Survival Tips for Middle Managers

Survival Tips for Middle Managers
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Survival Tips for Middle Managers

Middle managers have important, unique, and inherent challenges — to meet the performance expectations of not only those with more power (their boss), but also of those with equal and less power (their peers and their team).  Alternating between relatively high and relatively low levels of influence can be exhausting.  Especially if you’re new to management, trying to work “in the middle” is stressful.

Middle Managers Have Higher Levels of Disengagement
As part of our annual best places to work employee engagement surveys, middle managers often report feeling pulled in different directions by stakeholders with misaligned workplace cultures and conflicting needs while simultaneously having to overcome ineffective and inefficient procedures to get real work done.

Sadly, middle managers, even the high performing ones, are almost always in the bottom quartile of engagement compared to their peers.  And Columbia University recently found that managers and supervisors had a 33% higher chance of reporting symptoms of depression compared to their frontline workers.

5 Survival Tips for Middle Managers to Better Navigate their Way
Based upon data from when we assess organizational culture, we know that middle managers can make or break a company.  Somehow middle managers need to lay a course for steering through the inherent challenges of their role skillfully and with a minimum of stress.

  1. Know and Manage Yourself
    Like most things, being a high performing middle manager starts with self-awareness: knowing and managing yourself — your strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. If you cannot manage yourself, how can you expect to effectively influence and manage others?

    To accomplish this, middle managers can benefit immensely from the use of a 360-degree assessment tool before and after their new manager training program to understand how they are perceived by those around them.

  2. Get Aligned
    Once you have a clear picture of where you stand, it is time to align yourself and your team to the big picture strategy. Know what matters most and ensure that everyone’s contribution has clear meaning and purpose.  Strategic alignment helps to clarify decisions, investments, and resources.

    Clear and aligned priorities also make it OK to NOT please everyone all the time and to minimize “crisis of the moment” management that creates confusion, inefficiency, and employee disengagement.  You need to filter through what needs to be done importantly and urgently.  Strategic clarity also sets the foundation for people to feel valued and appreciated — a must for middle managers and their teams.

  3. Cultivate Flexibility
    The best leaders have learned how to maintain their composure in times of stress and how to bounce back when things go awry. For your own well being and as a model to your team, work toward building leadership resiliency.

    When thinking about survival tips for middle managers, we thought about Emmy Werner, a developmental psychologist who studied a group of 698 children for over 30 years and determined that those who were “resilient” saw themselves as “orchestrators of their own fates.”  In other words, they took charge of their achievements rather than acting as victims of circumstances.

    To survive, middle managers must have the same mindset.

  4. Improve Your Communication Skills
    Every interaction a manager has is an opportunity to create a positive impact. Often, what separates performance between teams is their ability to share information, to communicate expectations, and to work together towards a common goal.

    In fact, our organizational alignment research found that high performing managers had a 13.5 times higher rate of communication, transparency, and information flow than their lower performing peers.

    Effective communication skills are key for middle managers to become better communicators and listeners.

  5. Learn How to Influence Others
    In order to navigate from the middle, managers must be able to influence those around them.  To influence as a middle manager, you must understand and be able to effectively navigate workplace politics,  advocate for yourself and your team, and build and maintain trust with key stakeholders based upon your character (how you behave) and your competence (what results you deliver).

The Bottom Line
Managing others is not for the weak.  It takes a multitude of management development skills from communicating, delegating, flexing, thinking systemically, and influencing effectively.  Are you helping your overworked and underappreciated middle managers bridge the gap between the frontline and senior management?

To learn more survival tips for middle managers, download 7 Immediate Management Actions to Create Alignment with Goals

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