managing from the middle

If you’ve ever watched soccer, you’ve probably noticed some players are taking shots on goal, some are in the back handling defense, and some are in the middle—doing a little bit of everything. Those players are midfielders.

Middle managers are a lot like midfielders—they play multiple roles. Sometimes, they are individual contributors to the team, and other times, their sole focus is on managing. 

Playing two roles can be daunting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in both. Here are a few key tips that can vastly improve your work experience to excel with managing up and managing down. 

Managing Up

Managing up is defined by The Harvard Business Review as “Being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your company.” Obviously, to be “the most effective employee you can be,” you want to have not only a functional relationship with your manager but a great one—and sometimes that can take a little effort on your part. 

  1. Build Trust and Communicate: Communication failures of any sort can instantly tank a relationship. And with a lack of communication comes a lack of trust. To have a communicative and trusting relationship with your manager, focus on transparency with your words and accountability with your actions. Work on being upfront with your manager while simultaneously doing your best to deliver promises. 
  2. Offer your Talents: If you’ve noticed your manager has sometimes struggled to make decisions or isn’t always entirely on the ball with organization, offer to give them a hand. You can do this by asking, “Need any extra help on the “x” project? I’d be happy to help create some timelines” or “Do you need help with the “x” decision? I can pull up some relevant data”. By filling in the weak spots for your manager, not only do you help them, but you also help yourself. 
  3. Come with Solutions: When I started a new role, my boss clarified that he had no problems with me asking questions but to always come with a potential answer. To help your boss help you, bring them a few solutions alongside a problem. This will help your manager make quicker decisions and ensure that you are happy and confident in solving the problem. 

Managing Down 

Managing down is what you typically think of when you hear about management. Managers are tasked with helping organize and supporting a team of people to ensure that a greater goal is accomplished. Having experiences with great (and not so great) managers will impact your management style, but there are some key things to consider.

  1. Build Trust and Communicate: Sound familiar? Like you will want to build trust and communicate clearly with your manager, you need to do the same for your employees. Work to understand how they communicate best, schedule frequent check-ins, show interest in your employee’s passions, and deliver on your promises as their manager. If they feel supported in their role, it’ll be easier for them to do their best work. Additionally, be transparent with them like you are with your manager by helping your team members understand the importance of goals and projects. 
  2. Recognize Success, Find Meaning in Failure: Nothing helps motivate like a good compliment. Make sure to recognize and acknowledge your employees for their successes—big and small. It doesn’t hurt to pass word of that success on to upper management either. Additionally, give constructive feedback when it’s needed. Nobody wants to waste time doing a lousy job when they could’ve been doing a good one with a little bit of feedback and encouragement from their manager. 
  3. Don’t Micromanage—Be a Part of the Team: Let’s be honest here; it serves nobody to micromanage. Not you as the manager, as it just adds extra stress to your role. It certainly doesn’t serve your employees, as they were hired because they were capable, not because they needed help with every task. Provide support and guidance, but remember that a little bit of autonomy can go a long way in helping an employee grow and feel satisfied in their role. 

Being a middle manager can be difficult, as it may feel like you are being pulled in two different directions. Luckily, the role can be made simple as it boils down to communication, trust, respect, and a little bit of hard work. 

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