While I frequently espouse that every position is critical to the running of a successful business, today I want to offer my theory that middle managers are the glue that holds organizations together. Think about it. They bind together the strategy focus of senior leadership with the operational responsibility of staff.
Senior leadership sets the strategic focus and communicates the objectives throughout the organization. Yet it falls on middle managers to ensure that staff are engaged and committed to the strategy and that their work aligns to the goals on a daily basis. Middle managers must juggle the constant balancing act between focusing their work on strategic development and dealing with day to day operational issues. They must meet the expectations of senior leadership to improve programs and services that drive strategic objectives while also meeting their staffs’ needs for them to be available on a regular basis to provide feedback, coaching, mentoring and support with daily tasks. They are the implementers of strategy and the drivers of operations.
To do all this successfully takes significant leadership skills. However, in my experience this is rarely a skill that organizations evaluate when promoting people into leadership roles and in recruiting for them.
Far too often I have seen highly successful technical and/or professional people be promoted into manager roles because organizations want to recognize their contributions and move them to the “next level”. There is minimal evaluation of their leadership skills other than the traditional review of their skills in managing conflict, dealing with competing priorities and handling pressure. Perhaps they will be good middle managers or at least with good training, development and coaching they will grow into the role.
However, in not taking the time to properly evaluate a person’s fit for the middle manager role organizations are short changing themselves and the candidate. The worst possible outcome is that a person is not successful when promoted into management. It can have a devastating impact on a person’s career and the organization they will likely no longer be working for after the failure.
Remember that not all people are meant to be managers, no matter how good they are at their profession. On the other hand there are those who are born leaders and those that have great potential to lead. Take the time to find these people. Don’t just evaluate how a person has done in their profession. Evaluate and select candidates based on their ability to lead strategy and manage operations. Find the right middle managers because they will be the people holding your organization together.