Leading Up: Navigating Organizational Change as a Mid-Level Manager

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By on September 17, 2019   /   Leave a comment

I remember having lunch a few years ago with Roger Hamilton, the Director of Ministry Partner Development for The Navigators in Colorado Springs. I asked Roger how he thought we could influence and change the MPD strategies of an established organization. He said one word, “grassroots.”

His message to me was that change is often first proven in the field and then adopted by the majority.

I’ve never forgotten that conversation because he was so right!

A Case Study

That is exactly what happened within FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) from 2012 -2019. In 7 years FCA grew their staff from 999 to nearly 1900. It all started in 2010 when I went to my first SRS Bootcamp. I was so excited I immediately called the FCA executives to go check it out.

Because of scheduling conflicts, they were not able to attend the Bootcamp right away. However, it didn’t take them long to notice tangible results. I began to share my experience and the results with FCA staff in my 3-state region. More staff attended Bootcamp, and results followed.

Over time the results compounded, and we saw a huge shift in support raising, stability and hiring of new staff. The Bootcamp is now a required training for all new FCA staff.

The Common Thread

The temptation for many mid-levels managers is passivity–resigning themselves to powerlessness while blaming upper management for the lack of needed changes.

However, research shows organizations need their mid-level managers to lead and innovate change. Behnam Tabrizi teaches transformational leadership at Stanford University’s Department of Management Science and Engineering. In October 2014, Behnam reported his research in a Harvard Business Review article titled “The Key to Change Is Middle Management.”

He found the organizations that succeeded in organizational change had a common thread, their mid-level managers. The mid-level managers were leading innovation and positive change via their influence of people above, across and below them in the organizational structure.

Clay Scroggins, author of How To Lead When You ‘re Not In Charge encourages us to lead now:

“Great leaders look ahead to the future and begin to act today to become who they want to be. In fact, the whole purpose of this book is to encourage you to begin leading from where you are. Don’t wait until you are in charge to be the leader you want to be.”

What You Do Control

Some things are simply out of our control.

But there are many things we can control.

We are all in control of how we lead ourselves, how we spend our time, and how we lead our local area of influence.

You may believe there are changes which need to happen within your organization. Don’t be afraid to initiate some critical conversations. But how you approach the situation is crucial:

“With the right approach, you can say just about anything. With the wrong approach, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong; it won’t work.”

Clay Scroggins, How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge

Don’t Give Up

Organizational change is difficult and in most cases slow. Don’t give up!

In the 1950’s in Oxford, Dr. Alice Stewart’s research revealed that the common practice of x-ray examinations of pregnant mothers actually doubled the chance of cancer in their children. You would think all x-ray exams during pregnancy would have stopped immediately. However, because it was commonly accepted to x-ray pregnant mothers, it took 25 years before there was a ban on this harmful practice. This was a life and death situation for many children, yet it took 25 years for the medical community to change. During those 25 years, Alice never gave up. She continued to lead for the change she knew was right.

I hope we will be faithful to lead the areas God has entrusted to us.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Galatians 6:9 (NLT)
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