The latest view from Simon Sinek on middle management

To be a successful coach, you need to be constantly learning. We always keep our eyes peeled for new and useful insight, and recently, Simon Sinek’s talk on the importance of proper training and support for middle management really grabbed our attention.

In the video, Sinek presents two main reasons why, he says, “things break in the middle”. One is lack of leadership training for people who are promoted. The other is lack of understanding from higher levels in the organisation.

We’re well aware of these issues. In fact, both of them underlie our mission: providing exceptional coaching for middle management and management teams, to enable high-ambition organisations to reach their goals.

So, what exactly are the problems Sinek identified, and can we move past them?

Most things break in the middle

As Sinek notes, visionary, mission-focused leadership at an organisation does not necessarily translate to high levels of employee satisfaction. 

One surefire way to create this disconnect is to leave middle managers overworked, undertrained or unsure of the scope of their roles. Mid-level management often has to balance the overarching goals of a company with the day-to-day matters required to run it. Unsurprisingly, this balancing act is extremely difficult.

“I’ll meet firms where the leadership’s amazing and they’re visionary and they care about people and they want to do the right thing, and then I go down to the front line and they’re like, ‘Yeah, this place is the worst.’ And so I’m like, what happened between here and there? And it’s the middle.”

Middle management doesn’t get proper leadership training

One key reason for the brittleness of middle management is lack of training. In a lot of cases, people are promoted into management roles without any meaningful leadership training. So though they may be very familiar with the day-to-day work of the people they now oversee, they have no experience guiding that work, or translating the wishes of people higher up in the organisation into actionable items.

As Sinek puts it, “why on earth do we think we can just promote someone to a leadership position and expect that they know what to do without showing them how to do it?” We couldn’t agree more!

“Nobody is teaching us listening. Nobody is teaching us communication skills. Nobody is teaching us effective confrontation. Nobody is teaching us how to give and receive feedback. Nobody is actually teaching us leadership. So this is why we get managers and not leaders.”

Company structures don’t always support self-taught leaders

When it comes down to it, the bottom line for most businesses is… well, the bottom line. This can create a very frustrating situation for people with excellent self-taught leadership skills. They’re trying to innovate, to implement ideas which will ultimately make their teams more successful. But many organisations don’t encourage this sort of experimentation.

At best, such an attitude can leave these self-motivated students of leadership feeling unappreciated, rather than making the most of their talents and energy. At worst, it can actually prevent them from improving their teams.

“I get some really wonderful self-taught leaders in middle management … And they complain that the senior management, all they care about is the quarterly earnings.”

You can create your own pockets of good leadership

Sinek tells us that possibly the most common question he gets is: what do I do when I’m trying my hardest to do the right thing, but my boss just cares about money before people? His view is that you can’t do much about your bosses, but you can make a meaningful difference to your team. 

And if you are the boss, you can avoid this damaging pattern of suppressing managers’ leadership potential in the first place. By investing in effective mid-level management coaching you can help teams work to their full potential, and make sure the middle of your organisation is just as strong as the top.

“Be the leader you wish you had. What you start to find in those pockets is these magical little diamonds in the rough.”