If you are responsible for managing a middle manager, think back for a moment to when you were in their place.
Likely to have been promoted to the middle manager role due to your performance and technical expertise. You were once part of a team and enjoyed the camaraderie, then you became their boss with little training in people skills. It was now your job to achieve results through others - others who had their own minds, agendas, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes.
Or, if you currently report to a middle manager, consider for a moment being responsible for motivating YOU to achieve more, even on your bad days. Imagine if your whole job was to keep a group of people with a variety of personalities (people you probably wouldn't choose as friends), positive and focused in the face of unpopular change, where you have no control but all the responsibility.
Middle Managers have a tough gig, they are the champions of 'business as usual', but enjoy much less glory than their leaders who have the grander and fancier titles, a few more perks, usually a little more flexibility and are maybe even a bit more in the know.
It can be at middle management level of an organisation where work around that slow business down organically grow.
We rarely teach our managers the importance of being trusted over being liked, so they try to achieve both and in the process leave people lukewarm and wear themselves out.
THE LIFE OF A MIDDLE MANAGER
At middle management we're still figuring out why we should delegate rather than do. We haven't yet learned how to provide feedback effectively (especially to the personalities we find difficult). It's likely our leaders haven't role modeled how to hold people accountable in ways that build trust, empower and sustain positive behavior change. And we don't really understand yet what thinking strategically looks and feels like.
Our middle managers are our leaders in the making and this time of their career can either set them up or beat them up.
It is the opportune training ground for building innovative, courageous and inspired leaders, but I see many organisations, unintentionally, leaving their managers to sink or swim.
RETAINING THE EXPERTS
Retaining good people in these roles makes sense to our bottom line as they've usually invested a significant part of their career in their industry. They have the technical knowledge and ideas for greater efficiency that provides a strong support for the productivity of front-line teams.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Invest in a one on one with each of your middle managers - find out what inspires them about the vision you are all working toward (assuming you have a clear and concise vision). Go 7 levels deep, asking why it's important to them until they get to the real reason (often connected to family or personal pursuits). Doing this well builds trust and engagement and is the foundation for you holding them accountable in the future.
2. Before you do number 1 make sure you know why the vision is important to you in your life. How does your business vision translate to your personal life? What connects for you emotionally? Share that with them before you ask them for theirs.
3. Do a leadership skills audit on each manager, identifying where you/the organisation expects them to be and where they are now. Leadership skills could include - the ability to initiate with purpose and intention accountability conversations with staff that immediately impact results, or simply keeping meetings on track while keeping everyone engaged and on task.
4. Develop a plan together including milestones, measures and feedback structure to bridge the gaps.
5. Set up a trusted space between you so they can debrief their progress - successes, failures, learning, new goals.
A SOLID INVESTMENT
Valuing our middle managers is a solid investment in our future. We need to support their desire to be great leaders by rounding out their industry expertise with the understanding and skills in how to bring out the best in others.
It will not only set them up for success in their role, but also fulfillment in their career. And isn't that what we're all looking for?