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.

(Photo by Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

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!


One of my employees gave notice this week.  When people leave, it is hard.  It puts additional strain on the rest of the team to provide continuity of operations, and it is sad to have people move on.  As she was sitting with me in my office, she said she couldn’t be happy for her new opportunity until she had told me.  That was a strange statement to hear as a leader.  As I sit and contemplate what that meant to me and my leadership, and try to stifle the fear of how that work is going to get covered, I want to share what this person has meant to me during my career.

I started off as an office of ONE, diligently working to grow support infrastructure for clinical research.  Nancy, was the first person I hired to help me in this treasured endeavor.  I recruited her from another office in the school and she was familiar with organizational processes. This was a tremendous value added as I was not equipped to do the strategy and the practical pieces of building this unit.

Nancy jumped on board wholeheartedly.  She helped develop processes, handled the project management with extreme organization (we never missed a deadline), and was hands down the most proficient outreach event planner I have ever encountered.  In addition to these practical skills, she became a trusted mentor.  As a new director, I was constantly challenged with adversity related to the behavior (and entitlement) of seasoned academics.  She reinforced my good decisions, protected my time, and most importantly, told me what I needed  to hear as a new leader.

I came to know just how wonderful and competent she was when she began to take on more than her share of the work, and started to assist with grant preparation.  We worked together to define a new role, and promoted her into it.  She thrived in this new position!  She attended professional development conferences, drafted policies, and became a trusted resource for all of campus.  She was a key contributor to training workshops for new employees, and started to standardize the application process for the school.

Reflecting on all that we built together in the last 3 years, the ONLY feeling I have about her departure is pride.  I am so proud of her.  She has taken this opportunity to create a niche for herself where she can be even more successful.  She made me a better leader. The kind of leader I want for myself. She taught me how to protect myself against people who could take advantage of me, and encouraged me when I felt like I wasn’t good enough.  Her counsel will forever be ingrained in my leadership style.

I encourage you to treasure your people while you have them, and celebrate their prosperity when they leave.  If you are a worthy leader, then their success is your success too.

Photo by Clipart

Happy trails Nancy!  I literally could not have done it without you!