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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Wait! Include the Mid-Level Leadership Team

Mid-level leaders make critical contributions to organizational culture and missions.

Federal agencies, their partners in the private sector, and other organizations often place extreme emphasis on leadership excellence at the top levels of executive management. But in the most effective organizations, great leadership is demonstrated at all levels, and the middle layer of management remains a critical function. As executive leaders, we must continue to focus on developing mid-level leadership, and view it as fertile ground to grow and cultivate organizational culture.

Executive involvement in leadership development has a profound impact on achievement. In fact, the 2021 Leadership Development Survey by Michael Leimbach showed that high-performing organizations are more than twice as likely to have executives who are actively engaged in leading discussions and work groups, setting goals, and making public statements on the importance of leadership development.

Here are some key leadership tips that I have found to be essential:

Coach employees to “work hard” – but it’s not your grandfather’s version of hard work

Having been raised by my grandparents who grew up in the 1940s, I often heard, “Always work hard, show up on time, put in effort, and don’t cut corners.” I appreciated this and always interpreted it in the physical realm with the expectation that we toil at work for long hours. But we’ve seen a paradigm shift in the work environment in recent years. In the most effective organizations, the modern workplace is more collaborative, diverse and engaged in a unified mission to meet organizational objectives.

The responsibility rests with executive leaders to create an environment that fosters creative and strategic work that leads to innovative solutions to common challenges. In successful organizations, innovation is a critical element of continued success. As an agile security agency with a professional and highly trained workforce, TSA has an imperative to think beyond convention to lead a new era in transportation security.

To shine a light on that leadership imperative, TSA developed and published its Innovation Doctrine as a methodology for the kind of leadership and disciplined initiative that is necessary to drive new and diverse thinking about potential solutions to common security challenges within the transportation network.

Facilitate employee engagement and innovation

As the threat landscape continues to evolve, TSA’s culture and people must be prepared to adapt to changing processes, systems and technologies that allow us to stay ahead of emerging threats.

Many believe innovation is all about technology, but it actually depends on our greatest asset: people. Modern machines and the latest software do not guarantee better outcomes. Our ability to anticipate new threats and mitigate them remains a human and leadership endeavor – powered by the concept of leadership and buy-in at all levels of the organization.

Encourage self-development

My perspective on working hard changed early in my career. I realized I had to focus on developing the best version of myself to be a successful leader. Internal growth starts with finding a strong mentor who sets good examples, provides honest feedback, and isn’t afraid to consider alternative ideas. Other effective tools include 360-degree mentoring, where employees receive feedback from both people they lead and those they report to. Mentoring up and mentoring down are effective ways for leaders at all levels to share what they know and gain new knowledge.

Leaders throughout organizations need to focus on self-development. Given that change is inevitable and growth is optional, leaders must challenge themselves, seek competitive educational programs and volunteer for new opportunities. These leaders will gain a holistic perspective of their organization, enhance their skill levels, and ultimately improve themselves professionally.

Inspire and, above all, show respect

Leaders at all levels – executives, managers, and team members – must demonstrate respect. They must respect themselves and others. By recognizing that each employee deserves respect and understanding, the leader nurtures a positive culture and influences change more proficiently. In my own growth, I learned the importance of leading with respect and managing emotional response to career progression. With the pressure of managing up and leading down as a middle-level manager, these skills are essential. It really is about the “Golden Rule” and treating others how we would like to be treated.

Organizational achievement and culture depends on leaders at all levels.

Dwaine Murray
Dwaine Murray is the Transportation Security Administration’s Deputy Federal Security Director at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Key West International Airports. Mr. Murray has over 20 years of federal experience in transportation security, overseeing and directing security programs for more than 1,200 transportation security personnel. He has a track record of success at leading large, complex aviation security projects, including multi-million dollar technological and infrastructure upgrades at international and domestic airports. Mr. Murray’s accomplishments have earned him high-level recognition by receiving the TSA Honorary Award for Transportation Security Administration Representative (TSAR) of the Year in FY22 – the agency’s top honor.

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