Promotion to Middle Management: Finding the Joy Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I was listening to a radio show the other day on which the moderator asked the question, “Would you want your boss’s job?” I was surprised at what many of the callers had to say. For the most part, they did NOT want their boss’s job because they would be in that “middle management” position; with too much responsibility and not enough impact on the big picture.


A number of callers view middle management as a place where their initial reasons for working at a particular job, and in a particular organization, slowly dissolve into something less inspiring, and more defeating. Is this what management has become; a place that deflates motivation and ambition, and turns it into a seething, stressed out monster?


Several callers mentioned they saw middle management as being stuck between a rock and a hard place. In that position, one hears complaining from the frontline worker about how things could be better, and takes flack from senior management about why things aren’t better. They feel powerless, overwhelmed and unsuited for such a thankless position. This was not on their list of workplace objectives and goals.

As someone who works with leaders to increase organizational performance, I was saddened by what I heard. There was no joy whatsoever expressed from these callers about management, UNLESS their boss was the owner or CEO. THEN, they felt that they would like their job. Surprise, surprise.

Well, I’m here to tell you that I totally disagree with the thought that middle management is a stark, barren battlefield devoid of humanity and joy. The systems in your organization might well foster that kind of environment, Lord knows many do, although unintentionally, but YOU have the ability to set an intention that creates an environment that YOU want to create; one that can be filled with joy and sustenance.

How you ask? As a middle manager, you are BLESSED with the opportunity to create greatness within the organization, by serving as a role model to the staff you manage, AND as a mirror for senior management. What a gift to be able to work so closely with those on the front line, in addition to having a step in the door to the heart of the organization.

Will it be easy? Probably not, because you will feel the urge to do what others expect and want you to do, rather than doing the “right thing.” This is a golden opportunity to really crystallize your values as a leader and model them for others. Here are 10 suggestions that may help you;

LISTEN to the complaints from front line staff AND the orders from senior management with compassion, and without judgement

SUPPORT the staff you manage, and the managers you work for. This does not mean you do everything they want you to do, but you support what the organization is trying to accomplish. If you don’t, I would suggest getting out.

OFFER solutions that might help systems, productivity, customer service, and increased sales, in a way that you are not seen as negating other people’s ideas, but contributing to the overall success of the organization

CHALLENGE senior management by honouring where they are coming from, while pointing out opportunities for improvement

SET boundaries. You still need to maintain a personal life, and you can only do so much as one individual.

STAND your ground

EXPRESS your genuine feelings

GIVE positive reinforcement to people as often as you can

CREATE an atmosphere that allows people to make mistakes and learn from them


Middle Management is not easy in many organizations because of the systems that are set up around it; systems that pay more attention to things as opposed to people. Don’t forget you’re working with people. People who need support, and joy, in their work lives. You can give it to them, even in the most stifling of organizational settings.

I encourage you to go for middle management if you have the opportunity, and then set your intention for making it work by doing some of the things I’ve suggested. Be the change you want to see in the world. Be the best middle manager you can be!

Dealing With Difficult People: Who’s Who in the Zoo?

Recognize any of these people? Ever been one of them? I’m sure you can some additional descriptors as well.

I recently gave a presentation on “Dealing With Difficult People.” It seems that this  topic is very popular, especially in light of the US election, the emergence of President Trump, and his style of leadership. Regardless of how I personally feel about that, looking around at what’s going on in the world, I can’t say that I’m surprised this topic is very current.

People are stressed out. They have short fuses. Some see nothing but doom and gloom in the world and they give up hope. The economy in many areas is a great cause for concern.

The participants in this workshop were from a particular association that provides a variety of goods and services to the general public. They deal with the public as external customers, and they deal with each other, and the folks that provide them with goods and services to run their businesses, as external customers.

The interest in the workshop comes from the fact that these people have many interactions with others that they deem to be “difficult,” and they’re not sure how to handle these encounters. Herein lies the interesting conundrum. Who, in fact, is the “difficult” one?

