Many leaders manage teams made up of individual contributors. But what about the leaders who are managing managers?
Managing managers is similar to leading a regular team. After all, your managers are people and employees, like anybody else. However, these managers also have their own ideas for how their teams will operate which need to align with yours.
Let’s take a look at some simple tips for successfully managing managers in your team.
1. When Managing Managers, Give Them Autonomy
There is nothing worse than a micromanaging boss. But micromanagement becomes even more painful when you have your own team or projects to manage.
For more information on autonomy, read this post: Why Leaders Struggle to Provide Autonomy at Work.
You aren’t the puppet master, pulling the strings.
Your managers need a sense of control in order to feel like they can achieve results. The key is to make sure your goals are aligned with the goals of the managers working for you.
If goals are aligned, then you should all be heading in the same direction. Exactly how you get there should not be a key concern (unless your managers are engaging in corruption, bullying or other unsavoury practices!)
You should aim to guide your team and help them to course correct. This is different than telling them exactly what to do and how to do it.
2. When Managing Managers, Build Your Network
When Managing other leaders, you need to make sure your network is strong.
Because when your network is strong and broad, you’re more likely to hear about what’s happening in your whole team.
You won’t have time to keep track of all the actions and opinions of the team members beneath you, so you need to make sure that important information can reach you.
Your network is like a spider web. A spider feels when its prey touches the web. The spider also knows its location, so it can go and eat it.
You’re the spider.
You need to be connected and accessible, so that you can hear feedback easily, including complaints, compliments and anything else. This will help you to guide your managers and stop smaller problems before they become big issues.
Most importantly, getting early access to potential issues or good feedback allows you to respond. Otherwise, you’ll be seen as a leader who is out of touch and ineffective.
For more on successful networking, read this post: https://www.ccl.org/blog/top-6-rules-leadership-networking/
Who Should You Target to Build Your Network?
Your focus for building your network should include people who deal with your managers and their teams. Ask them for feedback and if you can help to improve anything.
You also need to ensure that you can communicate directly with your managers’ team members. Make yourself available and contactable.
Some leaders hold themselves at arms length from the team members of their own direct reports. But this just increases the chances of getting a nasty surprise if something is going wrong.
If a team member is addressing something with you that you feel should be taken up with their manager, tell them so. Don’t just step in and take over the role that your managers should be playing.
3. When Managing Managers, Be Careful Not to Undermine Them
Leaders want to be helpful. But sometimes, when you jump in and take over, it sends the wrong message to the people around you.
Consider the following situation.
Patricia manages Neil, who is a Project Manager in her team. Speaking to Neil, Patricia finds out that there is a problem in one of his projects. One of Neil’s stakeholders is unhappy and starting to cause trouble.
Immediately, Patricia organises a meeting with the disgruntled stakeholder and attempts to smooth things over. The stakeholder is now satisfied.
Patricia may have solved the immediate problem, but what she has done is started to create another. When she jumped in to solve the problem, she took the power away from Neil.
Now, Neil’s stakeholders don’t think Neil can fight his own battles or solve his own problems. This reduces Neil’s credibility and the next time, the angry stakeholder might just come straight to you.
What Should Patricia Have Done Instead?
In my experience, it’s always better to work with your team members to come up with a plan, than to run in and try to solve problems yourself.
This would show Patricia’s support for Neil, without Neil having to lose credibility by having someone fight his battles for him. Only if Neil was struggling should Patricia offer to step in and help, and take the lead if it was really needed.
Undermining your team members can happen in many situations. Open disagreement in meetings or overruling a decision in front of others can cause a similar issue.
Whilst it’s important not to undermine *any* team member, it’s even more critical when your team members are managers themselves.
Remember: The managers you lead, are leaders too.
They need respect and credibility to do their jobs well.
4. When Managing Managers, Be a Role Model
If you treat the managers beneath you like dirt, you can expect the same behaviour to be shown in their own teams.
You need to make sure that you show leadership behaviours that you want others to follow.
“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work, because actions speak louder than words. Others are watching you, so be the best leader you can be.
You need to support the managers in your team, provide autonomy and set clear expectations if you want the same things to happen in the teams below you.
What is your advice for managing managers? Post a comment below and help out other leaders!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help on this topic, you can send me a private message through my contact page.