Leading From the Middle – Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

Leading From the Middle – Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

Many of you are leaders, you’re over people, but you also have a boss. You’re over and you’re under, you’re in the middle. In the last episode we talked about building the middle. Today we’re going to look at three metaphors of how great middle managers make a difference. I call this one leading from the middle. This is the Craig Groeschel leadership podcast. Hey, it’s great to have you back for another episode of the Craig Groeschel leadership podcast, and I just want to say thank you to our leadership community. First of all, thank you for making an investment in your own leadership because we know that when you get better, you can really impact so many people’s lives, and also I want to say thank you to those of you that are sharing on social media. I see a lot of posts from you. I see you doing this with your teams, and it means a lot to me when you invite others to be a part of our community. If you’re new with us, we’ll drop a new leadership podcast on the first Thursday of every month. I would love to invite you to subscribe to this content wherever you watch or listen or consume the teaching. We also offer something that I think can be very helpful. We have a leader guide that we send out every month. If you go to,, you can click on leader guide and then we’ll email you that as well as other bonus content that may add value to your leadership. In the last episode, we talked about middle management and we kind of did it from a senior management perspective. We talked about building the middle. If you haven’t listened to the last episode already, I would encourage you to pause this one, go back and pick up last month’s first, and then we’ll dive into this episode. Quick thought from the last one as we talk about middle managers. What is a middle management leader? That’s someone who both reports to someone above him or herself, and it’s also someone who leads down in the organization. When do you add middle management? The answer we covered last month is this. When the addition increases organizational clarity and accountability, that’s when you add. You don’t want to do it too early, you don’t want to add unnecessarily, but recognize that the right middle managers added at the right time can be the difference between a good organization and a great one. Let’s talk in this episode directly to those who are leading in the middle, and I want to start by acknowledging something that’s not a lot of fun, but it is very true. Middle managers often get a bad rap. You know it if you’ve been in any type of organizational leadership for any amount of time. This is occasionally considered to be a role that people want to avoid, and I’ll tell you why if you haven’t thought about it. First of all, it is not an easy role. When you think about it, middle management leaders, they tend to get blame from all directions. Those who report to you, if you’re a middle management leader, they might blame you because you’re pushing them too hard all the time, driving for results. And those above you might blame you because you’re not pushing your team hard enough. You get blamed from all directions. Middle managers also often feel caught in the middle with what seems like conflicting objectives. You might know this if you’ve ever led from the middle. You’re told to keep expenses down but improve results, and you’re thinking, “How do I do both at the same time?” You’re told you’ve got to drive your team harder, but you also have to decrease turnover, and you feel like that’s a conflicting message. They may come to you with what seems impossible. We need to lay off 10% of our organization and we want you to improve team morale all at the same time. You feel caught in the middle. What do you do when you’re leading from the middle? Here’s what we know. When you’re leading from the middle, you have to deal with very high expectations from senior management and you have to get results from those below you that often don’t have senior management’s perspective in the whole organization. Some middle managers would say this and rightly so. They would say they’ve got the full responsibility for results but not the full authority to make decisions or influence the direction. This is not an easy role at all. In fact according to an article in “The Muse”, middle managers have a higher rate of depression and anxiety than their supervisors and subordinates. More than one half of middle managers feel constantly worried. 47% of middle managers take work home with them. If you’re worn out in a middle management leadership position, you’re not alone. This is not an easy role. So let’s talk about how do we do it well? What are the qualities that make for great middle management leaders? They report to someone and they lead a team and they do both effectively. What are those qualities of those who lead strong from the middle? Now the answer to that question probably wouldn’t surprise you because the answer about what makes a great middle management leader is very similar to what makes any other type of a great leader. In other words, they’re going to have natural leadership instincts, they’re going to have strong communication skills, they’re going to be good problem solvers, they’re going to be good at conflict resolution, hopefully they might be a gifted strategist, and the list would go on, blah, blah, blah, blah, same list about any great leader. So what I want to do in this episode is instead of focusing on the normal expected qualities, what I want to do is give you three metaphors or three