Middle management: the backbone of any organization. Situated between senior leadership and frontline employees, middle managers play a crucial role in bridging the gap between the all-seeing employees and the larger vision held by leadership. But it’s this essential group of managers who are faced with some of the largest challenges on a personal and professional level - and it is this very issue that organization and leader support training often fail to address. Let's explore some of the struggles faced by middle management today.
“You can’t please everyone.” This is something my mother told me time and time again growing up. Yet, middle management is often expected to do just that. One of the primary struggles middle managers report is trying to find the delicate balance between meeting the expectations of senior leadership, and the needs of their team. They often find themselves caught between the pressure of the two, where meeting high-level goals comes at the cost of losing the support of their team, or vice versa. This balancing act can be daunting and can lead to conflicting priorities.
But by establishing open and transparent lines of communication with both their superiors and their teams, middle managers can start to overwrite this longstanding narrative they have had to live by for so long. Regularly discussing goals, objectives, and expectations can help align everyone's efforts and ensure that the team's work is aligned with the organization's overarching vision. I’ve learned over time that my mother was right all along – we can’t please everyone. And it’s time we not only remind our managers of this, but actively work to change the narrative by acknowledging the impossible task they have been faced with.
Middle managers often find themselves in a unique position where they are expected to lead and make decisions, without having direct authority over their team members. And while this lack of executive power may have the benefit of making them more relatable and approachable to their team, it can also hinder their ability to influence and motivate their team. This can lead middle managers to feel redundant – or like they’re letting their team down.
Which is why gaining the team’s trust and respect is going to be essential – and it can only truly be done through honest dialogue. While the difficulty of having to make leadership-level decisions without all the authority can be confusing for a manager (and the team alike) building open and honest relationships with frontline employees needs to be a first step. While middle managers often feel the pressure to deliver, an employee is often just looking to be heard. Lending a shoulder or an open ear to an employee to discuss their needs - and supporting them in initiatives even where you might not have the decision-making power – could be exactly what the doctor ordered. And of course, developing leadership skills and enhancing knowledge through training and professional development opportunities can help middle managers gain the confidence and expertise necessary to guide their teams effectively.
Being pulled in multiple directions, and juggling numerous responsibilities simultaneously is the nature of many managers' daily routine. They must oversee the day-to-day operations of their teams, handle administrative tasks, and participate in strategic decision-making. This heavy workload can lead to stress, burnout, and compromised performance.
Identifying high-priority responsibilities and utilizing their team's strengths can help distribute the workload more efficiently. But we need to support managers in prioritizing and delegating as well, by normalizing it and teaching them these skills. It is assumed that many individual managers have natural-born skills, but they are not natural for many who end up in middle management positions.
Managers must set boundaries and take care of their own personal well-being first, and only then can they lead their team members.
Middle management is a vital but extremely challenging role within organizations. Navigating the complexities of balancing expectations, leading without formal authority, managing conflict, and handling heavy workloads can be overwhelming. However, with the right mindset, skills, and support, middle managers can overcome these struggles and thrive in their roles. But organizations need to provide additional resources, training programs, and mentorship opportunities to empower their middle managers and help them succeed.
At Nurau, we recognize the value and importance of middle management. By addressing these struggles head-on and implementing strategies to overcome them, we can elevate the performance of our middle managers and create a culture of success throughout the organization. But first things first: let’s acknowledge how many of these struggles have gone unacknowledged for too long. Once they are acknowledged they can be managed effectively.