Do you know any difficult people? What makes them difficult? Is it because they don’t agree with your point of view? Is there something in their personality that triggers you? Is it because you just don’t like them?

Ponder this; has anyone ever thought YOU were difficult? Do you think there are people in the lives of these “difficult” people who DON’T think they’re difficult? Hmm, if you answered yes to either of those two questions, where does THAT leave us?

Maybe instead of thinking about how to deal with “difficult” people we could re-frame and think about how to deal with difficult situations. How do we handle people when they’re escalating because of something they don’t like about the organization we work for, the goods or services they purchased from us, or our own personality?

When we look at it in those terms, we don’t have to place judgement on others. All we have to do is use some skills to de-escalate the situation and rectify the problem, if possible. In light of that, I developed a model called L.O.V.E. that I share with  participants in this workshop. Yes, LOVE!

What else besides LOVE can help heal the problems in the world? So why not use this powerful word when trying to navigate through difficult situations in the workplace. Here’s what my LOVE model stands for.

“L” is for Listen! I can’t emphasize the importance of this skill. I’m talking about “active” listening, not just bobble-head listening. I’m talking about listening for meaning, listening for emotion, listening for context. I’m not talking about holding your breath and waiting impatiently for the other person to stop talking, so you can begin! Have you ever been in a situation where your anxiety/anger/fear, etc. was diminished just because you felt listened to? Try and remember that the next time you’re in a difficult situation at work and someone is complaining about something. Simply listen to them!


“O” is for being Open! I’m talking about being open in terms of your posture, open stance, and also open in terms of your mind. Don’t be defensive, don’t take it personally even though the other person might be trying to make it so. 


Don’t be judgemental or condescending or rude. You know how it feels when you’re complaining about something to an organization, and their people are like that with you. It doesn’t feel good, and it only escalates the situation.

“V” is for Validate! God, I wish people did more of this in their personal and professional lives. We need to be validated! Not every second, but it’s important! Validation shows us that others understand what’s going on for us. They are validating that it’s ok for us to feel a certain way in certain situations. How do you feel when that you’re angry about something that an organization has done, and you’re trying to find a resolution, and the person you’re dealing with NEVER  validates how you must be feeling? It drives me absolutely crazy!

All someone needs to do is say something like; “Wow Sir, it seems like you are really angry about this!” “YESSSSSSSSSSSS, I am, THANK YOU for noticing!” That in itself can make me feel a whole lot better and calm me down so I can be more present in the conversation to rectify the problem.


Finally, “E” is for Enhance! In a difficult situation, what can we do to enhance it? To make it better. To rectify the situation. Do we need to apologize? Do we need to provide the customer with a replacement or a refund? Do we need to say thank you? If the purpose of the situation is to come to a resolution, there are all sorts of ways to do this which can lead to a “happy” ending of a difficult situation.

In closing, let’s re-think what a difficult person is and remember that we, too, can be difficult. Let’s treat everyone the way we want to be treated. And let’s use the L.O.V.E. model to develop skills to handle those difficult situations in order to preserve relationships and solve problems.


Check out this very cool clip about the importance of validating!

What Can Leaders Learn From a Tooth Fairy!

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being the Emcee for a Hallowe’en fundraising event. There was a great crowd there, including many young children, and most  people were dressed up in costume. The venue was decorated magnificently with all sorts of unusual items to scare and intrigue the guests.

There was a professional juggler, a balloon man, a Zumba lady, a terrific buffet dinner, and an excellent band! It was because of the band that I first noticed the little blonde girl who was dressed up in an adorable tooth fairy costume.

As Emcee, I had the luxury of including pretty much anything I wanted to to during the evening, so I decided to run a couple of dance contests. The second contest was a “punk” contest, in other words, dancers could do pretty much anything they wanted on the dance floor, but they had to stand out from all the other dancers. I picked a married couple to judge this particular contest.

Now, I should add, that as an organizational consultant, speaker and author, specializing in leadership, I often look at the world through these filters. As the band kicked into the tune, and the dance contest began, my eyes scanned the participants, and I was immediately drawn to Ms. Tooth Fairy. As I watched her I realized I was witnessing a young girl who was exhibiting wonderful leadership skills!

