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Managing from the middle: How new managers gain company wide trust and respect

Posted January 10, 2017 by


For many first-time managers, it can be hard to gain professional respect from a more experienced management team and other senior leaders. It can be discouraging to attend leadership meetings, training, or be involved in the decision-making process and feel like you don’t have a voice. Managing from the middle well, however, can indeed build trust with top leaders.

Gaining trust as a manager can take time, but it doesn’t mean new managers need to wait, or feel like they have to gain approval from more experienced leaders to start building trust, and credibility within an organization. While the first goal should be to lead your new team and be the best manager you can be, it’s never too early to focus on how to become a manager who can influence others within the organization.

Be accountable

To gain that trust, respect, and a strong reputation, start by being accountable, says Greg Bustin, author of Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture. Bustin has dedicated his career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of companies on this crucial topic of accountability. During the last six years, he has interviewed and surveyed more than 5,000 executives around the world – from companies that include, but are not limited to, Marriott, Container Store, Ernst & Young, Sony, Herman Miller, Nucor, and Southwest Airlines – to understand how high-performing corporations successfully create and sustain a culture of purpose, trust, and fulfillment.

“Lack of accountability is the single greatest obstacle facing even the most experienced leaders,” says Bustin. “It saps morale, drains profits, and disenfranchises employees—and can shift your team into crisis mode on a daily basis.”

Bustin also created the highly popular best and worst in workplace accountability survey, and offers these five tips for new managers looking to make an organization-wide impact while managing from the middle:

  1. Meet expectations: It sounds basic and it is, but you won’t be considered to take on new responsibilities until you’ve proven you can accomplish the work you and your team have been tasked with and you’ve shown your supervisors they can count on you. Responsibility occurs when you’re given a role, task or objective. Accountability occurs when you fulfill your responsibility.
  2. Volunteer for activities: If you’re working long hours, the last thing on your mind might be deciding to volunteer for activities that require even more of your time. David Alexander became the Managing Partner of one of Ernst & Young’s biggest regions, and when he started his career he told me he was the first to raise his hand for community service work sponsored by the firm. “I thought giving back was the right thing for the firm, and I also thought it was a good way to demonstrate leadership,” said Alexander.
  3. Believe you’re a leader from day one: A belief you’re too far down the totem pole is the wrong mindset. David Alexander also told me that when he taught training courses for his firm, “I would tell our people, ‘the firm needs you to be a leader from day one.’ And they’d say, ‘We can’t be a leader, we’re not in charge.’ And I would say, ‘not everyone can be the leader, but everyone can be a leader.’ Your influence affects others to the degree that you place their interests first.”
  4. Own your career: Elizabeth Bryant, Vice President of Southwest Airlines University, told me that employees who want to grow with the organization have a responsibility to own their career. “Instead of waiting for a leader to approach me about an assignment, what can I do to get involved?” Employees should sit down with their leader and discuss short- and long-term career goals and then develop a plan to accomplish those goals.
  5. Find a mentor: Bob Hendrickson, Chief Operating Officer at Republic National Distributing Company, told me that seeking out mentors is important at the nation’s second largest wine and spirits distribution company. “The quicker we can help people understand what it takes to be successful with us, the better it is for us and for them.” The mentor is generally outside the employee’s scope of responsibility so conversations are open and honest.

Contribute with quality

Max Dubroff, an HR Consultant at Einfluss, LLC, an HR advisory firm, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says respected and trusted managers admit and take responsibility for errors. But they also share and give credit to others. Dubroff, who has led teams from 2 to 570 to Best of Workplace lists, offers these additional tips for first-time managers seeking to become an empowering presence inside an organization:

  • Fact-based and principle-centered: Don’t just change things for the sake of change. If something doesn’t feel right, say so. Then find the facts to support the feeling. Along with other things you need to do to be effective with the team you lead, this is crucial for earning credibility and the trust from subordinates.
  • Persist with uniqueness: Don’t be in a rush; shortcuts lead to shaky foundations. Make the most of the time and experiences on your path of development. Learn from others, but don’t simply copy another’s approach without considering the appropriateness for the team’s situation.
  • Contribute with quality: Have an opinion and share it. This is the core benefit of diversity: that multiple perspectives are heard. Have something important to say when you happen to run into others (executives, bosses, customers); it is a shame when an opportunity is missed.
  • Initiative and involvement: Strengthen ties with peers by contributing beyond the scope of expectations (but not at the expense of the expectations). This could include volunteering to help with team building activities or showing interest in what others do in other departments.

Become a peer leader. Lead by example. Volunteer to lead a corporate committee. Seek out opportunities to connect with the CEO/President and/or other senior leaders.

Through it all, remember to focus on your current team, says Adam Pryor who oversees four account teams as an account manager for Spark PR, a public relations firm specializing in helping tech companies transform their brands through PR, integrated communications and strategic marketing.

“Make management a part of your everyday routine,” says Pryor. “Set aside time to focus on your team and your reports. Have a look at the work they are doing and make sure the goals you have set together are being achieved. Understand the expectations of upper level management and make sure you and your team are being held accountable.”

It’s important to celebrate small wins with your team. Don’t be shy – congratulate those you manage when appropriate. Then share those successes with other leaders or senior management.

“When interfacing with senior leaders, be vocal about your success and the success of your reports,” says Pryor. “Sometimes it’s awkward to talk about yourself, but don’t shy away from sharing the results of hard work. Whether it be a kudos in a meeting or email to senior leaders.”

And finally, as Bustin and Dubroff also said, be accountable for actions and results.

“Apply pressure when appropriate,” says Pryor. “Hold yourself and your team accountable, and push yourself and your reports to be your/their best.”

When it comes to feedback, remember: Positive, negative, positive, says Pryor. Always lead with something positive, and if you need to mention something constructive, make sure to follow up with something positive to close it out.

Earning respect from your team, and other established or senior managers or leaders can be difficult. Follow these tips to gain confidence, respect, and to become a trusted voice, for your direct reports, and with senior leaders and managers.

If you’re a new manager seeking career advice and tips, stay connected to College Recruiter. Start by visiting our blog, and connect with us on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

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