A Leader’s Rock & A Hard Place; How to Lead When Stuck Between Upper Management and a High Performer!

Middle Management can be hard! It’s one of the first promotions into a position of leadership. Higher-ups have seen your professional worth and believe you have what it takes to lead. It’s an exciting time; full of pride, anxiety, and the ever-lasting pressure of meeting the desires and sometimes unrealistic expectations of those above you… along with the task to lead those under you! In a perfect world, you and upper management are on the same page, patient, and willing to brainstorm to build together, while the front-line employees love their jobs, accept all duties, and changes without a problem… Yeah right!

Perhaps you and upper management aren’t on the same page; you’re frustrated and need to get the job done. Higher-Ups have set the expectation, but you have front-line superstars that do their own thing and are more protected professionally than you are. This happens in sports quite a bit… The owner likes a certain player, pays him/her a lot of money, the player performs, the coach’s job is to make it work… even though the player breaks all the rules, is a locker room nightmare, and is uncoachable… sound familiar at your job? So, what to do?

“The Meeting”

As the person in the middle, the first step is to meet with the top! It’s essential to be on the same page… as much as possible. Remember, your job and professional advancement may depend on it. Whether you stay at the job or venture elsewhere; news of your reputation will travel… Be sure it’s saying what you want it to say!

In your meeting with Upper Management, it’s your goal to walk out of the room or close your laptop with a more clear understanding of a few powerful things:

  1. What’s the exact mission of my job? – Get clear on what you’re expected to do and accomplish.
  2. How much control do you have within your position? A leadership position with zero decision-making abilities may quickly become a position of frustration. How far does your rope extent to make decisions? What issues or decisions need to be discussed with upper management first before you can act on an employee’s issues?
  3. What do we agree on regarding upper management’s Leader’s 3 and yours… sharing best ways to lead through employee infractions? It may be a great idea to ask Upper Management what they like about your Leader’s 3 and anything they’d fine-tune.

Whether you agreed with the conversation’s outcome or not… the answers to these questions will provide you more clarity, direction, and confidence moving forward. However, it will not always play out this simple and like with everything, there are outliers. That All-Star employee that’s a high-performer and doesn’t have to follow the rules, that employee that was hired as a family favor and will never get fired, or the employee that has all the potential in the world but never reaches it and hurts the team with mistake after mistake after mistake. I could go on, but you get it!

I’ve had the pain and privilege of working with and leading all three types and have been professionally impacted by them all; as I’m sure you have! The All-Star is undeniable…  you see their talent and potential to be the best at what they do. As a leader, praise their ability and let them know the intention of your role is to help fine-tune their skills for success and to help overcome the pitfalls you know are coming that they struggle to forsee. When I was a Mental Health Therapist working in an Alternative School, I worked with a gentleman that was an all-star connector and was eager to fix every issue for every student and every staff. My job became helping him to hone his skills, teach him how to teach other staff to do what he did; allowing others to improve… all in efforts to enhance the entire team and save him from certain burn-out and frustration when the luster of the job begins to fade.

I’ve worked under the “Family-Hire”; a good person, but a terrible fit for the position… and he was not going to get fired! I’m sad to say, I did not behave my best. I grew frustrated quickly, vented to anyone who’d listen, disconnected from my team and my passion, became the worst version of myself professionally, and was presented with an option to transfer sites. Looking back, it was the turning point of my professional life; leading me to the very beginning of what I am today as a professional speaker, author, and leadership trainer… So, it all worked out! However, I still wish I had handled it better.

Lastly, I employed “The Potential” and let way too many things slide; negatively impacting my leadership and reputation. He was a good person, however not every good person is a good fit… Lesson learned! So, how do you connect, build, and move forward under this type of stress?

The Marriage

It’s now time to connect and bond with the person causing you so many headaches and sleepless nights… “The High Performer”! I know it sounds dramatic, but isn’t it? I recommend a marriage; all with the vision to create your desired professional lifestyle predicated on communication, big-vision habits, positivity, and follow-through. To achieve this, you have two choices:

  1. “The Jimmy Johnson Approach” – Jimmy Johnson is most famous for being the Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990’s, winning three Superbowls, and creating one of the most prolific dynasties of all time. His approach to leadership with star players was tough… but not necessarily fair or equal. It’s reported he told his team… the stars will be treated differently and had a longer rope than everyone else. It was also reported, he shared with his superstars when he planned to yell at them in front of the team and explained the purpose was to impact on everyone; making back-up players aware they’d better not even think of making a mistake! Agree or disagree… he was upfront and consistent. Granted, this approach has some concerns as star professionals can use extra rope to hang themselves.
  2. The Marriage – involves sitting with your high-performer to share:
  • The impact their abilities and high potential can have for them as individuals, for the team, and for their future
  • Increase your understanding of what they want to get out of working for you and with you? Why are they there? Help to develop their Vision & Vision Factors (The 3-5 things that when done consistently will make the vision come true)
  • Share your Vision & Vision Factors as a leader
  • Marry your goals
  • Agree to become a team; exhibiting a combined vision, plan, expectations, and rules that can be revisited regularly to maintain the relationship and the goal

Follow Through

I know the above sounds “cheesy,” and it doesn’t always work as neatly as I described. However, what does? The truth is… this meeting is simply the beginning… and when done with sincerity, is powerful! In the real world, what happens next usually tanks results… you get busy as a leader and neglect to follow up, maintain 1-on-1 connection, and the relationship never gets to flourish. Or, you get busy and during times of high stress… revert to what you know… and behave accordingly. Don’t be so “Busy” being “Busy” that you forget to build and be better!

After you’ve had “The Meeting”, “The Marriage”, now it’s time to Follow Through with your regular 1-on-1 Meetings. When things are still not going the way you like… sad to say, but the job may not be for you and you have a choice to make.

You can gripe, pout, or vent your frustrations to anyone who’ll listen… and believe me; you will always find someone to listen and agree with you. However, it will not change the reality of your situation… and will make it worse over time as your negative thoughts and words will eventually drip into your actions… making you a part of the problem!

Therefore, the option to enhance your Leadership & Work/Life Harmony is to understand and marry YOUR WHY. When you choose to stay in a position that’s stressing you out… Why are you still at that job? Whatever your reason… money, advancement opportunities, gained experience, etc… Marry your “Why”! Know what you’re getting out of showing up every day! Next, enhance your Superpower; whatever you’re good at… get great at! If things get better at work… you’ll be noticed as part of the solution. If things get worse and you leave… you’ll leave as an asset; not a liability. Next, enjoy your relationships and network better… Who do you enjoy at work? Who’s positive, productive, and inspiring… spend your time with them and enjoy your day or work experience! Lastly, when all has failed; the writing is on the wall and it may be time to walk away with your head held high and eagerly ready for the next chapter of your professional and personal life!

“As a leader, it’s important to know… Not every good person is a good fit, and that’s OK”    – Andre Young

Click www.youevolvingnow.com to find out more about Andre Young’s Leadership & Work/Life Harmony Trainings, Speaking Engagements, Books, and more; evolving your organization, your leaders, employees, and teams!

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