Middle managers are often seen as a conduit between C-suite and frontline. But this isn't utilising them enough. The brightest people in the middle can bring a whole new perspective to things.
Understandably, those at the top are required to have a broad, strategic view. It's in the job description. Middle leaders can tease out the intricate details and make them clear to those at the top. This will help senior managers make decisions that will work.
Done properly, it is a perfect jigsaw.
But it can only work if:
senior managers allow and encourage these conversations
middle managers have the trust of the frontline
middle managers have the communication skills to put their case
Sylvia Rohlfer, Abderrahman Hassi and Simon Jebsen point to research that suggesting empowered followers take a more proactive approach to what is happening at work. Bosses who encourage this benefit from team members coming up with things that senior staff might not think of.
A danger I can see is when leaders at any level feel threatened by what might seem to be a loss of control. It goes further.
In Global Leadership Perspectives, Asha Bhandarker and Pritam Singh highlight the evidence that millennials - and, I now suggest Gen-Z employees are looking for their managers to be more like coaches and mentors rather than order-givers.
All this suggests that we are heading for a time when the traditional top-down autocratic approach does not work.
Is this a new role for middle leaders: being the coach and mentor that helps the senior management's strategic message get put into practice?
Sylvia Rohlfer, Abderrahman Hassi and Simon Jebsen (2022)
Management Innovation and Middle Managers:The Role of Empowering Leadership, Voice, and Collectivist Orientation. Management and Organization Review 18:1, February 2022, 108–130
Simon Western and Eric-Jean Garcia (2018) Global Leadership Perspectives. insights and analysis. Sage.