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4 ways to effectively develop mid-level leaders

In my last post, I have spoken about the steep transition that mid-level leaders are expected to make, in order to be successful in their roles. As organizational structures have become both flatter and leaner, critical management responsibilities have been pushed downward, and the global economy has given rise to a more complex business environment, mid-level leaders have felt the heat. The role has evolved so much in recent years that organizations are concerned about mid-level leaders possessing the skills to succeed. 

Building the right leadership capabilities and behaviours requires both the organization as well as leaders to be focused on making it happen! Here are some of the ways to approach effective mid-level leader development:

1.     Begin with awareness:

Context: The other day in an assessment feedback session I was in conversation with a reasonably senior leader. Mid-way through the conversation she said to me – “I wish I had received some of these inputs EARLIER in my career - this would've helped me eliminate so many mistakes.” For me, that was an 'aha' moment. I realized in that very moment how much self-awareness has helped me in my career, which is also imperative for the first level and mid-level leaders - to enhance their awareness. After all, the first step to making any change is awareness.

When both the role and the context change for a leader, he/she may need to behave differently - i.e. retain certain strengths, be aware of improvement areas, as well as consciously reflect on one's values, aspirations, motives and drivers.

Next steps: Selecting the right kind of assessments as well as creating an environment which is conducive to awareness and reflection can go a long way in strengthening awareness amongst both younger/first level and mid-level leaders. 

2.     Customize development interventions:

Context: This may seem obvious, yet there is a long way to go in making it a reality. Whilst it is tempting to have a one-size-fits-all approach for first level & mid-level leader development, that may not show results. After all, each individual is different and has varying needs from a development intervention.

Next steps: Individual, customized plans could be very simple in nature (at times, surprisingly more cost-effective), and are proven to be more impactful than common workshops/trainings that not everyone may need to go through.

3.     Give your leaders experiential development:

Context: Today, our leaders are ambitious, driven, and willing to contribute significantly with an aim to advance to higher leadership roles within shorter periods. Organizations are also beginning to realise the value that hi-pot mid-level leaders can add to strategic decision making.

Next steps: To enable this acceleration for leaders, it is essential that development interventions give them 'experiences' for development v/s trainings. This could mean spending a week on a live organizational strategic project, or even going through multiple simulations of potential scenarios in senior-level roles, and so on.

Such experiential development intervention coupled with continuous awareness and reflection (as in point 1), will help stimulate mid-level leaders to evolve and grow into their next big role, whilst ensuring the same for the organization.

4.     Cultivate a culture of mindfulness: Finally, like in any other role, cultivating mindfulness and reducing the negative impact of stress is key even for mid-level leaders. As I mentioned in my article & video last week, ‘stress causes leadership derailment’. Being mindful and centred can compound the positive impact of self-awareness, customized development and the right experiences.

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