Four Worthwhile Middle Management Development Goals

 Four Worthwhile Middle Management Development Goals

Imagine how amazing it would be to constantly develop great leaders from the ranks of middle management.  Think about the boundless energy that a continual flow of new, effective leaders would bring to an organization.  If we could only set up an automated process to make this a reality!

Unfortunately, there are no automated processes.  There are no set prescriptions for cultivating  leaders from the ranks of middle management. In fact, the most effective processes are tailored to the circumstances and needs of a particular organization and group of trainees.

However, while each organization faces different challenges in the processes of developing its middle management tier, we offer four worthwhile goals for developing that tier into a cohort of high performance leaders – no matter what the company circumstances may be.

Keep in mind that every organization will approach these goals in the way that best suits their specific circumstances. We discuss each of the four sequential middle management development goals below, with ideas and frameworks that can be adopted toward realizing them:

  1. Openness
  2. Collaboration
  3. Creativity
  4. Innovation

Every new Accelerated Leadership Program cohort arriving at Monday morning orientation has its fair share of skeptics. Who can blame them? Most of us have listened to dry powerpoint presentations and platitudes about ‘mission’ and ‘purpose.’ It is certainly understandable for people to be reticent at the outset of a training experience.

In this context, the word “reticence” may be taken as a synonym for “closed off.” Therefore, we encourage new students in the art of leadership to be at least 1% open.

Be At Least 1% Open

This is the invitation we extend to the new cohort at each and every orientation.

Open to what, exactly?

To seeing things differently. To considering the possibility that in our careers, we are either growing or stagnating. The invitation is really to be open to putting automatic behaviors on pause, in order to assess the terrain and discern what’s working and what’s not.


When the student is at least 1% open, new possibilities come online. She or he is oriented to receiving input, or feedback.

It is time to hit the STOP button on automatic behaviors, and routine approaches and perspectives. Continuing with them bars the identification of new possibilities, and the formation of new behaviors.

Then we can LOOK to assess the current state of affairs.

And finally, we can consciously CHOOSE our next objectives, including what we will need to keep, delete and create new to get there..

Developing Trust Through Exchange Of Ideas & Feedback

There’s an old parable about a farmer who, in his zeal to profit from the harvest, pulled on his crops every morning in order to speed up their growth. The plants withered and the harvest never came…

Openness is like that crop. It simply doesn’t work to tell members of a workforce to just be open because it’s a company priority.

Instead of attempting to mandate openness, set time aside for managers to exchange ideas and constructive feedback with each other.

Openness forms the foundation of what is to come, which is to get people collaborating.


If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

– African Proverb

Now that we’re open, we can make each other better and work toward a common vision.

Great collaboration in practice is the art of working with others to help shape and form what they’re trying to accomplish… for the good of the team, and the larger organization.

Here are a few ideas for fostering collaboration:

Adopt A Common Vision

Among an open and trusting group of people, forthright conversation can be had about a common vision. Create time and space for the group to articulate what they are working toward, why they are working toward it, and how they will accomplish it.

Adopting a common vision generates alignment among people and instills a sense of purpose. Most importantly, it enables a group of people to sustain collaboration through periods of challenge and resistance.

Airing Out The House (aka Feedback Revisited)

Feedback functions as a regulatory mechanism, clearing the air of tension and resistance that accumulates when people interact with each other in the day-to-day of the workplace. Exchanging constructive feedback is necessary at every stage of the group’s journey after everyone has established a baseline of openness with each other.

Without the exchange of constructive feedback, organizations risk people closing off, departments putting up barriers to each other, and divisions having to take on the goal of cultivating openness again from scratch. Each time a group has to revert back toward accomplishing a previous goal, it is more difficult to move forward.

The exchange of constructive feedback is the most effective tool we’ve yet encountered to prevent such regression.

Developing Strong Personal Bonds Over Time

Members of collaborative teams feel increased accountability to their teammates and the group’s common vision. They also take an increased sense of personal responsibility for each other’s success, which translates into an organization’s success.

In addition to this, middle managers who forge strong personal bonds with their peers across an organization retain those bonds and habits of collaboration as they rise in the leadership ranks of the organization… leading to long term cultural shifts in favor of openness and collaboration.

If the first two middle management development goals of openness and creativity are driven by intentional planning and prioritizing, the second two are the byproducts of getting the first two right.


If we’re collaborating and listening to others, we tend to be less protective of our own ideas, and less territorial about our department’s resources. After all, if we’ve been collaborating robustly over time, we have seen for ourselves that another person’s participation can improve our own idea.

For example, I might say:

“I’d like to do X.”

And my colleague from another department might say:

“Great idea! Have you thought of achieving X through Y and Z?”

Developing collaboration habits and behaviors generates a special kind of momentum. Imagine a turbine that takes a moment to rev up, but when it finally does, its velocity generates a magnificent, vibrating pitch that attenuates the energy in the room.

That vibrating pitch is creativity. People at this stage are much less guarded than they were when they began their journey together. They speak up regularly and discuss all facets of the subject at hand.

Feedback Part III

The number one obstacle to creativity is negativity. For this reason it is essential to continue the ritual of constructive feedback exchange to discharge any negativity that gathers like dust throughout the office.

After openness and collaboration in the workplace make way for the emergence of creativity, creativity in turn generates a harvest of its own…


Ideas are flowing. The new cohort of leaders is no longer attached to the way it has always done things. They understand that in a rapidly shifting and volatile marketplace where disruption is more the rule than the exception, the best strategy for the organization is to disrupt itself before the competition can.


The studios faced an existential challenge when streaming services came online. For nearly a decade they had been growing and performing incredibly well in the market. The video and DVD business had excelled at unparalleled levels.

And then it stopped.

Fortunately, industry leadership didn’t flinch from the challenge. It recognized that streaming was going to change the entire manner through which the public consumed filmed entertainment – in as profound a way as the appearance of the videocassette did in the 80’s. What did they do?

They disrupted a billion-dollar revenue stream… in order to have a shot at innovating a new one.

Innovation = Expression Of Company Culture

Innovation cannot be transplanted into an organization. It cannot be bought. It cannot be roused through speeches and work sprints. It must truly grow from within the interior of an organization:

Innovation emerges from people. People who trust each other, and communicate openly. Such people collaborate well with each other, and when they do, they invite the presence of creativity into their midst. This creative spirit that emerges in conversations, meetings, lunches, and team projects over time becomes an organizational tendency of innovation that drives success.


In this article, we’ve provided ideas about how to approach, or think about, these four middle management development goals – no matter the unique circumstances and industry of the organization in question. Does your middle management operate in an open and collaborative environment that fosters creativity and innovation?  If not now, when?

Best of luck in building out your bench of tomorrow’s leaders. As always, we are on hand to chat with you if you want to take a deeper dive.


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