6 things we learnt from Springboard Future about unlocking the potential of your middle managers

Why is middle management so often overlooked? And what can you do to support managers at your company? In a roundtable with virtual coaching company Springboard Future, YuLife co-founder Sam Fromson discusses.

Yugi the Giraffe - 6 July 2022

Neela Bettridge and co-founder Emma Calvert were motivated by a clear purpose when founding virtual coaching company Springboard Future. In their decades of experience as coaches, they’d noticed that middle managers were often locked out of the process, left overlooked, undertrained and unhappy.

But Neela and Emma know that activating your middle management cohort can do a lot to support the growth of your company – not to mention the personal growth and wellbeing of the managers themselves.

That’s why we held a roundtable event with them: to discuss daring approaches to investing in the growth and development of middle management. Here are six of the things we learnt from Springboard Future about why middle managers matter, and what you can do to help them reach their potential.

1) Middle managers are key to unlocking your company’s potential

The work of middle managers is often overlooked, but it’s absolutely essential to businesses over a certain size. Even if you have a non-hierarchical structure, you’ll need people with the classic mid-level management skills to keep things operating smoothly. Converting high-level ideas to day-to-day work, integrating and supporting new team members, checking in on short- and long-term goals…

As Springboard Future puts it:

“Upscaling businesses need to adapt to new ways of communicating and conveying information, especially as they acquire new talent. In doing this, it’s crucial to have experienced middle managers who know how to cascade information properly and ensure teams are adapting to new members and new roles. Effective mid-level managers are the driving force behind agility, sweeping obstacles out of the way of senior management and ensuring staff are working to their greatest potential.”

2) Most middle managers feel undertrained

For their 2022 white paper Stuck in the Middle, Springboard Future spoke with over 70 middle managers from tech and growth companies, combining the insight gained from those interactions with the coaches’ years of experience.

One of the most important findings was that many middle managers don’t feel supported in learning the skills they need for their roles. Many of them will have stepped up from more technical positions, so while they have practical and institutional knowledge, they may not have had a chance to develop their leadership skills.

Here’s one of the white paper’s key findings:

“Managers need training, coaching and support; it sounds obvious, but we found a lot of companies overlook or shortcut this. They need practical help in understanding how to get things done as a manager, such as how to hire, but they also need coaching and development in skills such as setting vision and purpose, and creating a high-performing team.”

3) Leaders at every level need to flex their leadership styles

YuLife co-founder and COO Sam Fromson joined Springboard Future co-founder and Master Coach Neela Bettridge for a LinkedIn Live in April 2022. During their discussion, Sam spoke – among many other things – about his own approach to leadership. But the ability to adjust your leadership style isn’t only a necessary skill for founders and c-suite execs. It’s vital for leaders on any level – including middle management.

The Stuck in the Middle white paper identified four styles in particular which all managers need to be able to draw on:

4) Support managers’ wellbeing, or risk burnout

Learning entirely new skill sets, bridging different sectors of the business, managing both the productivity and the wellbeing of your direct reports… Being a middle manager can be exhausting. It’s also an area particularly vulnerable to scope creep, with many managers reporting an ever-growing list of responsibilities as the business grows.

It’s no surprise, then, that the “squeezed middle” often suffers from burnout. As well as being damaging for them personally, this can leave their team in the lurch when they inevitably experience a drop in productivity, or need to take a break.

Of course, there’s a lot businesses can do to prevent that. Clearly define management roles; provide appropriate training and coaching; regularly check in to make sure your managers feel supported; foster a psychologically safe workplace culture.

For YuLife businesses, the app rewards activities like walking or mindfulness exercises, with users earning YuCoin for building habits which support their health and wellbeing. And YuMatter provides 24/7 online access to clinically trained mental health professionals, who can help address burnout and other mental health issues.

5) Difference is powerful in management teams

Just like any other area, building the most effective middle management cohort starts with good recruitment. And you’ll want to make sure your hiring policies get the most diverse range of candidates into the room with you. The experience of Springboard Future’s coaches bears out research from the Boston Consulting Group and insight from Matthew Syed: more diverse management and leadership teams make better decisions and innovate more.

Springboard Future’s Virtual Coach Advantage podcast has an episode focusing on the power of difference, and identifies it as a key factor in building high-performing teams.

6) The best leaders are driven by purpose

In another episode of the Virtual Coach Advantage podcast, Neela has this to say about purpose:

“Do you want to spend your whole life doing something and being something that you really don’t feel very happy in? Or do you want to do the work and make sure that you actually do the best that you can in your life, whatever that may be? And that doesn’t mean necessarily changing the world. It may be something very small. [...] One thing that I have noticed, having worked on myself, but also worked with many, many, many leaders: people who are clear on their values, make time for them, tend to be more happy.”

Middle management doesn’t have to be a thankless, bureaucratic role. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Middle managers, like everyone else, will feel and perform better if they find purpose in their work – contributing meaningfully to the company’s mission, nurturing their team, doing tasks they enjoy and at which they excel.In the same podcast episode, Neela brought up the Japanese concept of ikigai, which we’ve also written about at YuLife. The principle of ikigai is that you’ll feel most fulfilled if you can find something which you’re good at, which you enjoy, which you can get paid for, and which the world needs. To really unlock your managers’ potential, help them work towards finding their own ikigai.

Yugi the Giraffe

Yugi is our YuLife mascot. Like all giraffes they've got a big heart – in fact the biggest heart of all land animals.