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4 Ways Middle Managers Bring Unique Value to Organizations


Based on DDI’s research, data from assessments, and experience working with organizations worldwide, there are four areas where middle managers make the most impact:

1. Accelerate Change at the Speed of Life

Middle managers can be a catalyst for transformation. Businesses are changing faster than ever. If you don’t have strong mid-level leadership, then you likely don’t have the glue to hold the organization together as it drives forward or tries something new.

Companies need mid-level leaders who can drive change quickly while managing complexities. For example, think about the novel challenges brought on by the hybrid workplace or changes to data and privacy laws. Mid-level leaders experience unique pressure to interface with executives on business strategy, then translate that into words and actions that make sense to the rest of the organization.

2. Empower Multiple Teams

The second area where middle managers make an oversized impact is navigating multidirectional expectations. This includes working across teams and often breaking down silos. Mid-level managers need to engage and empower their teams, which may require different tactics depending on the different disciplines that report to them.


For example, I work with a finance director of a European retail organization. He refers to having six formal teams, which include finance controllers and managers in five countries, plus someone to manage the finance systems. But he talks about another six informal teams he needs to influence and engage: legal, fashion, design, sales, marketing, and production. It would be impossible for him to achieve his own goals in accounting without working closely alongside all of these teams. So he must not only coach his own team members, but also 20 other managers to keep everyone aligned and on track.[EL1]

His example is not uncommon. Because so many organizations are matrixed today, middle managers have a huge opportunity to empower teams beyond their own. Leaders with strong influencing skills can have a tremendous impact on their organization.

3. Navigate Visibility and Vulnerability


Years ago, we used to think that the spotlight only followed top executives. If the company didn’t hit business targets, executive jobs might be on the line. Middle managers now share this pressure.

Greater visibility into the performance of mid-level leaders has created a new sense of vulnerability—and it’s burning them out. According to a recent survey by the Future Forum at Slack Technologies, middle managers are the most exhausted of all organizational levels.

I recently spoke with a group of middle managers and one of them asked, “What happens if the company decides my function isn’t performing? I’m gone.” As middle managers’ output has become more visible, their to-do lists and challenges often remain invisible. Another middle manager confided, “The board doesn’t often see all that I do—so I could appear deadweight to them.”

Middle managers who successfully navigate increased visibility and feelings of vulnerability are in a better position to help their organizations succeed. For example, middle managers who can do this well are more likely to take calculated risks to spur innovation and are better able to make quick decisions. Mid-level leaders who can manage vulnerability are not derailing their teams and instead are modeling great leadership behaviors—including leading authentically. Authentic leaders manage vulnerability and build greater trust with their teams.

Learn the fourth way middle managers bring unique value in DDI’s blog.

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