Your journey to your position in management probably wasn't easy. More than likely it involved an impressive combination of desperation and perspiration that put you head and shoulders above your competition. Now you've achieved a leadership position managing employees, and it's rewarding... or at least you thought it would be. However, your task list is never-ending, and you're reporting to supervisors who are constantly peering over your shoulder. What started out as a step up now feels like the road to nowhere--and you're stuck on the side of the road with an empty gas tank.
If you find yourself languishing in management purgatory, you're not alone. You're in the Middle Mile. What exactly is the Middle Mile? Not quite the beginning, not quite the end; it’s like the middle of a marathon--the grind, the long haul. It's where you burn the most energy overcoming minor and major setbacks, dealing with long-term fatigue, wrangling with employee or management turnover, and simply trying to avoid burnout.
During the Middle Mile, you may be tempted to quit or, worse, downgrade your goals to something more "realistic." "Realistic" is simply a euphemism for settling. Maybe you think you've gotten as far as you can. Maybe the struggle doesn't seem worth it. Maybe you feel helpless. But you by no means are.
The Middle Mile is where the real work gets done. The Middle Mile demands toughness and strength as it tests your deepest commitments. While everyone's journey through the Middle Mile is unique, there are strategies you can use to help get yourself unstuck and move forward toward the finish line of reaching your career goals.
1. Get clear about your goals and visualize the finish line. You can't reach the finish line if you don't know where it is in the first place. If you're unsure of your goals, set aside one month for “discovery.” Begin by writing down your everyday highs and lows in a journal. Additionally, ask yourself the following questions: What types of activities energize and empower you? What types of activities drain and deplete you? Where have you excelled? Where do you struggle? Be brutally honest. No one is going to see this but you. Anything short of complete honesty with yourself will defeat the purpose of this exercise. At the end of the discovery period, use the insights you've gained to formulate a realistic yet challenging plan to take your career in a direction that best suits your strengths and preferences.
2. Take personal responsibility to sharpen your knowledge and become the “GO TO” person in your area of interest. You may be the manager, but do employees come to you for advice, insight, or help? If not, you need to put yourself in the position to be that person. Become a true expert in your industry by challenging yourself to read two books a month on your area of interest. Don’t wait around for someone else to notice your abilities. Find ways to productively share your knowledge. Showcase your abilities by volunteering for extra opportunities. For example, if you’re in a technical department, but you’d prefer to be in the marketing department, volunteer to spearhead a company newsletter or to co-sell with members of the sales team. This is a fantastic way to move into a different area in the company if you're unhappy where you currently are.
3. Hone your speaking and persuasive skills. You could have the most innovative solutions and ideas for improving the company, but if you're not able to express them to the right people at the right time, those ideas will never see the light of day. More than anything else, speaking and persuasive skills can make or break your career. Improve or hone your skills by enrolling in Toastmasters. Read books and take courses about how to increase your persuasive abilities. Perfect your "elevator pitch." Practice these skills as often as possible so that when the opportunity presents itself, you'll be able to clearly and articulately present your ideas in an effective, persuasive manner.
4. Identify and serve your “personal customers.” These are not the same as your company’s customers. Personal customers are people who may influence your career, such as coworkers, supervisors, hiring managers, or contacts at other companies. Go beyond simply networking and deliver superior service to your personal customers. Provide value by finding unexpected ways to put your expertise to work for them.
5. Find a role model. Just because you're in management doesn't mean you're beyond having role models. Learning and personal development are a lifelong process. To find a role model, identify somebody whom you respect and who has expertise in your area of interest. Volunteer to assist with this person’s projects to gain experience. When you find ways to help your role model, your role model will find ways to help you. As the relationship develops, ask for candid feedback and suggestions. Ultimately, this person may help you make a career-changing connection.
6. Hold yourself accountable. Successful people have the discipline to do what others don’t want to do. A willingness to be uncomfortable is a major component of success. That means getting up earlier, working harder, and persevering. You won’t be able to perform your full-time job plus everything listed in points one through five unless you get up earlier and work harder. Keep the finish line in mind and be cognizant of the fact that you’ll have to give up time and relaxation to gain a more satisfying career.
No matter where you are in your career, it's easy to find yourself stuck. However, if you're willing to take the time and put in the effort to set meaningful goals, attain or polish your skills, learn from the best around you, and leave your comfort zone, you'll find yourself unstuck and moving toward the career you've envisioned.