Middle managers – ‘the engine of the business’

If, like me, you’ve been in a position or role as a manager, a line manager, or a a ‘middle’ manager, then I’m sure you’ve felt a little overlooked at times, even bypassed as work filters down from the senior teams to the production or operational teams you’re responsible for. It goes through you and sometimes connects to you. But often you’re just the conduit to help make it happen.

There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just sometimes part of the role we play.

Before lockdown, being a middle manager was all about resource management, skills development, talent acquisition and recruitment, professional development, line management, etc. Before lockdown it was mostly face-to-face, as was the requirement of the business.

Overnight this changed; we closed the offices and all started working from our spare rooms, kitchens, loft conversions, bedrooms, garages, and even the shed. We set up our desks wherever we could find the room, and continued to do our work with everything else going on around us.

We suddenly only saw people on a screen. The role of the middle manager morphed; it became about wellbeing and checking in with our teams and reports. Added to the list of duties was an enhanced and increased awareness of the individual, their circumstances, and their home lives. All of this we did before, but now the pandemic and Covid added a new, health-related aspect to our work – a simple and innocent ‘how are you today?’ took on a new, almost sinister tone with every cough, sore throat, sleepless night, etc having extra attention and coming under increasingly greater scrutiny.

‘No really. How are you?’

It’s time to regain the recognition and respect middle managers deserve. As the article below states “[t]hey are the engine of the business, the cogs that make things work, the glue that keeps companies together.”

… I have developed great respect for middle managers. They are the engine of the business, the cogs that make things work, the glue that keeps companies together. Especially as remote and hybrid work takes over — and the distance between employees increases — middle managers are more important than ever. The most effective ones are in possession of humane, sophisticated communications skills and the knack to mediate and find common grounds between actors at different levels in the organization.

In fact, I believe that the division between leadership and management increasingly sounds anachronistic, even obsolete. It is time to reunite leadership and management in one concept, and recognize middle managers as connecting leaders. This concept recognizes that every leader is also a follower, and every follower is also a leader. Thus, a manager in the middle of hierarchical layers builds relationships with those at the top (from a position of followership and lower power) and with the people at the bottom (from a position of leadership and higher power).

As hierarchies within companies become more fluid and virtual, middle managers will increasingly become channels for relationships, influence, and connection. For companies to be successful coming out of the pandemic, they need to recognize the complex and multifaceted roles of middle managers, who are not just visionary, inspirational leaders but also courageous, engaged followers. Their ability to perform both upward and downward roles effectively requires them to develop very sophisticated, humane skills to bring together the layers of your organization.

“The Real Value of Middle Managers”, Jariha Jaser

Photo by Amanda Sandlin on Unsplash