Whenever I work with leaders, even those who are more self aware, when unpicking their organisations they inevitably begin grumbling about the quality of their middle management team. “They dilute the message,” I hear, “they don’t provide any leadership”, “they’re too weak at dealing with people.”
Some people equate the middle by mere definition as negative in its connotations: neither one thing or another; the easiest place to get run over; the easy route. I try and see it as the glue holding things together, or the filling in a sandwich.
And if you get the right people in the right positions in your middle management team, then they act as a vital cog in the machine of your business, pivotal to every potential success.
The trouble is, and I remember this clearly from my own years as a middle leader, you’re squeezed from both sides. Those you manage think you’re acting as some kind of lackie for the bosses; and the leadership team don’t trust you to walk the walk. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
But how much do organisations actually invest in middle management as a group? Often, people are merely promoted into a new position with no training as to how to handle direct reports, or indeed how to deal with members of the leadership team. What time is spent going through the nuances of their roles beyond a six monthly performance review?
At PDW, we recognise the importance of middle leadership and through our face to face experiential workshops work to empower them to act as leaders rather than managers. Imagine the potential you could build if all these people, who you’ve already highlighted as having great potential through promotions, truly had the skills to lead and get the best out of others, to confidently and appropriately challenge the decision makers at the top.
If middle leaders aren’t performing to expectations as a cohort, is that not indicative of a breakdown of communication at a leadership level? In an ideal situation, the middle leadership team will be knocking at the door of the SLT waiting to take over.
So when you’re looking to criticise, think about what you need to do to improve what they do before placing all the blame on middle leaders.
After all, a sandwich with no filling is just two pieces of bread.