Employee management is the reality (and sometimes nightmare) of every middle manager anywhere. Let’s face it: one of the main purposes of employing middle management to begin with, is to occupy a position between the powers that be and the frontline. Even though frontline employees are essential to the success of a business endeavor, traditionally (although not always) the individuals occupying executive positions have neither the time nor the inclination to work directly with frontline employees. Additionally, those in senior leadership roles often possess the brilliance to create an idea but lack the people skills necessary to manage a team of employees in the common direction of achieving that goal.
That among other reasons, is why middle management occupies such an important position in companies today. However clear the reasons be for its existence, middle management itself, is an endeavor fraught with hidden crevasses, sharp cliffs and sudden, long drops. It was once explained to me by an acquaintance who had chosen a career in customer service (specifically, food service) that his job would be an ideal way to make a living if it wasn’t for all the damn customers. I have heard the same sentiments expressed on occasion by colleagues in middle management regarding the employees they are hired to lead.
This of course is a facetious joke employed with some irony as both customer service and middle management teams are aware that without their respective groups, their very careers would cease to exist. Dark humor aside, Let us take a short look at the tools everyone who works in a middle management position is likely to employ in the course of their duties. These numerous trust-based talents, by the way fall under the broad and sometimes ill-defined banner of ‘soft skills’ or ‘People Skills’ which have proven to be more difficult to master than ‘hard skills’ like technical applications, systems and processes.
Having worked in middle management for some years myself, these suggestions are based upon personal experience. Quite simply put, the foremost people skill that needs to be employed on a daily basis is Patience. Behaviorally this can be displayed as Acceptance, meaning that you display the art of Patience by jumping to waiting to give the benefit of doubt as opposed to conclusions, criticizing or judging. If you happen to be an impatient or short tempered person, then quietly close your briefcase and seek employment elsewhere. It is absolutely essential – when dealing with a diverse group of individuals brought together in a necessary attempt to form a team – to employ the valiant (and sometimes elusive) trait of patience. Don’t jump to conclusions though, instead find out the ‘why’ reason…it might surprise you and at the same time endear you.
If you are involved in middle management, then chances are that a fair portion of your time is spent on creating and balancing the essential employee directive known as the schedule. As is well known amongst middle management, “Juggling the Schedule” is a skill in itself. If any one activity encapsulates the definition of “middle management” it is that of drawing up a schedule that somehow is harmonious to all concerned; employees, management and quality final product. Of course the larger the team of people employed under a middle manager, the greater the number of proverbial balls that tend to be in the air. This then, is in direct proportion to a leader’s people skills and their ability to command the discipline of patience.
It can be difficult enough to navigate the hurdles presented by the individuals who are directly under the middle manager. With such variables as self-motivation, expectation of income, health (either prevention or sickness; both require time off), vacations and inevitable personal problems, middle management people skills need to be robust in nature.
Flexibility and People Skills
The golden rule one in middle management learns very quickly is that a schedule is NEVER set in stone. Kids get sick, wives have babies, relationships have issues. There are a neverending cascade of unseen factors being added to the equation; school issues for children (behavior problems, plays, recitals) health issues (doctor visits expected and sudden) family milestones (weddings, bar mitzvahs, convocations, funerals) and numerous other occasions. The way a middle manager handles these challenges determines the quality of respect he/she is granted by their followers.
If an individual who occupies a position in middle management does not practice the essential people skill of patience, the battle will be lost before it is even began. Scheduling is simply one area in a vast array of duties and requirements inherent in the job, requiring vast reservoirs of patience. We haven’t even begun to plumb all the areas that people who you are responsible for can test people skills. Let it be said then, that of all the people skills existing in middle management’s repertoire, patience is by far the most valuable.