Trust: The Gateway for Mid-Level Managers’ Influence with Direct Reports 

Mid-level managers—directors, vice presidents, department heads, business group managers, area managers, regional managers, and more—manage people yet are not executives in the organizational hierarchy. They hold people leadership positions between the C-suite executives and front-line supervisors and typically have one or two levels of manager or supervisory positions within their scope of responsibility.

Amy Gallo, cohost of Women at Work and contributing editor at the Harvard Business Review, said mid-level managers are in a “tricky spot.” 

That tricky spot includes employing the appropriate strategies to gain influence with direct reports.

Influencing Approach: One-Dimensional or Multi-Dimensional?

Our first article in this series, The Mid-Level Manager’s Lesser Engaged Leadership Behavior: Influencing Upwardly, offered business-focused influencing strategies appropriate for senior management interactions.  

Employing the same influencing approach with direct reports as that with senior leaders invites resistance and disengagement, making it a tricky spot.

Why? It could signal non-inclusive, authoritative leadership.

While business outcomes are essential, trust is crucial to developing and sustaining mutually supportive relationships with direct reports.

The Trust Cornerstone

Trust is the cornerstone of the relationship between mid-level managers and direct reports (managers or supervisors) within their spans of control. This trust permeates the business group as their direct reports can (and will) give to their team members what they experience.

According to the Korn Ferry Leadership Architect™️,  a leader Instills Trust by “gaining the confidence and trust of others through honesty, integrity, and authenticity….follows through on commitments, is seen as direct and truthful, and keeps confidences.” The leader is authentic because they do what they profess, ensuring consistency between their words and actions.

Developing and sustaining trust enables mid-level managers to experience influential leadership with their direct reports.

Trust Building and Influencing Strategies for Direct Reports Interactions

Empower and Promote Autonomy. 

Collaborate with direct reports to establish expectations and objectives; empower them to own the work within their spans of management. Encourage autonomy, decision-making, and initiative. Make it possible for direct reports to drive behavior down in the organization by ensuring clarity in the business system – processes, procedures, policies, practices, and performance expectations.

It’s crucial to avoid micromanaging yet be available as a sounding board –– to troubleshoot and coach direct reports through discovery and problem resolution, ensuring they can meet goals and timelines. 

Engage in FeedForward and Coaching. 

While feedback is typical and essential when looking backward, the Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching® technique of FeedForward is more impactful as you actively work with direct reports to help them build new leadership habits and behaviors in the future. While feedback is the rearview mirror where there is no opportunity to change the past, FeedForward is the broad windshield view that emphasizes what your direct report can do to develop their habits and skills. FeedForward helps to build trust when there is transparent, two-way communication about what the direct report does well and specific suggestions about behavioral change opportunities. 

Champion Individual Development.

Focus on your direct reports’ individual growth and development. Invite them to communicate their aspirations and work to understand their strengths and areas for improvement. Help your direct reports understand the career path options within the organization, providing guidance and support for professional growth. Tailor your support to address their unique needs.  

Remember to acknowledge your direct reports’ achievements and efforts when they achieve milestones through public or private recognition, depending on their preference. Keep your direct reports engaged and motivated to elevate their impact even more. 

Role Model and Inspire. 

No messaging is more potent than when words and actions align. Exemplify the organization’s values and culture, setting a standard for behavior, work ethic, integrity, and a positive attitude toward challenges. Lead by example. Model desired behaviors, mentor direct reports to enhance their influence within their spans of management, and multiply your impact as a leader through trust and influence.  

Influence Evolved Through Trust Matters with Direct Reports

While influencing upwardly is crucial, influencing direct reports is non-negotiable. 

Main Event Management’s Model -Netics program defined management as “the accomplishment of predetermined objectives through others.”

Engaging these strategies enables working with and through direct reports to achieve objectives. These strategies also signal appropriate care and appreciation of direct reports as colleagues and the organization’s interest in helping them become the best version of themselves.

Action Path

Mid-level managers are connectors, bridge-builders, and organizational change facilitators. They are the cohesive force that produces widespread leadership behavioral change, wielding substantial influence within the organization’s workforce daily. 

Don’t leave trust-building and influencing strategies to chance. Want help providing support and leadership development to your organization’s mid-level managers? Book a complimentary consultation.

Extra! Extra!

Employee Engagement: Managers Give What They Get

Collaboration is a Leadership Advantage

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

References:

Gallo, A., 2024. Conversations about where we’re at and how we move forward. Women at Work. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://link.hbr.org/view/64d1201ce3841f3df601d0b8l9b44.h5h/759db4c5

Main Event Management. 2024. Model-Netics. Retrieved from https://www.maineventmanagement.com/model-netics/

Lillian Davenport, SPHR, SHRM – SCP, CTACC, Principal, End View Solutions, LLC

Lillian Davenport

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Lillian Davenport is a coach, consultant, and leadership strategist. Her signature program, M3 LeadershipSM, prepares you to enhance and develop your self-awareness, embrace your inner strength, and lead with confidence, courage, and impact.

Lillian’s career as a human resources leader includes roles at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Woodforest National Bank, and American International Group, Inc. (AIG), where she leveraged employee relations, and diversity, equity, and inclusion expertise in leadership development.