Mid-career Leadership Is Harder Than You Ever Expected

Middle age woman mid-career leader

My work with leaders has convinced me how immensely difficult is to get leadership right. Leading other people is really, really hard. Indeed, the sheer glut of leadership books may be the best evidence of how hard leadership truly is. If it were easy, budding leaders wouldn’t be so thirsty for leadership advice. Rather than try to glamorize the topic, I tend to strip it down so you can have a more grounded, authentic, and reality-based view of what it takes to lead at all stages in your career.

As a leader, your development is well underway, but nowhere near complete; you are formed but not finished.

Leading from the Middle Place.

People forget about the middle. It’s overlooked because it’s not flashy, there’s typically no fanfare after your promotion there. Instead, it’s where leaders grind it out five days a week often without too much appreciation. This is the point in your leadership career where nothing is certain, and everything is up for grabs. As a leader, your development is well underway, but nowhere near complete; you are formed but not finished.

Much of what makes mid-career so challenging is that everyone wants a piece of you. Your employees want your time, guidance, and recognition. Your boss wants your loyalty, diligence, and competence. Both groups want your leadership, but each toward different aims.

Leader mid-career assisting employee with work post-it notes on board

Your employees want your leadership devoted to giving them opportunities to grow and excel. For them, your influence as a leader should be aimed at making their jobs more fulfilling, stable, and secure. How you treat them—emotionally, developmentally, and financially—will have a direct impact on how hard they work, and how loyal they are to you and the organization. It’s in your best interest to meet their needs. After all, where would you be as a leader without their hard work and loyalty?

Advancement as a mid-career leader requires minimizing, mitigating, and controlling risk.

Your bosses’ needs are different. First, it’s important to be clear about what they don’t want: surprises. Nothing will get your boss more steamed than bringing her a problem well after the time she actually could have helped resolve it. Handing her the ticking problem precisely at the time when it is set to explode is the surest way to damage your relationship with your boss and, it follows, your career. Advancement as a mid-career leader requires minimizing, mitigating, and controlling risk. When it comes to pleasing the people above you, heed these words: no surprises!

Give ‘em What They Want.

What else do your bosses want? Results. How you care for your employees, generally, means less to them than how you care for the organization and its goals. If taking care of your employees furthers the organization’s, have at it. But if doing so slows down progress or harms results, they prefer that you direct your attention elsewhere.

Woman leader with tablet mid-career talking to employee

It’s hard to argue with the logic; without sustainable results, people don’t have jobs. As a good leader you:

  • Want to care for your people
  • Ensure they have stable jobs
  • Help them make more money

Put getting results first.

Sounds easier than it really is, but such is the life of a leader in the middle. You must walk the delicate line of satisfying your direct reports and satisfying those to whom YOU report. Ain’t leading grand?

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About Bill Treasurer

Bill Treasurer is a bestselling author, leadership consultant, and creator of Q Cards. He is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company, and the author of the international bestseller, Courage Goes to Work. His workshops have been taught to thousands of executives in eleven countries on five continents. For more than two decades, Bill has designed and delivered programs for emerging and experienced leaders from such organizations as NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lenovo, eBay, UBS Bank, Spanx, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to founding Giant Leap Consulting, Bill served as an executive in Accenture’s change management and human performance practice, eventually becoming the $35 billion company’s first full-time internal executive coach.

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