Empowering the Middle Management

Once viewed as mere cogs in the corporate machine, middle managers are now seen as pivotal players in driving organizational success. Emily Field, author of Power to the Middle and a partner at McKinsey’s Seattle office, makes a compelling case for why middle managers must be allowed to evolve from their traditional roles into dynamic leaders and strategic connectors.

The undervalued role of middle management

Middle managers have long been the unsung heroes of corporate structures, bridging the gap between senior leadership and frontline employees. Historically, they played a crucial role in implementing strategies and managing day-to-day operations. However, with the rise of flatter organizational structures and digital tools, their responsibilities have often been marginalized. According to Field, middle managers now spend a mere 25% of their time managing people, with the rest consumed by administrative tasks and bureaucratic processes.

Redefining the middle management role

In today’s context of work, workplace, and workforce, Field argues for a radical reinvention of the middle management role. The pressures of modern business, coupled with the rise of hybrid and remote work models, demand that middle managers transform into coaches, connectors, and talent managers. By shedding their roles as paper pushers and bureaucrats, middle managers can become the catalysts for innovation and cultural transformation.

Field emphasizes that middle managers are ideally positioned to act as culture carriers within their organizations. They embody and reinforce the values and practices that drive business success. In their role as coaches, they provide personalized guidance and development, enhancing employee engagement and productivity. As connectors, they bridge communication gaps between different organizational layers and departments, ensuring alignment and fostering collaboration.

Winning the war for talent

In the fiercely competitive war for talent, middle managers play a critical role in attracting and retaining top talent. They are the frontline ambassadors of an organization’s culture and values. By offering flexibility, fostering a sense of belonging, and building supportive team environments, middle managers can significantly influence prospective employees’ perceptions and experiences.

Field underscores the importance of empowering middle managers with greater decision-making authority and autonomy. This empowerment not only satisfies their desire for recognition and growth but also enhances their effectiveness in driving organizational success. By keeping middle managers “exactly where they are” and enriching their roles, organizations can leverage their expertise and leadership to navigate complex challenges.

The ripple effect of training and development

Despite their crucial role, the importance of training and developing middle managers is often overlooked. Field highlights that a lack of investment in middle manager training can lead to lower team morale, decreased productivity, and higher turnover rates. Effective training in essential management functions—such as communication, conflict resolution, and decision-making—is vital for equipping middle managers to lead and support their teams.

Organizations that fail to prioritize middle manager training risk stifling innovation and adaptability. Untrained managers may struggle to foster a culture of continuous improvement or adapt to evolving market dynamics, resulting in long-term negative repercussions.

Empowering the managers of tomorrow

To harness the full potential of middle management, future-forward leaders must adopt strategies that empower and support them. This includes providing opportunities for continuous learning, encouraging innovation, and involving middle managers in high-level decision-making processes. Leaders can offer leadership development programs, workshops on emerging trends and technologies, and create a culture where middle managers are encouraged to experiment and take calculated risks.

Field’s insights underscore the necessity of balancing soft and hard skills in today’s middle managers. Emotional intelligence, communication, leadership, and adaptability are essential soft skills, while strategic planning, financial literacy, and technological proficiency are critical hard skills. The combination of these skills enables middle managers to navigate the complexities of the modern business environment effectively.

The future of work demands a profound transformation in how organizations view and utilize their middle management. By reimagining middle managers as coaches, connectors, and talent managers, businesses can unlock their potential to drive innovation, enhance employee engagement, and navigate complex challenges. As Emily Field asserts, keeping middle managers exactly where they are, while empowering them with greater autonomy and development opportunities, is key to ensuring organizational success in the 21st century. By redefining and empowering middle management, organizations can position themselves at the forefront of innovation and growth, making the middle manager a linchpin in the future of work.


  • Keep middle managers exactly where they are: Emily Field | Forbes | June 2024
  • Where Senior Leaders Can Better Support Middle Managers, with Emily Field | Coaching for Leaders

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