The middle gets disrespected. What is the middle? The middle is:
- An equal distance between two edges
- A position between two extremes
- A role between top management and individual contributors
In many ways, the middle is the glue that holds everything together and delivers a base from which to build, solve, and gain footing to propel solutions forward.
So, why is the middle disparaged?
- The middle gets pegged for being too noncommittal between two differing positions
- The extremes gain attention and vote in larger numbers
- The middle gets the finger for being too management-oriented from individual contributors and then very expendable from the top
More than ever, we need the middle within our organizations and communities.Tweet
The middle deserves respect, like an axel between two wheels or the cheese between two slices of toasted bread.
The middle deserves to be energized, like batteries in a flashlight or water added to coffee.
The reality is the middle makes things happen and shines light on how to find common ground.
The Disappearing Middle
The facts discourage.
- “The U.S. is the only country in which fewer than 60% of adults were in the middle class.” (Marketwatch)
- “Roughly one in 10 management positions that existed in 2008, close to 200,000 jobs, are gone.” (Maclean’s Magazine)
- “The tone and the turnout are vastly different between Republicans and Democrats this year, but oddly enough, both sides have something crucial in common: their voters are far less moderate than they were in their last primaries.” (NPR)
Middle-class jobs, middle managers, and moderates – a disappearing middle.
- Numbers support that some in the middle class have moved up. Others will say the gap between the upper and lower classes is widening.
- New management models emerge, like holacracy. More than management theory, it is systems theory of business.
- Data-driven gerrymandering produces more extreme candidates. Moderates are challenged in primaries or just decide not to run again.
We seem to be in a tug-of-war and what gets muddied is the middle. We need to respect the middle more and begin to renew it.
Why the Middle Matters
The middle matters more than we may care to recognize. To pull away from our season of discontent, we need the middle more than ever. The middle are the makers, problem solvers, producers, and gluers we need in our business and society.
The middle embraces the makers. The makers are the workers, the doers, the people who get their hands dirty in planting, crafting, building, cleaning, and harvesting. Within the makers, a diversity of perspective and talent thrives.
Business cannot survive without the makers. Society needs the makers to do the work many avoid.
The Problem Solvers
The middle encompasses the problem solvers. Top management, at times, thinks too much and tinkers too much. In the middle, individuals determine how to navigate a path forward within the maze of processes, strategies, and structures. The passion of the middle is to solve problems and move initiatives forward.
Without the middle, the makers may get too frustrated. Without the middle, the top gets too caught up in their words with no one to put the words into action.
The problem solvers grow businesses and keep customers satisfied. The problem solvers determine how to navigate political processes in order to achieve solutions that matter.
The middle are the producers. Efficiency and productivity are more than watchwords. For the producers, it is what they do every day. Producers determine how to make the products, keep the trains running on time, and eliminate friction in how the work is done.
Producers get things done in a meaningful, impactful way. Society and businesses need producers for progress to be realized on a consistent basis.
Just like middle children, the gluers hold everyone together. The gluers remind others of the greater purpose to achieve. Unafraid to reach out their hand or listen to diverse opinions, the gluers look for what brings people together rather what separates them. Within the common ground, people recognize we have more similarities we can work with than what may make us different.
The gluers build organizational culture that lasts. Within our communities and political processes, the gluers find ways to rise above the rhetoric and gather people to discover what matters most.
It’s Time to Energize the Middle
More than ever, we need the middle within our organizations and communities. We need to find ways to spur the middle to raise their voices more and hold extremes more accountable to their words and actions. We need an activist middle.
Some ideas on how to energize the middle include:
- Encourage individuals in the middle to continue to do the good work they do
- Express gratitude to the people in the middle
- Implement policies and wages that raise the lower income levels to provide a better footing to the middle class
- Reward the hidden, quieter problem solvers
- Find ways to raise the middle to their responsibility of voting more widely than before
- Design training programs to further enhance your organizational middle
- Encourage Generation X to bring together Boomers and Millennials
- Encourage Millennials to bridge together Generation X and Generation Z (you get the idea!)
- Stop criticizing and eliminating the middle
- Calculate the value of the middle of your organization and community
What other ways can we energize the middle? Join the conversation by clicking on the orange box.
Join the Conversation
Respect, Energize the Middle
This is a great piece Jon! Thanks for writing it!
I particularly enjoy the way you aren’t only referring to middle management (which is what I assumed when I read the title!)
But of Middle Managers: I think these are some of the toughest and most critical roles in any organisation – specifically because of the things you outline here. Middle managers have to pay equal attention to upwards, downwards and sideways management – very few people are good at all of these. Without middle managers nobody knows what the CE ways, and the CE has no idea what is really going on!
A great piece – thanks for sharing!
Rebecca, Thank you for your feedback and insights! Yes, the middle is middle managers and much more. Without the middle managers, many things would not work well. Too often, we seem to discount the middle, yet this is where most of the work and productivity happens (in many things). We need to continue to encourage and respect the middle, and many good things will happen from here. Thank you! Jon
Awesome article Jon. I need to get back reading and posting on your amazing articles. YOU are extraordinary! Thank you and I hope you’re doing great!
Thank you SO much, Cynthia! Appreciate that. Yes, we need to connect more. Thank you for your feedback and comment. Jon
Through my years of coaching (and my years of being in the mix) people are always pushing and waiting to be an executive. They can’t wait to get out of middle management. The middle. As if it’s the worst place in the world to be. I love this piece from you and will be sharing it with individuals I know because the middle is a powerful place to be too. This is great. Thanks, Jon.
Thank you, Alli. We have been conditioned to get out of the middle, yet this is where a lot of the work is done and progress is made. We need to re-energize the middle! Thank you for your feedback and viewpoint. Jon