I feel for the modern-day middle manager and have great respect for those who take on this tough role. Middle managers are the engines that drive strategic implementation and create the momentum for how work gets done. They are pulled in a million different directions and need to enroll diverse constituencies.
We ask our middle managers to deal with, filter, and reduce corporate dysfunction with a smile. We tell our middle managers that everything on their long to-do list is a priority and that we know they can handle it if they put their minds to it. Their success is hard to see, because they touch many aspects of the business as enablers, not doers.
I have long thought that being a middle manager is the toughest and best job one could have. Along with the challenges they face, middle managers have the opportunity to improve results, engage and develop employees, and build the organization's culture. Great middle managers make a significant and positive impact.
Many middle managers struggle, however. Some don't know how to translate goals into actions, while others become overwhelmed by nonstop requests for their time and attention. Less-effective middle managers may feel that they are victims of dysfunction and are set up to fail. Many of my clients struggle to fill vacant positions because employees don't want the hassles that come with the job.
This is where learning professionals come in. We can help middle managers excel and fall back in love with their important jobs. To be most effective, our development offerings should help middle managers seize opportunities for impact and overcome difficult challenges. And while traditional management training programs are helpful, I have found that many training departments don't offer the development experiences that middle managers most need.
We need to teach them how to manage complexity, remove barriers, negotiate requests, build partnerships, build organizational agility, adjust resource allocations, build accountability, create an ownership environment, facilitate team discussions, implement changes, link strategies to work plans, be self-aware, coach and be coached, manage time, and build their influencing skills. How many of these topics do you offer your middle managers?
It is also important that we offer development experiences that honor the time constraints that most middle managers face. Week-long and day-long training sessions might not be practical. If we focus on delivering training using methods that work best for busy middle managers, we will enjoy greater training participation and application. As learning professionals, we can help the engines of our organizations perform well by learning about the challenges they face and offering development experiences targeted to build the skills they need to overcome them.