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Making the Most of your Middle Managers

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Much has been said about the “middle” — from the stigma of “middle child syndrome” to the apparently unenviable position of being “stuck in the middle.”

Business leaders who underestimate the impact their “middle managers” have on the enterprise may be making a grave mistake, however. This often-overlooked class of workers are sometimes the unforeseen obstacle that undermine the value that middle managers can bring to business.

Middle managers and their actions typically have a great degree of control and influence over a company’s success or failure but are often overlooked when it comes to mentoring, training, and focus from leadership, contends human resource strategist Anthony L. Onesto.

A company’s top management team likely spends countless hours crafting ideas and planning for success. Middle managers are either a conduit of that information and enthusiasm or a barrier. It’s critical to avoid complacency or a lack of interest and keep middle managers motivated, Onesto cautioned.

The majority of companies position middle manager actions as half execution and half strategic. Instead, the position should be 80 percent strategic and 20 percent execution to achieve the optimal return on investment (ROI).

“Everything on a day-to-day basis lives and dies with middle management,” he said.

One way to avoid complacency in middle management involves a change in perspective from upper management. While the responsibilities of upper management include having final say in the decision-making process, the success of the execution hinges on the support of one’s middle management; without it, the success of a business is less likely.

Yet, says Onesto, “Leaders take an ‘Ivory Tower-ish’ approach and try to force their ideas and plans, an ‘I know what you need to do better than you do’ attitude. It just doesn’t work. You’ve got to get the buy-in from your middle managers,” he said.

Many upper managers don’t “sell” their business plans to the workforce. This often leads to poor employee engagement because not enough time and resources — explaining the “how and why” behind an initiative — are dedicated to marketing a leader’s vision. Onesto suggested creating a visual plan so that every employee can see how their actions impact the business and use such tools to start conversations about plans and goals. Just as a new product is marketed externally to potential customers, it should be marketed internally as well. Not doing so can set the stage for an epic failure, warned Onesto.

Growing, successful businesses are propelled by engaged workers, and sometimes a cloud of complacency amid middle managers can trickle down to their teams. One way to counter this trends is to be proactive in presenting information to this group of employees and solicit their input. They are often leading the front line of a company’s core business operations. Onesto suggested that business leaders take time to meet with middle managers in a one-on-one setting and be clear that their opinions are desired and valued.

Providing training opportunities for middle managers can be of immeasurable benefit.

“Traditionally middle managers were hired for a particular skill set, such as technical expertise. But leadership at this level is critical so it’s important to either hire middle managers with leadership skills and train them on the specific skills or help these managers become better leaders,” said Onesto.

By transforming a middle manager into better leader can lead to improved job satisfaction for the entire chain of command. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) ( recently released the annual “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement” research report, which found that employees rated their relationship with their immediate supervisor more important to job satisfaction than either compensation or benefits. Ensuring that middle managers are on board with the company mission and vision plans will likely result in their subordinates achieving high levels of job satisfaction and engagement – a key contributor to business success.

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