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Bottom-Line Behavior

Developing mid-level managers is essential — but often overlooked

The manager in the middle has an outsized impact on an organization.

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Investing in leadership training is common for companies of all sizes, from a 10-person firm to a Fortune 500 company. Capable and effective leadership, after all, is essential to a company’s success. Training up entry-level employees is a common occurrence for most companies as well. But what about the middle? Too often—and especially in family-owned and closely-held companies—training and development for middle managers is ignored. 

But companies who ignore this crucial position do so at their own peril. 

The mid-level manager is often the crux of an organization. They have significant influence, managing down to their team to ensure operations go smoothly, and managing up to leadership. A good (or bad) manager is often the reason employees cite when they decide to stay with the company or leave for greener pastures. It’s an incredibly important position but can also be a frustrating one. Middle managers lack the power that leadership holds yet share the same frustrations. Tasked with communicating with both leadership and their team, middle managers occupy what is arguably one of the most important positions in the organization. They are close to the machinations of the business and the larger strategic decisions that drive it. Despite these realities, middle managers tend to be some of the most undervalued people in an organization—and this is never truer than in a family-owned business. 

Challenges of middle management

The role of a middle manager is multi-faceted. They spend a lot of time on administrative tasks, attending meetings, managing their team and reporting to leadership. They must balance the needs of their team and the needs of the company, finding the sweet spot where everyone wins. They are often both the owner of a problem, and the solution to fix it. Additionally, they must be liked and respected by both leadership and their team to be effective. 

Without good middle management, a company’s overall culture can be at risk, as these managers have a significant impact on employee happiness. In fact, they’re the ones driving the culture. But the outsized responsibilities and everyday grind tend to wear middle managers down, which can be a disaster for the organization, particularly for family-owned/closely held companies. In my work as a family business consultant, it’s more common than not to see family businesses view middle management as a less important position than it is, and therefore, eschew the kind of training and development that would materially benefit the company. That’s why I council my clients to invest the time and resources into training middle managers. 

Benefits of developing middle managers

Leadership training for middle management can be a transformative investment for any company — especially a family-owned business. Through targeted leadership training, these managers can enhance their skills and abilities, which can greatly benefit the company.

Leadership training equips middle managers with the necessary skills to effectively lead and inspire their teams — ensuring employee retention and a healthy company culture. Training can teach middle managers how to communicate more efficiently, motivate employees and foster a not only a positive work culture, but better productivity as well.  As these managers become more adept at identifying and nurturing talent within their teams, they can also contribute to the company's succession planning efforts, ensuring a sustainable pool of potential leaders for the future.

Leadership training also helps middle managers develop a strategic mindset through a deeper understanding of the company's vision, mission and goals, allowing them to align their objectives with the broader organizational strategy. Well-developed managers can proactively identify and address challenges, capitalize on emerging opportunities and make well-informed decisions that drive the company's success. When middle managers are taught the right leadership strategies, they can eliminate busy work and begin to focus on the kinds of innovations that drive a company forward. 

Bottom line: investing in leadership training for middle management is an investment in the company's future. It’s a no-brainer investment for family-owned companies that too few make. 

To address this issue, which I believe to be widespread among family businesses, I now provide specific training for middle managers for several closely held and family businesses, and it’s already getting results. Leadership training for middle managers can and should be an essential part of your business strategy.  



Denise Federer

Denise Federer is a contributing columnist to the Business Observer. She is the founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group with more than 30 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at [email protected].

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