Middle managers need leadership development

There’s a hidden gem in your organization. This person is working right there among your workforce and having a huge impact on your organization’s success. No, it’s not the owner or a top exec — who’s more than likely pretty high-profile in your local market and industry. And, no, we’re not necessarily referring to that hotshot salesperson who “makes it rain.”

The diamond in your midst is none other than your middle manager. That’s right; he or she is the shining hero whom you may inadvertently be undervaluing or simply not recognizing or developing adequately. Unless you keep your middle manager polished and bright through ongoing leadership development, this precious jewel will remain hidden and dulled. He or she may even slip from your grasp.

A changing, growing profession

So what’s the big deal about middle managers? Think about the important role they play. Middle managers are, essentially, the “hub” of everything your organization seeks to accomplish. They’re the ones who must take the broad strategic initiatives handed down from the “C-Suite” and execute these plans in real life.

Meanwhile, it’s also the job of the middle manager to inform, interact with and inspire the employees in the departments under them. In other words, they’re handed the mission-critical task of keeping your workforce engaged.

Indeed, middle managers are fast becoming a key cog in our national economy. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released just a couple of years ago, there were about 10.8 million middle managers working in the United States. In a 2013 Wall Street Journal article, middle managers were described as making up “a growing share of the U.S. workforce.”

But this burgeoning population of professionals also faces great challenges. In the current era of “rock star” CEOs, middle managers are often ignored, viewed as easily replaceable or, in worst cases, left to take the blame when upper management’s strategic initiatives fail. And the increased use of specialized project teams has only exacerbated the tendency in many organizations to undervalue their middle managers.

The good news for your organization is that these issues create an opportunity. If you can change your view of middle managers, recognize the contributions of yours and then maximize the value of this underrecognized human asset, you’ll gain a competitive advantage.

How middle managers make a difference

Do middle managers really make a difference in organizational performance? Recent studies indicate that, yes, they absolutely do.

Just a few paragraphs above, we mentioned the mission-critical task of employee engagement. This is where middle managers come up huge. Those who can keep an organization’s ratio of engaged-to-disengaged employees as high as possible make a marked difference on the bottom line.

For example, according to the 2013 Gallup study State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders, organizations with a 9:1 ratio of engaged employees to disengaged employees reported 147% higher earnings per share than their competition during the study period.

Middle managers have a significant effect on employee turnover as well. In a recent Accenture study, 31% of respondents cited “They don’t like their boss” as their reason for quitting. Another 31% pointed to “a lack of empowerment.” Middle managers have a direct and lasting impact on both of these attitudes.

1 question, 2 important words

Here’s another critical question: How can you maximize the effectiveness and productivity of your middle managers? We can answer that in two words: leadership development.

By investing in leadership development, you get the most from not only your upper-level managers, but also these crucial middle managers. If you’ve been considering implementing a leadership development program but just haven’t been able to pull the trigger, don’t wait too much longer. Your competitors may be already doing so!

Research released in May 2014 by Bersin by Deloitte, an HR consultancy, found that leadership development spending rose by 14% in 2013 to an estimated $15.5 billion. Small businesses were, believe it or not, the biggest spenders — investing 23% more in leadership development during 2013 than they did during 2012. And the amount invested on average for middle managers was only $3,900 per person.

Priorities for organizations devoting time and money to leadership development include improving middle managers’ communication skills, of course, as well as enhancing their ability to identify and manage talent. But some of the major focuses of today’s leadership development programs may surprise you.

For instance, a survey of 800 global executives and senior talent development professionals by Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning found that 80% of respondents were targeting “change management capabilities” while developing their middle managers. Moreover, 77% of respondents were working to instill “a leadership mindset” in their middle managers.

Final question

One last question for you: What does your organization need to do right now to develop its middle-management leadership? Today’s top performers are already doing it, so you don’t want to get left behind.

We can help. Our LEAP® program was specifically designed to bring Fortune 100 leadership development to small to midsize organizations in an affordable package. LEAP identifies key areas for personal leadership improvement in both middle and upper-level managers — using professional assessment tools, individual coaching, real-world application and small peer-based learning groups.

LEAP® is a practical, fact-based, results-driven program designed for immediate practical application in your organization. We have cohort groups starting throughout the year. Now is the time to find your gems and really polish them so your organization will shine brighter than its competitors. For help, contact us here.