middle management

Why Hiring Good Mid-Level Managers Is Not Good Enough

The pandemic has been a stress test for managers of all levels. The most effective managers are learning to adapt through clear communication and effective utilization of technology. They instill optimism, promote collaboration and reward creativity, and trust among their teams is prevalent and evident. Middle managers, often cited as some of the unhappiest employees in the workplace, have had it particularly tough during the pandemic.

Feeling the pressure from above and below, they have to deal with the challenges of laying off employees and delivering bad news about pay cuts and reduced work schedules. They need to work harder to mentor, focus, and inspire individuals now working from home, and likely dealing with more of their own personal challenges.

Today’s added stresses and responsibilities have created a fight or flight moment for many middle managers – they are either spiraling downward or embracing the challenges and demonstrating their true value as leaders.  

As a result, middle managers are either searching for new jobs or using the pandemic as an opportunity for promotion to leadership positions. Either way, it has created a need to effectively fill this role in a way that has never before been more important to an organization. 

The economic uncertainty wrought by Covid-19 and the expiration of the CARES Act in July has flooded the market even further with candidates, making it harder for recruiters to identify qualified mid-and senior-level managers with the right mix of character and experience to effectively engage remote teams and help sustain business growth. 

Regardless of the impact the pandemic is having on an organization, hiring criteria for mid-level managers is changing. Here’s how:  


#1: Hiring profiles must start with strong leadership and communication skills.

Below average mid-level managers are struggling even more today because they lack the leadership skills to effectively support remote teams. Recruiters interviewing for mid-level roles must understand the subtle differences between good and great managers, and work these subtleties into their hiring profiles.

For example, good managers assign tasks, leverage employee strengths, and meet objectives. Great managers create a unifying vision, challenge their teams to solve problems and take calculated risks, and inspire them to exceed their own expectations.   

Great mid-level managers also know that operating in a remote environment requires them to have greater availability for their teams. This allows more time for having regular check-ins and providing the necessary feedback to build trust and maintain focused, connected teams.


#2: Promoting from within can backfire.

Promoting top company performers to management roles has long been an acceptable practice. While this may ensure industry experience, there is no guarantee these individuals have the creativity, flexibility and communication skills to lead −particularly during a crisis.

It’s a common challenge to find top performers who are both strong leaders and ready and willing to step up into positions of greater responsibility.  Average managers perpetuate problems and can have an immediate detrimental effect on the morale and productivity of the operation.

Companies and managers must recognize that when there is a lack of leadership potential from within, they need to seek the ideal blend of industry experience and leadership skills from outside the organization. 


#3: Candidates must demonstrate their ability to lead up and lead down.

Middle managers often feel pulled in different directions by the various stakeholder groups they serve.  In order to achieve results, they must be able to simultaneously understand the “why” from above while making it reasonable and actionable for their teams.

Recruiters should require clear examples of how a candidate has translated expectations from leadership and built broad consensus around a clear vision for their teams. Effectively motivating individuals and rallying teams around a common goal comes down to the ability to listen, understand, empathize, and hold people accountable.  


#4: Helping employees get to the next level is part of the job.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, once said: “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. (S/he) is the one that gets people to do the greatest things.”  

Such is the case for great mid-level managers. Not only are they role models for professional growth and development, they also recognize and proactively nurture leadership talent for next-level opportunities.  Managers who feel threatened by advancing others are in no position to lead. 


Management Beyond the Pandemic

Our current crisis mindset has driven many organizations to make long-overdue changes, become more innovative, better utilize technology, and communicate more effectively. It has also changed the way we think about management and that simply settling for good managers is no longer enough.

While everyone looks forward to getting back to “normal”, we’ve proven to ourselves that there are other ways to achieve success despite the challenges, and we are more capable than we once thought.

Jim Perdue

Jim Perdue is Director of Professional Search at Orion Talent. A former Navy Officer with nearly two decades of recruiting experience with Orion Talent, Jim is widely respected among industry peers for his dedication to building strong relationships and delivering the highest quality, best-matched talent for next-level leadership roles.

Mike Starich

Mike Starich is the former CEO at Orion Talent, a provider of skilled talent acquisition, recruitment optimization and military hiring to businesses in manufacturing, supply chain, energy, healthcare and more. Prior to joining Orion in 1992, Mike served in the Marine Corps for seven years as a flight officer and Marine officer recruiter.