Managing Diagonally

September 22, 2020

Managing Diagonally

In the hierarchy of the workplace, most of us have people below us, people above us and people adjacent to us. We also have myriad people who are in other departments, people who are neither our supervisors nor our direct reports. 

In order for a company to have the greatest chance for a 10x-level culture, the management of talent has to flow in all directions. It is among the highest priorities for those with power to create an environment where this can exist. 

To state it another way, no team can function at its best in an atmosphere where a subordinate does not feel comfortable sharing ideas with people above and adjacent to them. 

Moreover, as each talent rises through the ranks, they will likely manage more people. This means that the spirit in which they were “raised” by the company will proliferate, for better or worse. 

To foster a culture of support, openness, and safety, those above you need to protect you and give you the latitude to express your ideas in full; those adjacent to you need to feel sufficiently empowered to help sing your praises and receive praise from you; and those beneath you must be emboldened to offer you support and come to you with their ideas, challenges and disasters. Good will and empowerment rarely “trickle down” and they certainly are even less likely to “trickle up.” The spirit of close, cooperative interdependence has to emanate everywhere, and flow freely between all involved parties. 

Don’t Let Negativity Prevail

Without a culture of symbiotic positivity, you can guess what happens. Political infighting festers, the aggressive push aside the meek and an environment of cagey silence pervades, top to bottom. To anyone who has experienced this kind of workplace—and, unfortunately, most have at least once in their career—it would not be an overstatement to call it a living nightmare of toxicity. In today’s economy it’s worse than a nightmare, because that kind of environment is going to turn off the best and brightest, and once you lose the talent war, you completely limit a company’s ability to compete and excel.

If the spirit of symbiotic positivity seems like a universally acknowledged good, it’s also true that, historically, the opposite spirit often prevails. To this day, many company management cultures err on the side of fear, silence and “every person for themselves.” 

Moreover, even when relations are not adversarial, there can exist a natural disconnect between those who run the day-to-day and those who build the future. 

360° management—not to be confused with 360° reviews—is our prescriptive measure for building bridges and thriving in the workplace. It’s about turning your managers, your peers and your subordinates into the great managers. We understand that 360° management is an aspirational ideal, but the striving itself is a crucial step on the road to an individual and/or a company becoming 10x. 

Management vs Leadership

Dealing with your manager is often the hardest part of any job. Not every manager has the tools, the training, or the proclivity to be great at guiding others. It’s a truism that people often rise to their level of incompetence and nowhere is this more evident than with regard to managerial style. The top brass are not always those with the highest EQ. After all, the difference between management and leadership is huge. See below for an example.

SCENARIO: Managing diagonally 

GOAL: “I want to support a member or members of my team that are below me, though I may or may not be their manager.” 

SITUATION: “I know that a supportive environment helps with job satisfaction and overall performance, and I want to be a part of making my workplace supportive by encouraging and going to bat for those below me on my team. I also know our wagons are hitched so want to help them succeed as it will be beneficial to our whole group.” 

ACTION: 
1.    Get to know the members of my team who are below me. 
2.    Determine those members that are really fantastic and then sing their praises. 
3.    For those who are not quite as developed, give them guidance and support where feasible.

BYPRODUCT: Leading by example will hopefully be contagious and other members of your leadership team will behave the same way, either by singing your praises or singing the praises and/or mentoring those below them. 

PITFALLS: It’s feasible you back a bad horse and someone whom you are singing the praises of either does something bad or doesn’t reciprocate with you when they are in a position to do so. Obviously backing a bad horse won’t win you any favor, but don’t let that alone prevent you from continuing to champion and mentor those beneath you who are deserving. Karmic points are won in all circumstances.

Adapted from Game Changer: How to Be 10x in the Talent Economy (HarperCollins Leadership, September 22, 2020).

The Authors: 

Michael Solomon is the co-author of Game Changer: How to Be 10x in the Talent Economy and co-founder of 10x Management. 

Rishon Blumberg is the co-author of Game Changer: How to Be 10x in the Talent Economy and co-founder of 10x Management.