We often call the middle layer of management the “missing-middle.” This group is often overlooked as an investment opportunity. By investing in the skills development of mid-level managers a priority, organizations can tap into this valuable resource.

We’ll agree that many organizations focus on a handful of hand-selected “high performers.” Yet, we see organizations really thrive when all managers have access to the right resources to learn, grow and focus on being their best. Think about it – the few on the fast track have much more limited impact than masses who are continually growing together.  

Middle-management is Exhausting

The Harvard Business Review recently discussed why being a middle manager is so tiring.  Middle managers constantly flip their thinking from one mindset to another. First, managers must be the leader full of motivation and appreciation for their team members.  And second, they can switch their thinking on a dime when they have to answer up to stakeholders.  These are two different skills sets mastered by few without help!

Middle-managers Need New Skills

Where do managers learn switch gears, be resilient, and maneuver through tough issues?  And, let’s not forget the responsibility of owning your work and the deadlines of others. 

At the pace some companies push, mid-level managers are close to stripping their gears!  And, this plus lack of appreciation drives managers right out the door to search for something better.

And it gets worse. Squished between the less experienced colleagues and more experienced managers, we asked them to adapt their approach to appease at least four (maybe five) different generations.  Each generation has very different attitudes, expectations and opinions really complicating things!

Middle-managers Need More Confidence 

They must also deal with the occasional gender (and sometimes age) bias that affect how others listen to what they say and how they say it. You know what I mean. (They mean one thing but another hears something else.) Over time, this feedback can undermine a manager’s confidence in their own communication.

To make matters worse, many organizations deal with failure poorly.  So, making mistakes is just painful – not a learning opportunity.

When mid-level management skills are not fully developed, making mistakes is the only way to learn.  This, of course, is until they decide not to stretch and try new things falling into a state of complacency.

Mentors and Role Models are Hard to Find

Where do mid-level managers to find a mentor or role model? Face it, organizations move faster today, their structures are flatter, and turnover is common.  Everyone is asked to do more with less. Who has time?!? Who has the skill themselves?

The Role is Difficult to Succeed…But Possible

What does it take to be a good middle manager? You must be good at:

  • Doing the job
  • Planning the job
  • Communicating the work that needs completed on time and within budget
  • Ensuring the work has purpose and it’s understood
  • Clarifying everyone’s role
  • Keeping management informed
  • Being clear about the decision-making process
  • Determining contingency plans…

…And the list goes on.

A good manager must be many things to many people. They must learn how to simultaneously be a good manager, a good subordinate, a good peer, and a good corporate citizen. 

Organizations benefit by focusing more on mid-level management than senior management. Ensure they are prepared to help the company move forward.  Help them develop techniques they to do more with less, lead other across the finish line, and bring up those they manage.