When it comes to workplace pressure, middle managers get it from all directions! It’s a tough gig. Middle managers are at times overruled by their seniors, and used as a voice piece or messenger by those beneath them. They must inform upper management of what is happening on the frontline, while also communicating and implementing big picture strategy with their teams. There is a lot of pressure and expectation on middle managers, especially when new to the role.
Having worked your way up to a management position, you are bound to feel a strong sense of appreciation for the opportunity, as well as a whole lot of pressure to prove yourself worthy of the position! You may be filling the boots of a previous manager, in which case it is all too easy to feel like you have to do things the way they’ve always been done. But you must remember the reasons you were chosen for the role and the qualities that you possess. This is your chance to learn, grow and innovate, to become the leader you want to be.
Afterall, the perk of being a middle manager is that you have real power and influence to bring about change. Your role is of huge importance to your seniors and to the professionals you lead. You have the opportunity to strategise with those at the top while also driving the day-to-day operations of the business, and that can be really empowering. Here are some proactive steps you can take to make a success of being a middle manager:
You must make time for reflection. Middle managers have a busy job, but in order to progress in the role, you must stop and reflect on what’s working, and the things that are not serving you and your team so well. If your HR team has a feedback system in place, then utilise it to learn how you can better support your team. If not, then take it upon yourself, in conjunction with your manager, to ask your colleagues, ‘What do I do well?’, and ‘Where are my areas for improvement?’. Only by assessing how other people see you can you grow into who you want to be as a leader, take steps to make your career goals a reality, and prove yourself.
Whether you are new to the role or a seasoned middle manager, there is a lot to be gained from enlisting a coach or mentor. They can help you identify any gaps in your knowledge or skill set, and coach you to develop your talents. Your mentor might be someone within the company or an external careers coach – organisations are increasingly recognising the benefits of executive coaching and implementing it. Much of proving yourself is about progression and improvement, and coaching is invaluable for this. A coach will refocus you, motivate you and help you grow.
When it comes to proving yourself, nothing says ‘I’m committed’ more than continual learning and development. It demonstrates that you plan to make a success of your new role. Ultimately, a great leader is both willing to learn and be curious.
If you are new to middle management, you may find that the skills that elevated you to the position in the first place aren’t necessarily enough to make it a success. You’ll likely need to know things such as how to effectively delegate tasks, how to drive results, and how to hold your own in meetings. For areas where you are lacking, look to improve your leadership skills with professional development training. At ILX, we offer a huge range of leadership courses, such as Introduction to management training, Getting results without authority and Making an impact in meetings that can help you to do just that.
Working on the frontline, you will probably know who your top bosses are, but you are unlikely to really know them. This is your opportunity! In order to prove yourself and become a valued middle manager, it’s imperative you learn what matters most to your boss, and how they like to work.
We once read that, ‘having a seat at the table doesn't mean you have a voice’, and this is particularly true in middle management. Landing the position isn’t enough, you need to form strong relationships too. Asking questions and opening the channels of communication between you and your manager will help you form a bond and enable you to support one another most effectively.
When it comes to your team, on the other hand, you are bound to know your previous co-workers very well, and that connection gives you an upper hand. Using your insider knowledge can help you lead your new subordinates to success. However, your working relationship will be different now that you are part of the management workforce, so it is important that you re-meet your team and learn about them from a manager’s point of view – i.e. knowing their strengths, weaknesses and what motivates each individual. This is how you will drive their career and development, and become a leader they can look up to and trust.
The role of a middle manager is increasingly a ‘people profession’, where interpersonal skills and effective communication are valued above all else. Master the soft skills of communication, empathy and relationship building and it will do wonders in terms of proving yourself, and in terms of career growth. Middle management is such an important part of organisational leadership, but it is a career that takes training and practice, where a desire to learn and grow is key. We hope the tips in this article help you excel!