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.

Let diversity in!

Being a language teacher is a great thing. We get to talk to all kinds of people, hand workers, managers, HRs, receptionists, salespeople, researchers, etc. After some time I can’t help it but I really like them. In my more than 5000 class hours I can tell you I’ve disliked less participants than fingers are there in a hand.

They might not like what I do, I make their lifes harder by learning another language, but my job the very first day is making them like me so we can work together. My job is make bearable the unbearable, create a safe atmosphere so they want to come back. They are welcome, regardless our differences. They are accepted even if we don’t feel the same about the English language.

Let me ask you something, how healthy is your social life? Do you consume the same ideas and points of view all over again? when was the last time you exchanged ideas with someone whose point of view was opposed to yours? What about your inner circle, are you all in the same page? I’ve learned that growing comes when we talk to people in different possitions, with different qualification than ours, someone who sees the world from a different perspective. We are all pieces from the same puzzle, your piece might be big and shiny, still is not the whole picture. Humble yourself and you’ll be honored.

Allow people different than you to enter your circle. Allow them to differ. Allow them to show you their piece of the puzzle. I got this from a young student: he told me that companies whose board is formed by men and women are more flexibe, resistant and anticipate better to changes. That sounds like real team work to me. Working with people similar than me makes me a good friend, but working with those with opposite skills will enrich and widen my view (if we manage not to kill each other). Don’t repress different because you don’t understand it, there’s some truth in it.

Encorage your people to embrace new challenges. Part of your problems come from people rooted in one position, waiting for their retirement to come and willing to sabotage anything new. You run a company, not a club, so challenge the status. Be a processing agent not only by launching new products every year. And in that process, listen to those who oppose to you; consider their ideas, keep the usefull and dismiss the useless. What I expect from you is to be wise enough to distinguish from all the influences out there, wich one to keep. That’s why you are the boss, right?