As a middle manager, I play the role of buffer between my team and my supervisor or other hierarchical stakeholders.  This is a stressful and exhausting position as I am constantly trying to meet the needs of these two groups while often not taking the time to check in with myself.  Additionally, while managing the expectations and feelings, I don’t feel like I am getting enough actual work done.  This creates an additional burden for me related to performance expectations I have for myself as well as my own job satisfaction.

(Photo by Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

A role conflict exists for people like me as we try to manage the ever changing dynamics between these two groups.  How are we supposed to be everything to everyone all the time?  When are our needs being met?  What are our needs, do we even know anymore?  How is this affecting my family?  These are all questions I ask myself when I am overwhelmed with navigating this circumstance.  Sometimes it is so overwhelming that I take one of those beloved “mental health days” just to get a break.

Running away clearly isn’t going to do anything, so what can we do as a cohort (I know there are more of you out there), to relieve this complicated burden?  I have found personally that taking the time to be mindful of the things I can control is helpful.  And just like the serenity prayer says, letting go of the things I cannot change is a big one too.  If I limit what my actual scope of influence is versus what everyone else thinks it should be, I am able to better manage myself, and then I can better manage others too. 

This phenomenon isn’t new.  Just Googling “middle manager buffer,” yields several articles, blogs, videos and podcasts dedicated to the subject.  One article suggests that a proactive personality can serve as a coping resource for people experiencing this conflict.  Another that I found reinforces that sentiment by reframing your position as a conduit or pipeline  for information between these two groups.  This is a tremendous value as so many of us can relate to a time where upper management tries to implement something for the end user that is suboptimal.  In this instance we have an opportunity to put on our advocacy hat to influence change for the better.  THAT is a wonderful thing.

Being a middle manager is rarely rainbows and sunshine, but we are fortunate in that we DO have a seat at the table and are able to make valuable change for the people actually running the show (not the CEOs).  The key to OUR success in this arena is to not go crazy whilst waiting for those opportunities which can be few and far between. 

I encourage you to find your people, stay mindful, and seize the opportunity to make positive change when you see it!


One of my employees gave notice this week.  When people leave, it is hard.  It puts additional strain on the rest of the team to provide continuity of operations, and it is sad to have people move on.  As she was sitting with me in my office, she said she couldn’t be happy for her new opportunity until she had told me.  That was a strange statement to hear as a leader.  As I sit and contemplate what that meant to me and my leadership, and try to stifle the fear of how that work is going to get covered, I want to share what this person has meant to me during my career.

I started off as an office of ONE, diligently working to grow support infrastructure for clinical research.  Nancy, was the first person I hired to help me in this treasured endeavor.  I recruited her from another office in the school and she was familiar with organizational processes. This was a tremendous value added as I was not equipped to do the strategy and the practical pieces of building this unit.

Nancy jumped on board wholeheartedly.  She helped develop processes, handled the project management with extreme organization (we never missed a deadline), and was hands down the most proficient outreach event planner I have ever encountered.  In addition to these practical skills, she became a trusted mentor.  As a new director, I was constantly challenged with adversity related to the behavior (and entitlement) of seasoned academics.  She reinforced my good decisions, protected my time, and most importantly, told me what I needed  to hear as a new leader.

I came to know just how wonderful and competent she was when she began to take on more than her share of the work, and started to assist with grant preparation.  We worked together to define a new role, and promoted her into it.  She thrived in this new position!  She attended professional development conferences, drafted policies, and became a trusted resource for all of campus.  She was a key contributor to training workshops for new employees, and started to standardize the application process for the school.

Reflecting on all that we built together in the last 3 years, the ONLY feeling I have about her departure is pride.  I am so proud of her.  She has taken this opportunity to create a niche for herself where she can be even more successful.  She made me a better leader. The kind of leader I want for myself. She taught me how to protect myself against people who could take advantage of me, and encouraged me when I felt like I wasn’t good enough.  Her counsel will forever be ingrained in my leadership style.

I encourage you to treasure your people while you have them, and celebrate their prosperity when they leave.  If you are a worthy leader, then their success is your success too.

Photo by Clipart

Happy trails Nancy!  I literally could not have done it without you!


Photo by Clipart

The subject of advocacy has come up a lot recently so I figured it must be the universe telling me to write about it.  As a leader, advocating for your teams is crucial to keep that hard-earned trust you have been building. Through modeling this behavior, you create a culture that empowers individuals.  This equips them to take on challenges with a creative mind and new thinking.

