A manager taking notes on one co-worker in an office.

The Hardships of Being a Middle Manager and How You Can Improve

Ever wonder how middle managers walk the tightrope between making it big and struggling to keep up? These people, the true unsung heroes in the corporate jungle, face a daily obstacle course that’s nothing short of a maze.

Caught in the middle of top-level execs and the troops on the front lines, they’ve got to ace the balancing act. They are always juggling priorities, refereeing conflicts, and keeping the performance train on track while holding onto their sanity.

Are you about to take on a middle manager role? 

We’re here to walk you through the expectations of a middle management role and the challenges that middle managers face every day and learn how to go beyond just making it through. 

Learn to thrive as a middle manager with us!

Leadership Roles In Middle Management – What To Expect?

Let’s talk about what’s really expected from middle managers in leadership roles. There is a vast range of leaders in the middle management tier, each with unique responsibilities and learning requirements.

Managers, directors, and supervisors are common titles for those who sit between the highest-level executives and the front-line workers. Middle managers are the ones who lead other leaders and find themselves right in the middle, somewhere between the top bosses and the front-line heroes.

Now, you might think their job is all about reviewing performance or managing tasks, but it’s so much more than that. Middle managers are like the vital connective tissue of an organization. They’re responsible for making sure everything flows smoothly between the top-level bosses and the employees on the ground.

The organization depends on its ability to translate strategy into action, foster a great corporate culture of productivity and creativity, and meet ambitious expansion targets.

The tasks and responsibilities of a middle manager appear straightforward at first glance – translate broad strategic objectives into manageable tasks and then see those tasks through to fruition.

However, many middle managers often find themselves facing a whole new set of challenges.

They’re expected to influence and communicate up and down the chain to make things happen, all while not having direct control over the big-picture strategy or directly monitoring implementation. So they’re stuck in the middle.

Hardships Of Being A Middle Manager

If you’re about to take on a middle management role, you might be worried about the kind challenges you’ll face as a middle manager. That’s why we have created a list of hardships that most middle managers face in their role.

A group of co-workers in an office together.
Middle managers also face the difficulty of having too many tasks to complete at once.
  1. Balancing Act

Middle managers also face the difficulty of having too many tasks to complete at once. Setting and meeting goals while also attending to routine operating concerns can be a lot to take on at once.

BetterUp found that middle managers spend 50% of their time on administrative duties, leaving them little time for strategic planning and other high-impact activities. They have to manage several individuals and projects at once, as well as interact with higher-ups. This can cause stress and prevent you from concentrating on what has to be done first. 

  1. Communication Challenges

There’s also the problem of a lack of communication. The demands of upper management and the needs of frontline workers sometimes collide, leaving middle managers in a difficult position. 

Forty-one percent of frontline employees report that management never takes feedback to ask for their opinions. This might cause a misunderstanding and a breakdown in communication.

Managers in the middle tier of an organization are responsible for relaying the instructions of higher-ups to their teams and relaying the complaints and suggestions of those teams back to their superiors. Maintaining effective and effortless communication is not always easy.

  1. Limited Decision-Making Authority

Many middle managers feel they are not given enough responsibility or authority to make choices. It’s difficult to execute changes or find solutions when they lack the authority to make major decisions on their own. 

Frequently, middle managers are tasked with carrying out an initiative over which they have little control and with which they may or may not agree. On top of managing others, leaders also have to keep themselves in check.

According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, organizations face failure in more than 70 percent of all attempts they make to implement organizational transformation. 

That’s because there are problems with implementation at the level of middle management as they are stuck between the autonomy vs. control tension. They are often frustrated and unfulfilled because they are in a “middle management limbo” where they are not given the authority to make choices.

  1. Handling Conflict

It can be draining emotionally and time-consuming to mediate disputes inside a team or between a team and higher-ups. While employees should resolve their differences amicably, there may be times when you, as a manager, need to intervene. This is especially true if the conflict is harming others indirectly or if it poses a danger to the company’s culture and morale. 

If you decide to participate, it would be best if you listened more than you spoke. You won’t get to the bottom of the issue or, more importantly, find a way forward unless you listen to the other side. 

Remember that a resolution need not take the form of an agreement.  

The best way ahead is for employees to acknowledge the difference of view or perspective and approach towards a solution together. To guide someone to that point, you need to put aside your need to always be right and focus instead on actively listening and working together. 

  1. Stress And Burnout

According to research conducted at Columbia University, middle managers are put in a challenging circumstance because they play two opposing roles simultaneously: as problem owners and problem solvers. They are both the director and the performer, a situation that presents its own set of difficulties.

Middle managers can experience burnout due to the high expectations of the position and the lack of resources available to them. High levels of burnout and stress can result from not efficiently managing the combination of pressure, accountability, and limited authority.

A group of co-workers in an office meeting.

The best way ahead is for employees to acknowledge the difference of view or perspective and approach towards a solution together.

  1. Career Advancement

The middle management level might feel like a bottleneck, making it difficult to move up the corporate ladder to a higher leadership position. Many middle managers feel they have reached a plateau in their careers and are unable to advance further. 

They also feel like they’re stuck in their careers and aren’t rewarded enough. This might lead to a lack of drive and a feeling of being stuck. According to a McKinsey study, middle managers are most interested in being given more responsibility and freedom in exchange for their hard work. So, middle managers neither get enough compensation for their work nor career advancement opportunities. 

  1. Expectations Vs. Resource Constraints 

It is expected of middle managers that they have the ability to lead, solve problems, and make sound decisions. However, they are not provided with enough resources or personnel to accomplish their goals. This makes it difficult to produce desired outcomes. 

