What It's Like Being a Middle Manager Today
My parking lot right now is looking pretty empty, too ..
I'm going to disagree with Medwed. Harshly. For a few reasons:
Upper management is doing the big, high level strategy. Lower level employees are doing the day to day tasks. Someone needs to bridge that gap. More importantly, there needs to be a step where people learn how to transition between the two. Sure, if you're a guy whose only job is doing the same reporting day-in and day-out and is happy with that then yes, your middle manager is probably annoying (even if you don't realize how many times he's been in budget meetings and screamed bloody murder about how important the report you do is and how it can't be automated or given to someone else.) Maybe if you're a coder who just does his piece of whatever project is you think your middle manager is annoying (even if you don't realize that he's the one fighting for budget and explaining milestones and pushing back when the sales team this project is for is making insane, unreasonable demands and expectations.) But if you're someone doing project-based work, interacting with senior leaders that are 20 years older than you and operating on an entirely different plane of job function than you do, and one day hoping to be there, then you are pretty damn happy with middle managers. People have this weird belief that they just sit there and tell others what to do. Yes, some are like that, but I more find those with that belief to be people with zero aspirations and zero understanding of how much work that middle manager does, usually protecting his or her own employees from the unreasonable expectations of senior leaders or managers outside the direct organization who have lots of demands but are nowhere near close enough to the particularly day-to-day operations to know how unreasonable they are.
Lastly, someone has to have responsibility for when things go wrong. Someone has to have their career on the stake there.
Let me just say that my last role did not have a middle manager. We were a team of "senior managers" without any direct reports, and we reported directly to an SVP (the company of over 10,000 employees only had 15 SVPs, so they were very high up.) It was a bit of a nightmare. Other SVPs demanded access to us that we couldn't easily push back on, everything was a priority which made nothing a priority, we had no more experienced mentors to lean on for questions, and we were really routinely thrown into situations above our pay grade. We desperately needed someone between him and ourselves to really function with one foot in his office and one foot in our cubes, as he was too busy for this stuff. Instead our work always suffered from split priorities, unfair politics or just vague guidance. When we finally got a middle manager he fixed all of that, and morale improved simply from having someone with the time to do a biweekly touchbase and with the time to occasionally pull aside, vent and problem solve with.
But that's bad people not bad structure.
I know American developers that spend far more time screwing around on the internet than working. That doesn't mean I think that the class of American Developer as a whole is outdated, it just means I know people that need to be canned in order to change a bad culture in the group.