Leading from the middle

Managers typically become managers in one of these ways — seniority, “it’s my turn” to become manager, due for a promotion based on performance in current role and sometimes an MBA.

In most cases, people become managers like they become parents — suddenly one day they are one!

Unfortunately, when they get promoted, they almost always receive no formal training in managerial skills. But, for every other role in an organisation, the person must have formal qualifications and will continue to receive training in the specific area. For eg., no organisation will recruit a finance professional without the requisite qualifications. And again, on the job, the person is exposed to training like Strategic Finance. But when it comes to managerial skills, the new manager is very often just pushed into the deep end of the pool and is asked to learn on the job! Usually, the tendency is to mirror their earlier bosses when it comes to managing and leading styles — good or bad.

Increasingly, top leadership in organisations is realising the importance of developing middle managers and is investing significantly in training them.

Key areas for training include managerial skills like motivation, delegation, change management, communication, recruiting and retaining talent, conflict, negotiation skills and leadership.

The complexity of the middle manager role

The middle managers live in a tearing world pulled between the top management and the frontline employees. Often this evokes two types of behavioural responses — alienation where they tend to separate themselves from others and manage their areas of business individually. The other response — often as a result of good training — is integration. Integrate with the business objectives of the organisation, other middle managers for support, coaching, and ultimately increased ability to impact through the collective pooling of middle talent.

They also need to become more flexible as they evolve by taking the lead and becoming top management when the situation demands and at the same time, becoming a frontline employee when the need arises to role model and handle a crisis.   

Career path

Given the high growth rates that organisations are experiencing, opportunities for middle managers are aplenty! Managers who demonstrate leadership and strategic thinking skills will certainly occupy key leadership positions including overseas postings.

Opportunities for high quality managers are exploding both within organisations and in the market place as well a with companies constantly looking for CEOs, Managing Directors, Vice Presidents and country heads.

The trend is also towards younger managers given the fact that in many IT and ITES environments employees become young managers by the time they are 28 - 30 years.
Providers of training solutions for Middle/Senior Manager training:

Large MNCs and corporates like IBM, Wipro, Infosys very often have their own internal curriculum to train their middle and senior managers.

Additionally, a few leading global training companies like Crestcom International, Franklin Covey, CCL, specialise in addressing this important segment of training.

The IIMs and ISBs are also targeting this segment by way of executive programmes that run from 1-2 days to 3 months courses.

Realising the criticality of managerial training, companies like Cognizant and Wipro have mandated managerial training for employees who are being promoted to project manager positions.

Challenges in training

While companies realise the importance of training at this level, there are a number of challenges that both the organisations and solution providers face.

Firstly, the challenge of finding the time — this is an egg and chicken story. Most managers are buried under tight deadlines, fires, travel and increasing demands from the customers and other stakeholders. It is only when they are released for training that they will be able to improve their skills in time management, delegation, planning, etc. which are the exact same skills required to release time and increase bandwidth!

Secondly, the success of an initiative like this requires commitment from the top — their Managers. Again, their bosses are busier and are unable to get involved in the follow up to the training interventions. This makes the exercise merely academic and a lot of the implementation and application suffers as a result.

Thirdly, managers, especially in the technology sector, are torn between making the choice between a technical ladder career versus a people’s manager career. The temptation is towards a technical slant.

And lastly, measuring effectiveness of such programmes remains a challenge — some training organisations like Crestcom are now putting in place online methodologies to track effectiveness of behavioural programmes — this requires the active involvement of not just the HR and L&D folks but also senior management.

In our march towards becoming a global economic power the one piece that could make or delay our progress will be the depth of middle and senior management and training is a critical enabler in this direction.

(The writer is Director, Crestcom India)

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