Marketing Entrepreneur. Day Trader. Business Contrarian.

What is Operational Leadership?

Posted on Feb 18, 2016 in Business Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

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I’ve managed employees in almost all of the positions I’ve held up to this point. Each time, I’ve tried to develop my own abilities in this area and I’ve always done that by trying different styles. Through my own experimentation, I’ve found the style that best suits me and realize what works for me may not work for you. I don’t believe there’s a wrong way to be a leader, but you must know what style not only works for you, but also which style best resonates with the people you lead. Being a leader implies that you’re a good one. I believe that if you’re a bad leader, you actually aren’t one.

It’s through this experience that I’ve come to realize that middle managers really get a bad reputation when in reality, they’re actually some of the most important people in a company. When we think of middle management, we often see them as wielding too much power for their own good, like the corporate version of a mall cop. We also tend to think of them as micro-managers, given they have people that work for them to do the work that needs to get done. They need to fill up their day somehow so what else do you do when you don’t have a meeting? It’s negative connotations such as these that overshadow the opportunity that people in these roles have to really stand out and make a difference, but for the people who find themselves in this position, here’s the very real opportunity they have in front of them.

You get to be a leader on the ground. Not many people can say this. Let’s call it the contemporary version of operational leadership. There are a number of reasons why this is the best place to be positioned.


Operational leaders are responsible for actually moving the needle

Operational leaders can be the person that everyone goes to when something needs to get done, because others know they can execute both personally and within the team they manage. Be the most accountable person you can be by setting expectations for yourself that are higher than what anyone else can set for you. That’s how you’ll deliver and become a top “go-to” in the company.




The best of both worlds – being a leader and doing real work that matters

The first management position I ever had was strictly focused on building a team and developing them in their careers. That’s all great, but I started to miss being the key contributor I once was. You need to strike a balance between leading and developing a team but at the same time, strong self motivation for digging into the details because they matter. Not many people in a company hold the ability to do both, and let’s be clear. If you’re an individual contributor, you can be a leader in the sense that you’re innovating in your day-to-day or coming up with new ideas, but from the perspective of leading others, it’s the middle management layer that holds this responsibility but still has the opportunity to help their team meet their objectives.


Operational leaders represent a key point of balance in a company

Operational leaders are uniquely positioned in companies. They’re privy to high level information that’s typically not shared all the way to the bottom of the company. Often times, operational leaders receive information from their Director/VP, but it’s up to them to choose how to disseminate and act on the information. This leads to high decision making responsibilities, the results of which inevitably work their way back up through the top of the organization in the form of results (hopefully successful ones!).

Put in the work in parallel with your employees rather than filling your calendar with pointless meetings all day. Never shy away from working in the trenches with your employees. You’ll build a better working relationship, and you’ll develop more insight into each other’s strengths. I gave this same quote to a publication recently because it’s not only an important message to share, but many people aren’t following this mantra in their own practice.

Next time you find yourself in this position, I encourage you to deploy these ideas in your own work. Work in-parallel with your employees to establish a higher level of trust while remaining core to their support system. When you adopt this leadership style, your team will feel much more aligned on objectives because you’re “in it together.”

How often you find yourself putting in the work as opposed to simply delegating, and what do you find most rewarding in your own career progression and satisfaction?