First of all, she danced with pure joy and as if it were her last moment on earth and she was going to enjoy it to the fullest! Second, she had the biggest smile on her face which brightened up the dimly lit room. Third, her enthusiasm was infectious as she danced near and around others and it made them even more animated than they were before. Fourth, she had the wherewithal (I’m talking about a girl who was probably 8 years old here!) to give the band positive re-inforcement by pumping her fist and kind of bowing to them in gratitude.

If that wasn’t enough, when she discovered that she had been chosen as the winner of the contest, I presented her with a prize. It was a big box and pretty heavy, a little unwieldy,  so she brought it back to her table first, then ran back to me at full speed and gave me a big, wonderful hug.

Folks, what would your workplace be like if your organizational  leaders took lessons from this Tooth Fairy? Coming to work with a smile on their face everyday, making the most out of every minute, inspiring others to do the same, being totally authentic and comfortable in their own  skin, and finally, to show everyone in the organization gratitude for the work they  do, and the people they are.

Ms. Tooth Fairy, I would work in your company any day of the week…

Why Professional Development Must Never be a Budget Cut!


Please dont take my PDThis post is taken from my book “Get F.I.T. Go Far: 15 Things Leaders Absolutely Must do to Increase Organizational Performance,” with some modifications.

There is no future for an organization if staff are not continuously growing, learning, and getting better at what they do.

Some organizations are committed to giving their people enough time and money to continue to grow in their jobs, while others toss professional development programs at the first sign of budget cuts. Where does your organization sit on that spectrum?

Are you willing to invest in yourself or your staff? Do you want to run your organization on ideas that worked when the organization was established but are no longer relevant, or do you want to keep up with the times? The choice is yours. We’ve all seen major corporations die over the last twenty years. The question is, why have they died? My hunch is that a lack of professional development is one of the major reasons.


Death of KodakWhen I first began teaching, I heard the term professional development (PD) a lot. It seemed to be a huge part of the education system—and remains so today. Teachers have their own conventions every year. The majority of school districts have a PD committee and most schools have a designated PD representative.

Later, when I entered into the business world, I discovered that many organizations were members of associations that had their own conferences. Organizations also seemed to have PD in their budgets to allow staff to get trained in various aspects of their work. Opportunity for PD is out there, and those who take advantage of it stay competitive.

In my first year of teaching, as I was learning the ropes and starving for PD to hone my craft and help me network with other teachers, I remember my very negative first PD experience. The event organizers picked one or two keynote speakers and had a series of breakout sessions. All the teachers in the division came to a central location and spent the day together. It was a mini teachers’ convention.

When I read the program I discovered, to my great disappointment, that I wasn’t interested in half of what they had planned. To be fair, it’s impossible to please every attendee in an event like this. Still, I was frustrated because I was being told how I was going to be developed professionally. I had no freedom to determine what I needed.

The very term “professional” connotes that an individual has some sense of what is needed to grow in their profession. I think it’s okay for superiors to make recommendations based on their observations, but to mandate that staff learn something they don’t want to learn is a ridiculous notion. I believe my instincts and understanding of my own strengths and limitations should be the driving forces behind what I learn. Forcing me to attend something and calling it “professional development” was an insult to me as a professional, and an indicator that the organization did not trust my professional judgment. That’s not the kind of organization I want to work for.


Professional Development should also yield return on investment (ROI). An organization pays money to have their staff trained, and that investment should yield returns. Do you think my school was better off by sending me to a PD day I didn’t want to go to? Do you think I was a better teacher after going to that PD day? I don’t think so. I was frustrated and resentful, and I doubt if I even remembered which sessions I went to on that day. The return on that investment, if any, was poor.

There are better ways to handle PD. For example, in one school division I worked for, each teacher had his or her own PD budget. It wasn’t much, but it was something. And here’s the kicker: we got to choose how and where to spend it. This school division recognized that teachers are professionals, know themselves better than anyone, and therefore should be able to make their own choices with respect to PD.