The need for advocacy has never been more important than now.  As we come out of the pandemic, and folks are being asked to return to the workplace from their home offices, it is up to leaders to understand where there people are, and be their voice in the appropriate venues.  Often the front line administrators are not privy to these discussions so they need to know they have someone to speak on their behalf.

I had an example present itself to me at work recently where an email went out from a department chair to their administrators which indicated that they WILL be returning to the office on April 15th as long as they had been vaccinated.  Remember the informal network of admins that gets things done from my first blog? Well they got ahold of this information and were understandably upset at the prospect.  I assured them that I had no plans to rearrange the current work modalities of our unit, and that the Dean was aware of this as well.  A collective “Whew” was exhaled.

First, this email mandate clearly came from someone who was seriously disconnected from their department.  There was no consideration made for school aged children, fear, or the fact that they are likely getting their work done just fine where they are.  This leader wasn’t just closed minded, but lazy too.  Had they taken just a small amount of time each week they probably would have had a better idea about the mindset of their people. 

Advocacy works both ways – you need one too.  We forget that as leaders because we are so focused on being the best for their teams.  As middle managers, it is crucial to have our issues heard at the higher levels.  I encourage you to find your advocate and communicate openly and honestly with them on the things that bother you.  The overall leader deserves to hear the things they need to hear to make the organization better.

Advocacy builds resilient organizations who are more likely to work harder and stay longer.  They are loyal because they trust that their views matter, and that somebody who can do something with the information will hear it. Advocacy increases out of the box solutions to common problems.

I encourage you to keep your eyes open for any opportunity to advocate for your teams.  You have worked so hard to get them to trust you, don’t take it for granted.

For vs. With: How are you showing the value of your team to others?

When talking about what you and the people you work with, how do you refer to them?  Do you say, “I work with Johnny…” or “Johnny works for me.”?  The distinction might seem small but it is so important.  If you are really a team, then you should refer to them truly as collaborators.  Relaying the value of your team in even this small way can speak volumes about what kind of leader you are.  More importantly, the difference can be indicative of how you truly feel about them and interact with them as a leader.

Recently I caught myself saying one of my best employees worked for me. Immediately after the words left my mouth, I thought about the impact of that statement and how it didn’t really reflect her contributions to the successes of the institution we work for, or to our individual successes as professionals.  More importantly, I thought about what she would think if she had heard me refer to her that way?  Would she notice?  Maybe not, but why take that chance?

As a leader, it is important to take even the smallest opportunity to show the value of your teams to others.  These small tokens build trust and foster relationships beyond supervisor and subordinate.  In a previous blog, I talked about the benefit of bringing different types of employees to the table.  What I didn’t mention is how to continue to foster these collaborations through maintaining trust.  This gesture helps to do just that.

Photo credit: RD.com

In another blog on recognition and appreciation, I discussed the importance of giving genuine recognition and doing it for the right reasons.  Making sure you are aware of the manner in which you refer to your teammates in any setting is a subtle nod to this.  It shows you are mindful of your impact and are aware that words matter.  Hopefully they will see you behaving this way and follow suit, setting off a cascade of free recognition throughout your organizations.

 Show your team the respect they have earned and make sure they know you are truly with them and committed to their success.  Drop me a comment to tell me some other examples of these tiny gestures and subtle ways you are working together!

Make your partner your partner

As my job became more and more demanding (and I started to feel the pressure to prove myself), I began to take my husband of 10 years for granted. He works from home (so the pandemic life was really no different for him).  He has been with me for my whole professional life.  He was the one who got me to go back to school when I was 25, and allowed me the opportunity to be a full-time student for a while.  He really is quite wonderful, so why was I treating him like he was and adversary?

The short answer is, stress.  I treated him poorly because I was under a tremendous amount of stress.  Pandemic stress, imposter syndrome stress, not feeling like I was being a good wife and mother stress, etc. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that he was willing to share some of my stress burden with me.  He was willing and able to understand some of my struggles.  My problem was not really allowing him to be there for me, and more importantly, with me.

Something I learned in graduate school was to make your partner your partner, and this stuck with me.  Sheryl Sandberg discusses this in her book Lean In.  She describes the importance of having open and transparent communication, making decisions as a team, and modeling gender equality.  Having such a steadfast partner at home was something that I was taking for granted.  I could have been leaning in to his sound advice all along.

