What is wrong with middle managers?

Someone pointed out what I think is generally a fair observation. Middle managers tend to be obnoxious and out of touch. Why is that?

They weren’t really asking me my thoughts but I think I surprised them that I could answer. It’s actually pretty spot on and from my perspective it’s pretty easy to see why.

Middle Management is not a “destination” position. People who do middle management long term tend to be stuck in their career. This is often the level where the Peter/Dilbert principle tops out for most people and so you have individuals at their maximum incompetence.

Now, combine this with the other side of the dynamic. The ambitious career driven individuals who have their eyes on executive leadership. Middle management to them is just another stepping stone and since most middle managers report directly to an executive and often deal with executives they tend to start taking on an executive perspective even though they themselves are really just senior managers.

In all cases, middle managers are often the level of “real” authority. They have decision making authority that is non-trivial and can have severe impacts.

What often gets overlooked by individuals in these positions is that middle managers are really, well, in the middle. In other words, while you may be one level removed from executives you are still close enough to “boots on the ground” to be informed of day-to-day activities. In other words, the middle managers should be able to be both tactical and strategic. They can see what’s happening in the trenches but have to be able to inform those that are nowhere near the trenches what is going on.

Unfortunately, when you have middle managers who begin to adopt that executive perspective they devalue their role in the organization and often frustrate the leadership team they are responsible for.

Tomorrow I will talk more about how middle managers can fix this and what their employees can do to mitigate this kind of behavior.

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Posted in Career Management, Managing Up
4 comments on “What is wrong with middle managers?
  1. Scott Powell says:

    Yo Rob, so I admit, I am no Rocket Scientologist .No really!!! Hehe

    Something did occur to me though.

    You, I, everybody has heard….the mind that created the problem is not the one that can fix it.

    So is that true? Really?

    Ok hang in there with me. Gallop poll last week says 70% of US workers feel no one at their place of employment cares about them.

    This results in deception, fraud at work to the tune of 997 Billion with a B in losses from US companies last year.

    People feel no one at work cares about me so why not steal?

    Ok so if u are with me so far, the body of Leadership knowledge we have all used up to now gave us a horrific result. I define failing 7 out of 10 as being horrific. You?

    Ok with me so far? So what you are gonna share tomorrow, where are the solutions to the problems you so eloquently described, where are those solutions coming from ?

    Could it be the body of Leadership knowledge that fails 7 out of 10 who use it?

    Might it be better to share with the folks a way, if there is such a thang, that WORKS for 72% out of 100? Actually the company I am thinking about is actually 72% out of 7000!!! I am no math whiz but that is a lot of happy folks! Yes?

    Might that even if it is a minuscule possibility, be of more use to the folks?
    You know more helpful that drawing water from a tainted well?

    What of that way did exist? Are you the type of Dude who wants better instead of familiar? From what I have gleaned about you following you I think you are a better kind of dude, not a familiar comfy type!

    That trait is what has caused you to succeed, BIG PROPS to you for up to this second.

    The way to 72% teammate satisfaction in the workplace DOES exist. Truly Human Leadership is the Dudes website you can start learning what it is all about. The better way. This dude is such a Human stud!!!!!

    They call it People Centric Leadership.

    I hope you look into it and if you see it like me, share THAT with the folks.

    Or just regurgitate from the body of Leadership knowledge that fails 7 out if 10 folks who follow it.

    No longer a choice once you know, at least for me, an obligation.

    SP Out and hopeful cause you are a good dude.

    • Rob Aught says:

      Most of what I post here is a combination of hard won experience combined with some of my own readings. Theory put into practice in some cases.

      The mind that causes the problem can solve the problem. If it could not then no software developer would ever be able to fix a bug. Unfortunately, in order to solve a problem you must be willing to admit there is one. The common mistake I see in many managers is an inability to ever look as though they might be wrong or that they might not know something. This means they are not open to feedback and that’s often the root of the problem as my ability to address my own shortcomings has often come from the observations of my employees.

