5 Things Every Mid-Level Manager Should Be Able to Do

Don’t skimp on mid-level manager training. When your company is outperforming competitors, you’ll be glad you made the investment.

Mid-level managers do deeply important work, but they get very little training. At most companies, fewer training dollars are earmarked for them than for leaders at other levels.  

Part of this is because it’s not easy for managers to spend as much time away from their job. They are very “hands-on” in a company’s day-to-day operations. Training takes time, and managers have little to spare.

What’s more, the training they do get is not always effective. Mid-level managers need a broad repertoire of skills, and not all of them are deficient in the same things. That means a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

Due to this lack of effective training, many managers struggle to do their jobs effectively. For companies to simply accept this as the status quo is shortsighted. After all, and in a real way, it’s managers who drive business success. They play a pivotal role in keeping talent engaged (so people do their best possible work) and satisfied (so turnover is minimized). There is a great deal of truth to the cliché that people don’t quit their job; they quit their boss.

The lesson is clear: Organizations should make it a priority to train their mid-level managers. And they should make sure to train them in the right skills.

With this in mind, we surveyed15,242 managers and professionals worldwide, so we could identify what respondents see as the 100 most important management and leadership skills.

In regard to training, we found people like succinct, step-by-step explanations of how to master each skill, and they like to learn in a self-guided way. Companies need to provide this type of training for their overworked, overwhelmed managers. It lets them proceed at their own pace and focus on the areas in which they need the most help.

Based on our research, here are some of the top pieces of advice we can offer mid-level managers:

1. Know where you stand on the “Big Five” personality model. We recommend the Big Five Personality Traits model. It’s based on findings from several independent researchers and ultimately named “The Big Five” by Lewis Goldberg (Goldberg, L.R., “The Development of Markers for the Big-Five Factor Structure,” Psychological Assessment, Vol. 4, No. 1, 26-42, 1992, published by the American Psychological Association, Inc.). The model measures five key dimensions of personality: 

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion 
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

By understanding how you score on each dimension, you can make sure you’re in the right role and/or take action to improve your performance in “low score” areas.

2. Work effectively with people from different generations. While you shouldn’t overemphasize the differences between Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y, neither is it a good idea to ignore them. For instance, if you are a Baby Boomer managing a group of Gen Y employees (a.k.a., Millennials), don’t resist their preference for working virtually or through microblogging sites (they think e-mail is old-school), and be more proactive in giving recognition and praise.

3. Learn to listen carefully and intensely to employees. In our survey, we found that 65.9 percent of managers think careful listening is one of the most important methods you can use to understand and motivate people. It helps you understand what upsets the people who work for you so you can help clear these things away. It also helps you appreciate what excites and energizes them so you can help them shape their work in this direction.

Mindful listening—where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words another person is saying but to understand the complete message being sent—helps make employees feel heard. Keep in mind also that being a good listener to your employees doesn’t just happen. You have to structure opportunities for this into the day.

4. Give effective praise and recognition. We discovered that 54.8 percent of survey respondents see giving praise as one of the most important ways of getting the best from their people. Gallup has identified significant increases in helpfulness, cooperation, punctuality, attendance, and length of service associated with receiving regular praise. Walk around looking for opportunities to give praise. Be specific about what you’re praising and do it in an appropriate way—some people love public praise, while others are embarrassed by it. And be sure praise is honest and proportionate. Insincere praise will weaken trust. 

5. Manage your bad moods. Just as we need to be appropriately self-confident as managers, we also need to be aware of and manage the emotions we project to members of our teams. From the moment we come in the door in the morning to the time we leave, people read our words and our body language. For our teams to be happy and productive, we need to manage negative thoughts and project positive emotions. More than this, we need to be positive for our own good at work.

There are tricks you can use to quickly boost your mood, like forcing a smile onto your face for several minutes before you enter the office. But what you really need to do is understand and turn around the negative thinking that underpins your own negative emotions.

Of course, this is only a handful of the skills managers are asked to master. There’s no question about it: Being a great manager is far from easy. But the skills that make a manager great are the same ones that create a deeply engaging culture that nurtures and excites employees and helps your company thrive.

Don’t skimp on mid-level manager training. When your company is outperforming competitors, you’ll be glad you made the investment.

James Manktelow and Julian Birkinshaw are coauthors of “Mind Tools for Managers: 100 Ways to Be a Better Boss” (Wiley, April 2018, ISBN: 978-1-119-37447-3, $28). 

James Manktelow is founder and CEO of MindTools.com. He has written, edited, and contributed to more than 1,000 articles, more than 60 workbooks, and seven books and e-books on management and leadership, including “Manage Your Time”and “Manage Stress.”

Julian Birkinshaw is professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, deputy dean for programs, and academic director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School. He is the author of 14 books, including “Fast/Forward,” “Becoming a Better Boss,” and “Reinventing Management.”


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