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Support Needed: Leaders in the Middle

January 28, 2021   By Jim Cuene

We're doing some research into how organizations can better support leaders of digital change

TL;DR: Middle leaders (Directors, VP’s) who are driving digital change have really tough jobs, and need support for building their own leadership skills . We’re doing some research into the support leaders need. 

Over the last few years we’ve worked with and supported dozens of leaders who are at work inside companies large and small, driving digital transformation forward. The folks we’re working with are generally marketing directors, product team leaders, IT team Directors and VPs (Marketing, Digital Strategy and Innovation). They are the ones translating the vision and “big strategy” into the daily activities of the humans on their teams. Whether it’s rolling out Agile, creating or leading digital product teams, implementing Agile marketing, they’re the ones turning the consultant’s powerpoint decks into real-world action. 

These digital change leaders have got the hard job of balancing a bunch of competing demands: Deliver results this year, deliver on the long term vision for the org , drive smarter execution,  all while teaching and influence “up”. Meanwhile, they’re probably spending their nights and weekends trying to build their own leadership skills “toolbox” at the same time. 

It’s not just the hard work of creating strategies and overseeing implementation and execution. These middle leaders also have to sustain “alignment” and buy-in in the midst of lots and lots of change. First, they have to teach and coach their teams every day. Then, they have to lead “up”: explain what they’re doing and why to the executive leadership team who may have a limited understanding of the work that’s happening below them. So, these middle leaders need to explain and inspire so the leadership team will continue to support their efforts. 

It’s a lot to manage, and it requires many skills from the leader, skills that are hard to teach and even harder to learn in a pressure-packed situation.  Given how much change is happening in most organizations (or at least the ones we work with), and how fast that change is coming, we wonder if the middle layer of leaders have the tools and resources they need to “upskill” themselves, or whether they have the time and support they need to build the skills that make them effective leaders. More specifically, are these leaders on their own to level up their maturity and effectiveness as leaders?

A recent report from Linkedin sheds some light on how organizations are gearing up to support leaders as they manage through org change. 

The good  news: Organizations are responding by increasing budgets for employee learning and development. 

More good news: Those investments are going to leadership and management skills. We’re going to be digging into exactly which skills will be needed in a future report.

And, there’s a clear understanding by workers that building skills will help them in their career, despite the challenges of finding time at work to do the learning itself.  But, the bad news is that most leaders aren’t prioritizing the time, themselves. 

We suspect the missing piece is active championship from senior leadership to invest professional development dollars into helping these middle managers to grow into more effective leaders of change. 

We’d love to get your input into this challenge and the opportunities that are present. Are you a leader of digital change? Are you working in the middle of your org to implement new working methods like Agile or digital product teams? Help us get some data on the support leaders need by filling out our survey here. We’re hoping to share our findings later this spring.

And, if any of this resonates with you, we’d love to connect and hear your story and your ideas on what orgs can do to better support their leaders. Let’s all get smarter together. 

Co-Founder and CEO

Jim has over 20 years of digital brand building experience. From running a start up digital agency to leading digital strategies for global brands at Ameriprise and General Mills, he’s been at the front of digital marketing his whole career. He loves the web and the opportunities it is creating for people and businesses to actually make the world better. Jim has an entrepreneurial mindset, the ability to see how the dots will connect in the future, and the knowledge & experience to put plans and teams in place to get results now.

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