Serve Up, Coach Down: Mastering the Middle and Both Sides of Leadership

Serve Up, Coach Down: Mastering the Middle and Both Sides of Leadership

by Nathan Jamail


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Shows leaders in the middle just how powerful they are without pretending that leading employees and reporting to bosses don't require different skills. It fills the gap between the books those leaders read and the information they actually need and answers the big questions that constantly confound leaders and their companies:

  • Why do leaders who care about their teams still struggle to gain their boss's approval?
  • Why do those same leaders who feel they serve their teams have so much difficulty getting teams to step it up and go beyond the basic requirements of their jobs?
  • Why do leaders have issues getting other divisions in the organization to do more, so that their teams don't have to do more than their share?

The answer: Leaders in the middle too often serve down to their people and defend up to their bosses, instead of serving up to their bosses and coaching down to their employees.

This is why so many companies struggle to innovate and get stuck—leaving everyone frustrated and looking for answers. Serve Up, Coach Down changes all that. Great leaders don't feed their people fish; they coach them on how to fish for themselves and then beat the competition by catching more fish. Those people in return serve their leaders and the people those leaders report to by delivering maximum performance for the organization. Achieving that performance, however, requires leaders in the middle to focus, have confidence, and commit to changing their mindsets.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781632651495
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 10/01/2018
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,188,737
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Nathan Jamail doesn't just write about leadership, he has lived it, in a 25-year career spent in sales management and coaching top-performing teams. After fifteen years in corporate America he created and built a mortgage company, a group of dry cleaners, and a series of children's art studios before starting his speaking and consulting firm, Jamail Development Group, which helps leaders and organizations in all industries and has been recognized by Leadership Excellence as a top development company in the nation. Jamail has led seminars and workshops at more than 60 companies including Cisco, FedEx, State Farm, T-Rowe Price, The Hartford, Comcast, Microsoft, the US Army Reserve, Georgia Pacific, Capital One Finance, and US Healthworks. He is the author of four bestselling business books, and his articles on leadership and selling skills have appeared in the Commercial Appeal, the Drake Business Review, Small Business Opportunities, Canadian Manager Magazine, and Home Business Magazine.

Read an Excerpt


Serve Your Boss and You Serve Your Team

"Nathan, I'm going to meet with my boss to let him know that my team cannot succeed with only three managers. I used to have four, as you know, but they never let me fill the position when Lisa left. It's just too much for us, man."

I could feel the tension through the phone in Steve's voice. Steve is the director of eight regional rehabilitation centers in California. He's good at his job and a well-liked and even respected leader, especially by his boss. But the stress was getting to him: After Lisa left for another job, the company decided to try and reorganize instead of filling her position. Steve's boss told him the team would have do the work with three managers for the time being.

Did you restructure the team and responsibilities like your boss asked?

"Who has time for that? You know I told him two weeks ago about how I stepped in to do some of Lisa's work in order to keep the team focused, and as a result, I don't have time for my director responsibilities."

But your responsibility is to be a director, not a manager. What have you asked of your team?

"Asked? Nothing. They were already overworked. I'm willing to put my job on the line for my demands. We need another manager for us to be successful."

Steve paused for a moment, but I said nothing. Cue awkward silence. Maybe he was expecting encouragement for his willingness to stand up to his boss for his team and himself. But if Steve was expecting praise from me, he was mistaken. What Steve was saying might have sounded good to him, but it was a terrible idea.

He finally broke the silence: "I'm going to do it, Nathan."

I pounced: Don't you dare. If I were your boss and you told me this, I would be looking to replace you.

"What? Why would you say that?" You haven't put a plan in place and even tried to make it work with three managers. You haven't acted on what the boss told you to do, but you're acting like you failed. You've done nothing but allow your fear of what you think will happen determine your actions.

"But ... I need to protect my team."

That's the fear talking. You say your team can't handle any more work — that they are already spread too thin, but you didn't demand anything from them to empower them. You defended and protected them. You even stepped in to perform some of the tasks. All because you think you know this can't be done — that if you give them more work, they might quit. But you don't know anything. Think about that.

Steve promised he would think about it. I hoped he would. He had a chance to learn perhaps the essential skill for leading from the middle: understanding what it means to serve up so you can serve your people by coaching down.

