Think it is lonely at the top? Try the middle. Middle managers, however you define it in your organization, operate in very tough, potentially very isolated environments too.
Lonely can happen in the middle in all sorts of organization phases. I see “lonely in the middle” in organizations going through large corporate transitions, in companies experiencing hyper growth, and I see it in companies struggling to hit their financial targets.
The middle has two groups to keep in mind: senior leadership and their own direct teams. The middle needs to be effective in managing up as well as effectively managing their teams and processes.
Consider change management. The change management experience can be very different depending on where you are in the organization. For senior leadership, acting as those that identify necessary change or causing change to begin, the experience can be exhilarating, scary, and comes with a great sense of urgency.
For the middle, typically expected to implement the changes and directly manage those that are being asked to change, the experience can be isolating as they try to be “on board” with the leadership vision plus meet the real needs and concerns of their teams as they undergo change.
Three things you can do if you are the lonely middle:
- Re-establish your peer networks. Remember you are not the only one. It is likely other managers are experiencing similar challenges. Do NOT turn these contacts with peers into negative, venting sessions.
- Ask you leadership for help. Help can take many forms including: help to communicate vision/strategy/current state of affairs with your team, more clarity on the purpose of change, and clearing of roadblocks.
- Give feedback up. The military maxim is that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. The quality of senior leadership decisions in large part depends on quality feedback from the organization – that’s you. Bonus: Don’t just say what is NOT working. Gives suggestions on what IS working as well as suggested adjustments. -Or you may be just as disappointed with the next round of “improvements.”
Three things you can do (as leadership) to help the lonely middle:
- Proactively seek out their opinion. Many managers do not take time to approach their leaders. There are many reasons. Schedules of everyone are extremely hectic and there are lots of day to day issues to resolve. The middle may also be hesitant to provide constructive criticism because they honestly do want to be a supportive team player.
- Ask and listen (and don’t judge). Many leaders got where they are to some extent on their ability to deliver information. Use the precious time you have with your middle managers to listen to what they have to say. Keep the information flowing by not judging the feedback. Who cares if it was good feedback or not? You can judge that in private. What you want to do is show appreciation for the feedback.
- Follow up on your commitments. If you say you will look into something or will evaluate process changes, then make sure you follow up with them.
Do you know what it feels to be the “lonely middle?” What have you found to help the isolation in the middle?