I have since learned to make my relationship a priority., At times it can be exhausting to always be “on”, but recognizing the reasons why it is important is a valid motivator.  If you are giving your best at work and then shutting it off at home, you are wrong.  There is no more deserving audience of your greatness than your spouse and your family.

I just took a mini break from work and completely unplugged, with my husband.  There was no internet so we were just with ourselves.  I used this opportunity to reconnect and reestablish a precious relationship that is really my home base.  This simple realization gave me a tremendous sense of gratitude. 

Photo taken atop “Tinkers Knob” in the Sierra Mountains.

Being married to someone who is similarly driven is challenging, but the rewards are huge.  I am grateful to have such a worthy sounding board in my favorite place.  When my work life gets crazy, I have a very safe place to go to recharge.  I have a wonderfully exciting job, but nothing beats really sharing my life, and its challenges with someone I trust so completely.   

I found this article from a reliable source as particularly helpful for providing prospective can help with balancing your work with your relationship.  If anyone is struggling with bringing their partner into the fold of their (sometimes) professional chaos, I encourage you to take a look.  Having a stable baseline from which you can launch your brilliant career is essential for success. 

Email Civility

Email is a helpful tool which has enabled employees to stay connected and facilitate work, especially since the pandemic.  Recently, it has become a form of work in itself in regards to the intended and interpreted tone of any given email.  In addition, responding to email before and after hours has been shown to produce anxiety which is harmful to not only the employee, but for their family and colleagues as well.  As if the obligation to stay on top of emails wasn’t enough.  Incivility in email correspondence has existed since the rise in popularity in the 80’s, but now that it is a primary mode of communication the abuse is unavoidable.  How do we protect ourselves and our teams from email incivility?

We all have been cc’d on an email string that started out as a simple question and through 3-4 more people getting cc’d in, has become this huge mess of a thing with the overwhelming tone of “someone is going to burn for this form not getting filled out correctly!” Where did this conversation go wrong?  How did it go from “Hey, can I get a status on this?” to “Off with their heads!” in mere minutes? The main problem with email, is that it is impossible to determine tone or intent from just text, leaving it up to us to fill in the holes with speculation, which is dangerous. 

You can do your part to influence how people receive your emails by building trust with your colleagues ahead of time.  I touch on the importance of this in my last blog about relationships. If you are honest and transparent with your colleagues, this is the behavior they will come to expect and trust, which makes interactions over virtual means much more enjoyable and productive.  Doing work ahead of time can have huge payoffs down the road.

I have found when I am an unwilling participant in the email mob, I am compelled to respond in two ways.  On one hand, I want to jump on the bandwagon and rabble rouse with the rest.  I seldom act on this urge (thankfully), but it is there.  My usual response is to protect the target of these bullies (which are usually administrators), and redirect the conversation to actual solutions vs. accusations.  After all, are we going through all this trouble to actually get something done, or do we just want to hear ourselves talk?


This tactic has been helpful for me when I am on the receiving end of one of these nastygrams too.  Will it be worth it to me to get down in the weeds and argue, or am I better off just getting to the point of the matter to resolve the situation and move on?  The answer is clearly the latter.  The BEST part of this is that nobody has to accept fault.  We just move to get the task accomplished.  Clear the noise and pave the way.  It takes the emotion out of what should be an emotional situation, gives me the control over my reaction, and gives the end result to the jerk who wrote the initial email, and we can all move on with our lives.

Email incivility will continue to exist unless there is a huge culture shift in many organizations. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.  YOU can control how YOU respond which is all you really need to maintain.  Hopefully if you are consistent in this behavior, others will follow, and the culture will start to change too.  If not, you were able to stay on the high road despite the odds, and the view is always better from the high road.

Take in the sights from the high road my friends!  What a view!


A female leader I really admire said something so simple, yet so profound, that I felt the need to write a blog about it.  This urge was reinforced when I had a real life work experience related to the sentiment.  She said, “If you build good relationships, you will never need to negotiate.”  Insert mind blown emoji here!

The key to being successful is in building relationships.  They are literally EVERYWHERE.  In our families, at our jobs, in our schools, with our friends.  You cannot escape them.  So what makes relationships good? In my experience, being honest has been the cornerstone in building my best relationships.  Honesty builds trust and trust builds loyalty. 

I spoke about integrity in my last blog. The story there was about having the integrity know I did something wrong and the courage to admit it.  Similarly, it takes courage to be honest in difficult situations.  The reward for just doing the right thing when challenged to do so, priceless.

