The Importance of Middle Management

Middle managers don’t get enough credit. They’re sandwiched between the requests of their teams and scolded by their superiors to produce more. It seems impossible.

Middle management is a critical part of the organization. It is a liaison between their teams and their bosses despite the conflict. They’re advocates, problem solvers, and peace-keepers if done correctly.

I have a soft spot for middle managers. As a platoon leader, my job fell between my platoon and company commander, and I needed to often balance the requirements from higher with the needs of the soldiers under my charge.

Middle managers make sure their subordinates are successful.

Provide training and resources

Your job as the line worker is over. Now, put that experience you had as a worker bee to assist your team. The best way you can help your organization is to find high-quality training to improve functions and to provide resource shortfalls.

You might think that as a middle manager that you’re unable to find time to train. But, it needs to be near the top of your to-do list. When you train your people, they feel fulfilled when they are well-trained. When you were working on the line, what did you want to know, but no one told you how to do it? Once you solve that question (many times over), then explore the available options. These answers become training opportunities for your teams.

Reach across departments at work. Who says you’re not allowed to talk to anyone else except for those within your section? Networking within your company enables you to build relationships with people who can help you solve problems. Go to the departments where you think don’t have anything to do with yours. You’ll be surprised at what you find out.

Aside from training, resources are your second-most prized asset behind your personnel. What are your people missing from their jobs? Help them find answers with their available resources. Middle managers have enough clout within their organizations to make requests and find ways to get what they need.

Providing ways for personal development through training and resources is the best gift you can give your team. They’ll appreciate the way you work for them.

Network, network, network

Remember all of those company parties you’ve been skipping? It’s time to start attending those. People are emotional by nature, which means that we want to put names to faces when conducting business. Company off-sites, get-togethers, lunches, and casual meetings are critical to networking.

You enable your team when you build a network. I worked operations for a military police battalion as my first job. I managed a small section of people who dealt with training and resourcing for our companies. I knew I needed to network to be an asset to the team. Your work circles become assets as far as you’re willing to put forth an effort. That happened because I made time to contact my social and work circles often. I felt more comfortable when I went to social gatherings as well because I had many people to contact.

For example, I had a sergeant in charge of law enforcement training. We needed to coordinate for a few civilian trainers to come and train our military police officers on a new weapons qualification. My sergeant would tell me what he needed, and I used my network to get it for him. It was a symbiotic relationship that helped facilitate the training. Overall, the training was successful because my network helped the team.

Ensure you have phone rosters of people in your organization. If you don’t have any made up, start small by writing down your frequently-called numbers. Afterward, write down others that come through emails, papers, or meetings. Maintain appropriate contact and gauge how you can help each other. Your most valuable skill to the team is the ability to network within a complex environment to enable your team to do their jobs.

Listen to the Worker on the Ground

I read a book called The Mission, the Men, and Me by Pete Blaber, who emphasized this point. He argues that the guy on the ground provides valuable information to complete any mission. Front-line workers experience issues their bosses don’t see or understand. However, these same line workers also get ignored because their grievances are perceived as complaints.

That’s where middle managers become effective. A good manager will listen to their team and prioritize the issues they’re having. The entire team is responsible for solving these issues, but the manager is critical to enabling the success of the group. It’ll depend on the training and resources the manager gets for the team.

There are things the team cannot do by themselves. That’s where the manager fills their role. Managers enable their organizations by hearing issues, collaborating with their teams for viable solutions, and providing resources to solve those problems.

The middle manager doesn’t have an ivory tower to sit in while the worker bees toil away. Instead, managers should place the team on their backs. Even though the team is doing the labor, the manager should advocate for their team.

The question we all need to ask is, how do I know what the issues are if I don’t talk to my team? Don’t hide out in your office. Be available. Be open. Take responsibility for the problems you have in your team.

Conclusion

Middle managers are the most critical parts of leadership within an organization. Without middle management, there is no direction for line workers, there is no direction given from above, and there is no production.

If you’re a middle manager, do your best to contribute to the success of your team. If you feel like your leadership is lacking, find ways around it. Use your network. Leverage your assets. Track things that are important rather than numbers. If you do these things, your team will appreciate you.

What do you think? What are the most critical things middle managers need to do? Thanks for reading!

8 thoughts on “The Importance of Middle Management”

  1. Great content and very much on point. Your Listen To The Worker On The Ground is great and more employers should heed that.

