Saturday, 13 February 2010

Middle Management

When storms hit, middle managers stand in the gap

Why is it important to grow the leadership and management skills of middle managers and aspiring, young leaders?  We see this question answered beautifully in a September 19 Wall Street Journal column by Carol Hymowitz just a few years ago.

When Hurricane Katrina caused a five-mile stretch of railroad tracks connecting New Orleans and Slidell, La. to fall into Lake Pontchartrain, Norfolk Southern couldn’t transport badly needed products from the East Coast to the Pacific. 

And it wasn’t a CEO who saved the day.

Before the storm hit, Jeff McCracken, a chief engineer in Atlanta, prepared the materials he thought he might need for repairs and he readied 100 employees to help. After the storm, the team responded quickly, removing 5,000 trees from roads.  Then, when he discovered that the railroad tracks had fallen into the lake, McCracken gathered 365 engineers, machine operators and other workers and devised a creative plan to rescue the fallen tracks from the lake, rather than wait several weeks to build new tracks. The crew even slept in campers on site and worked in shifts around the clock to restore the rail line. Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit, the damaged tracks were repaired and returned to full service.

“CEOs who feel under particular pressure from investors these days need to relinquish their imperious status or they'll end up having power taken away from them,” claims the article. “CEOs who don't want upheaval among their rank and file should take note of one big change in the job market. Ambitious and talented middle managers have more opportunities to land new positions now than they've had in the past five years. Retaining them may require giving up some big corner-office compensation increases to improve their salaries.”

It would seem that growing and training middle managers when the business climate is good helps to ensure that they’ll be prepared to weather the storms when they inevitably hit. And investing in the development of middle management is also a terrific way for executives to ensure that the storms that hit aren’t caused by their own doing.

Leadership, middle management, management training

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