How to Succeed in Middle Management

Implement 4 Key Ideas for Middle Management Success

If you follow these five tips for employee recognition, you will heighten the impact of the recognition.
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Middle management is often a frustrating position. It’s one in which employees can manage people but they aren’t executive or senior-level, which means that they generally lack the authority to do everything they might want to do. This feeling of being stuck is reflected in studies like those from Harvard Business Review, which finds that middle management employees are perhaps the most miserable of all.

Common Middle Management Problems and How to Solve Them

What makes middle managers frustrated, and how can you fix your situation if you’re in that group? Here are suggestions that will help you change your life. 

Problem: Middle managers feel stuck. 

The above-cited study found that people who were in the bottom 5% when you consider workplace happiness, had the following factors in common: 

  • Earned a college degree, but not a graduate degree,
  • Five to 10 years’ tenure,
  • Worked as mid-level managers, and
  • Received a good (as opposed to a superior or a terrible) performance rating 

In other words, they are doing an average job with average performance. They’ve experienced some success but aren’t rocketing to the top. 

Solution: Get your graduate degree. 

So, go back to school and get your graduate degree or investigate other training or certificates. And at work, reach out to your boss to set goals to increase your performance review rating. Any one of these changes can help get you unstuck and feeling better about your job and life. 

Problem: Middle managers see their organization as inefficient and ineffective. 

Middle managers have responsibilities over some areas, but they don’t have the power of a CEO. Middle managers who lack the power to control all factors associated with successful change management are frequently challenged to create change successfully. 

Solution: Take ownership.

Middle management can still succeed to create change. It’s not easy though—a study by McKinsey & Company found that less than 50% of changes were effective over time—even when the changes met their initial goals.

What made the difference for changes? People who took ownership of the problem were more likely to implement real, long-lasting change, according to McKinsey. So, if you see a process that is inefficient and ineffective, volunteer to take charge and make the changes needed. You will attract positive attention and feel good about your success. 

Problem: Middle managers feel they are treated unfairly compared with others.

Middle managers have direct reports who they advocate for, but sometimes their own bosses can seem less than ideal. The boss of a middle manager may manage multiple functions and may not be an expert in the middle manager’s specific responsibilities. 

Solution: Advocate for yourself.

In his column for Harvard Business Review, Nicholas Pearce, a clinical associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, suggests advocating for yourself and finding another person to champion your issues. Additionally, he says, find out what your boss expects. You may be running yourself ragged on assignments that aren’t important to them.

Speak up. Get additional support. Don’t depend on your boss to do all of the advocating for you. Do you advocate for your employees all of the time? Probably not. Don’t expect your boss to do better. 

Problem: Middle managers experience employee problems. 

While this wasn’t a cause mentioned by the Harvard study of miserable employees, managing people is difficult. The Myers & Briggs Foundation identifies 16 different types of personalities that you will encounter during your daily management responsibilities. 

Differing personalities means that it’s likely you’ll have conflicts about how work should be handled in the office. From the ISTJ personality type who values order and logic to the ENTP personality type who gets bored easily and wants to constantly change what they are doing, you’ve got challenges ahead when you manage people. 

Solution: Increase your management skills.

Ninety-three percent of managers feel they need people management training. It’s doubtful you are in the 7% who feel secure in their skills. Managing is hard work, and it’s okay to ask for training. If your company cannot (or will not) provide it, you can take courses that are available outside of your workplace.

From online classes to seminars at the local college, it’s time for you to get the training you need.

Not only will you feel better about your skills and your ability to handle stressful situations, but your employees will also appreciate a manager who knows what they’re talking about. Middle management is a time to build these skills so you can gain promotions and not feel stuck. 

Problem: Middle managers see no career or promotion opportunities.

Middle managers aren’t at the top, and many feel frustrated by their position. If you see nowhere to go, then you understandably can become miserable. 

Solution: Learn industry trends and get cross-training.

Brandman University advises getting out there and learning about industry trends. If you want to succeed and be happy at work, find a career path and learn about your industry. Becoming a subject matter expert on industry trends can help other people see your value. And cross-training gives you greater breadth. 

Quite often, senior people manage multiple functions (for instance, a CEO needs to have an understanding of marketing, finance, and manufacturing). When you work in middle management, now is the time to get that cross-training you need. Ask for opportunities to learn new skills and pursue them on your own time, as well. 

Bottom Line

Middle management doesn’t have to leave you feeling stuck and incapable of enacting real change. It’s possible, if you take control of your career, that you can work to improve, your years in middle management. And, if you succeed in your middle management role, your organization has the real advantage of making your employee’s lives better. This means better engagement and higher productivity for your organization. So, in turn, your success will make your boss happy.

Article Sources

  1. Harvard Business Review. "Why Middle Managers Are So Unhappy," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019 

  2. McKinsey & Company. "Secrets of Successful Change Implementation," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019. 

  3. Harvard Business Review. "What to Do When Your Boss Won’t Advocate for You," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  4. Society for Human Resource Management. "SHRM Survey Findings: Influencing Workplace Culture Through Employee Recognition and Other Efforts." Page 26. Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.