Are You Stuck in the Middle?

Are You Stuck in the Middle?

Do you ever find yourself trying to mediate two opposing views? Do you struggle to tow the corporate line while being challenged to keep your direct reports motivated and engaged? Are you a middle manager or executive with multiple stakeholder groups who you struggle to impact and influence?

Many career professionals often find themselves stuck in the middle challenged to please upper management while also keeping their direct reports engaged and motivated.

Here are some tips to help you manage your middle position:

  1. Know Your Stakeholders. I mean really know them. Not just who they are but also what’s important to them, what their priorities and goals are, who they are personally outside of work, what they enjoy and do not enjoy, how they think and feel, and how they process information. The more you understand each of your stakeholders and the more rapport you can build over time, the more likely you will gain trust, respect and loyalty so that you can develop a spirit of collaboration and teamwork on projects, and issues as they arise.
  2. Remember Your Position. A common mistake is to befriend your direct reports. It’s a fine line between being friendly with your direct reports and being their friend. As the leader, your role is to lead, to be object, and to make the tough calls when necessary. In addition, while it’s important for leaders to support their team, even defend them at times, sometimes managers will back an employee even when they are in the wrong. No matter how much you value, appreciate, and like your direct report, remember to maintain your objectivity and position as an appointed leader.
  3. Manage Up, Down and Across. Sometimes leaders will spend more time and energy managing up, thereby looking really good with the boss but having little or no respect with their peer group or their direct reports. Sometimes leaders will do a fantastic job leading their team but invest very little time or energy managing the boss or building collaborative working relationships with other leaders and their teams. Wherever you are in the organization, it is important to be building and managing relationships up, down and sideways. A great read on this topic is the HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across.
  4. Stick to the Facts. I once had a boss who used to say: “The truth will set you free”. While I love the line, sometimes its not easy to get to the truth or to the facts of a situation. What you may find instead is “your truth”, “my truth”, “their truth”. In the earlier years of my banking career, as a bank manager, occasionally the bank branch would get “robbed”. One of the first things we would do once the bank robber left the branch, and the rest of us were safe is to close the bank doors and hand each of the customers and staff a bank robber description form to fill out with as much detail as they could remember. Needless to say, the robber descriptions varied greatly, what people saw also varied greatly, but through it all, some core facts were consistent and hard to ignore.
  5. Get Feedback. A terrific way to gain objective feedback on your leadership style and opportunities for development is to conduct a 360 review. My preferred 360 tool is The Leadership Circle 360 Profile. It provides qualitative as well as quantitative feedback from as many stakeholder groups as you choose to include. It provides raw actual measurement scores as well as percentile scores so you can assess how you are doing compared to other leaders worldwide. Of course, you can do your own 360 review by simply asking your stakeholders for their honest and objective feedback. What do I do well? What could I do better?

Building trusting and collaborative relationships at all levels in the workplace will help you be a better middle manager. Staying objective and fact-based will help you be a credible and respected leader. And getting regular feedback will assist you in thriving wherever you are.

If you are interested in completing a 360 assessment, or would like more information about the 360-review process, please call Linda at 416-617-0734 or email

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