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A Leader’s Guide to Developing Mid-Level Managers

By Jennifer Gadient, Senior Vice President Human Resources at Bridgewater Bank

As an entrepreneur, one of the best investments you can make is in developing your mid-level managers. They are the conduit between an organization’s structure and its people. Mid-level managers are the engines that move individuals, tasks, and teams forward while ensuring all of these components work in harmony to help advance an organization’s goals.

Not only do these individuals have a significant impact on the morale and productivity of those who report to them, but they are also the next generation of leaders who will drive the company forward. Therefore, taking steps to invest in the development of your mid-level managers greatly enhances the health of your organization both now and in the future. But what do those steps look like? Here are some best practices we’ve learned throughout the years:

Communication Is Key: Start With Yourself

Great managers are strong communicators who actively listen, ask for feedback, and seek input from direct reports. As an entrepreneur, you set the tone and expectations for how your mid-level managers should communicate.

So, before you start critiquing your mid-level managers’ communication skills, ask yourself how they would describe your communication qualities. I recommend seeking input on your communication style and being open to honest feedback. You can ask your mid-level managers or even an HR leader to get a baseline assessment. Once your communication skills are in check, it’s easier to lay out communication expectations to your mid-level managers and help others grow.

Empower Decision Making

Leaders at all levels often feel anxious about making decisions. In one study, 59% of those surveyed said they are faced with at least one decision daily that they don’t know how to make.

The decisions mid-level managers make are critical to keeping a business moving forward and growing. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, it’s important to empower your people to make decisions. You can do this by creating an inviting environment to ask questions and discuss decisions while ensuring leaders have the right information at hand to make decisions. Entrepreneurs also need to be transparent about how the business is performing and its goals. This will help influence mid-level managers’ decisions in the best way possible.

Delegate and Elevate

At Bridgewater Bank, we run our business on the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). There are many principles involved in this system, and one of the prominent ones is “Delegate and Elevate.” Delegating tasks is difficult for most managers, who often feel guilty about giving the work to someone else. Even entrepreneurs struggle with this.

Yet, I encourage you to empower your mid-level managers to delegate tasks. Explain how assigning work to team members can be a way to help those individuals elevate their skills. Model this skill by delegating work to your mid-level managers. Explain the growth you’ve seen in them afterward and highlight new skills they learned.

Create Space for Vulnerability

Mid-level managers are managing your expectations and those of their teammates. For these leaders, it’s a constant balancing act of how to juggle that. Next-gen leaders are going to make mistakes or not always know the answer immediately, and as entrepreneurs, you must be willing to accept that.

That’s why it’s important to create room for vulnerability and a culture that is honest about issues and challenges, as well as supportive. Encourage everyone to strive for excellence, but understand that we are all human. We should all come together and rally around one another to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities. This is only possible when everyone feels comfortable being honest and vulnerable.

Provide Recognition and Rewards

Recognition is a powerful tool that can positively affect talent across the organization. According to one statistic, 92% of workers felt more valued in companies with recognition programs versus 70% in organizations without them. Because your next-gen leaders are the future drivers of your company, it’s critical to keep them engaged and show them how their work is making an impact.

Be Clear

Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” It sounds simple, but being very clear on expectations with your next-gen leaders will help them grow and be successful in their roles. Don’t just tell a next-gen leader they did a good job on something. Say what exactly was good. Specific, concrete feedback is critical to a next-gen leader’s growth.

Offer Ongoing Training and Growth Opportunities

Investing in ongoing training opportunities will help your mid-level managers grow. At Bridgewater Bank, we regularly host external speakers and provide resources to next-gen leaders each month. We ask what these leaders need help with and respond by crafting learning materials around that. I highly recommend involving these leaders in shaping the training and growth opportunities that will ultimately benefit them.

As an entrepreneur, it’s important to remember the critical role mid-level managers play in your business now and in the future. Including these tactics in a development strategy will help ensure growth among these valuable leaders. Done right, they will emulate your company’s values, identify and develop future leaders on their teams, flag problems before they get worse, and drive great employee and customer experiences.