The Linchpin of a Business
Have you ever seen or heard of a linchpin? A linchpin is defined as something that holds the various elements of a complex structure together. For example, a linchpin passes through the end of an axle to keep a wheel in position. And that is exactly what middle managers are to an organization. They are the linchpins that connect the front lines to higher levels of management and the direction of the business. Now more than ever before, the middle manager is the most influential aspect of engaging and retaining talent as well as unlocking new levels of success for a business. Middle managers are positioned at the central point or hub where they help everything come together—or not. Unfortunately, many of these managers lack the skills and experience necessary to negotiate the changing demands of today’s dynamic workforce. This gap in ability results in high levels of stress, lower overall effectiveness, diminished or stagnant results, increased turnover, and burnout. In other words, an under developed mid-level manager can make the wheel come off the axle.
Managers at every level of an organization need to feel that the company is willing to invest in their training and development. Unfortunately, middle managers are an especially important part of the leadership population that is often overlooked in terms of training and development because of a more acute focus on the front lines. It is time for organizations to broaden their focus to ensure the wheel stays securely in place and the business operates as intended. Let’s look at the three primary reasons why development of mid-level managers is so important in today’s business environment.
3 Reasons Middle Managers can Unlock Business Success
First, there is a common assumption—a false one—that if you have made it into middle management then you have what it takes to be a good leader. While initially this might seem to make sense, in actuality being a manager of managers has its own unique set of challenges that requires a deeper level of skill and capability than what is required on the front lines. While middle managers likely received training or development on the fundamentals of leadership in their previous leadership role, they need to continue honing their skills and learn how to manage and lead the people who are managing the front line. They also need the ability to artfully influence and communicate with higher levels of leadership as well as cascade the vision, mission, and strategy down through the organization. Additionally, managing the modern workforce requires some specific skills and approaches to leadership that may not have been as critical in the past.
The second reason is that mid-level managers set the tone for leadership throughout the organization because they have direct contact with the majority of the leaders. They truly are the catalyst for building a common leadership language and approach. Mid-level managers must model leadership values, principles, and skills, and they need to foster the development of these same capabilities in the front-line leaders they manage. They can’t do that if they haven’t developed these skills and aren’t accountable for applying them as part of their day-to-day responsibilities. When middle managers instill the organization’s desired leadership capabilities early on with the supervisors and managers that report to them, this influence carries forward and expands long into the future. It has a powerful and direct impact on fulfilling the needs of today’s workforce and building the business culture.
The third reason developing specific leadership capabilities for this group is that middle managers are a critical factor in the transfer of learning and sustainability of training and development that frontline leaders receive (and even individual contributors to some extent). In our training and consulting work, too often we see frontline leaders who don’t apply and sustain the training they receive because their managers are not modeling, supporting, following up and coaching them after training occurs. So much is lost because of this. If middle managers can help frontline managers apply their leadership skills and competencies on a day-to-day basis and overcome real-world challenges, engagement in the workforce increases and everyone wins.
In short, middle managers have a broad reach and provide a line of sight for the frontline and the workforce about where the organization is headed, its purpose, vision, and how they can contribute. They are the ones that can create the emotional connection to the goals, direction, and strategy of the business so people feel they belong and are part of something meaningful.
To do this most effectively they need training that goes beyond inspiration. They need to learn and practice practical, how-to skills that transform how they behave and lead every day. They need to know how to spend much of their time coaching the coaches.
If an organization is filled with strong, capable leaders—including these linchpins of the organization—there’s no telling where an organization can go and what it can achieve. Highly skilled mid-level managers are the key to unlocking that potential.