tail off for it. Sell yourself up the ladder or laterally, if necessary to avoid roadblocks. If that fails, start interviewing. It's way easier to get to the next management level by jumping companies and being geographically flexible.
  • Start big, then go small. Pay your dues and learn management and leadership skills at a big company, then join a startup or high-growth company. A big promotion makes sense when you're going from big to small. Just remember, startups are risky, so consider late-stage private or undervalued public companies that can benefit from your experience.
  • Find your passion. Follow your instincts; listen to mentors and others you trust. If you're open and honest, you will eventually find your passion. When you do, have the guts to change careers, make a lateral move, or even take a step back, if necessary, to find your raison d'etre. That will be your best chance for success.
  • Prepare for a marathon. Most great careers are earned and built over time. Not only do you have to be smart, opportunistic, and lucky; you also have to be willing to sacrifice and work long and hard to get to the top. Becoming an executive isn't easy and there are no shortcuts. Even entrepreneurs have to learn the ropes or suffer the consequences.
Look, success may be hard, but nowhere near as painful as waking up one day and realizing you're bitter because you didn't at least try. As Robert Browning said, "a man's reach should exceed his grasp --"
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