Middle management, oh dear!

Loved and hated, misunterstood and feared, an in between specie far from the grossroot but not yet the fat cat. The board expect from them to perform miracles, their employees to inspire affection and let them work in peace. They are chosen following different guidelines and policies, but I’ve been told there is one you should look for: the know-how. Let me explain.

A project manager in charge of a small team should have a basic knowledge of what every member of the team does. If I ask a subordinate to write a report, and I think it might take him 1 hour but in reality he needs 3, discomfort is guaranteed. Now multiply that discomfort for the amount of employees you have. I lost record how many times I’ve been told that my students don’t feel understood. «My supervisor doesn’t know what it takes to do my job» is the common complaint.

Let me put it in another way. Your kids are being too loud in the supermarket, so I aproach to you, out of the blue, to give you suggestions on how to improve your parenting style (because I have amazing theories about kids, of course). You may think I’m a snob, for I have no kids, not even a nice or nephew. My zero experience doesn’t qualify me as a parenting guru, inspite of all my reserch. But if I was a grandma, you would take my advice differently, and I would probably be more simpathetic to you too, because I’ve been there. A sympathetic approach has more possibly to be heard and considered than an authoritative one. If a middle manger has been there, he would be realistic about his expectations, thoughtful and not likely to be cheated.

If the know-how is missing, learning is always possible. In that case your should look for middle management willing to learn, eager to listen and humble enough be in their employees’ shoes. I’m not talking about micro-management either, controling every step of the process. I’ve noticed that very skilled employees need trust and freedom (and time) to use their potential. If they don’t feel respected as the professionals they are, they will keep to themselves their good ideas, won’t produce anything innovative or take their ideas somewhere else. This being said, treat your middle management they way you want them to treat their subordinates, let them reproduce what they’ve learnt from you. That will actually say more about you that anything you could say. Pass your vision, passion and wishes for your company with your deeds, not only in words.

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