Raising the Leadership Bar: Leadership for Middle Managers
Mid-level managers are essential to the success of an organization precisely because of their position between the C-suite and the workforce. On the one hand, it is their responsibility to execute the broad strategic initiatives of top management that move the company forward and maximize innovation and efficiencies. On the other hand, they must accomplish this in a way that is engaging and inspiring, channeling the enthusiasm and willing cooperation of the employees they lead. In short, middle managers must manage and lead in a way that ensures that both the company and the individual employees will flourish.
The formidable nature of this role is often reflected in higher rates of depression and anxiety among middle managers than their superiors or subordinates. They can also be plagued by pervasive feelings of unease that spill over into life outside of the office. Thankfully, there are steps to be taken and skills that can be developed that will help mid-level managers either advance or simply improve their ability to manage more effectively (and less stressfully) from the middle.
Although they have little influence in setting a company’s vision, mission, and goals, they are expected not only to articulate this information to their team but also to motivate them to accomplish specific objectives. To do this most effectively, managers can identify personal values that correspond to the organization’s values and use this commonality to inspire passion. If the manager is personally passionate about a goal it will be easier to lead a team to complete tasks central to the corporate mission.
Managers often become the bearer of bad news to the workforce. Whether it’s a freeze on raises, a reduction in supply, or the possibility of layoffs (a very real possibility in light of COVID-19 repercussions), middle managers must thoroughly understand the situation, including the “why” that is driving it. They should also ask for specific guidance on how to handle potentially difficult inquiries and uncomfortable situations. The old adage, “forewarned is forearmed” is still true. There is real tactical advantage in prior understanding of potential dangers or problems.
Improve Communication Skills Through Understanding
Mid-level managers are responsible for end results, yet they often lack the positional authority to change course on a specific strategy, let alone set a company’s vision. However, they can determine to better understand executive leadership, including their goals and decision-making styles, then use this knowledge to effectively and persuasively communicate suggestions. Talking points can be prepared in advance of meetings – in person or via teleconference – to maximize the opportunity to earn upper management’s respect. Alternately, by better understanding team members the manager can communicate in a way that inspires and motivates them to give their personal best each day.
Pursue Leadership Training
Becoming a better manager and leader is more of a journey than a destination. In today’s fast-paced and complex marketplace, an attitude of continuous learning and improvement is essential. If effective training is not provided through a manager’s organization, they can independently seek one-on-one coaching where accountability, skill building, feedback, application, and assessment combine to accelerate learning and drive results. Further, they should facilitate continuing education opportunities for their team as well.
An effective middle manager must not only manage, but also lead. It has been said that people work for managers but follow leaders. However, true success is found in the manager who can organize and mobilize the workforce, while helping them understand the organization’s vision so that they can work toward it to the best of their ability. By focusing on the simple strategies above, the mid-level manager can prepare for career advancement or choose to perfect managerial skills. Either way, everyone wins.