pictures or images of great leaders who lead from the middle. What are those metaphors, those images? First of all, a great middle manager is a translator. Secondly, he or she is a coach. Thirdly, he or she is a scorekeeper. What are you? If you’re a great middle management leader, you’re going to be a translator, a coach and a scorekeeper. Let’s start with translator. First of all you are a translator. What do we know? Senior management generally sets the tone, the direction and the vision. What do you do? As a middle management leader, you translate the organizational vision into achievable steps and systems that accomplish the desired results. I want you to think about that. The senior leadership says here’s what we want, and you translate it into steps and systems that bring about the desired results. You’re a translator. So you’ll say to those who are below you, you’ll say, “Here’s what management wants.” You’re to help them see why it’s important and this is incredibly important. Here’s why it’s important and then here’s how we’re going to hit the target. Here’s what I know about your organization, and I don’t know what you do, but I know this is true about your organization, and that’s this. Management has certain expectations. The team below you, they rarely see the whole picture. What’s going to happen is the boss is going to demand results and your team is often going to think, “That’s unreasonable. “We can’t do all that in this amount of time “with what we have.” What do we have? There’s a gap. There’s a gap between senior management and the rest of the team. What do you do when you lead from the middle? You close the gap. You’re the translator. Here’s what you do. You know your organization has a what. It’s the mission, it’s the goal, the objectives. We also know that your team very, very quickly can forget the why, why we do what we do, and the what over time might start losing appeal, so as a great middle management leader, you close the gap. What you do is you translate the objective into doable steps. You keep the why front and center. Here’s why what we’re doing matters. You’re the translator bringing context to the organizational goals and objectives. Now here’s how you deal with your senior management, and here’s why it matters. You’re translating down but you’re also translating up. You’re also leading up to those who are above you. Here’s what your boss will often do. Your boss doesn’t understand a lot of times what it takes to accomplish the vision downstream. I know this because I’ll say, “Hey, can you guys get this done? “It should be easy,” and they’re looking at me going, “You have no idea. “There’s 18 steps to get this done. “It’s way more complicated than you see in your head, Craig. “It’s complicated,” and that’s what a good middle management will do, will help me to see why my assignment might lack context. The boss wants you to get it done. In his or her mind, she thinks, “How hard could it be?” You, as a translator, you’re going to help your boss understand what your team is facing. You’re going to help your boss understand where the team is, what’s needed, what’s realistic. What are you? You’re the translator. This is so important. You’re translating up to senior management, you’re translating down. You are the translator and that helps keep the mission moving forward. Secondly you’re a coach, and I love this image. When people think of middle managers, I think that some people think of boring, gray-haired leaders in suits. I hope you see something entirely different. If you’re a middle management leader, instead I hope you see yourself as one who’s played the game. You’ve been in the game, you’ve been on the front lines and now you’re one who’s helping others succeed while they’re engaging on the front lines of battle. You see yourself as a coach. I like this better than the image of a boss or a manager, because when I think of a boss, I think of someone who wants people to accomplish what the boss cares about. A coach is different. A coach is one who wants to help the players succeed, and when the players succeed, the whole team wins. Here’s why it’s important. When you’re leading from the middle, you’re the coach. What do great coaches do? Well, a great coach recruits talent, builds the team and develops people. Let me say it again. A great coach recruits talent, builds the team and develops people. That’s what you’re doing. As a great middle management leader, you’re the coach, you’re recruiting, you’re training, you’re empowering people and you’re releasing a dream team to do what you’ve translated from senior management into the organization. You’re helping put points on the board. But you’re not just coaching down. You’re also, and this is incredibly important, you’re coaching the leaders that are above you. You’re coaching your boss. You’re coaching senior management and here’s a key. They may not know you’re actually coaching them. You’re supporting them, you’re executing their vision, you know what’s on their heart, you know what they value, you’re taking a load off of them and you’re giving them real feedback, honest communication that helps them get better, see things they wouldn’t normally see. You’re not just coaching down, but you’re also gently coaching up. You’re leading down and you’re leading up. This is so important because in most organizations not everyone will have access to senior management. You do as a middle manager, and you’re going to want to steward that gift wisely. What can you offer? One of the best gifts you could offer your boss or your leader is the gift of honesty. Honesty, telling them the truth, how you see things, and how he or she may not see