Stuck In the Middle

Written by Alistair Gordon 26 Mar 2020

Do we really understand middle managers? Here’s the overview of the results from HFL’s latest survey (2019), Stuck in the Middle. Some of this we knew - and some of it we found surprising.

Middle managers are stuck in the middle - and it creates unique challenges. Pressured to produce results - which brings an operations focus. But also encouraged to be strategy - but where do they find the time? What does our latest research tell us about the pressures and role of a mid-level leader today?

The challenges of managing from the middle

  • The meat in the sandwich - Middle managers face a challenge of having to communicate difficult targets from senior management down to the front line. They are stuck in the middle.

  • Workload and timeframes - Middle managers are asked to deliver ever-greater workloads, in ever-shortening timeframes. Pressure and resources are common place and stressful.

  • Managing the manager(s) above - Middle managers report facing a constant challenge to be properly heard by their senior managers. Meeting what they consider unreasonable expectations.

  • Managing complex teams and peers - Middle managers operate in complex, multi-layered environments. Managing their own teams, and their interactions with other teams, is hard work and difficult.


In our survey in 2019, we asked middle managers how they had learned how to do their job.

The graphic above describes the results of this question - and on the job learning - the experience of doing easily out-rated every other form of learning.

That’s why with small group coaching, we’ve made sure that on-the-job learning is at the centre of the program. We get to theory (eventually), but at the centre of each coaching session is a complex middle manager scenario or problem that the participants have to solve. Learning on the job. ‘ The second highest rating was received by coaching - and of course every Fastlead Plus pod is facilitated by a highly experienced leadership coach. We save our very best coaches for Fastlead Plus.

Interesting and concerning is how far down the list Formal Programs Inside Work scored. Learning from other senior managers was also ranked very low. Only a third of respondents said they learned how to survive and thrive as a middle manager from their manager. To try and counter this data point, we have designed in plenty of involvement from managers of participants into our Fastlead Plus program

Start a conversation with us about our small group coaching program for mid-level leaders, Fastlead Plus.

Subscribe to the Fastlead mailing list