8The Courage to Be in the Middle (and Not Be in the Middle)

Be a middle who maintains your independence of thought and action in service to the system.1

—Barry Oshry

Elijah managed a team of programmers who loved to spend their days sitting behind a closed door, coding. His team spent little time interacting with clients or with others in the organization. Instead, Elijah spent most of his time doing that for them, and for the most part, that suited him just fine. After many years using an old enterprise system, his boss came to him with a request to update the system for their function. He gave Elijah a specific date for completion and a budget. Elijah thought the budget was a little too small and the timeline a bit too short, but he accepted the request anyway—hoping his team would be able to pull it off and maybe even surprise him with ideas for how do it with ease. After one tense and emotional meeting, Elijah discovered that his team was not at all pleased about the budget and timeline for the system upgrade. They not only believed they couldn’t pull it off with the constraints but also felt it would affect other larger-priority items the company identified. They asked Elijah to go back to his boss with a list of demands, including more resources, an extended deadline, and a reprioritization of projects for the team. Unfortunately, the conversation with his boss didn’t go well. Before Elijah could even present his team’s demands, his superior shared further updates that ...

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