Middle managers are expected to have broad knowledge of the business, manage many forms of conflict and do so while staying calm, writes Scott Mautz, CEO of Profound Performance. Mautz outlines how managers can best leverage their power vertically and horizontally within organizations.
If you’re reading this, odds are, you’re a middle manager, i.e. someone who has a boss and is a boss, who has to lead and influence from the messy middle, up, down, and across their organization. Take pride and take heart because I’m going to help with the toughest job in any company, that of a person who must influence in all directions to do his/her job well.
I interviewed over 3,000 successful middle managers for my new book, Leading from the Middle: A Playbook for Managers to Lead Up, Down, and Across the Organization. The most common theme I heard for why the job of the middle manager is so darn difficult was the broad scope of it all—all the hats you’re forced to wear. This daunting scope manifests itself in the form of 5 challenges in particular, spelled out in the handy acronym SCOPE.
Self-Identity. As a middle manager, all the hats you must wear forces you to constantly make what psychologists call “micro-transitions” throughout the day. One moment you’re in a deferential stance with your boss, the next moment you’re in assertive mode with direct reports, then collaborative mode with peers, sometimes all within the same meeting! You constantly switch from high-power roles to low power roles, having to jump into roles at times that you weren’t mentally prepared to play.
Research shows the constant switching exhausts us to the point of detriment and leaves us wondering what our role really is.Conflict. Middle managers also face challenges of conflict from the natural tensions and pressure from all sides. Your boss hassles you, your employees resist, your peers won’t collaborate. You absorb discontent from all around. You deal with conflicting agendas, conflicts of interest, and interpersonal conflicts.
Omnipotence. With the omnipotence challenge, you feel like you’re expected to know everything. Those in the C-Suite aren’t expected to know everything, because that’s what they have you for. Newer hires aren’t expected to know everything, they’re too new. But you, in the middle? It’s a different story. Your market share ticked down in Peoria, you better know why!