Maybe that’s a bold a statement – but it’s very close to reality. Research shows that middle managers don’t get much love.
A recent study by the journal Sociology of Health and Illness, shared in this Washington Postarticle, found that middle managers and supervisors are more likely to suffer depression, to feel taken advantage of at work, and to experience anxiety about work than are frontline workers or senior leaders.
When I was a middle manager – a program director at three different non-profits – I felt this frustration. My role required that I balance the demands placed on me by my responsibilities and by my bosses with the desire to have my direct reports be productive, happy, and cooperative team members.
More often than not I felt I was set up to fail. I was between a rock and a hard place! My team members may not have had the skills to accomplish new tasks or hit new targets – and I may not have had the skills to inspire my team to consistent performance.
I didn’t always have bosses who were nurturing sounding boards or who were able to teach me needed skills. I did the best I could but I know I missed the mark more often than I hit it. That was demoralizing and frustrating. I felt anxiety more than I felt inspiration.
When I did have bosses who listened, laughed, guided, taught, and inspired, I was less anxious, less frustrated – and I contributed more, to my organization and to my team.
Employee engagement is an important outcome for leaders – but don’t let the term “employee” mean “front line team members.” Middle managers are employees, too!
For example, Tiny HR’s 2014 Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report found that only 21 percent of all employees who responded to their survey feel “strongly valued” at work. Among the “all employees” who responded, some were supervisors and managers.
If the recent study noted above is on track, asking that same question (“Do you feel strongly valued at work?”) of supervisors and managers would result in fewer than 21 percent feeling consistently and strongly appreciated.
That’s not a healthy environment for productivity, inspiration, cooperation, and growth.
How can a middle manager lift themselves up, in the midst of demanding circumstances?
First, be clear on who you are as a person. You’re not a cog in a wheel – you’re an important human. You’re, in fact, one of the most important humans in your life.
By clarifying your personal constitution, you formalize your reason for being on this planet – in terms of how you serve others. You formalize your personal values and specify the behaviors you demonstrate when you’re living in alignment with your values, every day, in every interaction. You then formalize your leadership philosophy, outlining how you want to serve others so that agreed to commitments are delivered with little drama and much joy.
Second, share your personal constitution with your team members. By explaining your personal purpose, your values and behaviors, and your leadership philosophy, you set up a partnership with a valued teammate. You enable them to understand you better – and you invite their feedback when they see you behaving in ways that seem inconsistent with your personal constitution.
When you receive feedback – indicating alignment or mis-alignment with your personal constitution, thank people. Consider their feedback and refine your behaviors to more consistently live your purpose, values, and philosophy.
You might not be able to change your demanding circumstances but you can change the relationship you have with your primary customers – your team members.