How to take care of your center.
Extraordinary situations put two functions in the spotlight: top management on the one hand and employees on the other. In contrast, key players remain in the dark: middle managers.
The more confused situations become, the more upper management comes to the fore. Decisions, confidence and courage are expected from them. In many companies, for example, the pandemic has relentlessly put the spotlight on top management. Perhaps that’s why so much has been written about leaders, about leadership and the (new) leadership role over the past 12 months.
There has also been an increase in articles about caring for employees in crisis. Personally, I am shocked by the sheer banality of the suggestions. Apparently, many companies still exist that are unaware of the basic tenets of an engaging work environment and are only now beginning to address it.
Now, in many companies, there are functions that both top management and employees rely on: middle managers. Their importance for the implementation of transformations is central. They are often caught between two worlds: the new, exciting, innovative one on the one hand. And the routine, traditional, (still) high-turnover world on the other. Middle managers mediate between these two worlds on a virtually daily basis - an exhausting task. Many managers confirm to me that they feel alone or overwhelmed. Often, they are even accused by superiors of putting the brakes on change. This accusation quickly turns into a boomerang, because with diminishing social cohesion and support, middle managers in particular are open to changing jobs. Because they lose the “why” of the daily stretching. In short: They long for an appreciative environment. And thus back to you:
How do you keep cadre healthy, agile and strong? By strengthening its relevance and resilience.
Supervisors of executives like to (and unfortunately too often) use two excuses: “My door is always open to managers. They just have to approach me.” But this approach, especially in the case of location-independent work, leads nowhere. “I don’t have to lead cadres, at most I have to coach them a bit.” But coaching does not mean “leading differently” - and is not necessarily the best choice, especially in crises.
Limits of the Open Door Policy
Many members of top management practice an “open door policy,” believing they are showing openness or reducing hierarchical hurdles. As noble as this effort may seem, it is of little help in situations where few are working on the ground or when cadres are completely underwater. The simple conclusion that if no one comes, everything will be fine is simply no longer tenable. But actually, this approach doesn’t work even without a crisis. After all, the doorstep always seems a little higher for introverted executives. So it remains questionable to what extent “passive superiors waiting for visitors” gain a real picture of the cadres.
In the course of galloping virtualizations, the virtual open door is missing, in my opinion. But what might its digital twin look like? As long as supervisors click from one VideoCall to the next, no doors will remain open for spontaneous visits. Leaders should proactively take care of cadres, consciously walk the path to cadres and not merely passively offer them. In this way, you not only strengthen social cohesion, but also show cadres what importance they have. Not your thing? You can’t go wrong at all. Any investment in relationships will always pay off, especially in crises. People are alone; they are looking for orientation, for support and for meaning. Take a look at your calendar: When do you meet “just like that” with your cadres?
On role clarity for leadership and coaching.
In many companies, managers are understood as a kind of “uniform category”. This facilitates internal communication, the formulation of specific expectations (e.g. as a management profile) and ultimately promotes transparency and trust. In this respect, there would be nothing wrong with this categorization. However, it should not lead to managers lumping all managers together. Instead, they should choose their role consciously and individually according to the situation (see graphic on the left):
The diagram distinguishes various roles that leaders can take on. They differ in focus (performance or potential) and in the origin of the solution (extrinsic or intrinsic). From this alone you can see that an undifferentiated understanding of leadership (“I don’t have to lead cadres, but at most coach them”) is guaranteed to fail. Because the choice of role is never determined by the hierarchical position of the employee (e.g. cadre), but by goals, needs and opportunities. A “categorical” change from leading to coaching is not only wrong, but also dangerous. Especially in crises, a wrongly chosen role (out of convenience) can literally cost managers their last nerves or weaken their resilience.