Phil Willburn – Networked Leadership

Network Challenges for Mid-Level Leaders

This is part 2 of my series discussing the network challenges leaders face at different levels. In my previous post I discussed the network trap of high-potential leaders is the lack of building in-depth relationships. The mid-level leader challenge is different and significant. The fatal flaw here is that mid-level leaders are actually rewarded for walking into this network trap, at least in the short term.

The need to coordinate work through useful people

Mid-level leaders are busy getting work done. They coordinate most of the work in the organization by leveraging their resources: their people. They use people to do everything necessary in the organization to keep it operating. Mid-level leaders are attracted to people who get stuff done fast, efficiently, and on-time.

Network Challenge: Lack of strategic relationships

Mid-level leaders overly focus on operational relationships (people who help them get stuff done). They need these people, so they invest all of their time into relationships. If a relationship is not able to help them respond to the crisis of the morning, or maybe the afternoon, the relationship is no longer useful, regardless of the long term sustainability.  In general, mid-level leaders are neglecting more strategic relationships. They often tell me they don’t have time to invest in mentors, mentees, or strategic partners. If you can’t help them solve the here and now, then you aren’t worth their time.

Network Solutions: Invest in the relationships needed for the future

Mid-level leaders need to take time to invest in strategic relationships (people who provide perspective, advice, and future opportunities).  The mid-level leader’s derailment factor at this stage in their career is the lack of strategic thinking. Much of our strategic thinking is actually prompted by relationships that are strategic – a mentor in a different business unit, or a peer in a different organization in the same market. These relationships often provide the perspective mid-level leaders need to advance their career goals.

If not attended to: Will have no support for their next career move

If mid-level leaders do not develop strategic relationships, they will become antiquated. They will build the most efficient and effective team for yesterday’s problems and will realize too late that the way their team is working is no longer relevant to the current organizational problems. When trying to transition into a future role, they will lack the relationships necessary give them the opportunity and coach them into that role.

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