Often, the space for agency and leadership for middle managers is understood to depend on their capacity to escape standardized controlling systems. In this paper, we challenge this view, and instead explore the possibility for middle managers to engage with and make systems enabling rather than constraining, thereby supporting locally relevant change initiatives. We specifically explore how managers engage with employee surveys, as organization wide standardized systems, and work to make these enabling. Based on interviews with 48 managers and observations of 10 meetings in 5 different organizations, we identify three main strategies: reinterpretation, prioritization, and embedding. Drawing on complexity leadership theory, we argue that through these strategies, the managers succeed in creating a temporary adaptive space, thereby facilitating development and innovation. Our findings contribute to the literature on middle managers by developing a detailed understanding of the possibility for enabling leadership in this position.
Bibliographical noteEpub ahead of print. Published online: 16 Jun 2021.
- Middle managers
- Employee survery
- Complexity leadership