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Middle Managers: Stop Fighting the Alligators

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What stops middle managers from progressing? "When you are fighting off the alligators, it's hard to remember you're trying to drain the swamp," says Richard Jolly, adjunct associate professor for organisational behaviour at London Business School.
Middle managers haven't fully grasped the challenge of what it takes to be a senior manager. They are so busy working at the coalface that they don't have time to step back and consider their career. But they must actively do so if they want to progress.

While technical expertise is what got middle managers to their current position, it could be a hindrance if they want to get to the next level.

Early in our careers, we aim to make ourselves indispensible by becoming an expet in a particular area. But as you get promoted, that can become a liability -- senior managers won't want to promote an indispensible technical expert out of their job.

Middle managers need to learn new skills and actively start managing their careers, says Jolly, if they want to move to the next level. They are excellent at fighting alligators, but they need to take responsibility for draining the swamp.

So how do you start thinking like a senior manager?

Here some things to think about if you're looking for a promotion to senior management:

  • What are the top three priorities of your role? Look at your diary or planner to see where you are spending most of your time. If you're not focusing on the top three, you're wasting time.
  • CEOs look for people who understand what the business is trying to achieve and will help them reach those goals. Managers need to figure out what the organisation needs them to do -- how can you, in your role, help the organisation achieve its ambitions?
  • Are you wasting time in meetings? "Meetings are a way of avoiding having to do any real work," says Jolly. Are back-to-back meetings a good use of your time?
  • If you read the writings of people who've been successful, they describe having had a mentor at key times in their career. Do you have someone who can tell you where you can shine, and what strengths to maximise?
  • Last, and most important, are you in the right job? Can you envisage a time when you are able to delegate to people who know their jobs better than you? Senior management is about helping other people achieve a sense of authority, rather than controlling them.
(Photo: CGAphoto, CC2.0)
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