Middle Managers – Stuck in Limbo or Unsung Superhero?
As an executive, you likely already know the importance of having middle managers. They lead the teams who carry out the day-to-day business of your company- allowing you to focus on the big picture. They make connections within your company’s people and departments to keep things running smoothly. They’re the glue holding many of the operational processes together. Most importantly, they’re often supervising the people who interact directly with your customers. How can you make sure this critical layer of leadership within your company is performing at its full potential? Let’s dive into this.
First, the term “middle manager” often comes with bad jokes and a completely undeserved negative connotation. Many people think of a middle manager as someone who is “stuck in limbo” in a role with limited power and autonomy. They’re literally the middle link between the executives who make the big decisions and the staff who live with those decisions. And they’re constantly working hard to earn and keep the respect of both groups.
In truth, middle managers and supervisors probably have one of the toughest (and arguably most important) jobs in your company. The role requires great communication, relationship building, and managerial skill. They often handle the brunt of change management within your company. They must constantly navigate the complicated dance of keeping their own supervisors happy, while simultaneously mentoring, developing and retaining their direct reports. Given that enormous responsibility, it is no wonder this position can have high rates of burnout. So, what can executives do to make sure these incredibly important members of your team are successful as both leaders and followers?
Make the right hire.
It all starts with the right person in the right role. When you’re looking to hire a middle manager or supervisor, choose wisely. Look within your company for well-respected employees and informal leaders. You know the ones- they quickly become a “go-to” person on any team because they just have a way with people. Colleagues gravitate towards them. They’re responsible, dependable, and highly accountable. They are the connectors on your team.
If you’re looking externally, look for experience with leading people and managing processes- and hire the right personality and temperament to have success with both. A pre-employment personality inventory can help you identify the desired qualities you’re seeking for the role.
Develop their leadership skills.
Invest in their success as leaders! Don’t assume someone with a long tenure at your company will be able to effectively lead and motivate people just because they are good at their job. Leadership is a skill to be taught and developed, just like any other skill.
In addition to the technical or operational skills they’ll need to be successful supervising processes and projects, give them opportunities to learn the soft skills they’ll need to be effective managers of people. Make sure they have empathy, communication and listening skills, conflict and change management training. Any investment you make in these types of professional development opportunities for your middle managers will pay off in spades.
Develop their followership skills.
Every middle manager is also a follower. This often-overlooked facet of leadership means they must be able to take direction, accept feedback, and support organizational change. In addition to effectively leading their own teams, they also need to show they are motivated and accountable as employees.
To develop them as followers, the most important steps you can take are to be clear with your expectations for their performance and then hold them accountable. Here are some practical tips you can employ today to help manage your middle managers:
- Commit to consistent one on one meetings. Put a standing meeting on your calendars and make sure it happens. *Hint- this regular connection is especially important in a remote environment when face to face time may be more limited.
- Practice regular strategic planning with your direct reports. It will help them buy in to the big picture- and be better followers and better leaders.
- Set clear performance goals. Work together to create individual and team goals to support the strategic plan so there is a roadmap to success. Nobody likes to have to guess what success looks like in the eyes of their supervisor!
- Create systems and processes for accountability. Set the expectation for monthly progress updates on key performance indicators (KPIs) for their individual and team goals. Always follow through with action plans to course correct, when needed.
Modeling this type of leadership for your middle managers will teach them good habits to help ensure they are successful in leading the teams they supervise.
Overall, to get the most out of your middle managers, practice open and honest communication, set clear goals and performance expectations, and develop systems to promote accountability. Middle managers and supervisors are critical spokes that help move the wheels of your company. They should be celebrated for their unique skillsets and ability to take on many different challenges with both processes and people.
Our verdict- great middle managers are superheroes!