S.O.S.: Has Anybody Seen My Boss?

What do you do when your boss checks out?

Finding purpose and reengaging middle managers…

Top organization executives steer the ship by setting out broad organizational initiatives.

Frontline workers keep the engines going by performing tactical actions.

While the people at the top are facing outward and the people at the bottom are heads down: business unit and team leaders can get lost in the middle.

With the trend toward flatter organizational structures, tolerating disengaged middle managers may be an interim step to eliminating the layer entirely but that won’t really stop the issue that’s plaguing lots of organizations and contributing to middle manager disengagement.

What’s the Answer?

Let’s look to nature for guidance. Facing ecosystem scarcity, most plants will adapt by making their leaves more efficient but the plants that survive go belowground to utilize a combination of diverse strategies to get more out of their root systems.

I say mix the metaphor and let our organizational ships take the lead from the plants, work below the waterline to give middle managers a new role and a new reason to check back in. Research supports the idea, suggesting that developing a process for translating creative ideas into tangible innovations that enable the achievement of organizational strategies may be key to sustainable organizational performance in the future. If that’s what connects the bridge and the engine room, the leaves to the roots…what better role for the middle manager?

Either that or we can simply knee-jerk to traditional business wisdom:

“If the ship is in trouble, shuffle the deck chairs and rename the boat.”



Graham Zemunik, Benjamin L. Turner, Hans Lambers, Etienne Lalibert�. Diversity of plant nutrient-acquisition strategies increases during long-term ecosystem development. Nature Plants, 2015; 15050 DOI: 10.1038/nplants.2015.50

Yaping Gong, Jing Zhou, Song Chang. Core Knowledge Employee Creativity and Firm Performance: The Moderating Role of Riskiness Orientation, Firm Size, and Realized Absorptive Capacity. Personnel Psychology, 2013; 66 (2): 443 DOI:10.1111/peps.12024

N. Anderson, K. Poto nik, J. Zhou. Innovation and Creativity in Organizations: A State-of-the-Science Review, Prospective Commentary, and Guiding Framework. Journal of Management, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/0149206314527128