SUMMARY POINTS

  • Middle managers have to operate in a much wider realm
  • There’s no training on how to be a mid-level manager
  • Learn to prioritize, delegate and balance the tactical and strategic
  • Be the leader you want to be and you’ll be successful
Life was going well for you years ago when you were just a newb starting to work in a new company. Everything was new and you were off to a fresh start in your career.

As the years went by and you proved yourself, you gained more responsibility and you eventually got promoted into middle management. Finally, you’re not at the bottom of the fucking totem pole anymore.

It was an exciting time, having the opportunity to have more impact, more responsibility and a small team of your own. The pay bump was awesome too. It was great for the first couple of years, but now you’re starting to see the grim realities.

You’re finding yourself stuck in the middle of so much more corporate crossfire, office politics, and pressure.

Now, there are multiple times more demands from your multiple bosses, your colleagues, and your subordinates about what they want and need from you.

The shit’s coming from all directions - above, below and sideways.

You feel like you have too much to do with too little time. You have too many tasks to accomplish with too little information, and you don’t have the time to do everything that’s expected of you.

You’re on the hamster wheel at max speed while juggling chainsaws.

It’s starting to feel like life in the workplace isn’t working out like you thought it would.

Welcome to the world of middle fucking management.

What Middle Management Is All About

In the business world, middle management is - you guessed it, in the middle of the company’s organizational structure. Small companies may only have one or two middle layers while large Fortune 500 companies will have lots more.

A middle manager’s role is to ensure that all levels of an organization are working efficiently and effectively. It’s keeping track and managing things downward, laterally, and upward.

The shitty part is that the responsibilities of a middle manager are never clearly defined and this often leads to more stress, frustration, and unhappiness. The job doesn’t come with an “owner’s manual” of how to do the work. You’re just dropped in there and expected to perform.

The only clear thing is that you’re a buffer between senior or executive management and front-line employees in the trenches doing the grunt work.

No one likes being in the middle of something. You feel stuck, have less control, and find it harder to get in the zone with work.

However, like with a lot of things in life, there’s always a flipside.

Sometimes, being in the middle can be a great place to be. You’re right in the thick of things, in the middle of the action, but not in the spotlight, and you have a 360-degree view of everything that is going on around you.

Why Working In Middle Management Sucks

Most managers don’t understand the full scope of the role or in more simple terms, the entirety of all the bullshit that they’re getting into. There’s no middle management “coach”. You have to learn on your own and from what others tell you.

You get frustrated with not having enough direct control and/or influence over the work being done. And yet, others above you are doing exactly that to you.

You have to be tactical and yet also strategic. You’re expected to produce more results but there’s no real training on how to do that exactly.

Simon Sinek, a British-American author who writes and speaks about work-life and organizational behavior, explains why this shit ain’t easy.

VIDEO: Why Middle Management is the Hardest Job
YOUTUBE: Simon Sinek
LENGTH: 04:35
Summary points:
  • Middle managers are stuck between strategic and tactical thinking
  • Things break easily when interests aren’t aligned
  • The solution is to be the leader you wish you had

Dealing With Bullshit From Everywhere

You have to deal with bullshit coming from above, below, and laterally. You end up having to spend a ton of time dealing with all of it and the politics and bureaucracy that comes along with it.

You get caught in between a lot of things too.

Upper management expects you to know everything but they also don’t give you the necessary information, resources, or tools to do your job.

Then, at the other end, you get frustrated when you have less control and/or input into the working level activities.

Expectations That You Now Have To Put In More Time

The good thing about being at the bottom of the organization is when it’s the end of the day, you can just clock out, disconnect from work, and head home. Nobody takes a second glance at you.

But now that you’re a mid-level manager, things are different.

Upper management now has expectations for you to put in more time. It’s not formally stated, but informally expected. And because of this, many managers end up working longer hours.

This study from the University of South Carolina shows that managers have a much greater propensity to work longer hours than working level staff. No surprise really.

There’s No Training On How To Be A Manager

When you’re hired as a new employee, there are all sorts of new hire training and orientation that take place. Everything from setting up your employee profile, direct deposit payroll, benefits, healthcare, 401k retirement, etc.

But, when you get promoted into middle management, you get nothing. Zero. Zilch.

There’s no training on how to be a mid-level manager. You have to learn it on the fly, on your own, and from what others tell you. 

No One Is There To Mentor You

When you’re in middle management, no one is there to mentor you and guide you along the way. The only things you have are your prior staff-level experience and if you’re lucky, the archived files from your predecessor.

If there was a prior person in the role, good luck in trying to get their help because chances are that they’re dealing with the same bullshit too.

You may not even know how things work in this new part of the organization or with your new team. The available information is probably too general and not specific enough for your situation.

Nobody’s available to walk you through everything. You’re on your own.

There are plenty of downsides to being in middle management. The truth is, it’s a thankless job where you get little recognition or credit for what you do.

It’s easy to feel stuck, stagnant, and frustrated. It’s hard to keep your momentum when there are so many people that depend on you for results but also expect you to do more with less resources and little help.

How To Make Things Better As A Middle Manager

One of the constant challenges of being in middle management is having to balance your time and energy between the needs of your direct reports and the requests from up top.

We’re gonna be straight up with you. It’s ain’t easy. It’s a delicate balance.

If you spend too much time helping your direct reports, you won’t have enough time to meet with big wigs.

If you spend too much time meeting with the top brass, you won’t have enough time to help your staff.

