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Thought Leadership

Adam Bryant

What’s most needed from managers now

June 23, 2022

As organizations shift from command-and-control leadership to more decentralized decision-making, the “frozen middle” is melting—and managers have to step up.

At the risk of generalizing, I find that managers typically fall into one of two camps—those who are most comfortable following a playbook that rarely changes, and those who relish the idea of writing a new one for their job. And in this era of endless disruption and ambiguity, the managers who will get ahead are the ones who see this time as an opportunity, not a headache.

Companies are pushing more decision-making to their frontline managers, who in turn have to step up and make some tougher judgment calls. As just one example, Amazon announced in late 2021 that instead of issuing a company-wide policy on in-person work, its directors would decide which days their teams needed to be in the office.

These new freedoms—or pressures—will create a difficult period of adjustment for the managers who contribute to their company’s “frozen middle.” That is the term for the group of managers who are the most resistant to change, and who are an endless source of frustration for C-suite leaders trying to implement a transformation strategy. A CEO I know once said shortly after joining a company that “there are too many policemen here,” referring to those employees who felt their job was to blow the whistle on anything that fell outside their that’s-not-how-we-do-things-around-here guardrails. The optimist in me would like to think that as decision-making becomes more decentralized, managers can no longer afford to have that attitude.

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The ExCo Group’s Adam Bryant wrote this article for his column in Strategy + Business.