Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else. ~Leonardo da Vinci
It is possible to feel more valued, supported, and heard in a middle manager position. I have worked with leaders and managers from every tier, within various organizations, throughout my career. Middle managers, or those with executive levels above them and management teams below them, is an area where I see a gap.
Grab a pencil and piece of paper and jot down your answer to following question, before reading on:
When you hear the word middle, what other words come to mind? There is no right or wrong answer, simply write down anything that surfaces for you when you hear the word middle…
Feeling Stuck and Unhappy
In the Harvard Business Review article “Why Middle Managers Are So Unhappy” Zenger and Folkman describe the lack of satisfaction rests not in the disgruntled managers with poor performance ratings or inadequate training. Their findings indicate something much more profound. The middle managers with the lowest engagement and commitment scores were those “stuck in the middle of everything, “ with average performance ratings, experience and education.
I have seen this time and time again in my work with middle managers. They tend to feel overworked and underappreciated. They also tend to think if they raise an issue, nothing will change, so their work lacks meaning and therefore they feel isolated and alone. This is the bad news.
In Barry Oshry’s Total Systems Power model, he describes middle managers as having the power to integrate or “dis” integrate. Middle managers are instrumental in the connectivity of any organization. The problem is they often spend too much time managing up and down and not enough time building peer relationships. Middle managers tend to connect only to certain parts of the organization while reducing their connection to others which, in turn, diminishes their power and longevity.
Middle managers have the capability to integrate entire organizations, but often spend most of their time working in vertical lines for numerous reasons. It could be that organizational culture and performance systems are set up to reward a more vertical orientation. It could be tied to the health of the organization at the top or bottom. It could be driven by customer demand. Whatever the reason for “dis”integration, what is important for middle managers to remember, is they have a choice even when it may feel like they don’t.
Connecting with Peers
Integration is possible by connecting horizontally across the organization with peers. It is something that is challenging to do in many organizations for countless reasons. It is also something that yields the greatest results when middle managers see the value in horizontal connectivity, and make it a priority. When middle managers have meaningful connections with their peers they also have:
- More visibility across the organization
- Deeper understanding of various lines of business that make up the whole
- Clarity around diagnosing issues and generating solutions that will work across the organization
- Reduction in duplication of efforts and productivity breakdowns due to lack of horizontal coordination
- Enhanced support and understanding to cope with the demands of being a middle manager by those who understand best, other managers.
There is power in the middle when there is intention to connect horizontally with peers. It is also the relationship that everyone is most vulnerable to losing because middle managers worry about being compared to peers and so they compete versus connect. The irony is, middle managers who have the courage to integrate, can elevate the entire organization through the power of those connections.
Becoming the Nucleus
I believe the way to help middle managers connect horizontally with their peers is to give them permission by shifting how organizations rate and manage performance. Instead of looking at performance management as a score or an annual meeting, or even as something that is done to someone, we need to look at it as an ongoing conversation that focuses on connection and peer to peer support across the organization.
One definition of middle is: “At an equal distance from the extremities of something; Central.” Without the middle of any system, there is nothing to tether the extremities. Middle managers are the nucleus of a healthy organization, anchoring activity and growth in every direction. It is time, as da Vinci so eloquently stated to, “Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
If this message resonates with you, we would love for you share it, and please contact us if you have any questions …
- Today’s Tweetable: Middle managers are the nucleus of a healthy organization.
- Share on Facebook
- Share on Linkedin