Middle management is perhaps the toughest place to work in the corporate world. Blame comes from both directions: Subordinates blame you when they are pushed too hard, and superiors blame you for not pushing hard enough.
It can be maddening at times, but quite rewarding at others. The trick, of course, is learning to survive the former in order to fully appreciate the latter. This is the main difference between a good middle manager and a great one.
Here are seven tips that can help you become a great middle manager:
1. Say "Thank you" when deserved, and mean it. Remember, your team has the ability to make you look good or bad. Keep them motivated by recognizing a job well done. Because it's such a simple gesture, it's easy to forget the power this endearing term wields.
2. Keep the lines of communication open. This does not mean acting like everyone's den mother. But you should be as approachable as professionally possible or risk being left in the dark when things go south for your team. Since it's impossible to be everywhere at once, your staff should know that they can come to you before an issue becomes a major problem. You are the person they depend on for guidance. Don't slam the door when they seek your help.
3. Accept responsibility for those who report to you. When you refer to one of your staff members (or worse, your entire team) in a derogatory manner when speaking with your superiors, it casts your leadership abilities in a bad light. After all, the competency of those who report to you is a direct reflection of your management qualities.
4. Never ask a staff member to do something you aren't willing to do yourself. True respect can only be earned when management shows a willingness to come out from behind the desk and get their hands dirty.
5. Show you are a capable conflict manager. Acquire special training in crisis management, negotiation, or other conflict-resolution methods, if needed. You will inevitably moderate disagreements among team members. And if you're unprepared, you may behave as an ironfisted dictator. Or worse, you might show favoritism by siding with your pet employee's point of view; both are signs of an undeveloped leader. By being well-prepared and using facilitated discussion, coaching, and negotiating strategies, you can demonstrate leadership prowess to resolve differences.
6. Proactively lift staff morale. In today's tough work environment, morale is often diminished. Employees desire purpose and accomplishment, and they look to you for this inspiration. Through one-on-one interactions and by creating a positive culture, you can illuminate how individual employees' day-to-day tasks matter to the department or company at large. And you can personally applaud their accomplishments. You can delegate morale-building efforts to individuals as well, encouraging them to take responsibility for positive interactions with their teammates. By cultivating a positive culture among your team, you can stand out among your management peers whose teams may not be receiving the same morale-elevating attention.
7. Always be on the lookout for your replacement. If you are hoping to advance beyond your current position, this may be your best way up the ladder. Those above you may want to bring you along, but they may be concerned about how to replace you. Make their job easier and your climb more attainable by having a well-groomed staff member lined up and ready to step in when the call comes down.
You have worked hard to get to where you are. Proving to your staff, your bosses, and yourself that you deserve to be there requires a concerted effort on your part every day. The middle-management position truly is the axle on which the wheels of success turn.
Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter is a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, chief career writer and partner with CareerTrend, and is one of only 28 Master Resume Writers (MRW) globally. Jacqui and her husband, "Sailor Rob," host a lively careers-focused blog at http://careertrend.net/blog. Jacqui is a power Twitter user (@ValueIntoWords), listed on several "Best People to Follow" lists for job seekers. Visit http://pv.webbyawards.com/ballot/41 to vote for Glassdoor in the Webby Awards.