Comfortable in the Middle

While the word “leadership” could make people hesitate in the 4/5 M reality of coaching or facilitating, John Maxwell in The 360-Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization says that leadership is not about being at the top. Leadership is about making an impact wherever we are in an organization, by changing people’s lives and adding value. We may “lead down” (teacher, study leader, area facilitator), “lead across” (peers, teamwork, groups) or “lead up” (supporting those above us). If we don’t use leadership skills, the book says we “create weight for the top leader to move.”

Section II in this book is a key part that relates to being a facilitator. It discusses the seven challenges we might feel “leading” or making an impact from the middle. With each challenge, Maxwell brings clarity by discussing factors that impact us and how to thrive in the midst of it. In the space here, let me just discuss the first challenge:

The Tension Challenge: The Pressure of Being Caught in the Middle. “If you are not the top leader, you are not running the show, but you may be responsible for it”.

Five key factors may affect tension that you may feel: empowerment, initiative, organizational environment, job parameters, and appreciation. The first two are the ones I have found affect me more in a stage 4/5 environment.

  1. Empowerment refers to understanding the responsibility and authority you have been given. In a particular situation I understand a different level of authority given me by Global Partners as opposed to the National Church Board (which are both over me). When the lines are vague or perceived differently between the two groups, it can cause stress.
  2. Initiative is the tension that sometimes we need to initiate, but how can we do that without overstepping boundaries or undermining leadership? If you promoted a project and money arrived two months ago, but the project has not been started, to whom do you speak? What if nothing still gets done and then a donor is displeased? Or what if you feel there is a moral issue that doesn’t seem like it is being addressed?

Five suggestions are given to help us thrive since Maxwell says, that while we need to process the five factors above, we will probably never be completely free of the tension of being in the middle.

  • Become comfortable with the middle. -- What is expected of you? Where and how can you act? Accept you will not always have the answers and some things are out of your control.
  • Know what to ‘own’ and what to let go. -- When you go on PD and someone local takes over a responsibility, should you or how do you take it back when you return?
  • Find quick access to answers when caught in the middle. -- Who else can get information for you? How can you connect people? Do you have good rapport with people?
  • Never violate your position or the trust of the leader. When you don’t agree with a vision or policy, be careful about “if I were in charge” conversations. Is there something in the vision or policy that you can support? Do you have someone you can talk to in confidence?
  • Find a way to relieve stress. – Prayer, reading, exercise, crafts, write a letter/list and then burn it, etc.

How about you?

Do you ever feel any tension from being in the middle?

Are there any other ways you have found helpful to navigate it?

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