Staying In Middle Management Hell – What Are You Telling Your Staff?

Middle Management Hell
Not long ago I wrote an article about the lessons I learned in my first foray into management. I use that word intentionally – management – not leadership. I had not training, no mentoring and no clue.

The other day someone told me after reading that article they wondered, in applying it to themselves, if it meant ‘suck it up cupcake’ or ‘time to leave’. That is a question that can only be answered by the individual.

To read that article, click here: 4 Lessons Learned Surviving My First Leadership Role – Barely

However, she asked a wonderful question, one that I felt so important that it deserved its own article.

She said, “But what will my staff do if I leave?”

This was not meant as a, ‘they can’t get their job done without me’ type question, it was more of a ‘who is going to protect them’ question.

She is in a situation in which she leads a team and reports to the executive management team. Again, I use these words intentionally.

Her boss and his cohorts are not leaders. They diminish her on multiple layers, deflate her sense of worth, demean her contributions and devalue her leadership. This is done on a daily basis in subtle and not so subtle ways, in front of the executive team, her team and anyone else around.

She is a generous person who truly cares about her staff. She wants them to succeed and be happy at their firm. Her fear is that if she leaves the bad behavior will be directed to her staff without her there as a buffer.

My question to her was what happens if you stay? Not just to you professionally and personally; but more importantly: will they think that being mistreated is acceptable because you accept it?

By being a buffer, how much are you protecting them? They most likely stay in the firm because of her and they like their jobs. Of course, you do not want to see your staff injured in any manner, professionally, mentally or emotionally.

Being the shield between a bad big boss and your staff becomes second nature; a fixer transforms into a buffer. You take punches from above and keep a good staff shielded, productive and happy. You take all the hits and this compromises your professional, mental and emotional health – possibly leading to your physical health. You sacrifice so much to make sure your staff is protected.

But they are not.

They see the punches, the disrespect and the horrible way in which you are treated.

You are not a martyr, you are a punching bag.

If they do not know any better, they may think this is the way management works. They may become conditioned to do their jobs in fear rather than a positive prospective like joy, passion or commitment. They may let go of any ambition to move up in their career for fear of being treated like you are treated. They may lose respect for their direct leader due to allowing bad behavior from the big boss.

Staying in a crappy middle management job is not doing you or your staff any favors. It helps all of you to find an environment that is positive, supportive and in line with your professional mission, goals and aspirations. You get the heck out of there and they have a more clear view that the management behavior is not acceptable. You did not have to put up with it, left and are happy; and they can do the same.


I help identify and set a path to achieve individual career and company goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business, grow your company and strengthen your team.


Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a speaker and seminar facilitator at companies and professional organizations speaking to leadership, sales, teams, transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about career mobility, personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

Leadership: It is All About You…For Them

Last night I had the privilege to attend the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association panel discussion “Women in Leadership: The Challenges, the Victories, the Strengths”.

Although the event was through a women’s organization (the second largest in Indiana) and the title specified women, one of the most important messages was not gender specific.

And yes, there were men in attendance.

The panelists were Tiffany Olson, President of Nuclear Pharmacy Services at Cardinal Health; Colleen Hittle, Managing Director at Navigant and Jennifer Zinn, Vice President of Strategic Affairs at Roche Diagnostics with moderator Dr. Cheryl Beal Anderson, Sr. Director at Lundbeck. Talk about a powerhouse group!

Throughout the discussion there was a wealth of information presented, such great insight, humor and wisdom, just a few tidbits include:

  • Being a leader can be lonely, careful what you wish for; but it is a privilege.
  • Not all paths are straight and narrow, sometimes the broken path leads to the greatest destination.
  • Eliminate the word “balance” in work/life, it is an equation; and one that you must calculate to fit you, not anyone else’s expectations.
  • Learn to literally sit at the table and be comfortable in your seat.

One message that resonated with me and that I continue to go back to today is leadership is all about you in order to be a better leader for your team.

When I say it is all about you, my meaning is this: know yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, values, motives, goals and boundaries.

When you come from a place of honesty, integrity and transparency, you are able to perform at a higher level for your team. That is when the shift comes from all about you (knowing yourself) to all about them – providing direction, inspiration, encouragement and sometimes, a little butt-kicking.

Leader’s must make difficult decisions, the buck stops with them. What the panelists shared in making these decisions easier is to know yourself, trust your intuition, act with integrity and make the decision that is in the best interest of the group.

Communication is key. Learn first how to listen and then paint the long term benefit picture for the team as a team. Learn how to communicate in the way your team will best listen and understand.

You will never be right 100% of the time, you will make mistakes and you will tick someone off. One panelist made a difficult, but right, decision and her co-workers ‘voted her off the island’ for a few weeks. That is when being right can be lonely; however, knowing you acted with integrity and honesty will make it a bit easier to get through and much easier to look back upon.

Knowing your priorities in personal and business will allow you to keep what is important front and center and not be overrun by the priorities of the day.

Allow, no encourage or just short of demand, people to challenge you. One panelist said it wonderfully in stating mentors should push, inspire and challenge you. If they are just encouraging and agreeing, they are not providing much value. Not all mentors will be your mentor throughout your career. Some come in for specific purposes at specific times and once they have provided the value you need, it is time to let them go. Allow them to help others and allow yourself to bring the next level in to meet your needs.

Honesty is vital. Honesty with who you are, what your value is, what you are good at and where you can improve allows you to grow as an individual and a leader while providing a strong base for others to follow.

Each panelist had different viewpoints, experiences and I would hazard to say leadership styles; but the common denominator in them all: self-awareness, honesty, integrity and continual progression. It is something we can all learn from in being better versions of ourselves and better leaders to our teams.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Brand Strategist & Career Coach
Certified Professional Resume Writer

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