When people talk about middle managers, certain characterizations inevitably come to mind: gray-suited corporate drones bitter about being relegated to the sidelines of corporate power; middling bosses who don’t particularly care for their subordinates; overlooked paper-pushers eager to clock out at the end of the day.
None of these depictions are flattering; none of them are accurate either. According to my latest research, which involved analyzing over thirty years’ worth of employment data and conducting many interviews with mid-level managers and senior leaders across dozens of companies, middle managers are central, indeed crucial, to an organization’s success. My research shows that middle managers are, for the most part, thoughtful, strategically-minded individuals who have a strong commitment to their jobs, are highly engaged with their colleagues, and gain real pleasure from their day-to-day work.
Larry, one of the employees you supervise, hasn’t been performing his job up to expectations. But you’ve been reluctant to take him aside and speak with him candidly: Like most senior people in the company, you are white. What if Larry, who is black, takes your criticism the wrong way or, worse, thinks you are racist?
The last thing you want is for others to think your actions were influenced by race. So you’ve held off talking to him about performance issues that you’d likely have raised with your non-minority employees. You’re relieved that a potentially thorny situation was averted, even pleased with your capacity to be so racially sensitive.