Some Lead and Some Follow, But What Do We Know About Those in the Middle?

Even though we’re often fascinated by “flat” or “lean” organizations, virtually all public agencies and firms are hierarchical, consisting of multiple layers of bosses, workers, superiors, and subordinates.

In the research hierarchy, some of us concentrate on leaders while others focus on followers, but what about those in the middle of the organization?

A new (gated) paper by Linda Rouleau and Julian Balogun in the Journal of Management Studies offers a nice contribution to the study of middle managers. They argue and find:

This paper seeks to better understand the way middle managers contribute strategically to the development of an organization by examining how they enact the strategic roles allocated to them, with particular reference to strategic change. Through vignettes drawn from the authors’ current research, a framework is developed that shows two situated, but interlinked, discursive activities, ‘performing the conversation’ and ‘setting the scene’, to be critical to the accomplishment of middle manager sensemaking. Language use is key, but needs to be combined with an ability to devise a setting in which to perform the language. The paper shows how middle managers knowledgeably enact these two sets of discursive activities by drawing on contextually relevant verbal, symbolic, and sociocultural systems, to allow them to draw people from different organizational levels into the change as they go about their day‐to‐day work. (emphasis added)

I really like the focus on symbol manipulation, itself a core strategic part of the leadership (and followership) prcesses.