Defending Up Versus Demanding Down

Why was I so hard on Steve? It may seem that he was being a selfless and strong leader by standing up for his team to his boss and the company. He was serving his people by defending and protecting them, right? Wrong. Steve did the exact opposite of what he needed to do to make his team more successful, his boss more confident in his leadership, and him a powerful leader in the middle: He defended up and protected down instead of demanding down and serving up.

Defending up and protecting down — exemplified in this case by Steve trying to make his boss understand that his team was doing its best but was overworked — is a fatalist and a warped leadership mindset. We do a disservice to our people by serving them the same way we do our leaders, because what that usually leads to is serving down, not serving up. While Steve thought he was serving his people, he needed to demand down to serve up.

Serving up is how leaders in the middle exceed the expectations given by their bosses and the organization, deliver the best results, and demand more from their teams.

Coaching down is how leaders in the middle serve their teams, demanding more and empowering the people on those teams to serve their leaders and the organizations, while pushing them to exceed all expectations.

Your people don't need protection from your boss or your boss's bosses. Your people need leaders who believe in them. Who know they can thrive when faced with difficult challenges and setbacks. Who want to build on their successes. Who yearn to have a mission and a purpose.

When you defend your team, you are taking all that away. You are telling your people and those who they report to that the team (and you) are weak and incapable or unwilling to do more. Strong leaders in the middle know demanding and defending are contradictory actions, so they choose to demand down. They know the more their people are challenged and pushed, the more they achieve. And to do that genuinely and authentically requires a serve up mindset.

Stop Protecting Down

Steve's issue with his boss and company was based on headcount and fear that the reorganization would be too much work for his team. Did it matter that his boss and the company believed the work could be reorganized and done without the fourth manager? No. He wanted to maintain the status quo, and the status quo told him it was impossible before he even implemented it. So he defended up instead of serving up.

Steve needed to stop seeing his managers as over-worked, taken advantage of, unappreciated, and in need of protection. He needed to let the team members know that they were capable of doing more. He needed to push them to be better. Instead, despite all the countless studies that show failure is often productive to learning and growth, Steve feared and anticipated failure and sought to avoid it before it even happened.

This is exactly what Steve did in the months that followed: He shifted his mindset from defending up to demanding down. He realized he could not solve his manager's problems. In fact, he might even have created and enabled them himself. By protecting them, he had become unengaged and unaware of their strengths and limitations. He stepped back and took a hard look at his three remaining managers and what the team needed to do to serve the company: reduce overall cost and increase efficiency.

When he did, he discovered that the issue was not the lack of a fourth manager, rather the lack of success of his current three. He realized his strongest manager was capable of much more, the second manager lacked the professional development necessary to deliver what he was capable of, and the weakest manager was likely in the wrong job and causing the team entire team to struggle. So he put the strongest manager in charge of all the clinics, took the time to develop one manager and saw great improvement, and moved the weakest manager to a new role that better aligned with her skills as he looked to hire a new manager that could take the team to the next level. As a result, Steve not only has gotten more out of his team by demanding down but also gotten more out of himself.

Will Steve's success lead to the results the company expects? He's turned himself and his expectations of his team around, but can he sustain it? That remains to be seen. Not all turnarounds end in increased profits and happier employees. Sometimes success is just measured in the awareness of the issues that a leader is unaware of. And I'll be honest with you: Steve's story was still being written as I wrote this book. But in my experience, a leader in the middle knowing what those problems are and struggling to solve them while implementing the company's plan is far better than a leader having success but not understanding the problems and serving down by protecting up.

You're Doing It Wrong. Yes, You.

Too many leaders in the middle have similar problems to Steve. In fact, the week I spoke to Steve I heard similar complaints from two other clients. For example, Susan had an issue with implementation of a new CRM tool. Despite being a strong manager, she feared making the employees use the tool would make them less successful and they might quit. Did it matter that the company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this tool believing it would maximize the success of the employees, the company, and the clients? No. She resisted it and was exploring a new way. She chose to protect her team from the change she feared and defended up instead of serving up.

