Strength in the Middle: How Middle Managers Can Lead the Team
In sports, the phrase “strength in the middle” is often used and with difference references. In baseball, it may mean that the shortstop and the second baseman have enough quickness, reflexes, and coordination to turn even the most difficult double play.
In defensive football, it can mean stout defensive tackles and a middle linebacker who presents problems for the opponent’s running game.
In offensive football, it refers to the two guards and the center and how they work together to protect the quarterback and/or open up running plays for the back. The Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster John Madden used to encourage viewers to resist the temptation to watch the quarterback and instead to focus on the center and the two offensive guards. “That’ll tell you where the play is going and whether it will succeed," he’d say.
For the individual athlete, “strength in the middle” signifies the importance of core strength, most predominantly the abdominals and the lower back.
For business leaders, “strength in the middle” has an entirely different meaning. It refers to the core competency, supervisory and leadership skills of their middle managers.
In their 2019 best selling book, It’s the Manager, authors Jim Clifton and Jim Harter of the Gallup Organization detail their research involving hundreds of high performing organizations throughout a variety of industries and professions. Their findings, while not shocking, nevertheless confirm what many executive business leaders have known for years. The strength of your middle management team correlates directly with sustained organizational success. Armed with these findings and their conclusions and given the potential impact they can have on businesses, why is it that a focused, purposeful plan to develop supervisory, managerial and leadership skills among middle managers is largely ignored by senior executives?
Maybe Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business had it right in his book The Knowing-Doing Gap. Simply put, Pfeffer asserts that “it’s not what we don’t know that holds us back, it’s what we know but don’t do."
As we approach the end of Q3 of the 2021 fiscal year, organizations will begin to turn their attention to planning and budgeting for 2022 and beyond. The most astute business leaders will almost certainly come to the realization that the competition for the best and brightest talent will become more intense. In order to come out on top, organizations will do well to plan for and commit to comprehensive management development programs and opportunities for their middle managers. It’s an investment that will almost certainly pay off in the form of better organizational performance and employee loyalty.
For more information on how your organization can plan strategically for management development, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.