"Middle management" tends to get a bad rap in the business world, conjuring images of inefficient paper pushers stagnating in their windowless offices. The movie Office Space might come to mind.

But the middle tiers of healthy organizations are crucial, according to engineer-turned-HR recruiter Steven Levy, who likens middle managers to the glue of an organization. "You can't have top and bottom without the middle," Levy said. "It's like having a body with legs, arms and head -- and nothing in the middle to hold it together. It just doesn't make sense."

"Middle" is also a critical time in a career. It's the connective tissue between where you started as an IT greenhorn and where you want to end up. So whether you dream of the CIO seat or will be perfectly happy and successful on a lower rung of the corporate ladder, it's an important time to make smart decisions while avoiding complacency or burnout.

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