The topic of sustainable middle management is something that doesn’t get a lot of press, but it should. That’s the sentiment expressed by the authors of The Outstanding Middle Manager: How to be a Healthy, Happy, High-performing Mid-level Manager. In the book, authors Gordon Tinline and Professor Sir Cary Cooper challenge the stressful environment and negative stereotypes of middle management. It is their hope that middle managers can see their careers, not as an ill-fated choice but the foundation of whole-person awesomeness.
What is The Outstanding Middle Manager About?
The core issue in The Outstanding Middle Manager is how to avoid the seemingly inherent pressure that comes with the role. As the book points out, middle managers play a dual role in business (leading and managing). Their role provides a critical link between upper management and the rest of the company. Their decisions often involve reconciling conflicting values (cost-saving vs innovation, for example) and priorities in their quest to keep their businesses competitive.
You would think a business role like that would get more attention from the press. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. In fact, the role of the middle manager is often stereotyped, overworked, and underappreciated. Middle managers are portrayed as bureaucratic killjoys who stifle innovation with red tape and budgets. This triple curse of negative career perception, long hours and lack of recognition takes its toll on mid-level managers, essentially squeezing them into a place of frustration and declining health.
The Outstanding Middle Manager wants to help middle managers break out of this “squeeze” one person at a time. Focusing on a “whole person = productive middle manager” philosophy, the book pinpoints and offers advice on the largest areas of discomfort for middle managers (career development, communication problems or workload management). To succeed, middle managers must balance two opposing pressures: demand and support. If they have too much demand and too little support, their performance will suffer. If they have too much support and too little demand, they will be underutilized.
The way to balance demand and support is with proactive control. Middle managers should build relationships within their company at all levels, particularly their own, for social support. They should actively identify and refine their strengths to own their careers.
Tapping into that control is what turns an ordinary middle manager into an extraordinary one.
Authors Tinline and Cooper bring considerable experience to their book. Tinline is a chartered occupational psychologist and management consultant who has worked with companies like BBC, Shell and Rolls-Royce.
Cooper is an organizational psychology professor and co-founder of Robertson Cooper, an employee well-being and business culture transformation agency. Cooper is also the president of the British Academy of Management and Relate, a UK charity that provides emotional and mental health support.
What Was Best About The Outstanding Middle Manager?
There are two important aspects to note with The Outstanding Middle Manager. The first is the intended audience. A casual glance through Amazon search results will show that middle management is not an area that gets a lot of attention. Attempting to close this gap is definitely something that is needed.
The unique concepts in the book are the other noteworthy feature. The Outstanding Middle Manager introduces several concepts that are new but may prove helpful to readers. Some of these concepts include career anchors, a value chimera, and the distinction between hindrance and challenge pressures.
What Could Have Been Done Differently?
The Outstanding Middle Manager provides an excellent overview of the “trouble spots” that can negatively impact a middle manager. But one area where this broad overview could be enhanced is with specific examples of middle managers who have used (or should have used) the recommendations in the book. This would have given readers a chance to better connect and relate to the recommendations from their personal experience.
Why Read The Outstanding Middle Manager?
The Outstanding Middle Manager is a book that is recommended for current middle managers (of course), but the book can also provide benefit to executive leaders and potential future middle managers. For the current middle manager, the book identifies “red flags” that can signal potentially career-destroying problems ahead. If you, as a middle manager, are starting to feel “the squeeze” of work pressure, this book might prove helpful. For upper-level management, The Outstanding Middle Manager presents a window into the stressful reality of middle management. For prospective middle managers, the book provides a quick preview of what obstacles a middle manager might face.