Legitimate Leadership does not support the notion that there are any leadership roles that are more difficult or more impactful than others. At every level the responsibility of those in authority is first and foremost to care for those in their charge, to enable them to make an above-and-beyond contribution and to realize the best in themselves. At every level the challenge and the opportunity is to determine the calibre of those who report to them directly. The CEO should be judged on the quality of the executive team, middle managers on the excellence of those in first line manager roles and first line managers on the excellence of those in the front line.
What is different though is the unique value add of each level in the hierarchy. Hence the timeframe, the degree of impact, the contribution, differ. CEOs have different issues to focus on and deal with from those at other levels in the organization.
What is important therefore is that everyone in the line of command makes an exemplary direct AND leadership contribution. That is the recipe for both short and long term organizational success.
OUR SUMMARY OF THIS VIDEO: The infinite game is not the absence of finite games. The infinite game is the context within which finite games exist. But if you’re ignorant of the existence of the infinite game and all you’re ever playing is finite (but you are in fact in an infinite game) you will do damage. Jack Welch once said long term is simply a series of short terms. No it is not – because if all you do is play short, short, short, short, short, then eventually you create long term damage. You do damage to your culture, you do damage to your clients, you put so many cheap ingredients in your product you destroy the quality of your product and eventually it catches up with you.
I think middle management is the most difficult job in a company and it’s also the place where the most change and the most impact can happen.
I’ve met many fantastic senior leaders who are infinite-minded and long-term focused. And then you get down to the front lines and it’s a complete disaster and so you ask “what’s happening in the middle?” because something’s getting lost in translation. Being middle management is the most difficult job in the company because you have to be able to play both. Because, for instance, a gate agent for an airline – you want her playing the finite game, you want her getting that plane to leave on time. But you also want her to be aware of the infinite game which is to treat customers well because you want them to come back again – that is, there’s another thing that happens after this; it’s not just getting the plane off on time.
You want the most senior leaders to play predominantly an infinite game – thinking long term, advancing the vision. But you want them to be aware of the finite because their decisions ripple down and have an impact in the organization.
If you’re in the middle, you have to be able to translate and play both. It is most difficult – talking about the two types of games and understanding the game that you’re in. Because you play by the rules for the game that you’re in. You don’t always play finite, you don’t always play infinite, sometimes you have to adjust.
If you have a new business pitch there’s a beginning, middle and end to that; it is finite. Winning a customer is finite. Taking care of a customer is infinite, governance is infinite.
There’s a context and it’s not about one or the other – it’s about understanding the continuum and understanding where we are in the continuum. Senior management can help middle management understand that the difficulty of their job is the transition they’re in and trying to give them as much context and coaching as possible because most things break in the middle.