I had the opportunity yesterday for an honest moment with a distant colleague (she works in another department).  We were working on a difficult transaction which required several layers of approval and wasn’t specifically in line with policies.  We went back and forth over email, and the last one she sent me seemed a bit curt.  I emailed her back and told her how much I appreciated her, the work she does, explained that I wasn’t trying to be difficult or circumvent processes, and apologized for making a difficult transaction harder for her.  She wrote back thanking me for my candor and for considering her position.  She committed to helping see the transaction through, and reinforced our collective commitment to the mission of the institution. 


This might seem like a trivial example, but think about the long term effects of this small action.  Because I have shown my colleague who I am and how I operate, she will have a better understanding of my motivations, and we will be able to work better together on future projects.  If she has a question or concern, she can contact me knowing I will give her a straight answer.  Additionally, I have earned a great resource for incidental questions and a direct line for feedback where appropriate.  The feedback is coming from a now trusted source, and is therefore more likely to be acted upon rather then tossed aside.  Overall, interactions and transactions will be far more pleasant and efficient.  Doing just a little work to build this relationship and future trust will be something I can bank in perpetuity.

I encourage you to watch this short YouTube YouTube video by Simon Sinek on honesty vs. values and the effects the two of those elements have on organizational culture.  How does this resonate with you?


I behaved poorly at work today and tried to cut a corner.  Have any of you ever done that?  For the sake of time and frankly, after being bored of a conversation and eager to get back to the task at hand, I said something I shouldn’t have regarding circumventing a process.  Thankfully, the person I was working with had integrity, and went another way.  After the conversation, I was left feeling pretty disappointed with myself.  How could I do that?  I write a blog about championing administrators and here I was giving them a bad name.

The good news is, this misstep doesn’t define me.  I was able to recognize my flaw, show gratitude for my colleague for her behavior, and use this instance as a lesson.  I recently read a tweet from Adam Grant about not letting your mistakes define you .  What an important message to know.  It provides us with an escape route from a poor decision, and an opportunity to do better the next time.

Disclaimer; this only works if you are able to recognize and learn from the mistake.  Had I just chocked my lapse in judgement to stress, I would not be sitting here writing this blog.  I likely would have continued to behave in my ego, made more bad decisions, and jeopardized my relationships with my co-workers.  Further down the road, I would start to lose trust and not be able to lead effectively. 


I have found that looking inward first, before attributing fault to something external makes me a great leader.  It is kind of like seeking first to understand and then being understood for myself (Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is marvelous).  If I can’t understand where my motivations lie, how can I expect anything from others? 

Integrity goes hand and hand with humility in leadership.  These two character attributes provide the foundation for trust and understanding to be built in organizations.  When faced with challenges, I come back to integrity and humility and ground myself there.  I have found that when I am leading from this honest place, I cannot go wrong.

Challenge yourself to behave with ever increasing integrity at work.  I would love to hear how it works for you. Drop me a comment.

Boundaries and Breaks

I distinctly remember the first time I took a vacation after getting my first “adult” job.  I was new, having started in April, and was going on a vacation in June for 10 days.  I negotiated this up front with my soon to be supervisor, letting them know that I had this planned, and I would appreciate the flexibility of working around this despite not having the accumulated leave on the books. My supervisor at the time graciously allowed me the leave, and sent me on my way to Moab with my family. 

In previous positions vacations were actually vacations.  I was able to get away, uninterrupted and fully recharge.  However, with this position, that was not the case. Almost immediately, I was getting texts and emails (which sent a notification to my phone directly), requesting my assistance with various matters, none of which were an emergency. I ended up spending the rest of my 10 days searching for internet signal, secretly responding to emails and texts, and taking calls. Needless to say, Moab is a “do again” for the Eaton family.

I struggled a long time with trying to figure out why I felt compelled to be so available.  Maybe it was me trying to prove myself in a new position, probably a smattering of imposter syndrome, and likely a bit of guilt for taking a vacation so soon after getting a new job.  Unfortunately, after this vacation I doubled down on being the person everyone could count on for anything.  This led to some burnout and boundary issues that took me a while to reconcile which was of utmost importance as I started to supervise people and build my team.

There is no such thing as an administrative emergency.  This is something I had to recognize, and then promote with my team.  I immediately built redundancies and cross trained them, focusing on the last minute issues that our stakeholders have when any one of us is away.  Any one person on my team can address any issue at any time for any one of us. Additionally, we have a strict “NO EMAIL/TEXT” policy while on vacation. How did I get them to buy off on what could be perceived as extra work you might ask? I told them my story of my Moab trip.  They all had similar experiences. That understanding helped everyone lean in, and subsequently allowed for everyone to be able to take an actual vacation.

