By Stewart Levine
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009
If you were around in the early 1980s you might have witnessed a general house cleaning of middle managers in a lot of companies. I wondered when the impact of this would be felt and this book is written to those who came after the ones who were let go.
John Baldoni has written a book that addresses a lot of managerial lessons that in the old days would have been passed on by manger to subordinate. But because of the house cleaning mentioned above, the lack of mentoring has led to a vacuum of knowledge in leadership techniques. In fact, in many of today’s organizations, the top management layer lacks the empirical knowledge that was gained by moving up through the organizational ladder.
The book is a fairly easy read with a lot of very good examples for middle- and upper-management to take as lessons in dealing with their roles. The title of the book is a little misleading because the author tries to address issues that occur at both the middle and higher levels of a company in his writing.
For instance, in step two, “thinking and acting strategically,” it is almost impossible for a middle manager to affect strategy in an organization without the blessings of upper management. Step three is “pushing back the right way,” but mentions that leaders must be able to accept criticism. The point is that both upper and middle management need to learn the lessons in the book.
The last chapter, “The Smart Guide to Positive Push-back” should be the introduction to set the expectations in the book. These pages address the title and leave three choices for a middle manager trying to lead up: go with the flow; devise strategies to circumvent the boss; or leave the company. With those in mind, a middle manager (I have a friend who is facing this dilemma as I write this) can learn some valuable lessons about leadership.
The book covers a lot of leadership subjects and is a very good guide for someone who needs the lessons of leading—either up or down. But because it addresses the top and the middle, it misses the mark set by the expectation in the title. I would call this a book on leadership for middle managers without giving the impression that there is a magic bullet in overcoming a boss who doesn’t lead.