On the face of it, Susan might seem justified with her defense. This was the second CRM tool the organization had tried to implement in the last two years. The first one had struggled to achieve success and employee buy-in. But that justification only works if the tool was the problem, and the tool wasn't the issue. It almost never is — nor was it her bosses. No, the issue was Susan used it as an excuse for not serving up by demanding down. The issue was her fear of change and demanding that she and her people learn something. The only way to overcome it was to see the tool as valuable not just for the company but as something the team could leverage for the success of the company thus making themselves more valuable.

As we will cover more in depth in Part 7, leaders in the middle mistake resistance as a way to increase their leverage and power when it is the exact opposite. Compliance isn't the path to success either. It's serving up by demanding success not making excuses, which is what Susan learned when she demanded that her team (and she) master the new CRM tool. She took away any idea of "negotiation" from her followers. She made it clear she wasn't asking for feedback on the company's decision or the need to list all its problems. The CRM tool was not what was being evaluated — they were. She demanded they all use the tool and update it with all the knowledge they had on their customers to be more aware of any issues those customers had and anticipate any future needs. Once the benefits of learning and implementing the CRM tool was viewed as more valuable than the fear and pain of implementing it, they stepped up to the challenge.

Next up was a senior leader from a Fortune 100 company who wanted me to help find a way to deal with Jonathan, one of his directors. Jonathan's issue was a bigger, more evolved version of Steve's. He had been a leader at the company for years but had constantly been passed over for promotion. Everyone liked him, but few liked working with him, even when the team was successful and especially when it wasn't. He was the leader in the middle that his bosses would joke about: "Who gets Jonathan this time?"

What could be done about Jonathan? What was wrong? Could he be saved? Turns out, Jonathan wasn't in need of saving. He was just misguided.

When I spoke to Jonathan, his bosses, and his teams to understand what was going on, I found a similar theme in what they said: Before any project, Jonathan always told his people that he would protect them from his bosses and the organization. When his team missed their goals or failed, he had them write reports on the reasons (most of those reasons were beyond their control). He would then turn those reports into his bosses, explaining that it was not the team's fault; they were "doing everything they could within their control."

Because of this constant blaming of others and the company, Jonathan was difficult for his bosses to manage because he never served up — never served anyone. By playing the blame game, Jonathan treated his team members as victims; they often felt helpless and incapable of achieving their goals. At the same time, his bosses knew that no matter their expectations for his team, he would spend as much time finding reasons why his team couldn't meet them than trying to achieve them.

If Jonathan, like Steve and Susan, shifted his mindset from defending up to serving up, he would change how he engaged his team and start coaching them to exceed expectations instead of protecting them from those expectations.

The Serve Up Mindset

As I said at the start of this book, I spent most of my corporate career in middle management as a regional manager of stores and employees, a sales manager of a business-to-business sales team, and a director of sales managing managers. I found success in each of these positions because I lived by a simple principle a mentor once told me: "Your job is to make your boss look good."

These were not just words to me; they became the foundation of my leadership belief system. Sure, I made mistakes, and sometimes I was not sure why my boss asked me to do things. But I didn't let fear or my ego get in the way of serving my boss to make him look good. What serving up really came down to then is the same thing it comes down to in the situations faced by Steve, Susan, and Jonathan, or in most situations: accountability instead of fear of the new, the different, failure, that your people will quit ...

Stop the fear and shift your mindset! Fear in business is nothing but worry about what might happen. No one and nothing is to blame for that fear consuming you as a leader except you — not the tools, employees, or your boss's expectations. Your problems are leadership issues compounded by defending up instead of demanding down.

If the expectations as explained to you are not unethical, illegal, causing you or anyone else physical pain or abuse, or immoral, your job is to serve, not defend, up!

If the expectations are that employees will be more successful, the company will achieve its goal, and clients and customers will win, your job is to demand your people achieve that goal. And if your people fail or decide they are no longer a good fit? So be it!

Be Better, Faster, Stronger

On the old TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin — an astronaut left barely alive from an accident — is turned into "The Bionic Man" to make him "better, faster, stronger." My client Steve was more than alive, generating six million dollars in revenue for his company when I started working with him. Like Susan, Jonathan, and many leaders in the middle, he was not unsuccessful. Yet he still needed to be better, faster, and stronger. But he didn't need a bionic arm or legs. He just needed to shift his mindset to serve up instead of defending up.

