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Uh, Oh. I’m a Middle Manager (To Tell or Not to Tell)

April 5, 2010

Generational guru Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting is back with her popular “Ask Rebecca” column,  this time offering up her advice every Monday for the month of April. In this installment, Rebecca answers a secrecy question from, gulp, a middle manager.

Hey Rebecca,

I’m a senior manager, and a couple of my people have recently asked me if there will be more layoffs after busy season. I know for a fact that our firm is going to cut more people after tax season, because it’s been mentioned in management team meetings. But I don’t know who’s going to get the ax, or when. What should I say when people ask me?

Knowing, but Not Telling (Seattle, Wash.)

Dear Knowing,

You are a wise man. But since you wrote, you probably:

(a)    don’t realize how wise you are, and
(b)    don’t know why.

So let me break it down for you. When you get promoted to manager, you join a secret club where it’s expected - but rarely mentioned - that your first loyalty will be to the firm and the management team. To borrow a Vegas phrase, “What happens in the management meeting stays in the management meeting…” unless you’ve been specifically directly to share it with your team.

This is why people in your position are called “middle managers,” you are pulled between two loyalties: the first to your leaders and the second to your direct reports. In good times, there’s no conflict between the two groups, but in tough economic times, you feel like a slimy double-crosser.

Keep your lips zipped. The slimy feeling will eventually go away. If it doesn’t, reconsider being a middle manager.

Editor's Note: Can't wait until next week for more Rebecca Ryan? We understand. Remember when she mentioned the "resume tsunami" in a previous installment of "Ask Rebecca?" Well, now there's a video where she offers three steps on how firms and managers can hang on to their best people when that wave hits. Check it out here.

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