Jan Brady on Middle Management Syndrome

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If you’re a mid-level manager and you feel overlooked, disregarded, or otherwise neglected, join the club. This is a common complaint amongst those who fall somewhere between executive and front line staff. It’s not unlike Jan Brady’s feeling of middle child syndrome.

On the 1970s show The Brady Bunch, middle daughter Jan Brady is unhappy with her role. It is not easy being sandwiched between a popular older sister and a cute little sister. As such, Jan struggles to find her place in the family. Alfred Adler’s classic research on birth order shows that this is not uncommon, but does that make the middle child feel any better?

Well all day long at school I hear how great Marcia is at this or how wonderful Marcia is at that! Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

In families, the oldest typically gets the praise while the youngest is coddled. The middle child is left with being the “odd man out” – not old enough to be the leader, not young enough to be the baby. They often feel expendable, adrift. Middle managers are no different.

Senior leaders set the course and receive the glory, while the staff do the work and are recognized as “the backbone of the organization.” Those in middle management work in-between to add details to the high-falutin plans, communicate both up and down the hierarchy, and ensure that the work actually gets done. This can result in feeling invisible during the good times and the scapegoat in the not-so-good times.

As Jan Brady demonstrates, middle managers (and anyone who feels neglected) need to find ways to distinguish themselves. Here are three ideas to consider:

Stop complaining

You may feel like the executives reap the praise for success while blame trickles down to lower level supervisors, but voicing these grievances will not convince anyone to change their behavior. Complaining is a surefire way to be seen as less than you are. It creates a stigma that you lack the engagement, intelligence, and attitude necessary to be viewed as a respected peer.

Am I invisible? Do I not have a voice? I had that idea two days ago!

Find a way to speak up without the negativity. If you’ve already tried, try a different approach. Be prepared with solutions. Have an ROI calculated. Communicate the impact of continuing on the current, destructive path. Be a problem solver, not a problem pointer-outer.

Stand out

Remember that episode when Jan wore a large 70s-esque afro wig so others would notice her? I’m not suggesting this fashion advice will work for you, but you won’t receive attention if you blend in.

You’d understand if you had two blond sisters at home.

Work towards creating an identity different from your co-workers. You can do it through your appearance (maybe in more subtle ways than a wig), your work product, and the attitude you project to others. However you choose to do it, make sure you are garnering the type of attention you want.

Remain honest

It’s easy to get noticed when you exaggerate or flat-out lie about your accomplishments. Jan made up a boyfriend, George Glass, to show her big sister how well-liked she was. Marcia didn’t believe her and when the truth came out, Jan’s reputation was sullied.

Be sincere when talking yourself up. You can get quick attention with an embellished story, but you need to play the long game. The truth will eventually come out and you don’t want it to show that you cannot be trusted.

No one wants to feel like a middle child. It’s lonely and unengaging. Avoid being a Jan; don’t let your mid-level status define who you are and what you can do. If you can differentiate yourself from the bunch, you’ll be able to carve out your own path.

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