    1. Robert says:

      Richard,
      I agree with that! I hope that middle managers know how important they are, and that their people are their most important asset. Thanks for your comment!
      Robert

  2. Imelda says:

    Thank you so much

    I completely agree with this article and oddly enough I do not think that companies really apply enough attention to their Middle Managers.

    I know when I was moving up in my managerial career I wanted to learn and network as much as possible because I always wanted to be in the right place at the right time for any promotion. I always looked after my teams and really got them involved through good strong leadership and development which is exactly what you mention in your article.

    I hope people read this and make the necessary changes to be better and have a better business. Middle Managers out there work hard to get to that next level and always look after those people around you.

    1. Robert says:

      Imelda,

      Thank you for sharing your experience as a middle manager. You’re right. It’s a tough position, and there are a lot of middle managers out there. With leadership, it starts with the individual. I appreciate your comment!

      Robert

  3. Richard Brennan says:

    Hi Robert

    I can certainly identify with what you say here and like you, I’m also from a military background and I reached middle management level (Sergeant) in the British Army. When I returned to civilian life I found the difference between the Leadership we learn in the military to be quite different from management practices in the corporate sector.

    You make a great point about getting to know your colleagues outside the workplace in order to have a better relationship with them inside. In the corporate World it’s not always so easy though, as a lot of people commute long distances between home and office nowadays. Again, that sort of thing was much easier in the military because you all live and work in the same place by and large.

    Middle Managers are certainly caught between a rock and a hard place, having to juggle the interests of their employer with the well being of their shop floor staff. It’s not an easy place to be, but it’s very rewarding when it can be made to work.

    They’re definitely the unsung heroes and heroines of the workplace!

    I don’t know if you’d agree with me here, but what I’ve found to be very bad for workplace relations – and often customer relations for that matter – is the relatively modern concept of taking kids in from college and putting them straight into management positions simply by virtue of their educational qualifications. 

    They’ve always done that in the military, but those kids always have experienced NCOs to hold their hands and tell them where they’re going wrong.

    Graduate ‘managers’ seem to be in ‘company mode’ only and are often incapable of making decisions without worrying about how it will affect their careers and are often only capable of adhering to and enforcing policies and procedures rather than doing the actual thinking that you’d assume their education would make them capable of.

    Experience, it seems, counts for little these days and can even be an obstacle if someone with experience gives a few ‘home truths’ to a graduate managers who think they know it all. That’s the big difference between ‘being qualified’ and ‘having qualifications’ that seems to be lost on those who make the decisions unfortunately.

    What are your thoughts on that?

    Middle Managers are the back bone of any workplace and companies who don’t value them are sowing the seeds of their own demise.

    1. Robert says:

      Richard,

      You raise a good point about graduate managers that walk into a managerial position fresh out of college. Experience does count, and it should be worth more. I think it raises a few questions about the company. Is the company willing to hire from outside to fill a managerial position? Maybe, this college graduate interned with the company and is now walking into management. 

      Like you said, the Army has done this for a while now. Having a strong NCO to mold the new LT is a good method for learning. Perhaps in corporate it’s different. I’ll caveat and say I don’t have corporate experience. I’ll make a comparison.

      Great college athletes don’t always make it in the pros. I think about football and basketball specifically. Similarly, not every 4.0 Harvard graduate will make it in the corporate world. I think it depends on the person. If the person is humble enough to listen to his team, then hopefully they’ll make it. If not, then good luck.

      I think our system relies too heavily on education at the expense of experience. Sure, most degrees require an internship, but how was that internship? Experience does matter in managerial positions, and I hope that companies develop from within to make good middle managers.

      Have you seen the majority of middle managers who just came out of college succeed or fail? I think it’s an interesting topic. Thank you for your question!

      Robert

  4. edahnewton1 says:

    Hey nice managerial article you have there, your thoughts are indeed invaluable. The importance of effective middle manager on workers productivity cannot be overemphasize. A middle manager that is empathy and always seeks the general welfare of its team members. When workers knew that they are cared for and loved by their boss, their morale will definitely increase and they will put in more effort to produce quality products and brings in idea of that can transform the company

    1. Robert says:

      You’re absolutely right! The attitude of the manager does affect the morale of the team. And if the middle manager is good, then the team will be productive. I appreciate your comment!

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