Stuck In The Middle

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A well differentiated leader does not carry the stress, anxiety and emotional burden of other people’s business relationships. Consider your relationships in the context of a triangle.   At the top of the triangle is you, to the left is your direct report and to the right is a peer or another direct report.

Consider the picture below. Obviously, you are at the top of the triangle. You can impact and influence your relationship with your Direct Report, through strong conversations, clear expectations and feedback.  Additionally, you can impact your Peer relationship through the same approach. However, when the direct report comes to you and tells you that things are not going well with your peer and you take ownership – you have then forfeited your differentiated stance.  (The Triangle Below represents one of many possible triad relationships in business)

triadImagine another slightly different scenario, one of your direct reports comes to you and tells you all about the strain he feels with his peer (your other direct report) – he expects you to own it.  In actuality, it is not yours to own, it is yours to influence, encourage and seek to understand, but not to own.  The peer must own that relationship.

Wilfred Bion describes a syndrome, known as BAMS or The Messiah complex where leaders are asked to carry and own the problems of the team or group.  A leader’s job is to influence others toward success, not carry the burdens of others.

Here are 3 symptoms that may tell you that you have overstepped your emotional boundaries with the relational challenges of others:

Exhaustion:  You are fatigued beyond measure.  You find yourself stressed out by the problems of others and are neglecting the main areas of focus in your business.  To counteract this exhaustion, seek to connect the conflicted parties vs. trying to carry or solve those issues.  People will gladly let you carry their burdens, so you must stay sharp.

Problems Are Left At Your Feet:  The group will no doubt  set the challenges at your feet to solve.  They are inadvertently allowing you to take responsibility.  When you are taking on the role of the Messiah, then you know that you have overstepped. The Messiah is caused by your anxiety and is also caused by the group not owning the problem.

Caught In The Middle:  Being in the middle is not advisable for you.  To remove yourself from the middle consider phrases such as – “What are you doing to develop your relationship with him / her?” vs. Taking on the stress and anxiety of the third relationship.

You lose your differentiation when you carry the burden and strain of a relationship that is not yours.  If you get in the middle, you are no longer effective.  Essentially, you delay the inevitable conflict that will come or hinder the resolution that can eventually emerge. More importantly being in the middle hinders their growth & development.

Here is how William Friedman from “Failure of Nerve” defines the Well – Differentiated leader as:

“A well differentiated leader is not an autocrat who tells others what to do or orders them around, although any leader who defines himself or herself clearly may be perceived that way by those who are not taking responsibility for their own emotional being and destiny.  Rather, I mean someone who has clarity about his own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about. Someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.” 

How are clear are you on your business and life goals? This is an essential step toward becoming a differentiated leader.  Business is difficult enough, even when we are not owning the stress and anxiety of employees.