management, Uncategorized

Is management dead?

This year I seem to have spent more time than ever in discussions about and leading development programmes in leadership. And so my attention has naturally been on quite an old debate: what is the difference between leadership and management. To be honest, I had thought that Warren Bennis probably started and finished this debate in the 1980s so have been surprised to find that it really is a hot topic for debate.

When you hear that something has gone well, yes it might have been a brilliant idea, but it is the execution of that idea that brings it to life and makes it meaningful. My suggestion is that in the UK at least, along with sales, waiting and mending things, being a manager is just not regarded as being an important thing to do. In France, waiters are (quite rightly) valued, sales in the US is a great career and in Germany the title “Engineer” is a reserved term and something to be proud of. Perhaps it is a British distrust of people who are immodest – the tall poppy syndrome. For example I found myself today being asked what my job was and thinking up the dullest terms I could think of to describe it. I don’t at all think of my job as dull but for some reason, it is the accepted “thing” to always play down what you do for a living. And I think the role of manager is a case in point.  And it really shouldn’t be. Let me explain why by asking a question:

 

Think for a minute of a time when you have been really happy at work.

 

 

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OK?

….

 

 

Now think of a time when you were least happy at work. Perhaps it was stressful. Perhaps you found it hard to bring yourself to even go into work.

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….

OK?

My bet is that for many people, the first will include (amongst other things) an image of a really good boss that you were working for at the time. Someone who got the best out of you, who was reliable, supportive, honest, decent, open …

 

And for the second, for many of you this will have included images of a manager who was the opposite of these things. Frequently words would include dishonest, moody, unsupportive,  duplicitous…. This is potentially a very long list!

 

And that is pretty much my thesis. Your immediate line manager is the most important person in your working life. Even if your colleagues are not all as supportive and competent as you would like, with a supportive manager, you can cope. But the reverse does not work. Supportive professional colleagues but a backstabbing, unreliable manager does not lead to a flourishing work life. Even supportive colleagues and a boss with wild, creative visionary ideas can all to often be a really bad place to work.

 

And to briefly contrast the term ‘management’ with that of leadership, I believe many of us have experienced the charismatic leader who has brilliant sounding plans but the execution of these plans is handled so badly, it doesn’t work. And I have also experienced (as many others have!) the situation where you simply cannot tell your shining star leader that the brilliant idea they have simply will not work. It is easy to sound negative and be side-lined in those circumstances so your point is not taken on board. The fact is, brilliant leaders need people who will buy in to the fabulous vision they create – and in the research community we call these people ‘followers’. And the key criteria for someone to be classed as a leader is that they must have followers.

 

Actually, the leader does not need acolytes. Most of all, the leader needs someone who can work out how to make it all happen. People who can check that everyone is working towards the same goal, that things are on track, that there are enough resources, that people are working well. And that talented people are not leaving, or people becoming stressed or that they are all working together well. Or that the product is selling. Or that products are of consistent quality.

 

And so, as I think about teaching leadership next term, I wonder whether the benefits of leadership are being over played. Perhaps more significantly whether the vital skill, art and science of management is becoming overlooked. And also whether the toxic impact of some leaders is being ignored.

 

So, I put this out as a provocation. And welcome comments. But also, I’d love to have your views. Which can be captured in a very short survey (see the link). And if you give me your email address at the end of the survey, I’ll send you a summary of the findings.

 

https://bbk.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/management-challenge-research

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