Being a manager is not easy. You are constantly looking after the needs of your organisation and your team. Aligning your team goals with your company’s goals and executing these plans successfully is not easy… but are you neglecting one thing?
Multiple studies have shown that middle managers are among the least happy group in any organisation. Their most common feedback is that they are on a path of necessity rather than the career track they have actively chosen.
Does this sound like you? If yes, it’s time to do something about it because:
Upskilling is something that will help you and those around you
Career progression and continued learning go hand in hand. Teaching yourself something new won’t just bring you one step closer to your next promotion; it will also reignite that passion you felt when you first started out in your role. This enthusiasm will not only motivate you to drive your own career forward but will filter down to your team and inspire them to grow their skills and expertise – all of which will act as a credit to you and your strengths as a manager.
Furthermore, technological change is sweeping across most industries. The more you grow your industry knowledge and stay up-to-date, the better placed you are to suggest innovative ideas to senior stakeholders and make an impact within the business.
The question is, how can you make your middle management career progression a reality?
Stop, assess and change
No doubt you have plenty of experience helping your team to pinpoint their areas for improvement and plot out their goals for the next year. Now it’s time to give your own career just as much focus and attention.
Think back to that moment between being promoted and becoming so tied up in management duties. What did you envisage the next few stages of your career to look like? And has this ambition changed, now that you have a better understanding of where the organisation is headed and what their vision is?
Put together some objectives which both align to this vision and what you want next from your career. Just as you would with your direct reports, make these objectives SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-scaled) and regularly check your progress against your goals. Ultimately, start giving your own career progression the same level of focus and management that you give to your direct reports, starting from today.
What’s stopping you?
It’s one thing to acknowledge the need to focus on your progression, but it’s another to realistically make time for it in a busy schedule. However, you need to make an ongoing commitment to your development, otherwise, you will only end up back in the same stagnant situation that you’re in now. This means addressing the potential barriers to your upskilling, which may include:
1. Your approach
Be honest with yourself. At the moment, how do you view the tasks which form part of your progression plan? Do you see them as supplementary to your current role and something which you will do when you have time? If so, this may be your first barrier.
Upskilling yourself needs to be treated as a core part of your role as a manager and woven into your current workflow, rather than an afterthought. Otherwise, you’ll put it off when your workload is piling up and you’ll consider joining a webinar, for example, as far less important than ticking a task off your to-do list.
Ultimately, you need to think of upskilling as an investment of your time in your future, rather than a cost.
2. Your boss
You may now see your career progression as a priority, but you also need the buy-in from your boss if you want to make your plans a reality.
You may already have had an annual review with your boss in which you discuss your career objectives. If not, sit down with your boss and outline how you want to grow your skills and the ways in which she or he can support you. For example, assistance finding a mentor or time to attend a webinar or conference. You may also request the organisation’s financial support for a professional course or training. When having this conversation, make the link between your upskilling and the resulting benefits to the business and your team clear.
Having been in your position before, your boss may be able to recommend other means of upskilling that you hadn’t thought of, as well as tips for making time to upskill yourself when snowed under with middle management tasks. This brings me to my next point.
3. Your busy timetable
I understand how busy middle managers can get, but there are plenty of flexible self-learning options available that can work around you. You can usually access this on-demand on your devices. For instance, you could sign up to an online course and complete segments first thing on a Monday morning before the week gets away from you. You could download a podcast to your phone to listen to on your commute, or you could watch a TEDtalk on your lunch break.
I would also advise upskilling yourself in ways that involve other people – because this way you can’t cancel and let them down. If you haven’t already, initiate regular catch-ups with your boss where you check in on your progression plan. There’s also a lot to be said for meeting up regularly with a career mentor. This can be someone you look up to, can trust, and can rely on to give you confidential, neutral and useful career advice. You should also book yourself into any organisation-funded training, events and talks.