Middle management is the entry leadership level in an organisation and is attained because of delivering exceptional performance all the time. Leaders recognise potential in middle managers and advance them based on technical skill-competency. However, what happens after the promotion and when the novelty wears off?
Middle managers often share with me that being a leader at this level does not meet their initial career expectation. They are given more responsibility without the necessary authority to make certain decisions without senior management’s approval. Seldom do senior leaders share strategic information or ask for management’s input, ideas or opinions. However, what senior leaders do ask for is a more active leadership role that drives company efficiency, innovation and change. Common complaints are that middle managers are held at arm’s length, and they are not invited to attend strategic or organisational brainstorming meetings where they could meet with their peers or actively contribute to decisions that have a direct impact on their teams. Middle managers are kept in their respective divisional silos without interacting or cross-functioning with other departments. The indirect message middle managers are interpreting is that they are “sort of” leaders. They have the title, but in the end that doesn’t mean or allow for too much. They are doers who make daily team tasks and processes run smoothly ensuring that productivity, performance, quality and service excellence is upheld while motivating the team to be star employees. They often feel ignored and even side-lined by senior leaders.
Perhaps the time has come for the traditional middle management role to be made extinct, and to replace the transactional management style with a unique transformative style. Shifting from the middle management responsibility of maintaining the status quo to actively stimulating change. It is through having permission to participate, being involved and being part of the organisational change process that middle management can make deep and lasting change within their teams. Middle managers are capable, able and responsible adults who want to be empowered and inspired to lead. Let’s re-invent the middle management role!
Here are some possible ideas to go about this:
Redefine the middle management role
Allow and encourage managers to part take in important strategic and operational decisions that have a direct impact on their team.
Raise their strategic thinking caps
Strategic big-picture thinking is an acquired and learned leadership skill. Pair up managers from various divisions and task them with real-life work processes that need re-vamping. Provide sincere feedback, mentor them and measure their outcome. When all has been ironed out, implement the change.
Listen, learn and encourage
Senior leaders regularly block ideas made by middle management thereby stifling innovation and creativity. Change the organisational culture of getting it right first time to learning through evolutionary processes. Brilliant ideas go through multiple iterations.
Be comfortable with change
To lead means to be comfortable with change and to establish a new way of being and viewing one’s world. Leading is not about being an authoritative person who has the power to exchange resources and rewards. Train and develop managers to transition from letting go of their technical mastery to inspiring a vision within their team. Expand their consciousness and support them to transform and reinvent themselves.
Give managers the authority to question the status quo, and to think differently. Don’t pay them for not rocking the boat and being competent. Raise middle managers to step into the shoes of leadership with the title, authority, responsibility and competency.