HandcuffsWe had to run our PD ideas by our administrator, but I think that was really so she knew what was going on and not about getting her permission. It was so refreshing to be able to think about what I wanted and needed to progress as a teacher. I was able to research different topics and attend conferences as I saw fit. I was thrilled to be able to plot my own PD course. If we wanted to attend something that went beyond our allotted PD budget, we could draw on the next year’s budget. This organization really understood what PD was all about.

In the scenarios I shared with you, there is no question that it cost more per teacher in the second scenario. It’s cheaper to bring every teacher to one central place for a day or two and hope that they get something out of the program, than it is to provide every teacher with their own self-directed PD budget.

If we’re talking about ROI though, we must consider intangible yields like improved trust, freedom, attitude, enthusiasm, and self-efficacy. Which scenario do you think had a better ROI based on how this teacher responded? In the first scenario, I became bitter and resentful. That negativity had to have come out in my life and teaching somehow. I’m sure I was not a better teacher when I returned from that first PD experience. In the second scenario, I was excited and ready to return to work, eager to implement the new things I’d learned.

Professional development is a huge part of an organization getting and staying F.I.T. In fact, PD applies to every aspect of the F.I.T. acronym. You need to continuously learn to prepare your organization for the future. When your staff is excited, knowledgeable, and empowered, those attributes become part of the corporate culture. Finally, when there is an atmosphere of growth and development, staff work better together as a team, which will ultimately benefit the customer.

Organizations need to adapt quickly, organically, and with purpose. Nothing can help an organization do that more effectively than good professional development. PD is necessary to keep up with fast moving changes in technology. PD can energize staff, and rekindle their desire to be the best they can be. When we stop learning, we start dying.

I hope by now you’re getting the impression that I think professional development is a pretty big deal. It shouldn’t be just another line in a budget that gets eliminated when things get tough. PD should be at the forefront of every organization, with necessary resources continuously allotted so as to have the best ROI for the organization and the strongest impact on staff.

The Russians Are Not Just Coming, They’re Already Here

Through Rotary International, I had the pleasure of leading a vocational exchange team to Russia a number of years ago where I was able to meet and spend time with other organizational consultants. A fellow participant named Stanislav (Stas) Romanenko kindly offered to show me around the city of Krasnodar, which was about the size of Calgary. As we walked the streets, Stas pointed out numerous buildings that housed his clients.


Russian groupAt one point, we entered one of his client’s buildings, a sporting goods store, which appeared similar to the Sport Chek stores here in Canada, maybe a little smaller. It was two-stories high, and the layout of the goods was spectacular. Everything looked great, the lighting in the store was excellent, and there was upbeat yet unobtrusive music playing. It gave one the feeling of wanting to spend leisurely time in the store browsing.

There were many young people on staff, all well-groomed, wearing uniforms, smiling, and eager to help. These young employees possessed unusual confidence, and Stas told me why. The owner of this company has sixty of these stores in Russia. Once a young person gets through the interview, he is sent to an intensive training program that appears similar to McDonald’s University in North America. There, they spend one month learning about sales, marketing, customer service, and perhaps most importantly, product knowledge.

These kids knew their product and how to do their job well. These Russian youth worked for a base salary and a bonus, yet I saw no sign of competition between them. There was a natural order to things it seemed. They patiently waited, trusting a customer would come along eventually, and they were confident they could make the sale. They didn’t try to take customers away from their co-workers.

When Stas and I went upstairs to the second floor of the store, I met the assistant manager. She was twenty-one years old, well groomed, and extremely friendly. She didn’t speak English, but as Stas interpreted the conversation for us, I discovered that she had come up through the ranks, having been hired as a high school student, attended the company’s training program, and worked her way up to assistant manager in just two years. I asked her what her goal was and, without blinking an eye, she said it was to be a store manager somewhere within the company. I asked her how long she thought it would take for her to do that. She said three to six months.

