5 Ways You Can Choose To Lead From The Middle

“As you travel through life, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut and not upon the hole.” – Anonymous

Like the hole in the doughnut, it’s easy to look for what’s lacking instead of what’s present. Usually it’s one of the first instincts we have when contemplating something new. I suspect this applies to the idea that middle leadership is a real and viable possibility. Often, we wait to be chosen. We wait for permission. We wait for recognition. Sometimes when those things don’t come we throw up our hands and say, “What can I do about it?”

This is what we can do. We can choose to lead. I say this because leadership is more about influence than authority. Influence speaks to our capacity for inspiring the thoughts, opinions, and actions of others. It has no designated title. So, no matter where we sit in the pecking order of the organization, the potential is always there for us to lead… if we decide to do so.

When it comes to middle leadership, we come by our tendency to keep our eyes on the hole rather than the doughnut, quite honestly. After all, included in most dictionaries under the definition of leadership are references to chiefs, captains, authority figures, and commanders. Using this definition, it’s hard for many of us to imagine that leadership could apply to anyone other than those few who occupy the C-suite.

But here’s the thing. Leadership is a big job. If we expect only the few to provide it, our opportunity to collectively widen our capacity for discovery, growth and accomplishment becomes quite limited.

We are more likely to find satisfaction in our work when we feel we are working for a purpose that means something to us. It’s difficult to do if we also feel we have no influence over how that purpose is fulfilled. So, it means choosing to jump into the leadership pool.

If you are standing on the diving board but not too sure about jumping in, here are five things for you to know that will help keep you afloat:

1. Leadership is not about you

Real leadership happens when your role as a leader becomes about something other than yourself. Your individual importance is overshadowed by the purpose you serve.

2. You don’t have to be a hero

Peter Drucker said:

“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings”

Most of us are just that, average human beings. Sometimes all it takes is to believe in something enough to be willing to go first.

3. You don’t have to have all the answers

Your ability to ask good questions holds more value than your ability to provide all the answers. Not knowing something does not make you weak. Those who pretend they know everything are likely not being truthful with themselves. That’s a bigger weakness.

4. It’s okay to be yourself

In fact it’s preferable. Trying too hard to be what you think those who follow you expect of a leader, is an exhausting proposition. It’s not sustainable. And you get found out.

5. Your ability to influence is much more powerful than designated authority

As a middle leader, you will have a certain level of authority for making decisions and organizing the work in a way that best suits your purpose. This authority will be limited by the dictates of your organization. Power and influence, on the other hand, come from the respect and credibility you earn, and the trust you build in your relationships with others at all levels of the organization. That’s pretty powerful

These five things represent qualities that you may already have. They draw on your humility, curiosity, sincerity and authenticity and your ability to pull together with others. So rather than looking for what’s missing in your leadership repertoire, start with what you have and choose that. Focus on the doughnut, not upon the hole.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

Gwyn Teatro is the author of “In the Thick of It: Mastering the Art of Leading from the Middle”. She is a certified professional coach with a Master of Science degree in management. She spent the bulk of her career as an HR professional in the financial services industry where she coached senior business leaders and groups on leadership, organizational effectiveness and strategic business planning.


Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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