CAREER DEVELOPMENT / MAY. 20, 2015
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Escaping Middle Management Traps

Middle Management Trap
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It’s a strange common consistency in corporate America that those who excel beyond middle management are frequently not the most talented or even the smartest in the work world. In fact, they’re usually pretty average in their skills and industry knowledge at best. Some are even flat out incompetent, yet they still manage to become corporate rising stars.

See Also: 5 Strategies For Talking Your Way To Your Next Promotion

It can become easy to resent such people. Especially when they’re inconsistent in their delivery of results, undependable, frequently show up late for work and lack company loyalty. Yet, for some reasons they seem to have great favor with all the right people in the company. So how is it that they still manage to win at work?

The Painful Truth

As much as it stings to admit it, talent, a high IQ, and skill are not the only elements needed for getting on the shortlist for promotions.  The simple fact that there are plenty of people who seem to be winning at work while not being particularly good at their jobs suggests that they have figured some things out that may actually be more important for becoming successful.

So why aren’t they hindered in their climb up the corporate ladder? Is it possible that they actually know that they’re lacking in multiple areas, and so they’ve developed some clever strategies for their career that they use to make up for what the high achievers often lack? What could they possibly have figured out that those who have true talent and skill may not realize?

Those with talent and skill in their chosen industry tend to lean on those gifts because they can. It’s second nature for them. They spend their keen mental energy and passion for their work on working hard and producing results, thinking that this is how promotions are won. Ironically, those same strengths are often the very things that keep the most talented and skilled from going beyond middle management.

Trap Triggers 

Those who get stuck in middle management and never excel usually fit into one of three groups:

  • The iconic “go-to-guy or gal” – Those who find themselves in this group have an excellent handle on their industry and an in-depth understanding of the way that their industry functions. Either they’ve been around for years and have an amazing wealth of experience or they are a bit on the geeky side and just read like crazy and have a lot of book knowledge. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. But they usually lack good people skills and the proper connections with key people necessary for career advancement.

  • The passionate visionary – This group has a lot of great ideas and strategies. In fact, they are so passionate about their ideas and visions that they are fearlessly willing to have endless debates as to why and how they know the right way to move the company to the next level. Unfortunately, their zeal and often confrontational approach tends to push people away rather than inspire them to want to embrace those ideas and strategies.

  • The results oriented over achiever – This type of middle manager is typically the type that everyone whom they manage hates the most. They are results oriented to a fault and come off as micromanaging task masters in how they function and in how they treat those under them. If a company has a high turnover rate, this type of manager is usually the main reason people quit.

How Low Achievers Creatively Acquire the Corner Office

Interestingly, the techniques used by those who actually manage to acquire the corner office are not generally any of the classic skills that most people think of in connection to success. They are keenly aware that they aren’t as talented as their peers. But they are also keenly aware of how they need to manage their career to gain success. They have a high emotional intelligence level that gives them a great advantage in understanding the human aspects of how companies function.

These tools are what have helped them to gain insight into the fact that moving up the corporate ladder is more about who you know rather than what you know. So they develop strategic friendships with influential people. They also recognize the importance of being helpful.

Having co-workers around them that like them and want to see them succeed is another of the tools that they’ve figured out how to use effectively. So they’re willing to do what they can to help others along. They’ll even take the time to mentor not only those under them, but also their peers when the opportunity arises.

Those who make it beyond middle management also present their projects as frameworks for a vision that they want to pitch to key people, rather than insisting that things be done in a specific and rigid way.


When other employees complain about change, those who have their sights set on the corner office will do their best to embrace a company’s changes. They will even make it known to upper management that they are willing to help with transition wherever they can.

Also, when changes that the company makes include managerial changes, they don’t join in the break time or lunchroom bashing sessions. They’ll go to new management and ask how they can help, or offer suggestions for how things could go more smoothly.

Oddly enough, upper management tends to notice these types of activities more readily than talent and skill. However when skill and talent are also present, excelling beyond middle management is only a short matter of time.

See Also: 5 Ways to Put a Positive Spin on That Dead-End Job

Have you ever been stuck in middle management despite being excellent at your job? Have people with less talent risen above you? Why do you think this is?

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