Stuck in the Middle with You
I feel for mid-level managers. They're like my middle child in our family.
He gets forgotten about. The older sibling will go through a major life event for the first time surrounded by parents and grandparents celebrating and taking pictures. Once he does the activity, however, the newness has worn off. If we're lucky, my wife will remember to take a quick selfie after the event.
He gets asked to do a lot - and sometimes it he feels like it is more than his fair share having to do chores his younger sibling can't do yet.
And we do the same to our mid-managers. Despite this, everyone in the organization is looking to this group to set the tone and example throughout the organization. The exec team looks down on them for not meeting goals, while their employees look up for leadership and guidance. We hold this group at a higher, if not impossible, standard.
And the job can simply suck at times.
As a manager of a mid-manager, make sure you help in the following ways:
Give them the time. We can sometimes hire or promote mid-managers with the idea that they don't need time with you - they need the time to create and achieve results and manage their team. Ensure you're spending time with them, not only on what tactics did or didn't get done. But by listening and guiding on how they are leading their teams.
Create space to take risk. Mid-managers are in a tough spot when it comes to making decisions because they can't take as much risk. Why? Because they have the most to lose. If they fail, they have an exec to report to. They let their team down. Yet, without the ability to understand and make decisions around risk, the company will not be as successful.
Show a mirror. Mid-managers (hopefully) are spending what little time they do have on the success and development of their team. Few mid-managers take the time to develop themselves - whether in their own emotional intelligence, skills and knowledge, etc. As their manager, ensure you're helping them develop self-awareness and build skills towards building relationships with their employees.
Prioritize relationships over tasks. Yes, mid-managers need to achieve results. But as, if not more, important, they need to build relationships. With their employees. With other mid-managers. Ensure your expectations of their role is centered around the quality of the relationships they build.
Check capacity. Many new managers (myself included, back in the day) believe that what made them a great employee will make them a great leader. This typically can look like taking on more and more work. Or focusing only on projects. Get your mid-manager to focus on spending their time working smarter rather than harder.
Mid-managers are going through a transition from doing great work, to leading teams that do great work. Shift your focus then on how they lead other people, and less on the actual work. Focusing in these five areas may even help the job of a mid-manager suck just a bit less.