Mention the label mid-level manager, and what comes to mind? If the terms powerless, over-worked, under-paid, and under-appreciated jump out at you, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of negative spin on the job, mostly perpetuated by mid-level managers who feel over-worked, under-paid, and under-appreciated.

That’s too bad because, with the proper frame-shift, you might recognize managing from the middle is filled with opportunities to create, guide, develop, and frankly have a little fun.

Yes, I said, “fun.” More on that in a bit.

First, take a few minutes, look up from your screen, and look around you with some new filters. You might be surprised how different your job looks after this activity.

What You Should See Looking Upward

Look up, and you see your boss and her bosses. Sure, a lot rolls downhill at you, but that’s to be expected. If you want to be CEO on day one, start your own business. Otherwise, enjoy the ride as you learn from individuals who have even more headaches than you.

One of the frame-shifts important, when you are looking upward, is: these are the individuals closer to the big decisions of strategy, structure, and talent. Your job is to both execute on their priorities and to grow closer to them and increase your understanding of and support for the bigger picture.

If your lament is, “My boss doesn’t share much with me,” look in the mirror and recognize you might have to work a bit harder at building the relationship and opening the flow of dialog on strategy and direction. Try doing a better job tuning in to what keeps your boss awake at night and helping her solve some of those problems.

Finally, when I look upward at those in senior leadership roles, I see the people who can choose me to be successful. Yeah, it’s sobering but true.

The Potential from Working with Your Peers

Look sideways, and you see your peers in other parts of the organization. Reframe this view and recognize these individuals as potential coalition partners to create and implement change and solve problems. You and your peers wield an incredible amount of power to make things happen. How hard are you working at harnessing this power to solve those things that stress you and everyone else out regularly?

Also, squint a bit harder and you might see some of these peers as future bosses or employees. It happens, trust me.

How to View Those Giving You Permission to Lead

Shift your view to your team members and look at the opportunities they represent.

These individuals are the critical components of high-performance—if you learn to lead and manage them effectively. Treat them with respect and incorporate empathy and caring, and they will reward you with their best efforts.

Your team members also represent the individuals permitting you to learn to lead and manage. No one learns to lead alone, it takes a group of individuals who decide you’re worth the effort.

Finally, your team members represent the front-end of the talent pipeline, with future leaders and emerging great contributors, where your job is to help this talent develop.

The Section About the Fun Part

I’m not suggesting managing isn’t hard work. It is, and you will have ample frustrating moments and days when you’re feeling overtaxed and grossly under-compensated. Those strains are part of the process. However, in aggregate, the opportunity to create, grow, support, and importantly to be part of something bigger than you is exhilarating. Give yourself some permission to enjoy the ride.

The Bottom-Line for Now

After scanning all around you, if you see nothing but headaches and problems and feel a creeping sense of bitterness about your role, you’re definitely in the wrong job. For everyone else, smile, figure out how to grow smarter in your work, and soak up the daily learning lessons. You might make it to CEO one day.

Art's Signature


For a great resource, check out the book by Gwyn Teatro: In the Thick of It—Mastering the Art of Leading from the Middle.