      I’m not superhuman in this regard. Like anyone I don’t want to consider that I may have made a mistake or did something less than optimal. If I’m presented with facts though, I can at least be reasoned with. I honestly want to do better and am willing to do the necessary navel gazing in order to constantly improve. You can’t improve if you already think you’re perfect though.

      We can’t change people who don’t want to be changed. Why are so many employees unhappy? It can’t just be poor leadership, it’s a myriad of reasons. From a leadership perspective though, I usually deal with managers who are uninterested in leadership. They like the authority, the pay, and the trappings of being in a management position but all that messy relationship stuff that comes from leadership isn’t really their thing. Naturally, this does not lead to well functioning teams.

      I can sum up all of my experience, all of my leadership training, and every book and article I’ve ever read in one simple sentence.

      If you want to lead you need to learn how to be a servant to those that you intend to lead.

      That is really all there is to it. However, it completely reverses why most people seek a position of authority. People who want to be in charge don’t want to serve, they want to be served. This is why there is a leadership deficit in the business world.

      • scott says:

        Great answer Rob, THANK YOU!

        Now lets suppose we can’t come up with the EXACT issues that cause 70% of employees to leave work feeling no one cares about them.

        Can we agree not being able to quantify that?

        Even if we CAN”T IT DOES NOT MATTER!

        What I mean by that my Successful, Experienced, Dedicated to Service Friend is this:

        We can spend time in one of two ways, trying to figure out the problem OR studying what in the Wide World of Sports Bob Chapman and Barry Wehmiller are DOING that creates 72% team mate LOVE!!!!!!!!!

        Rob what actually ASTOUNDS me, really stops me in my tracks is people hear tidbits from me,

        72% Teammate Satisfaction, ALL other US companies combined 70% feeling unloved and unappreciated.

        Leads to stealing to the tune of 997 Billion for US companies, last year.

        Unhappy people with no trust built at work………..why not steal? I say THAT is a direct result of poor Leadership.

        I say to you Rob, 70% of US workers do not feel anyone care about them at work? If that is not a problem to you what in the wide world of sports is?

        Ok if 70% is not a problem, is 80%?

        Dude it is a problem! Bob Chapman says we have a Leadership Crisis and they are doing something about it AND IT WORKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        How is it POSSIBLE ANYONE WHO thinks of themselves as a Leader in ANYWAY is not googling Barry Wehmiller as fast at they can?

        I know the numbers are so far away from the norm maybe people do not believe them! Is that why people do not investigate?

        What could possibly have happened to people that they are not CURIOUS for a difference between 70% down and 72% up? How does that not spur curiosity? How?

        Plus they make a TON of money! If is not like they are hippies giving ALL THE MONEY to their people and THAT is what is making them love to work at Barry Wehmiller.

        15% dividend per year, Warren Buffett 4%. How DOES THAT not spur curiosity? How?

        Rob when you read those things what do you tell yourself that keeps you from googling RIGHT NOW?????

        I only ask cause that is what I did when I heard those things. I wanted to know MORE! How could I POSSIBLY not want to?

        Don’t I want to find the BEST to share with others? Find better than Barry Wehmiller and show me I WILL LOOK PROMISE, QUICK LIKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Anyway, I feel it would be a better use of our time figuring how to be the best servants we can and INVESTIGATE the astounding results, not trying to look to define the problem. 70% is a problem, does not need any more investigation than that!

        Rob I got a feeling in my gut when you DO investigate you are gonna say Scott why the heck didn’t you show me this before now?????

        That is why I am sticking with this, with you.

        Bob Chapman is also a Man of Faith and has raised 6 kids. It is SO INSPIRING when he tells his story in Defining Moments when he says he made these critical decisions and he has no IDEA where the ideas came from!

        But you will NEVER understand what I am sharing till you take an hour and 9 minutes and watch his video.

        After that it will change your perspective GREATLY! If I did not believe that in every fiber of my being I would have stopped asking you to take a look LONG AGO!

        Hope you watch!

        Take care,


  2. […] I asked the question “What is wrong with middle managers”? I’m not one to just point out problems. Here is my approach as both a manager and as an […]

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