The job of division president is practically the definition of middle management. The C-suite looks down on you and everyone in the division looks up to you. Navigating that middle ground requires establishing the best possible clarity and boundaries between yourself and senior leaders, tactical managers and front-line supervisors.

As described in my earlier article on The Critical Differences Between Strategic, Tactical And Crisis Leadership, strategic leadership is about creating and allocating resources ahead of the action. Tactical management is about managing resources during the action. Crisis leadership requires both at the same time.

But that, of course, is theoretically elegant and practically useless because one level’s strategy is the next level’s objective. As a new division president, you’re taking direction from above and providing direction down. In other words, those above you are delegating to you while you’re delegating down. Some division presidents survive by just passing on instructions. Others add value by engaging and reinterpreting direction. Let’s focus on those.

As previously described, the art of delegating has four components: direction, resources, bounded authority and two-way accountability. As a new division president working through the seven stages of executive onboarding, you know to converge before evolving – especially in your early days.

Managing Up and Across

Converge with your boss and the executive leadership team. Understand your remit – in detail:

  • Direction – Understand what they need you to get done, why it matters, and your interdependencies with other groups, functions and divisions. Dig into their intent so you know how what you and your team need to get done fits with the broader picture.
  • Resources – Understand the specific financial, information, operations/technical, and people resources you have. Scope is always a function of time and resources. If you don’t have the resources you need, either the scope or timeframe or both need to be adjusted.
  • Authority – Understand what tactical decisions you can make within the strategic boundaries and guidelines. This is not about amassing power so you can feel important. This is about knowing when and how you can adjust with agility and when and how you need to escalate the decision and get broader input – which will inevitably take more time.
  • Accountability – Understand how you’re going to be called to account and the consequences of success and failure.

Managing Down

Converge with your team and then help them understand the four components of your delegation to them. This is essentially the mirror image of the above so they are clear on:

  • Direction – what they need to get done, why it matters, and their interdependencies with other groups, functions and divisions.
  • Resources – the specific financial, information, operations/technical, and people resources they have to get done what they need to get done.
  • Authority – the tactical decisions they can make within the divisional strategic boundaries and guidelines.
  • Accountability – how you’re going to call them to account and the consequences of success and failure.

Navigating the middle

Expect larger organizations to have more middle managers. If the organization consists of a CEO, you and a couple of peers, and then people that work directly for those people, things are relatively straightforward. The more presidents, executive vice presidents, senior vice presidents, group presidents, division vice presidents, directors, managers and front-line supervisors you add, the more complex things get.

Back to the earlier point,

  • Higher-level strategic leaders generally focus on the creation and allocation of resources to achieve broader, longer-range objectives. These could be priorities tracked quarterly over years.
  • Middle-level tactical managers generally focus on applying, adjusting and re-deploying those resources to achieve shorter-term objectives. These could be projects tracked weekly or programs tracked monthly.
  • Front-line supervisors generally focus on directing given resources to fulfill specific tasks. Think in terms of tracking and managing things on a daily basis.

While I am most definitely over-simplifying things, we all keep learning over and over again the power of doing that for others. Figure out the few core things that matter most. Focus your own and others’ time, energy and resources on delivering those few things. Cut out, simplify and delayer all the rest. It makes everything easier to understand, easier to deliver, and easier to track.

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