Management principles for leading from the middle

Management principles for leading from the middle

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

The role of middle managers in the steady and sustained development, improvement and growth of an organisation is crucial.

While the top and senior managers provide the vision, middle managers effect long-term changes, which will raise standards and improve the quality of functioning of an organisation.

It is middle managers who lead the teams and implement strategy into visible actions on a daily basis and in practical scenarios.

With a potential to drive consistency in their areas of operation through leadership, sharing, caring, accountability and mentorship, they have the most impact on the day to day activities like planning, monitoring and developing.

Leading from the middle can be a great experience as it gives you a first hand experience of being a step down transformer.

As a middle manager you take the vision and the strategy (a language understood by the senior order) and break them into workable and practical actions (a language understood by teams).

This not only adds to your experience in managing teams but also gives you a sneak peak into how your leadership role would be shaped in the future. Leading from the middle is all about action and not position.

Leadership is a series of behaviours rather than a role for heroes, so here are a few principles, especially when you are -leading from the middle:

Don’t beat around the bush:

There’s a thin line between being diplomatic and being honest. When leading, be honest as much as you are diplomatic. When caught up in difficult situations, which probably will happen more often than not, don’t beat around the bush. Get straight and candid into the matter.

Know what you want to do versus what you are needed to do:

Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do. But be mindful of what is expected of you, what are you accountable for and to what degree. Take charge and strike a balance.

Flexibility vs accountability:

Balance between the flexibility you give your teams versus the accountability you build in them. Set clear goals, give them the space to operate, be clear on the values. Most importantly make sure your people are in alignment with the objectives and goals.


One of the most important leadership lessons is realising you are not the most important or intelligent person in the room at all times.

Communication is a two-way process. Its about mindful listening and mindful talking. Mindful listening is knowing when to listen and what to listen to. Mindful talking is knowing what not to say and when not to talk.

Be open to failing:

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. As you lead from the middle, understand that being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent. Make choices, fail quickly, count the lessons, spring back to action and move on.

Focus on action:

The beauty of being in the middle is that as much as you know where you are headed, you are also grounded from where you started. When you are focused on actions, decision making is easier. So get into the thick of action. Explore different things and options.

Maintain positivity:

Being positive in a negative situation is not naïve, it is leadership. Be the shock absorber who can soak up negativity and throw positivity.

Good leaders maintain positivity both inside and outside. So constantly work on positive reinforcements and affirmations. Make sure you pass them on to your teams.

Feel it:

You cannot be a leader if you don’t feel it. Leadership is not a job; it’s a way of life. Its what you live, breathe and radiate.

Every morning spend a minute or two talking to yourself on the impact you can make on your teams, on the people around and the world at large. Never under estimate the power of this feeling.

Middle order leadership can be difficult. Priorities change, you are subject to pressure from both sides and you bear the brunt of egos and perceptions.

When under pressure, you may easily feel the urge to pass it down, but you know that could be disastrous. But with all these challenges, being in the middle zone is rewarding. So do not wait on a leader. Look in the mirror; you could find one right there.

Sri is the founder and chief mentor of Kuza Biashara, an organisation that coaches youth and SME owners across Africa. He also chairs Entrepreneurs’ Organisation for Africa. @Sbharatam or

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