As a middle manager, I play the role of buffer between my team and my supervisor or other hierarchical stakeholders. This is a stressful and exhausting position as I am constantly trying to meet the needs of these two groups while often not taking the time to check in with myself. Additionally, while managing the expectations and feelings, I don’t feel like I am getting enough actual work done. This creates an additional burden for me related to performance expectations I have for myself as well as my own job satisfaction.
A role conflict exists for people like me as we try to manage the ever changing dynamics between these two groups. How are we supposed to be everything to everyone all the time? When are our needs being met? What are our needs, do we even know anymore? How is this affecting my family? These are all questions I ask myself when I am overwhelmed with navigating this circumstance. Sometimes it is so overwhelming that I take one of those beloved “mental health days” just to get a break.
Running away clearly isn’t going to do anything, so what can we do as a cohort (I know there are more of you out there), to relieve this complicated burden? I have found personally that taking the time to be mindful of the things I can control is helpful. And just like the serenity prayer says, letting go of the things I cannot change is a big one too. If I limit what my actual scope of influence is versus what everyone else thinks it should be, I am able to better manage myself, and then I can better manage others too.
This phenomenon isn’t new. Just Googling “middle manager buffer,” yields several articles, blogs, videos and podcasts dedicated to the subject. One article suggests that a proactive personality can serve as a coping resource for people experiencing this conflict. Another that I found reinforces that sentiment by reframing your position as a conduit or pipeline for information between these two groups. This is a tremendous value as so many of us can relate to a time where upper management tries to implement something for the end user that is suboptimal. In this instance we have an opportunity to put on our advocacy hat to influence change for the better. THAT is a wonderful thing.
Being a middle manager is rarely rainbows and sunshine, but we are fortunate in that we DO have a seat at the table and are able to make valuable change for the people actually running the show (not the CEOs). The key to OUR success in this arena is to not go crazy whilst waiting for those opportunities which can be few and far between.
I encourage you to find your people, stay mindful, and seize the opportunity to make positive change when you see it!