Managers in the Middle, Part 1: “Relationships up the Line”

Middle Managers are like the meat in a sandwich. They are squeezed from both ends. They are ignored by their Executives and they are the disdain of their subordinates.”  At least that’s how many Middle Managers feel. And yet they represent a level of management that is so important to any organisation.

The subject is so important it warrants TWO Blog spots. In this first segment let’s canvass some issues about the relationship between Middle Managers and their Executives. Next week we will look at the Middle Manager and their work teams.

Middle Managers and their Executives.

The Executive level of management which seems to frustrate so many Middle Managers is coincidentally the very level of managementAnger that by and large Middle Managers aspire to become. Is there some evil spell that takes place during their transformation to Executives which causes them to forget how they felt when they were Middle Managers? Is it more a matter of the effects of change in perspective? I once had the surprising experience of having one of my recently promoted Senior Managers ask to be transferred back to their old Middle management role because they didn’t like the person they had become, even in a short space of time. It really wasn’t that they had changed, like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, but rather they had moved out of a comfort zone to a place both unfamiliar and more challenging than they had imagined.

It is amazing how elevation within the management hierarchy of an organisation can enable a person to see things from quite a different angle to that they may have only recently before. That is all the more reason for both Executives and Middle Managers to work hard at understanding each other’s perspective.

A successful relationship between an Executive and their Middle Managers is absolutely crucial to the successful performance of an organisation. The relationship needs to be, indeed must be, mutually supportive and respectful whilst at the same time recognising the dynamics of formal authority required to get the work of the business done.

What do Executives need to do to make the most of their relationship with their middle managers?

Executives need to recognise the reliance they have on Middle Managers to ensure the goals they are setting are achieved. To this end the Executive needs to:

  • Act as an effective conduit between Middle Managers and the apex of the corporation, whether that is the General Manager or the Board. An effective conduit means clearly communicating strategic direction and interpreting strategy into operational objectives for middle management to implement. It also means clearly communicating “up the line” those issues highlighted by middle management to help inform policy and strategic decision-making.
  • Show trust and confidence in the wider management team and specifically mentoring the Middle Managers to grow and develop through the provision of constructive feedback on their performance.Welcomeboss
  • Advocate on behalf of Middle Managers to clarify direction, obtain appreciation at higher levels of resourcing issues, operational difficulties and challenges,
  • Provide mentoring, guidance and advice to Middle Managers in the execution of their operational role.
  • Support Middle Managers in the difficulties they face in dealing with managerial and human resource issues with their staff.
  • Ensure the provision of appropriate management systems, whether technological or administrative, to enable Middle Managers to efficiently and effectively carry out their role.
  • Help develop the personal and professional capabilities of Middle Managers to more effectively address all facets of their managerial responsibilities.
  • Provide opportunities for Middle Managers to grow and develop through offering leadership roles in challenging situations.
  • Develop the capabilities of Middle Managers having in mind a succession plan to enable them to aspire to executive roles.
  • Above all, reward positive leadership behaviours exhibited by Middle Managers to encourage them to continue.

What do middle managers need to do to make the most of their relationship with their Executives.

Understanding that the Executive has others to whom they are accountable helps Middle Managers maintain some perspective on their need to support, as well as be supported by, their Executive. A Middle Manager can approach their relationship with the Executive by seeking to :

  • Communicate effectively all relevant business and operational intelligence they encounter to the Executive as a means of providing quality input to strategic formulation.
  • Be the eyes and ears of the Executive in the workplace to identify business risks and alert the Executive in a timely fashion so that remedial action can be taken.
  • Effectively manage their subordinates so that negative human resource issues are avoided and that staff morale and productivity remain high.
  • Bring to the attention of the Executive in a timely fashion any operational issues likely to prejudice the achievement of the organisational goals for which the Executive, as well as the Middle Manager, is responsible.
  • Manage the resources in their custody with economy and efficiency.
  • Communicate clearly downstream to subordinate staff the operational imperatives translated from the Manager’s interaction with the Executive.

How is the relationship between middle managers and their executives kept in good repair?

If mutual trust and understanding are of critical importance, then it is essential that these two levels of management convene regular meetings to communicate both upstream and downstream important information about the business and its operational strengths and weaknesses. Constructive interaction also includes:

  • Regular discussion about how well the individuals themselves are communicating.Meetboss
  • Occasional meetings involving interactions of a more social nature to enable each of the parties to understand the other as an individual and as a person.
  • Constantly reviewing as a team the performance and achievements of the work area they both represent and particularly celebrating, together with their mutual staff or team members, their successes.
  • Honest and open conversations about the challenges of the work, areas where improvement is required and where the support of management is most needed.
  • Finding opportunities to work together collaboratively on challenging tasks, to develop trust and confidence in each other’s judgement and abilities.


 Adopting a Master/Servant approach to the relationship at these levels has little chance of creating a high performance team environment. So many things can go wrong in the day to day management of modern organisations that all levels of management need to be able to rely on the 360 degree support of their colleagues, whether their supervisors, peers or subordinates. Creating inter-personal barriers on the basis of rank will certainly not encourage loyalty and commitment in the same way that collaborative management does.

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