Working Between Layers

This is a great place to test your leadership capability. Outstanding leaders are expert at working the interface between levels. They clarify disconnects upward and interpret decisions downward. They recognize that there is always some tension between the layers, but find ways to keep things under control. Do this consistently and well and you will be among the elite leaders.

5 Tips to help you improve the interface between levels:

• Thoroughly understand the point of view of layers below you. Listen to input and test for understanding. Be careful to not let the views of the vocal few characterize the beliefs of the silent majority.

• Recognize that many of the desires of levels below you are human nature. What group would not want more pay, more personal freedom, more recognition, more time off, etc. Don’t discount these needs, but realize they are universal. Try to find more specific suggestions, and be alert for ideas that can be done without major investment. Often it’s the little things that can make a big difference to people.

• Interpreting these needs upward is also an art. Don’t be a whiner for your team. Clarify their needs accurately and objectively.

• Internalize the impact of management actions while they are being developed. Make sure top management knows how things will be perceived at lower levels before actions are announced. Avoid sounding negative in these discussions by offering possible alternative decisions or more creative ways of describing them. Ask questions instead of making blunt statements. For example, instead of saying, “They will interpret this as another attempt by management to line their own pockets,” you might offer, “Would it be better received if we coupled this announcement with the employee bonus plan?”

• Avoid being a “Chicken Little” in discussions with upper management. Ultimately, you need to support and sell these decisions downward, so work to influence your superiors. Do this from a viewpoint of “what is best for the business,” rather than “how to keep the masses from revolting.” Senior managers want to do what is best for the organization. They sometimes need help understanding the impact of poor decisions on their own destiny. You can be the voice of reason, but only if you maintain credibility and perspective.

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