This week, I had a thought-provoking conversation about how to get a client’s Executive team to empower their Middle Management.  He has recognized that his Executives, who are paid Executive salaries, are spending significant portions of their time doing Middle Management tasks.  This is detracting from their ability to make Executive decisions and fulfil the responsibilities that they are accountable for.  He knows they have the best intentions for the business.  He also recognizes that the Middle Management are disempowered, which continually pulls the Executives back into day-to-day delivery.

Middle Management are key influencers.  They affect their staff’s employee engagement and productivity, and they impact their Executive’s capacity.   How can Middle Management be empowered so they can deliver and give the Executives back their time?

The first question that needs to be answered is, are the Executives empowering and trusting their Middle Management?  Often the honest answer to this question is “no”.  Many Executives have been promoted from within their businesses.  They have managed delivery, solved day-to-day problems and been so successful that they have been promoted to the next level of management.  As we all know, human beings are deeply attracted to our comfort zones of competence and excellence.  One cannot underestimate the attractiveness of operating in a space where we feel confident as the answers seem to be easy.  Often, Executives are unconsciously sabotaging empowering and delegating fully to their Middle Management, so they still get the confidence kick that comes from being needed in the Middle Management area of responsibility. 

This is only one of the potential obstacles to empowering Middle Management. Others could include a lack of trust as the wrong people are in the Middle Management roles, lack of clarity around decision making and delivery responsibilities and even that the Executive has been promoted but isn’t clear about what their manager expects, so they stay doing Middle Management work to keep “adding value”.

Executives need to explore what is sabotaging empowerment of their Middle Management.  They can also answer the below questions that could help them to build the road map to resolve the Middle Management empowerment challenge. 

  1. What does empowered Middle Management look like?  The clarity Executives gain from answering this question will allow them to identify what they want and compare it with what they have.  This highlights the development areas for their Middle Management and helps them to define the priority development activities.  The Executive is then in a very informed position to hold the managers responsible for closing the gaps and earning their trust.  Until the Executive is clear of their expectations, it is difficult to know what they need to change for their Middle Management to be trusted and empowered.
  2. What needs to be in place in the environment to allow Middle Management to be empowered? Often, the right people are in place with the right development plans, but the environment is not conducive to the manager being empowered.  As Middle Management take the leap to be empowered, there will be mistakes. 

What is in place in the environment to catch the mistakes early? 

Executives need to support their managers to learn from mistakes and then correct them constructively so that the mistake is not repeated, and processes are improved. The manager must leave the experience empowered to take ownership of the activities, decisions and processes where the mistake was made.  As Executives and the builders of Middle Management, we need to take responsibility for continually evaluating our environments to:

  1. Identify the empowerment blockers; and
  2. Take steps to heal the environment so our Middle Management are supported to step fully into their power.

3. How do I need to lead my Middle Management, so they are empowered?  As Executives, our role has a much greater leadership quotient than Middle Management.  How do we need to be leading them, so they are empowered.  Executives must take responsibility for:

  1. Clearly explaining the strategy.
  2. Exploring the threats and risks to achieving the strategy.
  3. Discussing and considering the opportunities and easy wins that we recognize; and
  4. Considering the thoughts, contributions and input from our Middle Management. 

Leadership requires that we rally the managers to lead their teams towards the common goals and objectives, so the business thrives, no matter the challenges being faced.

4. How do I need to manage my Middle Management, so they are empowered?  As much as leadership is needed to empower, management is also needed to support our Middle Management to know they are on the right track and are doing the right things.  Executives need to be clear about what the Middle Management will be held accountable for.  We need to be clear and explicit – too often we are vague, and this leaves our Middle Management unsure and insecure about what is expected and the decisions they need to make.  Good quality, quantity and team management targets give our Middle Management the framework to clarify what they need to focus on.  Clear delegation frameworks and authority levels help them to discern when and what they need to get Executive decisions on.  This also gives Executives the comfort that they can keep track of the areas of responsibility that have been delegated.   

Each environment will have specific aspects that need to be managed more and less tightly.  The most powerful gift of being clear with our management is that we tell our managers what we want and what success looks like.  No one is reading minds.

Businesses that strengthen their Middle Management have better return on their overall management investment.  It is the responsibility of each Executive to reflect on their own obstacles, environment and team and to clear the path to building an empowered and trusted Middle Management team. 

I am sure there are other important questions that could and should be asked and answered to empower our managers.  These four are a starting point.  As with any successful change, it begins with each of us.  RainTree Business Coaching supports Middle Management to step into their power, ask the questions that give them clarity and support them to build trust with their executives and teams.  Because, when Middle Management works, business works. 

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