Not very cheery news for many of us out in cyberland, but someone had to remind us. How many times in the last few years have you read an article or seen a television clip extolling the virtues of the toned midsection? C’mon now, I have to believe that at least one person out there has “Abs of Steel” grazing among the other animals in their DVD farm. Today we can find scores of DVDs, books, websites, and articles devoted to the message that it’s critical to pay attention to our cores. This notion has so permeated popular thinking that most of us have either 1) run right out to tone those tummies or 2) experienced the crushing guilt of ab flab.
The same holds true in companies where the state of our midsections has more to do with organizational health than we might realize. I was reminded of this fact just last week when I had the opportunity to work with two different organizations – one of which has toned and nurtured its middle, the other of which, well . . . hasn’t. In the case of the first organization, the mid-level of management is thriving. Senior leadership have been attentive to who gets selected, how they are developed, and what kinds of results they achieve (and how). The execs in this organization see mid-level managers as the key to the company’s future – and the company is doing remarkably well despite world economic trends. The other organization has a stellar executive team, but the folks in the middle are ill-placed, too few, and, in over their heads without a paddle. The result? The executives’ ideas are lost in translation and the company is losing steam. I worry about this organization’s ability to stay competitive if they don’t invest more in the middle.
Clearly I’m not the first person to talk about the importance of the middle. In fact, if you want to read the expert on the systems perspective of mid-level management, check out Barry Oshry’s website & blog. My friend André has also talked about this concept since I’ve known him, but he doesn’t have a website about it . . . yet. Stay tuned for that.
So here’s my spin on the theory of the middle. The most effective middles aren’t necessarily the sculpted, six-pack stomachs that are often on display at your favorite beach. Seriously. Have you ever seen an Indian yoga teacher? They can do things with their bodies most people only dream about (or have nightmares about, depending on how easily you’re grossed out). These gurus are among the strongest, lithest, and dare I say fittest individuals around. And they don’t have six-pack abs. And that’s okay.
Same thing goes for organizations. The best mid-levels aren’t the emaciated ones. They are paid attention to, strategically padded, and given the support to succeed. As a result, they deliver. And well beyond the expectations placed on them.