Daily boundaries are just as important as the longer breaks, and setting rules for when the workday is over is really important.  I don’t answer emails after 6pm.  If there is something truly pressing, those who need to know have my cell phone number.  Can you guess how many calls I have had in the last 4 years?  One. It was about the pandemic and how I wanted my dear friend and colleague to get our team set up for the unprecedented time they would be away from the office. 

Unfortunately with current work modalities it has become harder than ever to really set those boundaries.  I recently read an article about flex time and how it has become increasingly problematic during the pandemic.  One of the takeaways is to model the boundary behavior for your team.  It is VERY important for people to establish boundaries and take a break from work, and I make sure I take the time I need.  It doesn’t matter how long, I just completely unplug.  I have noticed that my team leaves for vacation genuinely excited, instead of anxious for the amount of work they will return to.  It is one of the best gifts all of us can give to each other in our organizations. 

I encourage you to look at your operations and see if there are improvements you can make so boundaries and breaks are possible for you and your team.  I myself will be unplugged right after this blog is posted.  Take a break, recharge, and hopefully your teams have maintained so all of you can continue to rule the world upon return.

This is a photo I took on one of my recharge trips outside of Smith Valley, Nevada last Fall.

Rule #1 Don’t Panic

I definitely broke my personal rule number 1 this week. I often do this after an emotionally charged day where I feel like I couldn’t get anything right.  I learned early in business school that you cannot change the behavior of the people around you, but you can change your behavior to influence those around you.  I am normally pretty mindful of this and am able to check myself before I wreck myself, so to speak.  So, what was different about this situation?

To give some back story, I am a super producer at my job.  I am often looked upon to take up additional duties to drive the mission of the institution forward.  I typically do this at 110%, wholeheartedly charging ahead because I do such meaningful work.  Recently, we have been having discussions about the culture of our workplace and the toll the pandemic has taken on employee morale.  I am sure there are similar conversations happening in some of your organizations as well. Several of my colleagues are frustrated and don’t feel like they are really being listened to by the leadership.  Administrative burnout is high, so we brought a group together to lay out the top concerns in an effort to raise the issue with leadership and promote a discussion on solutions.


While leadership was receptive, they didn’t really listen.  Our grievances were aired without prior notice by a couple representatives of the group. While we were grateful to have this hit the agenda for the leadership meeting at all, it seemed like these people were selected because they would filter the information in a way that was digestible to the leadership team.  Troubled with the way this precious matter was handled, I spoke up in an email.

The great part about respectfully conveying my disappointment via email was that several of my colleagues were able to speak up too.  I admired their courage in doing so, and was happy I could help them feel comfortable.  The bad part was that the follow up to my email was on a video call in the heat of the moment during a larger meeting where the group was seemingly dismissing our disappointment (See ya later rule number 1). I clarified my statements and challenged the leadership to step up and really hear what we were trying to say. I watched as some waited for me to say my piece so they could hurry up and make a counter claim (again, not really listening).  Frustrated and defeated, I went on with my day, constantly reflecting on what went wrong. How could I have changed my behavior to influence that group?

Bottom line, I felt like I fell short this week.  We all do.  It is impossible to get it right 100% of the time.  So what can we do in these situations? 

We can get up, dust ourselves off, and get out there again because it is worth it.  We are worth it, and the people we lead are worth it.  Recently I read the book Think Again by Adam Grant, and one of the many huge takeaways is to find the joy in failing because it gives us the opportunity to learn and improve.  What an amazing sentiment. 

With this in mind, I was able to thoughtfully connect with my colleagues and humbly explain my points.  They were very supportive, and thanked me for my bravery and honesty when speaking to the executive leadership team.  They said it opened the door for real transparency and will enable us to start from a truer baseline.  Humility, honesty and courage paved the way to the beginning of real change.  While my perception of the events was a failure on my part; I could have done better. The result was better than anticipated in the encouragement of my peers to be bold.

One of my best friends gave me this quote by Theodore Roosevelt after an exceptionally difficult day.  So many nuggets in this one too, but the one that hits the hardest is, “if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly),” I am grateful I had this opportunity this week, and I hope you find the courage to do the same if the situation presents itself.

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