stuck in the middle with you

Stuck in the Middle With You

The other day I got the kind of feedback that kicks you in the gut and makes your brain hurt for days. I’m sure you know the kind, it stings with truth, but you’ve got a gazillion counter points you would never say out loud, for fear of appearing to not be listening. It’s from an amazing leader who worked on my team for several years, and is a regular reader of LGL.

This is a long one, so for those of you who prefer a musical soundtrack with your pondering, click here.

She writes:

One area of frustration for me in business is much like my frustration in the collection and recording of history down through time, and that is the winners make the history, it’s from their perspective and rarely is it all-inclusive of the realities of the time. Many leaders go through their career (certainly once they get to a higher level) believing that their station or title in their company validates that their perspective is somehow best, or more insightful. These leaders don’t leverage the best from their people or their organizations, and the idea that they understand how their employees feel is somewhat silly. To me your book represents a leader saying why and how I should relate to them, excuse them, allow for and understand their human nature.

That’s where the disconnect was for me, at what point do leaders really need to understand, and act on how their behaviors, their decisions affect the masses below them? In short I want leaders to improve, have better sight, understand and truly grow about those in their care. I want leaders to see more than market share, and stack ranks. I want leaders to see and appreciate intention, effort and of course results. But more over I want leaders to be real with me, and I want them to strive as hard to understand me as I strive to understand them. In doing this leaders improve the lives and careers of their employees.

Karin I think you are a great leader and I will admit I expect a lot from you, to that end the brilliance I’ve seen in your past writing and have referenced and yes even bragged about to others simply was not here for me. Frankly this seemed safe, when what all leaders really need (throughout their careers) is to be grabbed by the shoulders and shaken from time to time and forced to remember from whence they came, to understand the politics of our world are their making, and thusly they have the power to unmake it. Knowing that leaders in business buy and read this type of book, I feel you have the knowledge and credibility to improve them in their view down their chain of command as opposed to another attempt to give line employees better understanding of how and why their bosses do what they do so they can advance.

The gist of the issue: Hey, whose side are you on here? The imperfect bosses or the people?
The short answer is: Yes.

You see, I’ve been running around talking to every podcast, radio station, or media outlet sharing my opinion that your boss is just an imperfect human being doing the best she can, just like you. I’ve been firing people up and empowering them with practical tools and advice for advancing their career, even if their boss is a jerk. I believe strongly that helping people defend themselves against an imperfect system and regaining their power is vital.

And I’ve also seen the other side. I do agree there are leaders who need to be “grabbed by the shoulders and shaken from time to time.” I can’t stand the arrogance and abused power. I hate it when leaders forget about the human beings they’ve been entrusted to support. I worry about a system that over-grooms their leaders and the cycle of intimidation continues. I cringe when leaders are too busy to understand their impact.

The question on the table: Am I cutting the leaders too much slack?
The longer answer is: Yes and no.

We’re All Stuck In The Middle of Something

Sure the system is imperfect. People are imperfect. There are good guys and bad guys at every level. I’ve learned a heck of a lot about getting unstuck on both sides of the equation. I must help, and will do everything in my power to help you, them, and the guys in the middle.

We must work together to create the conversation that will build better organizations through meaningful visions, great cultures, and brilliant execution. Such results come from imperfect, inspired people who care for the big picture – at every level.

I’m not ready to pick a side. The best good I can do is right here, stuck in the middle – with you.

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Career & Learning, Communication, Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , , , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. What can I say? Leadership is not easy.

    To become a great leader takes consistent actions.

    Most companies approach leadership as a quick fix. They have everyone take an aspirin vs. a quality multivitamin.

    Behavioral change takes time.

    • Steve, Indeed. It does take time and it’s never handled. Thanks as always for weighing in.

  2. Hi Karin,
    I really think this comes down to a matter of perception. Not everyone perceives the boss the same way. For example, you detail multiple scenes in your book like, “My boss if fine, but his boss scares me out of my socks” or “What if my boss is moody.” What if it’s only myself who finds the boss moody, or what if it is only me who is scared of my boss’s boss? Who then needs this book more? My boss, or me?

    Shelves are full of books directing leaders to be this way or that way, but we cannot change a leader – it must come from within. What we can do is change ourselves – our thinking, and that is what your book offers.

    • Bill, thanks for you great insights as always. You raise a very good point. Relationships are tricky and what inpsires one person may really drive another person crazy.

  3. Karin –
    Absolutely right – in order to foster understanding, a leader must encourage others to view challenges, opportunities, and solutions from many different perspectives. This is essence of being a good leader and is best performed from representing what I would term the middle-high ground. Middle from the view of needing to challenge and broaden the thoughts of colleagues, peers, leaders, followers. High ground in this instance representing ensuring the dialogue is professional and constructive. One thing that I have learned in my leadership experience is that I don’t get to complain about anything which is within my power to change.

  4. Thanks so much for your honesty, boldness, and transparency in sharing this response with the rest of us!

    So much of what we read in leadership books and posts is idealism. It’s the way things should work in a perfect world, and as idealists we keep hoping that our contribution will be THE difference.

    And it might be, to one person. But if the message is heard by only one boss, isn’t that a success? As you say, imperfect bosses are real people. By their nature they are focused, intense, and driven.

    The real success comes from helping people at all levels become more self-aware. As they climb that ladder, and maintain and respect their self-awareness, this awareness will leak through in their dealings with others.

    Talk to people where they are…and as they move through the organizational structure, they will take along the wisdom you and others give them.

    • LaRae, Thanks so much. I hear you. I do believe in meeting people where they are and doing the best we can. I also believe in catching folks as early in their career as possible to instill good habits. That’s why I’m so focused on building great leadership at the front line.

  5. I see the point, and to a point I agree. We leaders need to have our shoulders shaken and we need to be held to a high standard, as we hold others to that same standard.

    that said, lots of followers find themselves being led by really inadequate uninspiring leaders and they need to know it’s no excuse and they should and Can rise to the occasion. I think if people took that message to heart, in some cases those imperfect leaders could also rise the occasion, but that is hoping for alot.

  6. Yep, I agree. While there seem to be a few “natural” leaders that do everything right the first time, most of us seem to grow into the position of good manager, good leader. I believe that good managers often grow from “bad boss” by learning how to treat people well, deliver individual attention, and receiving respect and appreciation themselves. John Maxwell teaches us (THE FIVE LEVELS OF LEADERSHIP) that there are distinct stages of growth, and leadership is an evolutionary experience that one attains by working hard through the challenges, and getting better as one proceeds.

  7. The question is: “Am I cutting the leaders too much slack?”

    My answer is, “No.” The book isn’t about taking sides. It answers a real concern for a lot of people. They have a boss that’s flawed. Some are flawed a lot. Some are flawed a little. Some are getting better. Some are not.

    But if you’re that person who’s stuck with that boss, you could use some ideas about what to do. That’s what the book does, it gives the people with the imperfect boss an idea of what to do.

    You also have a section in the book about becoming the boss you wish you had. I think that will mean that down there road there may be more good bosses than there are now.

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