Lead Up, Down, and Across the Organization

The most common theme I heard for why the job of the middle manager is so darn difficult was the broad scope of it all—all the hats you’re forced to wear. This daunting scope manifests itself in the form of 5 challenges in particular, spelled out in the handy acronym SCOPE.

Self-Identity. As a middle manager, all the hats you must wear forces you to constantly make what psychologists call “micro-transitions” throughout the day. One moment you’re in a deferential stance with your boss, the next moment you’re in assertive mode with direct reports, then collaborative mode with peers, sometimes all within the same meeting!

You constantly switch from high-power roles to low power roles, having to jump into roles at times that you weren’t mentally prepared to play. Research shows the constant switching exhausts us to the point of detriment and leaves us wondering what our role really is.

Conflict. Middle managers also face challenges of conflict from the natural tensions and pressure from all sides. Your boss hassles you, your employees resist, your peers won’t collaborate. You absorb discontent from all around. You deal with conflicting agendas, conflicts of interest, and interpersonal conflicts.

Omnipotence. With the omnipotence challenge, you feel like you’re expected to know everything. Those in the C-Suite aren’t expected to know everything, because that’s what they have you for. Newer hires aren’t expected to know everything, they’re too new. But you, in the middle? It’s a different story. Your market share ticked down in Peoria, you better know why!

Physical. For middle managers, there’s also a physical challenge, born from the disproportionate amount of stress and anxiety you feel, especially from, you guessed it, the constant micro-switching.

Emotional. Finally, there are unique emotional challenges as well. You might feel a sense of alienation, isolation, and loneliness, as being in the middle makes it hard to really be a part of anyone’s group.

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