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Leading from the Center: The Power of Middle Management

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Middle managers influence changes and decisions by managing up, down, and across organizations.


the power of middle management

Middle managers have the most influence over employee engagement and therefore occupy one of the most powerful roles in the organization. Why? Because they manage and navigate from the center. They influence changes and decisions by managing up, down, and across organizations. Companies should prioritize investing in the leadership develop of middle managers.


Generally, we find middle managers leading departments, manufacturing, branches, projects, and general operations driving forward specific objectives and outcomes derived from strategic goals established by executive leaders and board of directors. They supervise employees ensuring policies, practices, and changes from senior leadership are implemented in the most efficient and effective ways possible.


The Power of Middle Management


“Great managers consistently engage their teams to achieve outstanding performance. They create environments where employees take responsibility for their own — and their team’s — engagement and build workplaces that are engines of productivity and profitability,” according to Randall Beck and Jim Harter in this Gallup article. As major influencers, they impact every aspect in the overall operation of the organization. Consequently, middle managers are at the core of employee engagement or disengagement. What is the cost to a company when employees are not engaged and disconnect?


Recall two discussion points in the Workplace Peace Institute article New Paradigm Leadership — Everyone is a Leader:

  • The traditional hierarchical leadership approach is ineffective, leading to year-over-year employee engagement rates of about 30 percent. According to Gallup research, 70 percent of the organization is disengaged, watching the clock, and perhaps even spending a significant portion of the day job searching.

In a traditional leadership model, leaders prioritize control, self-interest, and competition. Information tends to be in short supply and policies and practices lead to an exclusionary culture.

  • “In an ordinary organization, most people are doing a second job no one is paying them for. In businesses large and small; in government agencies, schools, and hospitals; in for-profits and nonprofits, and in any country in the world, most people are spending time and energy covering up their weakness, managing other peoples’ impression of them, showing themselves to their best advantage playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding uncertainties, hiding their limitations,” writes Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey in their book An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.


Hiding. What is the loss to the person? How does that translate in the day-to-day operation being supervised by middle managers? How does disengagement manifest in departmental (and organizational) goals and targets? Employees can’t wait for the end the day or week to arrive. And what are they communicating about the organization once outside of the workday?


Indeed, middle managers are operating within the larger organizational culture, and they should navigate their responsibilities with that frame. However, they can still create a culture of care within their community of employees. They can learn and lean into the new paradigm leadership model to create a workspace where their team thrives. It means demonstrating and valuing:


  • Compassion, empathy, and humility

  • Trust

  • Dignity and respect

  • Inclusion and collaboration

  • Transparency

  • Curiosity


Highly Effective Managers Have High Leadership Intelligence


There is power in middle management, and that power can be used to advocate for training and for making an investment in your leadership development. In order to invest in a work culture where every employee on your team thrives, managers must care enough and be willing to become proficient in four core leadership intelligences: Social Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence, Dignity Intelligence, and Cultural Intelligence.


  • Social Intelligence is the capacity to proficiently understand human behavior and inspire positive change in others. It is the ability to know oneself and to know others by leveraging learnings from previous successes and failures. Leaders with high social intelligence are highly effective communicators who have proficient active listening skills. They understand human emotions and welcome them as a core aspect of the human condition. They are aware of social norms and understand the impact their own behavior has on others. Highly socially intelligent leaders inspire confidence and trust.

  • Emotional Intelligence is the ability to be aware of and identify one’s own emotions and to be able to differentiate them from feelings. Emotionally intelligent leaders can harness their own emotions and feelings, apply those emotions to cognition and problem-solving, as well as manage emotions, including the ability to regulate one’s own emotions and the ability to regulate emotions in others. This requires a basic understanding of neuroscience and the ability to apply that understanding in real-world situations.

  • Dignity Intelligence is the capacity to proficiently connect to the inherent worth and value of all human beings, to actively mitigate the violation of dignity in all instances, and to sustain a connection to something greater than oneself in all interactions. Leaders with high dignity intelligence recognize the interconnected and interrelated structure of reality, which manifests in their focus and attention to interpersonal relationships.

  • Cultural Intelligence refers to the ability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations. Culturally intelligent leaders can cross cultural boundaries respectfully and thrive in multiple cultures. They recognize the value of culturally diverse teams and are intentional about fostering a culturally diverse workforce. Cultural intelligence transcends a person’s existing knowledge of cultural sensitivity and awareness by illuminating certain skillsets and capabilities necessary to achieve defined objectives in culturally diverse situations.


Leading From the Center


You can lead from the center. Once managers begin to develop these four intelligences, they begin to create a community where every employee feels valued and experiencing belonging. Why wouldn’t a manager want this for their team? For themselves? If you are ready to reimagine your scope of responsibility where everyone on your team is fully engaged (even within your larger organization), contact Workplace Peace Institute today for a complimentary consultation.


Essentially, new paradigm leaders operating in Quantum Organizations must be proficient in the dynamics of human behavior. These four leadership intelligences are the foundational characteristics of new paradigm leaders. With proficiency in these four areas, leaders will more successfully honor basic human needs and dignity needs, and therefore bring out the best in others, resulting in a highly engaged workforce.

Workplace Peace Institute Leadership Academy provides leaders with the knowledge of human behavior, communication skills, and conflict resolution competencies to create highly engaged workplaces where dignity is consistently honored.

 

Workplace Peace Institute is an organization systems design and research firm that is singularly focused on creating workplace cultures where people thrive. Workplace Peace Institute supports small to mid-sized businesses in optimizing employee engagement, maximizing organizational productivity, and improving profitability by infusing human security and dignity as foundational attributes of their business model. Our Leadership Academy supports leaders in honoring basic human needs and dignity needs in the workplace, so they can actualize human potential in the workplace. The online Leadership Academy optimizes competencies in human behavior, communication skills, conflict resolution, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging to create highly engaged workplaces where basic human needs and dignity are consistently honored. All our courses are offered online and can be customized for in-person workshops and seminars.

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