Unsung Heroes – Middle Managers

By: Lubna Haq


Would you get on a plane with an unqualified pilot or seek medical treatment from someone who gained their knowledge from watching medical dramas? Obviously not! Yet we put the health of our organisations into the hands of managers, without adequately supporting them.

Having worked with thousands of leaders from all types of organisations and sectors over many years, it is true to say that middle managers are the secret weapon responsible for the success or failure of a business. Yet so few organisations invest in the level of managers who have responsibility for leading 80% of the workforce.

Conventional training is unlikely to make a positive difference. Research shows that traditional approaches may result in us initially being inspired to change our practices, but within a month we have forgotten the majority of what we ‘learnt’. This is not surprising, given that most training is delivered to match an outdated profile of the expectations of a middle leader.

The reality is that development must be future focused. It is critical for it to take account of changes in technology, like AI and the increasing automation of jobs, which have created the need for different types of roles and relationships in organisations, both vertically and horizontally.

Here are 5 ways to invest in middle managers for a positive outcome.

1. Take an anti-training approach. Traditional training is abstract, focusing heavily on knowledge and models. Change this by providing the environment that allows your managers to fully understand the strategy, context, and challenges of your organisation. Drip feed ideas and concepts in bite sized chunks. Then, give managers the opportunity to apply this understanding practically in their teams, coupled with regular, constructive feedback. My experience is that this leads to managers making improvements in a sustained way, resulting in the delivery of better results.

2. Help managers to become aligned with the purpose and strategy of the organisation. Recent research reported only 14% of managers understand the core strategy or direction for the organisation. How can they lead if they don’t know how to make choices between what to do and what not to do? Create the environment that allows them to elevate their understanding so that they can make better decisions. Help them to become confident managers, conveying clarity to all team members about their individual roles and the team purpose.

3. Build in time to reflect, share, discuss and understand ideas and experiences. Helping your managers to understand where their strengths lie and what drives and motivates them will help them to develop the confidence to lead with intention rather than feeling like imposters.  This provides managers with the scope to transition from firefighting and random task completion to focused, strategic activity, ultimately leading to increased productivity.

4. Help your managers to both use and develop the strengths of the team. Support them to know themselves, be comfortable in their own skins and use their strengths to develop the talents of others.

5. Help your managers to switch their focus from what they need to do to how they need to think. Rather than trying to force every situation to follow a regimented process, they need to become comfortable working in an ambiguous and volatile world that can change daily. Their challenge is to synthesise and filter complex data, thinking about things from a variety of different perspectives to find the right solution for the situation faced.

In summary, the way to make a real shift in the way your middle leaders perform is to help them to understand your organisational strategy and their role within it. Support them by providing the opportunity and space to think with confidence in a more holistic way and communicate clarity to their teams.

If you would like to discuss any of this in more detail, contact Lubna Haq on 07342960096 or email me at [email protected]

Lubna Haq

Lubna is an experienced business leader. Most recently she worked as a partner in a global company responsible for designing and introducing leadership programmes targeted at middle managers.