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The Crisis At The Middle



For more than 15 years, I have studied and pondered where the greatest impact can be made in organizations. Is it at the top, at the bottom or somewhere at the middle. I am now convinced it is at the middle and I will explain.


Those at the Top handle the strategic direction and a lot of times, the politics of keeping the Organization afloat. When they get this right, it means sustainable growth for the business. Where they get it wrong, it can spell doom as we have seen with some banks and companies in Nigeria and indeed across the world.


Right at the bottom of the pyramid, the strategy gets executed on a daily basis by the "foot soldiers." They usually are good at what they do - we have trained them, they show up, deliver their tasks, they follow processes, they are sanctioned when they breach controls, they take the bullets from the Frontline. They need proper supervision, guidance, right reward, and a path to growth.


With the right culture, effective processes in place and management, they perform and will someday be the team leaders or middle managers.

Now, let's talk about the middle, where strategy gets translated into action and action into results. Oh boy. These are my favorite groups, and I have spent the last 10+ years training more than 30,000 middle level managers and team leaders from all sectors, including the government.


And I mean actual delivery of multiple trainings in-person or virtually - from Leadership modules to Process, Service, Product Design, Soft Skills, Sales, and more.


Now, let me try to share what typically happens


You will have a Regional Manager, An Area Manager, A Business Manager, A Branch Manager, A Head of Operations, A Team Leader, and so on. No matter the title, they fit somewhere at the Upper Middle or Lower Middle.


What powers do they have to influence your business success? A LOT. A WHOLE LOT. A lot more than they know and a lot more than the seniors know. If the seniors know their influence, decisions like Product Design and Strategy Development will be done differently.


If the Middle Individuals know what powers they have, they will not stand by and wait for Seniors to do all the thinking and direction.


What can these powers do?

  1. Create Products

  2. Drive Business and Financial Growth 10x or more.

  3. Design Strategies

  4. Implement Process Improvements that solve client problems.

  5. Build future leaders

  6. Prepare their exit strategies and become partners, thereby growing a larger ecosystem instead of having only one career path.

NOW WE KNOW, WHAT NEXT?


I would say, it is not so much about training and retraining them. It is more around what sort of exposure they have. A Middle Level Manager is like the CEO of his Business Unit or Branch or Team. He needs to function, think, and act like a CEO and what do CEOs have? A body of references and libraries in their minds and intellectual faculties that they call on when its time to make decisions.


But there are not as experienced, some would say. Yes. But as we have seen with Business startups by young Founders/CEOs, the skills, knowledge and attitudes that the Middle Managers need can be broken into:

  • Technical - I know my trade and I know it very well. No one can tell me otherwise.

  • My Career Path - I know where I am going with this company and my career. This is fundamental to your passion, being trustworthy, your happiness and sanity in the long run.

  • Being a Boss - Business is tough on a good day and as a Middle Manager, you need to be tough. I like to say - Kind and Firm. Don't think it is about being nice or getting into the rhetoric of motivational speakers that preach easy-does-it. No No No. You have to lead and let your team see and feel the effectiveness of your leadership.

  • Being an Entrepreneur - The best managers understand how money is made and how the world of money-making and politics happen. You just can't be naive about these things. If you just want to collect a salary all through life and not contribute to the bottoming, then it will show. Those that work with you implicitly tie their financial success to the company and by extension to you and they must see that you have the interest of the growth of the company at heart and understand what to do to make that happen. A lot of young people that choose to work in companies nurture their Entrepreneurial ambitions, they need investors, they need mentors and what better path to success than when a Boss and his people are bonded in the company and together drive future value chains of wealth.

SO IN SUMMARY;

All of the above means you have work ahead of you to develop yourself. If you noticed, I have not made any prescription for trainings that HR will give you. That's a topic for another article. Achieving greatness has never been easier. Look for a mentor, get loads of articles and read, follow and learn from great leaders, see how they think, how they act, don't just read, take time to comprehend. Design your own learning path. Ask HR for help. Shadow your CEO from a distance. Invest your funds well. Have small savings to cushion shocks. Keep feeding quality into your subconscious and whenever you need it, it will be there to guide.


Take comfort in knowing that older CEOs are now looking to the Startup Founders and younger CEOs these days for investment and transformational agenda.

You don't have to be the most experienced to be a great Middle Manager. You are already one by design and by your title. Now lead without the title.

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