I was blown away by this experience at a retail store in a country only twenty years out of communist rule. I knew things were changing slowly in the country, and that western ideology was creeping in, but I had not expected this. I asked Stas if his client, the owner of the company, was aware that his professional development training model could make a fortune in North American sporting goods stores. Stas just looked and me, smiled, then said, “He’s doing okay right here!”

My experience in Russia is a great example of how the right professional development can set an organization apart from its competition. It requires intention on behalf of the organization to make PD a priority. There is no doubt in my mind that the Russian sporting goods store owner was getting a great ROI for training these young people intensively for a month.

The key in the Russian example of PD though is the right training. According to Rachel Silverman in the Wall Street Journal in October, 2012, “U.S. firms spent about $156 billion on employee learning in 2011…But with little practical follow-up or meaningful assessments, some 90% of new skills are lost within a year…”

Retention Is the Key to Good Training

Training needs to be well planned and multi-dimensional, and unfortunately that’s not always the case. I believe there are three things that organizations must do before they send staff to training;

  • Have a clear picture of what their purpose and mission is
  • Clarify what their training objectives are
  • Determine the motivation of the staff who are being trained

Once these issues have been addressed, it’s crucial to make sure that the training itself is engaging and incorporates the best methods of learning and retaining information. While the diagram below has created some controversy about how factual it is, or even who was the first to originate it, as a trainer myself, it makes perfect sense to me. I do think we retain information better when we have opportunities to practice and teach others. If these components aren’t part of the training events you’re sending your staff to, don’t expect them to remember much about what they’ve learned.


Learning Pyramid

Finally, once staff have been trained, there needs to be a plan put in place for implementation of the training back in the workplace.

Here are three reasons why professional development should be a priority in your organization: (there are more in the book!)

  • Better trained employees are more productive
  • Well-trained employees adapt to new technologies and procedures faster
  • Lower staff turnover

We’re fortunate in this day and age to be able to take advantage of a wide variety of professional development opportunities. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to workshops, conventions, and in-house training.

Here are some other ideas to incorporate into your organization’s PD program: (again, there are more in the book)


Setting up teams in your workplace allows for staff to learn from each other on a regular basis through formal team meetings and informal discussion between team members.


Set up the opportunity for staff to share what they’ve learned at off-site conferences with other staff. Teaching what they have learned helps them integrate the material and yields better ROI.


Things happen every day on the job that can be learned from. Why not write up real situations that have happened for staff to discuss and brainstorm how they would deal with them more effectively in the future?

Field Trips

Have staff visit other sites within your organization or other similar organizations where they can conduct interviews and observe how others are doing similar work.

Job Rotation

Give employees the opportunity to try different things in the organization for short periods of time. This provides an excellent understanding of how the total operation works.

A great professional development model in your organization can have a huge impact on your people and result in a high ROI. Don’t make the mistake of de-valuing professional development. Prioritize it so your organization can continue to Get F.I.T., and Go Far!

How F.I.T. Is Your Organization?

Joe's_store_in_Lake_Stevens,_2009Organizations, like people, are organic entities in a state of constant flux. They can be out of shape, incredibly fit, or somewhere in between. When was the last time you looked into the mirror of your organization? Did you see a vibrant culture with enthusiastic employees, or a stagnant organization that has difficulty adapting to change?

Organizational F.I.T.ness is a state of being for your organization. It is the degree to which your organization is doing well in a variety of areas, from culture and strategic planning, to staff relationships and customer service. My new book, “Get F.I.T. Go Far: 15 Things Leaders Absolutely Must do to Increase Organizational Performance,” is about helping organizations take action and create a level of F.I.T.ness that you are excited about, and that will keep your organization healthy for years to come.

What is F.I.T.? Every organization needs to plan for the Future, create an Identity, and build a Team. The degree to which an organization does these things well will determine their level of F.I.T.ness. So how F.I.T. is your organization now?

Take the Organizational Fitness Test here; The Organizational Fitness Test

And then check your results here; The Organizational Fitness Test Results