Middle managers play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between senior leadership and front-line employees. They are the linchpins that hold organisations together. Yet, their contributions are often overlooked or underappreciated compared to their individual-contributor counterparts.
How significant are middle managers? What are the challenges they face? How can organisations empower and support middle managers to become effective leaders and change agents in the evolving workplace? Let us try and find some answers.
Middle managers often find themselves caught between the expectations of senior leadership and the realities on the ground. While their managerial skills are essential for driving team performance and achieving strategic goals, they may be overshadowed by the spotlight placed on individual contributors. This undervaluation can stem from misconceptions about middle management roles or a focus on immediate results rather than long-term leadership potential.
Mukul Chopra, CHRO, Convegenius, agrees that in some organisations, the focus may primarily be on cognitive chief experience officers (CXOs) and other high-level executives, diverting attention from the contributions of middle managers.
“The prolonged experience of middle managers within the organisation gives them valuable institutional knowledge and historical context, which newer employees may lack”
Mukul Chopra, CHRO, Convegenius
“Middle managers play a pivotal role in shaping the organisation’s culture and effectively bridging the gap between the strategic vision set by senior leadership and the implementation on the ground. They serve as a critical communication link, transmitting the higher-level objectives into actionable plans for their teams,” says Chopra.
To unlock the full potential of middle managers, organisations must cultivate a culture that recognises their significance and encourages their growth as leaders. This involves providing training and development programmes tailored to their unique needs, offering mentorship opportunities and acknowledging their achievements. By offering a supportive environment, middle managers will feel empowered to lead with confidence and navigate change adeptly.
Chopra adds, “The prolonged experience of middle managers within the organisation gives them valuable institutional knowledge and historical context, which newer employees may lack. This makes them invaluable resources for new hires and an essential part of any leadership pipeline. Their consistent presence and contributions over the years make them a symbol of organisational stability, continuity and reliability.”
“Leaders should embrace a more inclusive approach, focusing not only on personal achievements and targets but also on the development of their team members. Supporting, guiding, coaching and mentoring middle managers is crucial as they represent the future leaders of the organisation”
Anil Gaur, senior HR professional
Anil Gaur, senior HR professional, believes, “While middle managers may not always have the final say in decision-making, they should undoubtedly be involved in the process. Their expertise and insights can significantly influence the outcomes of various assignments and projects. However, challenges arise when some leaders fear that capable and competent middle managers can pose a threat to their own positions. In such cases, they may overlook or neglect these talented individuals, creating a gap in recognising and promoting deserving candidates.”
That is why, Gaur suggests that leaders embrace a more inclusive approach, focusing not only on personal achievements and targets but also on the development of their team members. Supporting, guiding, coaching and mentoring middle managers is crucial as they represent the future leaders of the organisation.
As the business landscape evolves rapidly, middle managers must adapt to new challenges and technologies. Comprehensive training and development programmes are essential to enhance their leadership skills, emotional intelligence and ability to handle organisational transformations. By equipping middle managers with the necessary tools, organisations can build a robust leadership pipeline and cultivate a culture of continuous improvement.
In modern organisations, the role of middle managers is evolving to encompass broader responsibilities. Beyond traditional supervisory tasks, they are increasingly seen as facilitators of innovation, promoters of diversity and inclusion and advocates of employee well-being. Middle managers are the vital link between fostering a positive work culture and nurturing the next generation of leaders.
“The art of managing a team requires consistent training and learning to navigate the complexities that arise while leading a diverse group of individuals. Through regular training and self-improvement, middle managers can enhance their skills and become successful leaders who inspire and motivate their teams to achieve collective goals,” says Anil Mohanty, senior HR leader.
Additionally, he explains that to be a successful manager, one must possess the competency to handle the complexities of managing multiple individuals with different personalities, competencies and expectations. Each team member requires tailored approaches, making it crucial for managers to strike a balance in their interactions.
“The art of managing a team requires consistent training and learning to navigate the complexities that arise while leading a diverse group of individuals”
Anil Mohanty, senior HR leader
“Middle managers serve as the weather vane of the organisation, reflecting the mood and morale of their teams. Their ability to gauge and interpret the pulse of the workforce is instrumental in fostering a positive work environment and driving employee engagement. In times when organisational loyalties may be tested, these managers become the stabilising force, contributing to the overall retention and loyalty of employees,” shares Chopra.
Being the backbone of organisations, the managerial skills of middle managers are indispensable for sustained success. By recognising their value, fostering a supportive culture and providing ample opportunities for growth and development, organisations can empower middle managers to become effective leaders and change agents. Embracing the evolving role of middle managers will lead to a stronger and more resilient organisation capable of thriving in an ever-changing business landscape.