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Creating Successful Leaders

Researcher Behnam Tabrizi recently conducted a study to examine whether middle managers are still relevant in a world where executives have direct access to the front lines of their businesses. The results of the study showed that not only are middle managers still important, but the successful ones had a direct hand in the success of their company.

Based on the results, Tabrizi crafted three “rules” for being a successful middle manager:


Successful middle managers were able to see how their own personal aspirations lined up with the greater aim of the company. This notion of alignment is similar to ideas I shared in a previous post. Accommodating someone’s personal goals does more than simply make them feel good about their job; research continues to show that it has a direct, positive impact on the company.


Successful businesses gave middle managers the power to initiate projects. According to Tabrizi, “organizations create cross-functional teams of MLMs, who author change and innovation plans that turn executives’ visions into concrete steps.” Putting the power of the initiative into the hands of middle managers provides them a sense of ownership and commitment to success.


Because middle managers in Tabrizi’s study were authoring initiatives, he stresses that they must be responsible for the enactment of their plans. They are the foot soldiers who must work through obstacles on a daily basis. It’s not always a glamorous job, but they’ll be motivated by the fact that they authored the initiative, not some out-of-touch executive.

This study puts the scientific stamp of approval on the things we already knew: that managers who didn’t share the common aspirations of their company don’t make good managers; that the company must place trust in their managers to come up with initiatives of their own; and that managers who work through enacting their own initiatives do much better than when they are handed an initiative from above.

Here’s a link to Tabrizi’s article.

Eager to learn more?  Read my post about authentic leadership HERE.

Happy managing!

Tabrizi, Behnam. “New Research: What Sets Effective Middle Managers Apart.” Harvard Business Review, May 8, 2013.


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