It Can Be Lonely in the Middle
As a manager, you're not always a welcome presence in the workplace, which is probably not news to you. Employees might resent you, often for reasons that have nothing to do with you personally. Even your superiors might be impatient with what they perceive to be your lack of progress when improvements take longer than expected. You alone cannot make things all better; miracle worker is not among your many roles, although both subordinates and superiors might act as though it is.
What about your superiors, the managers or executives to whom you now report? Being closer to the top means greater visibility. Are they really watching your every move? You bet! Frontline and mid-level managers are the movers and shakers in most companies. Mistakes at your level can be costly, with ramifications that echo throughout the company. This is not meant to scare you but to help you appreciate and understand the significance of your new role as a manager.
This role requires you to maintain a distance from both employees and upper management. Think of this as a “clear vision” boundary that helps you to see both sides without becoming immersed in either. In fact, you might begin to see your job as one defined by boundaries.
Without such boundaries and limits, you and your employees might easily lose sight of the real reason you're together: to help the company meet its service, production, and financial goals. You and the employees who work for you can be colleagues, after a fashion, but you can't really be friends.
If you feel like all eyes are on you, you're probably right. Though everyone has enough to do without keeping tabs on your every move, don't think you even sneeze without someone noticing how many tissues you use. As an employee, it was easier to blend into a crowd. As a manager, you're it. You're at the front of the classroom, and everyone is watching you. Mostly they're looking for guidance; after all, this is your role. But they also want to see how you respond to challenges from both above and below you in the corporate hierarchy.
Similarly, as a frontline or mid-level manager, you must keep a safe distance from upper management. Not that you've been invited to join the penthouse club, but as a manager now you have accountability to the powers that be for the actions of others. And you are the one who needs to be able to tell upper management which policies and procedures are working and which ones are counterproductive or even dismal failures.
Maintaining a balanced distance from either layer gives you the ability to support company policies and procedures in front of your employees. Even if you disagree with them, you don't share this with your employees. Instead, you take your disagreements privately to your superiors and express your concerns. This preserves trust and respect on both sides. You can't belong to either side if you are to function effectively as a manager. Perhaps that's why it's called “middle” management!