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Stuck in the Middle: How to rally the troops when the people upstairs are making it difficult!

You may be in a middle management position, or you may even be on the front lines but still perceived as a leader to your peers. Your boss is laying it on you and your team good––bad attitude, discouraging comments, constant stream of bad news or even fits of rage.

How do you keep the other people on your team positive and productive when the hammer is dropping from above?

Unless you’re in the ultimate position of authority in your organization, you’ve got pressure from both sides. You’ve also got to manifest two distinct roles:

As leader your responsibility is to the people you serve who willingly follow you and trust in your leadership.

As manager, your responsibility is to the people you serve in your role as a follower.

When you’ve got a boss with a lousy attitude or a hair across some private part, these roles can be in conflict. That’s stressful and often very discouraging.

Can you really serve both? I’ll put it this way––your willingness and ability to do so can be a tremendous asset both to your organization, and to your own growth, development and advancement as a leader.

Many experts offer very clinical advice for dealing with this situation, and lots of that advice is very useful!

  1. Document the situation and any unpleasant or inappropriate interactions.

  2. Be sure to follow organization policy and adhere to any mandatory reporting requirements.

  3. Pay attention to complaints from subordinates and give them a fair hearing.

As usual I’ll focus on the human side of the issue rather than the process. I’m appealing to you as “leader” more than as “manager.”

Here are some strategies that may help:

#1 Is it really the bosses fault?

The most effective leader checks the mirror first. Is your boss just being a pain, or are you and your team simply not performing up to snuff?

And––are you filtering your boss’s communication or reading something into it that just isn’t there? (See below…)

#2 Is it a communication issue?

Not everyone communicates the same way and not everyone communicates effectively. Ask some questions and offer some constructive feedback to make sure nothing is getting lost in translation.

If there really is an issue, this gives you opportunity for clarification. If it is really bad attitude on the part of your supervisor, this gives you the opportunity to identify and address the issue.

#3 Bosses are people too!

What I mean here is that too often we forget that our supervisors have real feelings, emotions and problems just like us. It’s worth finding out if there is something bothering your boss that may be coloring his or her attitude toward you and the people you serve as a leader.

#4 Focus on what you CAN do––not on what you can’t control…

You may not be able to adjust your boss’s attitude, but you can certainly adjust yours. You serve people who trust in your leadership and depend on your positive mindset. Focus on them and do what you can to work around any static from above.

Most of all, do your best to avoid transposing a bad attitude on others even when you’re under fire from above.

#5 Be honest! (With your boss!)

A very common issue raised by upper level leaders at our workshops is the frustration that they aren’t getting any communication from the front lines. They complain that they can’t correct a problem unless they know there is one.

Of course, it’s often their own fault! But––it’s prudent and very often efficient and effective to simply state your case clearly, honestly and openly. Give them a chance. After all, you want to be fair and treat your supervisor with the humanity you’d like to receive in return.

#6 Is it just time to go?

Some issue have no easy or simple resolution and human beings are extremely complex organisms. If your boss’s attitude is causing you angst, it may be time to move on! There’s nothing more destructive to your mindset, your career and your health than working for someone who is just truly a lousy human being!

It’s not easy to rise above the bad attitude of someone in a position of authority. Just remember this, there is always room at the top. It’s the middle and bottom that are crowded!

The more you can rise above the fray, the more effective you become as a leader and the more valuable you are to the people who look to you for leadership.

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