The Peanut Butter in Your Organizational Sandwich

By Jill Amstutz, vice president of communications at the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO).

Let’s face it— middle management is no one’s career goal (or at least no one who reads this blog.) For many, however, it is a necessary stepping stone to organizational leadership. Middle managers, in many cases, are neither the doers nor the deciders in an organization, which is why they often feel stuck and frustrated … like the peanut butter in the organizational sandwich.

But, contrary to popular belief, middle management can be a very influential and powerful place. For those of you who lead organizations and employ middle managers, it’s important to understand how critical they are to your organization’s success.

Middle managers can become your biggest cheerleaders and your company’s biggest assets. On the flip side, middle managers who feel disenfranchised for one reason or another (overworked, underutilized, unappreciated, unheard, overloaded, over-managed, unmotivated, unclear— to name a few) can erode a company’s culture, affect productivity and do damage to the brand and the bottom line you have worked hard to build.

Here are some common mistakes organizational leaders make considering middle managers:

  • They don’t consider them much, if at all. You hired these people because you thought they had potential, but what have you done for them lately? Are they stuck in a thankless box, managing projects they don’t believe in or people they didn’t hire to achieve goals they didn’t set or even contribute to? Your company’s ideal successor may just be collecting dust (and paychecks) in the ranks of your company, but how would you know? True leaders have a vision and then hire people who are smarter, stronger and better than they are in the key areas necessary to achieve that vision, but remember:
  • Good people managers are not always good project managers, and good project managers are not always good people managers. To borrow a phrase from Jim Collins, how do you know that you have the the right people on the bus in the right seats in order to achieve your desired outcomes? Do you even know what your managers’ true strengths are? Have you done any assessments—like internal 360 evaluations or Strengths Finder—or are you just taking their word for it? Just because someone likes doing something, or wants a certain experience, it doesn’t mean they’re good at it or that it’s good for your business. After all:
  • A bad manager is like a virus. An organization is composed of a series of systems, much like the human body. Every system in the corporate body is connected. An “infection” in one system WILL weaken the rest in one way or another. Managers who understand how their team’s work contributes to the organization’s success and how their team interacts with and impacts other teams’ work are more likely to manage more consciously, with the whole system in mind. If not, it’s time to purge that virus from your system…

Could it be that the peanut butter in your organizational sandwich is actually the glue that’s holding it all together?

Jill Amstutz has spent 22 years building a broad and diverse career in communications, marketing and branding. A middle manager for many years, Jill is passionate about finding ways to support, coach and elevate middle managers into organizational leaders. She is currently pursuing a certificate in Organization Development, which she will complete in early 2012.

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