Far too many managers complain that they are expected to produce exceptional results with inadequate means, or at a level of proficiency beyond which they have the necessary expertise. 

Penn State researchers concluded that excessive pressure on middle managers to meet performance goals may have contributed to instances of dishonesty or damaging short cuts.

Ways To Improve For Middle Managers

Did that list seem overwhelming? It might look like a lot but believe us if you have the right tricks and skills up your sleeves, you may not have to face any of them. We have created a list of ways you can improve and overcome all of the hardships to become a great middle manager.

  1. Enhanced Communication

Every encounter a manager has is an opportunity to make a difference. Teams that are better at sharing knowledge, setting and meeting expectations, and working together tend to perform better overall.

In fact, a study on organizational alignment discovered that top-performing managers were 13.5 times more likely to have open lines of communication, openness, and the free flow of information than their low-performing colleagues.

Hence, middle-level managers can greatly benefit from developing their communication and listening abilities.

  1. Build Resilience

Managers’ capacity to deal with the stresses and strains of the work often makes the difference between success and failure, thus it’s important to build resilience.

Resilience, or the disposition to quickly recover mentally and emotionally from stress and adversity, is a skill that may be learned. Managers who develop resilience not only have a higher likelihood of experiencing positive mental health and a more well-rounded existence, but also perform better on the job.

Resilience training is a valuable skill for any manager to have since it helps cultivate traits like care, perspective, compassion, and response choice.

Although many observers are quick to highlight the challenges of mid-level leadership, the reality is that this position, when carried out effectively, can be extremely rewarding and meaningful.

  1. Influence Building

Managers need the ability to influence the opinions of those around them in order to succeed in the middle.  The ability to influence as a middle manager depends on your familiarity with and skill at navigating office politics, your ability to speak up for yourself and others, and your ability to earn and keep the trust of important stakeholders through your character (how you act) and competence (what you accomplish).

According to the Golden Rule of Influence, the best method to persuade others is to use the same techniques that worked for you. Your desire to care, listen, offer, and teach beyond your scope of direct duty isn’t the usual and will be perceived as a true gift by those over whom you have no authority, making it an especially potent tactic for influencing peers over whom you have no influence. 

When you appeal to people’s basic emotions and have empathy for them, you can have a greater impact on them even without any formal authority. So, you shouldn’t worry about being in a compromising position. Instead, you should realize your potential to set the direction and pace in any way you want.

  1. Effective Feedback Mechanisms

Set up a low-key procedure for receiving feedback from your team on your management strategies. Through your team’s constructive criticism, you will get an idea of which methods work best and which doesn’t. 

Allow your junior staff to speak freely with their superiors. Facilitate an open line of communication where they can discuss processes, tasks, problems, and potential solutions. Make yourself more available and approachable for them so they can share ways for you to be a better guide to success. 

One way to do that is, instead of sending an email to all of the company’s management, you may call a meeting to talk about the new policy in person and get their feedback. You can ask the line managers what you can do to ensure smooth implementation of the new policy. 

Take out time to hear their concerns and work together with your teams to ease the transition to the new policy and other changes. 

  1. Accountability

Master the art of self- and group-accountability. If, for instance, you’re worried about a worker’s performance, it’s best to conduct a performance review and voice such worries as soon as possible. However, reassure the group that you truly intend to be helpful. 

Begin with an attitude of inquiry, sympathy, and comprehension. But you shouldn’t expect the problem to simply disappear or resolve by itself. Keep in mind that the bad performance of one member might have a domino effect on the rest of the team. It’s up to you to step in as manager and fix things or sit around and witness their fall.

If you need help in fixing things, you can always ask your boss or the HR department because having to deal with these discussions on your own can be exhausting.

Group of people sits around a table with laptops.
When you appeal to people’s basic emotions and have empathy for them, you can have a greater impact on them even without any formal authority.

Raise your level of self-awareness to better monitor your day-to-day emotional state.

How and why do you gain the most vitality from doing specific things? Do they test you in any way? How well do you perform them? Do they help in making you happy? 

On the opposite side, what kinds of interactions tend to exhaust you, and why do they do so? Are you scared of going to certain meetings or find it hard to concentrate when doing certain tasks? For instance, if you know you’ll be too tired at the end of the day to pay attention in a meeting, you can try to schedule it earlier in the day. 

  1. Leadership Workshops

Getting any sort of formal training as a leader is a great idea. In order to best serve their team and guide them to victory, excellent leaders are relentlessly curious and open to new ways of doing things. 

Most middle managers have never held a leadership position before, but the talents that got you there might not be the ones you need now. Investing in leadership development shows your team and superiors that you’re committed to their success in your new capacity.

If you want to improve your social abilities, communication, ability to inspire others, and capacity to mentor others, then you should enroll in some relevant training. It’s crucial that you develop the ability to assign responsibilities to your direct reports and other teams.

Use Project Management Tools

You can think about using project management software to handle numerous projects simultaneously in a more organized manner. Team members can track their progress in an open and honest manner using tools like Asana, Jira, or a shared whiteboard on Miro. 

Using a project management tool can help you identify potential bottlenecks in projects, manage capacity, and prepare for the future. 

Having a central meeting place prevents private conversations from devolving into status updates. In addition, you will know exactly who is responsible for what, and how well you are performing in relation to your objectives.

Wrapping Up

So, there you have it—the middle management mystery, cracked. Being the link between strategic vision and operational detail is an important function of middle management. Ensuring you’re resilient, well-connected, and well-supported will help your team perform well under pressure. Ultimately, you’ll be able to appreciate the tremendous privilege and duty of assisting others in reaching their full professional potential. 

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