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Management Reborn for the 21st Century

Everyone wants to be a leader. No one wants to be a manager. Why is leadership glorified and management reviled? Someone said that you can manage things but only lead people. Leadership, as a result, is overburdened. It’s like saying get rid of marketing; sales can handle both functions. Where did we get this negative attitude toward management and how can we rid ourselves of it? Management’s fall from grace happened in the late 70’s when the U.S. was reeling from the shock of the Japanese commercial invasion. A scapegoat was needed and management was fingered for this role for being bureaucratic, controlling and risk averse. Management was said to stifle innovation, to preserve the status quo. The solution was to kill off management, to replace managers with leaders. Needing something to blame, we threw the baby out with the bath water instead of upgrading management

Earlier, very little effort was made to distinguish management from leadership. Instead we debated the merits of various styles. A common theme kept emerging – task versus people orientation. You could initiate structure or show consideration for people, be theory X (people are not responsible) or theory Y (people are responsible). You could be transformational or transactional. The former meant being inspiring while the latter merely exchanged rewards for work done. After the Japanese invasion, management got tarred with the bad guy side of these pairings while leadership was awarded the good guy role. Now we say that leaders are people orientated and inspirational while managers are task focused, controlling and mechanical. What was once a mere matter of style became a way to differentiate leadership from management. It is time to correct this error and bring management back from the dead.

As I see it, leaders use influence to convince people to change direction, while management takes care of implementation. On this view, both leaders and managers can be inspiring. One inspires us to change direction while the other inspires us to work harder. In my last two posts, I explained how I define leadership. In my view, leadership just sells the tickets for the journey while management drives the bus to the destination. This means that managers, seen as empowering, enabling and supportive coaches, take care of everything to do with managing people and implementation.

Actually, it's not quite this simple. I said that leaders influence people to change direction. Managers can preside over a rapidly changing organization as well either by deciding new directions or by facilitating a decision making process that leads to new directions being decided by the group. So, management can operate in either of these modes - decision making or facilitation. Managers are also catalysts, coaches, coordinators and developers of people. They show leadership when they influence people or persuade them to change direction and only then. On this view, management can do much more than merely maintain the status quo or "keep things ticking over."

Management is like investment. Managers have resources to invest – their own time, talent and human resources. The goal (function) of management is to get the best return on such resources. This doesn’t imply being mechanical or narrowly controlling. The manager’s style is a personal or situational matter and it has evolved over time. With highly skilled and self-motivated knowledge workers, the manager must be very empowering. Where the workforce is less skilled or not very motivated, the manager may need to monitor output more closely. Skilled managers know how to flex their style, coach and motivate diverse employees.

For more on this way of viewing leadership and management see my book, Burn: 7 Leadership Myths in Ashes, 2006