Are You Leading from the Middle With Intent?

Most discussions around leadership focus on the top of an organization. Partners and C-Suite executives are the ones most often charged with visioning, strategy and setting the tone from the top. While their roles are crucial to the long-term success of the organization, leadership from the middle of the firm may be just as important.

In 2013, Behnam Tabrizi of Stanford University’s Department of Management Science and Engineering conducted a study of 56 randomly selected companies involved in major change and innovation efforts. Nearly 68% of these large-scale efforts failed. Among the successful initiatives, the most critical determinant of success was the role of mid-level managers. “In those cases,” Tabrizi wrote for the Harvard Business Review, “mid-level managers weren’t merely managing incremental change; they were leading it by working levers of power up, across and down in their organizations.”

Clearly, you don’t need to wait until you’ve made partner or been elevated to a C-suite role to lead. Being an intentional leader isn’t about titles; it’s about knowing how you produce value, making purposeful decisions, and using your actions to advance the firm. Here are five steps you can take to become an intentional leader.

Assume responsibility

Ultimately, you are responsible for the path you are on and what you are doing along that path.

Responsibility is not the same as accountability. Accountability is important; it means you are answerable and willing to accept the outcomes of your efforts. But responsibility goes further. It means having the mindset that you are the person who must make a project happen.

Assuming responsibility in your role influences how you behave with people above, below and on your own level in the organization. An intentional, responsible leader:

  • Stays on top of problems and doesn’t assume someone else will step in

  • Knows that effectiveness is ultimately defined by results, and

  • Accepts criticism for mistakes.

Leaders who assume responsibility are more likely to achieve success, unite their teams and enact change.

Be clear about your purpose

An intentional leader recognizes how they bring value to an organization and knows it’s more than a checklist of tasks to do each day, week or year. They can clearly articulate their personal “why,” the “why” of the firm, and how one supports the other.

When you pursue your work with purpose, you are energized to push through obstacles, take risks, and build engagement with others. To be an effective, purpose-driven leader, you need to remain composed, confidence, consistent and courageous.

Care about others

Intentional leaders care about their team. They know what high impact looks like and sounds like for others and care enough to offer challenge, opportunity, growth and recognition. They will challenge behaviors and values that compromise the integrity of their team and what they are working to achieve.

Of course, it’s easy to say you care about others, but caring is about action, not just words. It involves getting the people you work with know that it’s ok to be fully themselves at work and express their concerns, vulnerability and creativity in their jobs.

A 2015 survey from Gallup found that employees who strongly agree that they can approach their manager with any question or concern were more likely to be engaged in their work. Caring about others creates trust, and trust builds loyalty.

Challenge the status quo

Every great leader or organization has had to challenge the status quo and chase what could be and not merely what is. New opportunities, increased productivity, relevance and fulfillment do not come from merely treading water or doing what you’ve always done, but from seeking new and improved ways of doing things.

To challenge the status quo, get intentional about taking time to ask:

  • What ideas or processes in the firm need to be challenged?

  • What needs to be improved?

Senior leadership to communicates intent, but the middle of the organization need to question why we are doing what we’re doing. Get inspired to do better and think bigger.

Celebrate achievements

Leading with intention requires looking toward the future, but it also means recognizing successes now. That recognition is critical for maintaining and momentum.