Passing through middle management on your way to the top is often unavoidable. Getting stuck there, however, doesn’t have to be.
An extended stay in middle management may occur for a few reasons: the manager may fall into the “complacency trap,” a sort of holding tank for those who are content with a little bit of success. Or the manager could be instructed to overhaul a project in the midst of “change,” which is sort of like being invited to a party without an end. Another common scenario is the manager who’s viewed as too valuable to go anywhere else. Being indispensable may be the highest form of workplace flattery, but it won’t always help you get ahead.
Here are five proven ways to avoid getting stuck in the middle of middle management:
- Stay informed. Information is still power and the more you know about why you are where you are, the better equipped you’ll be to move through a situation. Knowing why, for instance, you were chosen to manage a particular project will help you determine how to complete the task and move on. Ask a lot of questions and, before informing your team, make sure you have as many answers as possible. Again, this will help you maintain momentum. Staying informed is also good medicine for remaining calm.
- Maintain a professional attitude. Sometimes managers get stuck because they forget to act like executives-in-training. If, say, you are given the unsavory task of letting someone go, do your best to be kind but professional. This is one of the thorniest issues that can arise, but it’s critical to maintain some objectivity. As private as this situation is, be assured that higher management is listening and watching. Laying people off is never fun, but it is, unfortunately, a part of business life.
- Influence upper management. Don’t forget to use your influence. You may feel stuck in middle management, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have something valuable to share. Nothing speaks louder than data with hard figures. Anecdotal evidence that supports the project is also valuable, as are priceless customer testimonials.
- Be a bridge of trust. The middle manager’s job is to implement new ideas that come down from the executive leadership. The line staff does their work and any questioning of the top brass is often whispered from one cubicle to the next. Rather than have your people guess and wonder and, ultimately, worry (which can significantly disrupt productivity), become the bridge of trust. In this role, you present top management’s vision to your staff and demonstrate where they fit in. If you have to translate, then do so. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them you’ll find out and be sure to fulfill that promise. Sound easy? It’s not and that’s why so many managers get burned out and stuck. Just as you must speak the language of upper management, you must also communicate with your staff so they know what they have to do. Making time for both paths of communication — with leadership and the line workers — is essential.
- Don’t be timid or risk-averse. Sometimes being in the middle is confusing. You may ask yourself, “Am I a worker bee or the one in charge?” “Where are my alliances?” “Who’s looking out for me?” When we’re unsure we tend to be more careful, sometimes too much so. Don’t be timid or risk-averse just because you’re nervous about an outcome. Remember, the more information you have, the better equipped you are to make decisions.