How to be a great middle manager

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Innovative organisation design methods like Holacracy have sought to get rid of traditional management structures with the aim of introducing more agility, more creativity and more autonomy. Whilst I like the ideas there are clear challenges with implementing these types of designs and given their relative newness and unproven nature most organisations still opt for a more traditional structure. Therefore, it’s time to address a really important issue: middle management needs to be redeemed.

In many organisations middle managers are now simply serving the function of being span breakers. They pass messages from the top of the organisation to the masses. They are, more often than not, seen as a layer of bureacracy that people have to engage with to get things done. They oversee effort in and widgets out. This isn’t good enough and in many cases it isn’t using the capabilities of middle managers.

Good middle management in organisations can unlock latent potential and help radically accelerate the company’s agenda and performance. Given their proximity to the vast amount of people in the organisation and their key role in managing outputs a serious investment in allowing middle managers to operate effectively and lead their people can harness energy, that in many cases is currently being lost.

As a middle manager in the age of information with an increasing focus on articifical intelligence coming into the workplace what are some things you can do to make an impact?

Influence and inspire

Working for an inspiring leader helps people engage with and enjoy their work. It helps them feel a sense of joint responsibility for delivering against the company’s mission. The ability to inspire the people you lead is crucial, especially in an environment that is automating many of the ‘old world’ functions of middle managers. Developing a strong EQ is one of the most valuable things that a middle manager can spend their time on

Coach and pass on knowledge

Many middle managers are still promoted primarily because of their ‘technical ability’ and not necessarily their leadership ability. The function of coaching your people, helping them generate their own solutions and passing on knowledge in an appropriate and helpful way makes your team better. Don’t let your ego and need to ‘be the expert’ get in the way of your teams progress. Sometimes the best thing you can do is coach your team to deliver what they need to without always jumping in, rolling up your sleeves and fixing problems for them.

Remove roadblocks

Middle managers have an incredible opportunity to ensure that there are no roadblocks in the way of their team being as effective as they can be. Middle management have the seniority to influence the senior leaders and the proximity to understand the issues that most people face. Finding out what is stopping your team from being as effective as they can be and attacking these issues with ferocity has the potential to really move the needle towards high performance

Manage complexity and ambiguity

The hallmark of business in the 21st century will be dealing with rapid change and the ambiguity that it brings. It’s not always the job of middle managers to help people understand the complexity or bring clarity to the ambiguity but being able to manage it and lead through it separates the exceptionally gifted middle managers others.

Ensure diversity

It’s easy to get caught up in an echo-chamber quite quickly. Groupthink is a powerful dynamic and when unchallenged can be toxic. Middle managers have the potential to help their people (and help senior leaders!) step outside of myopia when it sets in and ensure that a diversity of opinion and viewpoints are welcomed, encouraged and actively sought!

In most organisations middle managers still have the capacity to make the biggest impact - in fact, many middle managers don’t even realise their influence. Politics, organisational jostling, deadlines, change, everything else gets in the way. The best middle managers are the ones who are able to help their teams become effortlessly high-performing. Additionally, the best organisations are the ones who realise that equipping, empowering and investing in middle managers will pay huge dividends.