them. This is so important because unfortunately the higher someone rises in leadership, the harder it is for them to find people that tell them the truth. I wish this weren’t so, but it is. Here’s why. Since everyone wants the leader to like them, I want my boss to like me, most people are biased to tell the leader what they think that leader wants to hear and this is incredibly dangerous. It can be detrimental to the whole organization. So what you do as the coach is you bring the gift of honesty. You’re giving feedback. You speak the truth, you help your leader see things that he or she wouldn’t see otherwise. What are you? You have a very important role. You’re the translator, taking the organizational values, mission, objectives into a language that your team can execute upon and carry out, and you’re a coach. You’re recruiting great talent, you’re helping people win, you’re helping them become better, and you’re not just coaching those below you, but you’re quietly, gently coaching and strengthening those who are above you. The third quality is this. What are you? You’re also a scorekeeper. Crazy important. What do we know? We know senior management wants results. We also know that your team is generally and naturally more focused on themselves than on the mission. We’re human beings. We just care how does this impact me? That’s naturally where our trajectory tends to go, so again, what do you do? You close the gap. What are you doing? You’re creating the systems, you’re creating the structure, you’re creating the accountability to maximize everyone’s gifts toward the mission and, this is so important, you keep score. Now what does that mean? Very simply it means you’re constantly measuring effective execution against the defined objectives. Are we putting points on the board? Are we moving the ball down the field? Are we getting the results that senior management wants? What are you doing? You’re building helpful accountability into the daily workflow. Think about it. In any sport, you’d fire the coach or the team member that doesn’t know the score. That’s why keeping score is so important. You’re helping your team to know the score at all times. Here’s how we’re doing, here’s where we stand. Peter Drucker said this. He said, “What gets measured gets improved.” You’re the scorekeeper, you’re measuring. Here’s where we are, here’s what’s important, here’s what we’ve done, here’s what we’ve got to do, here the systems, here’s the accountability. You’re the scorekeeper. The only reason that we wouldn’t keep score in anything is when we’re not playing to win. You’re the scorekeeper. We want to win in what we do in the organization. So a great middle management leader, what are you? You’re the translator, you’re the coach, and you’re the scorekeeper. What do we know about you? Your mood, your tone and your attitude, it matters more in your organization than you could ever imagine. All the time, no matter where you are, you’re both representing senior management and you’re representing those that you lead and you love. Let’s say senior management gives you an assignment and you know it’s going to be difficult. The way you present it, your tone, your attitude is going to directly impact the mood and the posture and the culture of those who are below you. For example, you can come in and say, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got bad news for you. “We’re all going to be working extra hours. “Boss told me we’ve got the get this project done “by the 15th of this month “or we’re going to be laying people off, “so get ready, here it comes.” What you just did is you just demoralized the team and you sucked the life out of the room. You can take that very same assignment and with a different mood, you can change the outcome and trajectory of your team. Instead you can come in and say, “Hey, guess what, we’ve got some great news. “There’s a really critical assignment for our organization “that has to be done by the 15th of the month “and our boss chose our team because you guys “are the best of the best. “It’s not going to be easy, “but I know that we can rise to the occasion. “We care about it. “Here’s why it’s important, let’s do it.” Very same thing, totally different mood. Your mindset, your attitude, your mood, it will shape the trajectory and outcome of the organization more than you can ever imagine. Why, because you’re in the middle. You’re impacting everything around you. You’re simultaneously the translator, the coach and the scorekeeper, and you’re focused on creating the culture, building morale and getting results. What are you doing as a great middle management leader? You’re keeping the communication flowing up and down, you’re helping resolve conflict, you’re being ruthlessly honest, you’re getting results, but let’s just be forewarned, and you need to understand this, this is never, ever, ever an easy role. The truth is you probably won’t get all the credit that you deserve. Middle managers often don’t. The truth is you might get more than your fair share of the blame. Middle managers often do. But if you work to understand your leader’s goals, understand what makes him or her tick, lighten their burdens and help them achieve their objectives, at the same time you’re recruiting and releasing great talent. You’re keeping them focused on the why and you’re showing them how they can accomplish the what. Your biggest win will not be getting recognized. Your biggest win will be getting results. And here’s the good news. If you get results, your whole organization gets better, and over time if you get results, guess what? You will be recognized as exactly what you are. You are a great leader. You’re