The Rise of the Middle Manager: The New Organizational Core Driving Performance in Volatile Times

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The Rise of the Middle Manager: The New Organizational Core Driving Performance in Volatile Times

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A new organizational structure is emerging to replace the conventional top-down hierarchy. In this model, leadership and influence permeate all levels, especially among middle managers at the core.

Today’s corporate landscape is defined by complexity, uncertainty, and rapid change driven by globalization and technology. For organizations to thrive amid volatility, their structures must evolve from rigid silos to networked systems where managers across levels collaborate to enable performance and adaptability.

Recommended training from HRDQ-U

The Unsung Heroes of Change: Middle Managers and Their Impact on the Evolving Workplace

As per this paradigm shift, middle managers must receive ample support from top leadership to fulfill their critical role. With influence both downward and upward, middle managers serve as the organizational compass. Investing in these “connecting leaders” will be crucial over the next few years as virtual management and communication become more prevalent.

Gallup reveals that middle managers account for 70% of the variation in employee engagement, greatly impacting organizational outcomes. Their unique positioning will only gain more importance in the future of work.

Mounting Pressures

In this context, middle managers face mounting pressures from both ends. They may be tasked with managing up executives immersed in office politics or mentoring and coaching staff in addition to executive duties. Coupled with everything else they juggle at home, this makes for a frenetic environment.

They can no longer be obedient order-takers focused solely on operations. Instead, to translate ambiguous signals of change into clear roadmaps for their teams, these managers must be nimble strategists and visionaries.

Unsurprisingly, 43% of middle managers across levels report the highest rates of significant burnout, and 44% list organizational bureaucracy as their top frustration, reveals SHRM in “Unshackle Middle Managers to Thrive in the Future of Work.”

This highlights the need to redesign the middle management role for purpose and autonomy in modern work settings. The people leadership of middle managers is indispensable for guiding teams through seismic shifts, amidst rapidly evolving technology and work patterns. However, poor organizational design often sets them up for failure. Middle managers can be fully leveraged and valued by realigning their attention toward maximizing spans of control, building strategic capabilities, and increasing accountability.

The Critical “Middle-Out Effect”

With this broader mandate and their significant impact on engagement and culture, middle managers can have a substantial “middle-out” impact on organizational performance in at least two key areas: Performance and Retention. “The organizations that succeed at connecting employees to their culture can increase employee performance by up to 37% and retention by up to 36%.”

This makes sense since frontline supervisors have their ears on the ground. By tuning plans to better inspire and harness team members based on a deep understanding of ground realities, they enhance execution.

They also have a vantage point that allows them to spot major market shifts before executive dashboards. These signals can be channeled upward to positively influence business strategy.

Ushering in the “Middle-Level Leader”

The era of the corporate ladder is likely over. Talented and innovative leaders now occupy the center of the new organizational hierarchy with resources, autonomy, and prominence to amplify their “horizontal” impact on strategy and execution. In these disruptive times, forward-looking companies can achieve a sustained competitive edge and improve performance by reorienting their leadership development and culture around this reality. Here are some tips to help support this critical group of change agents:

  • Simplify bureaucracy so middle managers can focus on high-value work.
  • Encourage autonomy for imaginative solutions tailored to team needs.
  • Promote cross-level collaboration to keep strategy grounded.
  • Invest in capability-building through training in systems thinking, change leadership, etc.
  • Spotlight exceptional efforts to spread best practices and attract talent.
  • The intermediate stage deserves the spotlight. With the right organizational design and support, middle managers can drive the changes needed to help companies thrive amidst uncertainty. Their “horizontal” leadership represents an invaluable asset in turbulent times.


Let the middle stage take center stage! Empowering middle-level leaders also holds promise for bettering organizations in these complex, rapidly changing times.

To learn more about the crucial roles that middle managers will play in the future of work, and for helpful tips for both middle managers and their supervisors, join HRDQ’s webinar, The Unsung Heroes of Change: Middle Managers and Their Impact on the Evolving Workplace.

Headshot of Andres Marquez-Lara
Andres Marquez-Lara

Andres Marquez-Lara is the Founder and CEO of UFacilitate, a global facilitation company that makes cross-cultural collaboration work! They help high-performing teams deal with the “messy human stuff” – egos, cultural differences, miscommunication, conflict ­– that create silos that put their mission at risk. They break down barriers to collaboration across people, departments, and organizations. They’ve worked with groups like the World Food Program, The Nature Conservancy, Easterseals, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and many others.

Andres teaches leadership development in various executive programs at Georgetown University. He is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Excellence in Public Leadership (CEPL) at George Washington University. He is also an Advisor at the Emergence Project for Purposeful Entrepreneurship at Stanford University.

He is also the author of Facilitating Leadership: A quick and easy guide to leading with brain heart and soul. A book that provides an overview of several leadership development frameworks to support purpose driven leaders, and makes the case why facilitation is the missing key for leaders in the 21st century.

He has been recognized by Ashoka and the American Academy of Certified Public Managers. He earned a BA in psychology from Duke University, and a graduate degree in clinical community psychology from the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello in Caracas, Venezuela. He lives in the triangle area in North Carolina with his wife and two young children.

Recommended Training from HRDQ-U
The Unsung Heroes of Change: Middle Managers and Their Impact on the Evolving Workplace

Gain insight into why middle managers need to be lifted up and the best strategies to empower managers to create a winning environment.

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