If you spend too much time with your lateral peers in middle management, then the folks above and below don’t get what they need.

However, you can be successful in middle management. It just takes a different and disciplined approach.

Here are some ways to stay positive, happy and solve the issues you will face as a middle manager.

Prioritize Incoming Requests And Tasks

You can stop putting out fires all day at work by prioritizing the requests that are more important and have a higher impact on the company. After all, everything can’t be #1 on your list of to-do’s.

For example, if there is a major deadline approaching for a project that is considered strategic or high-profile, you gotta shift your focus to working with your direct reports on this so that it gets done properly and on-time.

On the other hand, if there is a minor task or issue that isn’t critical to either the company or project deadlines, then you should delegate it to one of your direct reports and let them take the lead on it while you focus on the other more urgent or complex tasks.

By prioritizing requests based on their importance, you can help the company and your team at the same time. It’s all about efficiency.

Another way to manage this dilemma is to have your direct reports prioritize what they need from you.

They can let you know if they’re stuck on a task and need help or if they have a minor issue that isn’t blocking them but would like your input or advice. You can also have them keep track of their tasks and project deadlines so that you know when to step in to help.

If they’re stumped on how to complete a task, then step in and offer suggestions or pointers but don’t do it for them. You don’t have the time. Plus, they gotta learn too! It’s how everyone gets better.

By letting go of some control, you can be more available for the bigger picture items and still give your team enough attention and guidance when needed.

Learn To Say “No” And Set Boundaries

Sometimes, it may be tempting to accept every request that comes your way because you want to get everything done for everybody.

It may also be tempting because the requests seem interesting or fun but not necessarily important for the company as a whole. Sorry, planning the team “happy hour” days ahead of time isn’t a strategic priority.

However, when there are too many requests coming at once from all directions, it becomes overwhelming for anyone regardless of seniority level.

If you try to tackle everything, you’ll get stressed out big time and you’ll just burn out.

You gotta learn to say “no” and set boundaries.

By saying “no” when appropriate (instead of just giving excuses), not only will it free up more time for yourself but also send a message that you value being productive over being involved in everything just because someone asked nicely (or loudly).

Plus, it’ll help you manage work stress that much better.

Delegate And Don’t Overextend Yourself

It’s natural for people who enjoy being busy or multi-tasking but this doesn’t mean that it’s good for productivity or results in the long run.

More hours put in doesn’t result in equal amounts of output at the other end.

If you become too involved with too many things, you’ll find yourself losing sight of the bigger picture. You’re “in the weeds” instead of looking at the forest and therefore, less able to see how each project relates to the others.

You’ll also have less time to step back and reflect on what you can do better as a manager.

It’s also important to empower your direct reports so that they can be more productive on their own without your intervention. They want to feel valued and productive too - remember, how you felt?

If you’re always around, they won’t learn how to work on their own and take responsibility for their actions. This is especially true if they don’t know how to handle the tasks themselves and end up coming back to you all the time for help or answers.

You gotta let them do their thing, make their own mistakes and learn from them - that’s how growth happens. By showing them that you trust them with more responsibilities, it will motivate them to work harder and be more accountable for their actions.

Look At The Big Picture

It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day tasks of your job. You have multiple projects going on at once and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the work.

Set aside time each week to review your progress and set new goals for yourself. Take a step back from the day-to-day activities and take a look at how far you’ve come and where you’re headed.

Use this time to reflect on what you’re doing well, what you can improve, and how you can better yourself as a manager.

Become The Leader That You Wish You Had

You want to be the kind of leader that you want to work for. You want to be the kind of leader that your direct reports would like to work for. But first, you have to become a leader.

One thing that is important in becoming a leader is self-awareness. The best leaders are self-aware because they know their strengths and weaknesses and can work around them accordingly.

Being self-aware helps you in several ways.

Knowing what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, enables you to focus on where your strengths are and get support from your staff for things that you suck at.

If people see your self-awareness, they will be more willing to follow your lead because they’ll know that there is an actual plan for success rather than blindly following someone who doesn’t know their ass from their elbow.

Becoming a leader means taking on the responsibility of guiding others towards success – yourself included!

Develop Your Strengths

Find out what your strengths are as a person, leader, manager, etc. Use these strengths to help make yourself more successful in middle management.

If you don’t know what your strengths are, take some time to reflect on the work that you do or the roles that you have had in the past that have been successful for you or that others consider successful for you.

Identify why those things were successful and use those skills to help make yourself more successful in middle management.

Build on your strengths rather than focusing on your weaknesses; that will help keep your momentum going forward with confidence and success. 

Overcoming The Shitstorm Today To Become A Leader Tomorrow

Middle management has been called “a career killer” by many executives and professionals alike. It can be a thankless job where you get little recognition or credit for what you do.

You’re stuck between upper management and your direct reports; between what needs to get done and what people want to be done; between the vision of the company and what gets accomplished every day; between the goal and the actual work.

Now, imagine if you knew that all the confusion, bullshit, and the loss of sense of direction was just part of being the middle manager, and you started delegating more, getting your priority system in place, and achieving that balance.

Wouldn’t you feel more in control of your work life now?

Instead of just doing shallow bullshit work, you’ll spend more time doing important things and make progress on the shit that matters.

Today will be the day that you get to be the middle manager that you were so excited to be. The one that has control over the shitstorm that comes entitled with the job, and still be proud of the new title that you have earned.

So, look around you today and know that you’ll be kicking ass and will become the leader that you would like to be tomorrow.

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]

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