leading from the middle. The top is better because of you, those who are beneath you are better because of you. The whole organization is better because you are a great leader. Let’s review the content and then we have some application questions for you. Let’s review. Because you’re leading up and because you’re leading down, you’re the translator. The senior management sets the tone, the vision, the direction, and you translate it into doable steps and systems to get the results. There’s always a gap. You close the gap. What else are you? You’re the coach. You recruit great talent, you build excellent teams, you develop the best people, but you aren’t just coaching those that report to you, you’re also coaching those that you report to. This makes you incredibly important because not everyone has access to senior management, but you do and you’re going to steward that gift well. Finally you are the scorekeeper. You’re creating the systems, the structure, the accountability to get the desired results and you’re always keeping score. You’re constantly measuring the execution to defined objectives. Are we putting points on the board? You’re building helpful accountability into the daily workflow. And remember, your biggest win won’t be getting recognized, your biggest win is getting results, and if you get results, eventually you will be recognized as a great leader. Application questions number one. Of the three metaphors, the translator, the coach and the scorekeeper, which one is your greatest strength and which one needs the most development? This is really important. Which one do you excel at and you want to build on that strength? There likely is one that actually is a weakness for you. In other words, maybe you’re not translating well up or you’re not translating well down. Maybe you’re more of a manager in your mindset than you are a coach. You’re not building the leaders below you or you’re not honestly giving feedback to those that are above you. Maybe you’re not really keeping score. In other words, you’re just trying to get things done but there’s no real goals, there’s no real celebrations. Without a goal, how can you know if you’re winning? How can you know if you scored? You want to really, really be honest and ask yourself, “As a middle management leader, “am I lacking in one of these areas?” and then you might find a mentor, you might listen to a podcast, you might read a book, you might ask some people to help you develop. You’re going to find that area where you need to grow, you’re going to work on it, you’re going to get better, and when you get better, your whole organization is going to get better. Let’s shift to the second question. We’re going to talk about attitude, and remember, this is important. As a middle management leader, I want you to be honest about how your attitude is impacting your team, and this may take a little bit of work, but you really need to be honest. You might, without knowing it, you might be unintentionally setting a bad tone either up or down. Here’s the question, number two. What would your leader and your direct reports, so both up and down, what would your leader and your direct reports say about how your attitude, your mood and your tone is impacting the organization? You may ask yourself is one different than the other? In other words, you might be leading up effectively but you’ve got a bad attitude down, or the other way. Maybe you’re poorly representing management to those below you and you’re kissing butt upwards. Be really honest about your attitude. If you find that there’s a vulnerability in your attitude, I want you to be honest. Please address it, please change it because you have no idea how much your attitude impacts the outcome of your organization. Just because you’re in the middle doesn’t mean you’re not important. You’re incredibly important. You have a very strategic role. You’re both leading up and you’re leading down, and a great middle manager can take a good organization and can transform it into one that’s incredibly effective and impactful. Your role matters. What happens in the middle really matters. Now in next month’s episode I’m really excited about the content. What I know about all organizations is we all have problems. How do we attack those problems? How do we solve them? How can we be creative? How can be bring about great results? We’re going to talk about problem solving like a boss. Again, thank you for sharing on social media. Please subscribe. If this content is helpful to you, it would mean a lot to me if you would rate it wherever you consume it or write a review. That actually helps to create more exposure for us. Invite people to do this with you. There’s a lot of pressure wherever you are in your organization. You want to get things right, you don’t want to make mistakes, but I want to encourage you just be yourself. We say it all the time, be yourself. Why, because people would rather follow a leader who’s always real than one who’s always right. Thank you for joining us at the Craig Groeschel leadership podcast. If you want to go even deeper into this episode and get the leadership guide or show notes, you can go to You can also sign up to have that information delivered straight to your inbox every month. In the meantime, you can subscribe to this podcast, rate and review it on iTunes and share with your friends on social media. Once again, thank you for joining us at the Craig Groeschel leadership podcast.

Comments (2)

  1. Great video! Would love your thoughts on managing remotely?

  2. Really blessed with this… the straight answer for my today's question. Thanks

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