Before I wound up a journalist, I spent an entirely unsuccessful and deeply unhappy year as a junior manager in the civil service. The Medical Research Council, to be precise. Day One, aged 23, I was put in charge of four young people of roughly my age who’d been there a while. I was the fat-headed, clueless, arrogant graduate fast-track trainee with no experience or training whatsoever. It was like a lesser version of a teenage junior officer in 1915 trying to lead his platoon out of the trench and over the top. I had no idea how to motivate, communicate with or listen to people. One of them once burst into tears at an awkward moment and I had no idea where to look, never mind what to do.
In the world of management, how much fun is it to be stuck in the middle? For some strange reason the term "middle manager" has become one of derision in the UK. Suspended in a seventh circle of hell between the bosses, like Bart Becht on £90 million a year, who live in the powerful heights at the top of the pyramid and those salt-of-the-earth toilers who mine the coal face at bottom, the middle manger’s realm is the meat – or maybe the fish paste – in the workplace sandwich.
This is so unfair. Just ask any middle manager. Those in the middle are the doers, those who have to get their hands dirty executing the strategy, those who struggle with the everyday difficulties and hard-calls of business life. They are the people who have to deliver bad news to the troops – in person. It’s a skill and it’s not a science, either. You could read every business book about management ever written – and there have been Amazon rain forests of them – but it won’t make you a perfect manager.
That said, our new book ‘The MT Management Masterclass’, just published, is one of the best management primers I’ve ever come across. It’s wise, illuminating and fun. Along with the Private Eye Annual and the Viz Profanisaurus, it’s a must for any loo or bedside table.
In today's bulletin:
Cameron denies claims of 40,000 public sector job cuts
Cadbury tests public support with Cocoa House chain
Have the politicians got it wrong on paternity leave?
Editor's blog: Let's hear it for middle managers
A Traveller's Tale: Syria's uncertain future