Mid-level leadership is tough. It was tough in 2018, when the international Ahlvik study proved that mid-level leaders experience stress and burnout rates far beyond those of their boss or their teams. In my more recent work with thousands of mid-level leaders – who we call the B-Suite – I can confirm that their stress and burnout rates are rising.
The key reason? They are the ‘piggy in the middle’ between the Executive and the broader Workforce. B-Suite leaders carry the day-to-day, make-it-real responsibility of an ever-widening gap between top-line expectations and bottom-line reality. In the last few years this tension has become even more pronounced as the gap has become even wider.
Let’s consider the current return to office debate. The leader responsible for applying the policy is the same leader responsible for engagement and personal productivity. They have to balance concerns about wellbeing and the risk of resignation with need to meet the executive expectations. Which way do they go – who’s side are they on?
To survive the pressure between these two powerhouses means that the B-Suite have to master three critical principles – and if they do so, they will not only learn to thrive leading from the center, but they’ll become B-Suite Leaders with C-Suite impactTM.
The three principles to Level Up your Leadership are:
- Control the pace of work.
At the pace of work today, it’s forgivable to see a desire for control as misplaced or delusional. Planning horizons and available resources have been reduced in many industries, forcing leaders to become more reactive and less efficient, but with fewer headcount to rely upon. In this constrained environment, the only available lever for leaders is to control the pace of work by applying clearer priorities, more agile planning and an enhanced approach to measuring productivity. Without it, leaders and their teams are at the mercy of a relentless stream of work over which they have no agency – and many are opting out as a result.
- Use the space to think.
Time to reflect and recharge is in short supply, but without carving it out we cannot expect B-Suite leaders to reset their role in the organization, address challenges in a considered and innovate way, and ensure that they are making the best available decisions in almost-always ambiguous circumstances. The great challenge is that very few B-Suite leaders were ever trained to stop and think, but instead were trained to go fast. On the rare occasion that a B-Suite leader has room to think, they often don’t know where to start and so they don’t – they use that spare time to address the pace of work instead and complain of being permanently busy and stuck on the wheel.
- Make the case in all directions.
The importance of relationship influence has never been more starkly evident. After two years of working remotely, the dynamic of our workforce has fundamentally changed, and B-Suite leaders need to become masters of navigating a very new relationship landscape. On all sides, tolerance levels are low and expectations are high. It causes friction and conflict where we used to find compromise, and it’s the B-Suite leader’s role to arbitrate and to find a new set of groundrules.
Mastering these three principles will allow you to change your impact in the leadership cohort – moving you from a leader who is in charge of how the work gets done, to being a leader in charge of what work gets done. It also impacts you personally, giving you a renewed sense of confidence and autonomy that your team needs and your executive appreciate.
Too few firms are guiding their B-Suite to achieve C-suite impact, so those leaders who can master these three principles are standing out in the crowd, commanding significantly increased salary levels and engaging with their executive and teams on a whole new level.
Authored by Rebecca Houghton.
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