Management is tough. Middle management is equally, if not more, difficult.
Management is tough because it takes vulnerability and courage. Brene Brown, an inspirational speaker backed by years of practical research, speaks difficult truths to large crowds as well as intimate groups in leadership training sessions.
Netflix recently released an hour talk by Brown called “A Call to Courage,” where she gives personal anecdotes about when she ignited courage and vulnerability in her life, which in and of itself is a display of courage and vulnerability by sharing those stories in a crowd of hundreds.
Her book, “Dare to Lead,” is halfway finished on my bedside table with tons of colored tabs sticking out of the side.
My boss and mentor wrote a note inside the cover and started me on my first Brene Brown text, devoting her time to work through the reading with me. While the need to respond to immediate things that come across our desks often gets in the way of conversations where we can dream freely and dream big, Brown’s book has periodically provided inspiration between those moments.
Brown’s inspiration has guided me through hard moments that often occur in an office and especially a high-powered newsroom with quick, looming deadlines.
Middle management pro tip No. 1: Learn the language of your staff — both the people you manage up and down — and speak their language.
Brown integrates vulnerability and courage in what she calls “rumbles.” The Outsiders created the word rumble to associate with a negative interaction with someone with whom you cannot relate. Brown turns that on its head and reinvents a rumble to mean speaking truth with tact when an unresolved issue arises in a team.
“I’m asking everyone to stay connected and lean into each other during this churn so we can really rumble with what’s going on,” Brown writes.
She creates what she calls a “safe container,” allowing everyone to have a safe space to be vulnerable.
“The leader is naming some of the unsaid emotions and creating what we call a ‘safe container’ by asking the team what they need to feel open and safe in the conversation,” Brown writes.
Middle managers have to create those safe containers with multiple groups, including their staff, their boss and even fellow middle managers. It takes time and true focus but can be accomplished with some care and attention to the sensitivities of the people involved.
Middle management pro tip No. 2: Sooner than later.
I’m slowly — and sometimes painfully — still learning each of these lessons, but especially this one. Avoiding difficult rumblings may cause unnecessary anxiety or build up of a small issue. Vulnerability and courage in confronting the tough stuff creates a positive and functional work environment.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging and joy,” Brown writes. “We know that vulnerability is the cornerstone of courage-building, but we often fail to realize that without vulnerability there is no creativity or innovation.”