How to Survive Middle Management

How to Survive Middle Management

Last year a blogger on called for the end of middle management. Why the end? Because everyone should become a leader. There should be all leaders and no managers. It is nice in theory and the writer made some strong points.

Just look around my website and you will see indications that I am a proponent of everyone being a leader. Leadership qualities must absolutely be attained by anyone that has others reporting to them.

I will, however repeat this phrase: Lead People. Manage Process.

Middle managers are called managers because if it wasn’t for the people and processes in the middle of the organization, nothing would get done. Middle managers give assurances that processes are accomplished through the people that report to them. In order to get the people who report to them to perform well, middle-managers must have leadership skills to motivate their direct reports. Now we are back to leadership part of the middle-manager equation.

Stated more directly, middle managers oversee processes as they lead people.

To play this Wall Street Journal video on Middle-Managers on your mobile device, CLICK HERE.

Middle Management Strain

The economy took a sharp downturn beginning in 2007. Many companies turned to layoffs to cure their profit ills. Middle managers were the ones that had to help pack the boxes of their laid-off employees and see them to the door. When they turn back around, they saw an empty desk and no one to do the work. Middle managers had to pick up the extra slack.

During this period another interesting development took place. Smart phones began to cascade down the management structure. Soon every middle manager sported a smart phone that only the executives had just a few years earlier. At first it was cool. Then middle managers realized they joined their bosses in never leaving work behind. Work was on their hip or in their pocket or purse.

Today, middle managers still have the smaller teams they had 7 years ago, they continue to do more with less and they are expected to respond to email all night and all weekend.

How to Survive Middle Management 2

Middle Managers; not Superman

One if my favorite scenes in the 2002 version of the movie Spiderman is a scene between Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) and his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris).

Peter Parker: Can I do anything for you?
Aunt May: You do too much – college, a job, all this time with me… You’re not Superman, you know.

When Aunt May points out the “not Superman” thing to Peter Parker/Spiderman a simple look by Maguire into the camera indicates his stress. No, he is not Superman, but now he has bigger problems than the Man of Steel. In the super hero spectrum, he is middle management. He is just trying to survive.

Middle Management Utility Belt

Let’s make another connection between middle managers and super heroes.

Superman and family (Supergirl, Superboy, Superdog) have that super power thing going for them.

Batman, on the other hand, has to use skill, tools and techniques to fight crime.

Superman does the 40,000 feet thing, while Batman is in the trenches.

It is a reach, but here goes: Superman is like upper management and Batman is like middle management. Superman can see what needs to get done and can change the course with his bare hands. Batman reaches into his utility belt and solves the problem in front of him so that the work can continue. Both contribute to saving the day separately; and even more so together.

Middle managers today need a better utility belt with multiple compartments. The labels read:

          People Placement (the right people in the right positions)


          Project Management

          Process Management

          Upward Management (managing management)

          Priority Management (time management)

          Quality Control

          Customer Service Management


          Supervisory/Work Balance

          Communication Skills (spoken, email, etc.)

          Human Resource Knowledge and Skills (employee crisis and intervention to laws and rules)

          Work/Life Balance (the smartphone thing)

          Stress Management (themselves and their team)

Let’s Get Started by Equipping Middle Managers

I am just a mild-mannered blogger for a pretty good metropolitan blog, but I aim to put on my cape and help equip middle managers.

My “How to Survive Middle Management” series begins with this first article. Help me by checking my utility belt labels above and let me know if I missed anything in the comments below.

If you are a middle manager, tell me what I missed. If you are in upper management, help me help your team.

Doing business these past few years has not been easy. You don’t have to go it alone.

You’re not Superman, you know?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.