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Here’s how to get noticed as a middle manager

Seventy-seven per cent of organisations still report a leadership gap, which is growing fast and this leadership gap is the home of the ‘B-Suite’ – the high performing middle manager. B-Suite leaders that I work with often feel overworked or overwhelmed, but most frustratingly – they feel overlooked. The frustration is understandable when you are working hard, kicking goals and making it happen, yet no-one seems to notice.  It gets worse if someone less effective gets noticed.  And it gets unbearable when someone else takes credit for what you have done.

According to Gartner, only 50% of leaders feel confident to lead today.  And fresh research from DDI states that only 38% of CEOs rate their mid-level leadership quality highly.  This mismatch is a challenge for both the B-Suite leader and their employer. What needs to change? Is it your Executive, or is it you?  The answer is both, and it’s about a 40/60 split.  So, let’s concentrate on your sixty per cent – actions you can take to start getting noticed by your Executive. Let’s look at 6 simple tactics that will move you from being overlooked to being poised and promotable.

If you play at level you’ll stay at level. 

That other leader that took the credit? Yes, it’s a nasty tactic, but they couldn’t have done that if you had spoken up first and ensured that your executive knew where credit was due. 

But you didn’t want to – you wanted your work to speak for itself and you wanted your executive to notice.  I hate to break it to you, but this is simply not the mindset of a seasoned executive.  Your C-Suite rarely have time to spot the things that aren’t brought to their attention.  If you fail to raise it, you’re failing to do part of your job – promoting the work, talent and achievements of your team (and yourself). 

Confidence is contagious.

DDI’s most recent leadership index states categorically that ‘confidence in the capability of our leaders is the single factor that will most affect success in changing market conditions.’ 

So while you might be suffering a crisis of confidence, I’m going to let you into a secret.  I have yet to meet a leader that has an issue with their confidence (either minor or major) that they hide (either well or poorly).  There is not a leader alive today who has seen the confluence of market conditions that we have experienced in the last 2-4 years. 

So have confidence in the fact that you are not alone, no-one has done this before, and everyone is making mistakes, and don’t let this undermine you (or at least, don’t let it undermine you more than it is undermining every other leader!).

Ask for help.

Asking for help often makes highly competent people feel incompetent, inadequate and vulnerable.  You might be worried about appearing needy, being a burden, or afraid that it’ll highlight a performance gap. 

Positioning a problem clearly is important when you’re asking for help – and with your executive, offering a few options that you’ve narrowed it down to is essential.  Then engage them – their natural default is to be helpful, as long as you’ve done the hard work first.  Engaging them in something substantial like a problem will build a professional relationship far faster than flattery ever will.

Invest in yourself. 

Quite simply, if you don’t value yourself, no-one will.  I’m seeing a material shift in the readiness of ambitious B-Suite leaders to invest in themselves, and the simple of act of taking that agency often marks out those that are destined for greater visibility and those who are not.

Mindset, not skillset.

Refocus your development objectives away from skills-based learning.  If you’re already senior enough to be thinking about being noticed by the C-Suite, you’re already competent enough ‘on the tools’.  Your next learning curve is actually going to be about stepping away from the tools, and even stepping away from your expertise – in order to truly step into leadership.  At this level, you don’t need a new skillset.  You need a new mindset.

Manage up

The most important relationship that you have is with your own leader, yet we routinely invest more effort and energy on our direct reports.  This is a mistake – your relationship with your leader is the most important relationship that you have, regardless of how good or bad they may be.

Structure your conversations to remind them of your achievements (and keep reminding them!), constructively ask them for help (see the previous point about asking for help), and ask them what they need from you.

This final question is often overlooked, and it’s an important way to help you understand what is on their mind – and on the mind of their boss.  This intelligence helps you to position your priorities, and your criteria for problem-solving, on their level rather than yours, which is the next level down.   

Few organisations are guiding their B-Suite to achieve C-level impact, so only those leaders who can achieve that impact are standing out in the crowd – and if you want to be one of those, try the above and let me know how you go. 

Rebecca Houghton, author of ‘Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership’ ($29.95), is a Leadership and Talent Expert and founder of BoldHR. Rebecca builds B-Suite leaders with C-Suite impact by working at an organisational, team and individual level.

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