The Meaning of the Middle Series: Part 3

The Role of Being in the Middle of an OrganizationLayers of middle management have been forever eliminated in many organizations over the last two decades. The role of a middle manager has been completely transformed, and career paths utterly changed.

In the past, being in the middle was safe. People aspired to someday becoming the boss. After achieving this step, serving in that role used to last decades. Careers were built by getting to the middle and then staying there. No longer.

Having said that, the middle organization is essential in today’s businesses and other organizations. The middle is where the work gets done. It is where results are achieved and sustained. In the middle is where innovation can happen, and it is where innovation can be transformed into practical solutions.

If you don’t believe me, then maybe you will believe Paul Osterman, professor of human resources and management at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management. He wrote a book entitled The Truth About Middle Managers. In a Fortune article, In Defense of Middle Managers, Osterman stated:

“I think, if you talk to senior management, they know that they can’t function without a strong, effective middle management core. Middle management plays a central role, not just in making these kinds of decisions, executing as they do, but they’re the information channel in the organization.”

Being in the middle of an organization has changed and, in many ways, may be more satisfying, more challenging, and more rewarding.

Being a leader in the middle of an organization has a view on an end-result or a customer group. It is a horizontal view, rather than a vertical one. It is about facilitating people, rather than managing them. It is more about trust and latitude to achieve, rather supervising structure and budgets.

Succeeding in this middle area of an organization requires new perspectives and ways of doing work. It may be a new attitude or approach to taking your career to higher levels of performance and satisfaction.

In your work life, use the Hands-Eyes-Ears-Head-Feet-Mouth-Heart model.

Use your hands. Do the extra work, whether asked or not. Pitch in when you have time available. Don’t ask for permission to do; jump in and help.

Use your eyes. Read about what is happening in your market. Use Twitter and blogs to gain perspectives and understanding. Observe what others are doing.

Use your ears. Listen. Listening is the best form of communication, yet it is the one most often ignored. Listen to understand. Just don’t nod while your mind is wandering to another place. Actively listen. Ask questions. Ask why, not just how.

Use your head. Think about the challenges being faced. Think about the changes in the marketplace. Evaluate it. Share it. Develop ideas which will enhance the organization’s goals and market position.

Use your feet. Walk around. Go talk to other departments and comprehend what is happening. Probe to see how it may impact what you are working on or what needs to be done. Get out from behind your desk from time-to-time and interact to understand.

Use your mouth. Share ideas. Discuss topics on how to make things better. Don’t gossip or disparage. Communicate to make things better.

Use your heart. Bring passion to your game. If you are not energized by what you are doing, then find something else to do in a different organization. Don’t bog down your team or organization with your lethargy. Energize people around you.

Being in the middle of your organization is a good thing. It is what makes organizations work, and the middle needs good leaders to move initiatives forward.

Lead from the middle. Make the middle proud by what you do and how you do it!