It all comes down to human nature: We know change and risk are sometimes necessary. Yet in the face of them our instinct is comfort (flight), not change (fight). In this case, that means leaders in the middle defend up, because they not only feel it is the nice and noble thing to do but also because it allows them to keep doing what they're doing. It's uncomfortable to demand more and push harder.

But while defending up might be comfortable short term, it's actually harmful because it maintains the status quo. It doesn't compel you or your people to expect more from yourselves. It encourages complacency. It compels you to justify the team's limitations and your own instead of demanding more. What team wants that?

By changing one's mindset to serve up by demanding down, you become a leader your boss and team respects. Your boss respects you, because you don't demand anything but the best from your people. Your people respect you, because you want them to be better and thus strive to achieve what you empower them to do. And if anyone calls you a suckup? Well, they just don't get it.


Serving Up Is Not Sucking Up

As he launched into the most important part of his presentation, the regional vice president's microphone started having problems. This was an important presentation from one of the most senior people at my company. There were only three regions, and each had only one VP who answered directly to the C-suite. In the audience was that entire C-suite, as well as the two other regional VPs and every member of their executive teams. And this guy sounded like a wireless call cutting in and out. None of us could understand him.

Thank you ... the most important ... if you consider last year's ... for growth ...

As a regional director, my boss was one of the other regional VPs, and all I could think at first was thank the lord it wasn't him presenting. But before that thought turned into any action on my part to help, the regional director who served the VP on stage jumped up out of his seat, ran to the AV team, and grabbed a new mic so his boss could continue his speech. The whole exchange took only minutes.

While all this was happening, the person next to me nudged my arm and whispered, "Look at that suck-up. His daddy's mic is not working, so he kisses his ass so fast that he gets him a new mic before the AV team does." I didn't respond, but as the mic was being wired up he continued: "Man, if my VP's mic does not work, he can get his own new mic. He's a grown man. I'm not here to wipe his nose."

No, he wasn't. Neither was I. Neither was the regional director whose VP was quickly back on the horse and riding through his presentation. Only one of us, however, saw what the regional director did as sucking up, not serving up. And that wasn't me.


Excerpted from "Serve Up Coach Down"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Nathan Jamail.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Leader in the Middle 1

Part 1 Serving Up

Chapter 1 Serve Your Boss and You Serve Your Team 7

Chapter 2 Serving Up Is Not Sucking Up 17

Chapter 3 Serving Peers, Coworkers, and Customers 29

Chapter 4 Start Serving Up Now! 41

Part 2 Coaching Down

Chapter 5 Coaching (Not Managing) Your Team 47

Chapter 6 Surviving Versus Thriving 57

Chapter 7 Hold Your People to Higher Standards 67

Chapter 8 Start Coaching Down Now! 73

Part 3 Serving and Coaching in Uncertain Times

Chapter 9 Changing the Speed of Change 79

Chapter 10 Workplace Change: The New Boss 87

Chapter 11 Marketplace Change: Centralizing Services 97

Chapter 12 Remember: Only "How" People Allowed 107

Part 4 Bridging the Knowledge Gap

Chapter 13 The Knowledge Gap Is the Black Hole of Greatness 113

Chapter 14 Lack of Will 117

Chapter 15 Lack of Skill 127

Chapter 16 Maintaining the Bridge 135

Part 5 Choosing Time Management

Chapter 17 Get Your Priorities Straight 141

Chapter 18 The Must-Do List 151

Chapter 19 A Tale of Two Leaders 159

Part 6 Everyone Is Important, but No One Is Required

Chapter 20 What Have You Done for Me Lately? Loyalty Versus Accountability 169

Chapter 21 You Owe Me: Loyalty Versus Tenure 177

Chapter 22 Choose Wisely: Sacrifice Versus Decision 187

Chapter 23 Dreaming Big to Be Big: Loyalty and High Performance 191

Part 7 Keeping the Power

Chapter 24 Own Your Power 199

Chapter 25 The Power Is in the Goal, Not Being Right 207

Chapter 26 It's Never "Me Versus the World" 215

Conclusion: Commit to Personal Growth 221

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