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Has “Management” become a Dirty Word?

November 05 2018 - by Dr. Kenroy C. Wedderburn, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies & Associate Professor, School of Business - Wayland Baptist University, also Alum of CLP's Leadership Development Programme.

Management is, above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet” ~Henry Mintzberg

Nowadays the word “management” seems to have become a dirty word! The well-known and oft-quoted maxim “you lead people; you manage processes,” seems to have eclipsed the exquisitely refined art of management. And many young persons interviewing for a position amongst the executives will easily be able to glibly differentiate between the two, except to their peril.

When interviewing for my last position as CEO of a government agency (which I did obtain), I smiled to myself when that inevitable question was asked. What that board member had failed to realize was that I also taught leadership as an adjunct at one of the local universities, and this was something I could recite in my sleep! After obtaining that job, I recall at least once being corrected by my board chairman for using that word (manage!) instead of “lead” when referring to people. Horror of horrors – what a slip!

Anyway (I do wax melodramatic at times!), let us return to my core point – which is – i) that every good leader has to be also an excellent manager, and ii) you need to refine the art of being a great manager!

To persist with my original point, it is now difficult to find a course in Management Principles in MBA programmes. Rather, you will find courses on Leadership, all carrying varying labels. Subsumed in these courses you may find some coverage of management principles. And so the leader is revered, and extolled, while the manager has become the ugly step sister. The leader is described as the visionary, who looks beyond the challenging mountain, to where we can be, and should strive to be. While the manager is said to merely seek to maintain the status quo, thus causing the term to be viewed in a negative light.

Henry Mintzberg, said to be one of the greatest management thinkers around declared, “The idea that leaders are separate from managers mean that if you are leading without managing, you don't know what is going on. And if you are managing without leading, you're pretty uninspiring.” Another cold reality is that it is well known to those who read management literature that many times (about 35% of the time) workers leave an organization because they are unhappy with management. That and other fundamental facts demonstrate the critical importance of management.

What is Management?

According to Robbins and Coulter in their textbook on Management, “A manager is someone who coordinates and oversees the work of other people so that organizational goals can be accomplished.” Management therefore in its pure sense is being able to get others to do the work. However the role of the manager has evolved into a complex, psychological process and is totally different from when management theory was in its embryonic stages in the early 1900s. Today, the manager has to be able to manage in a world of complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty, while having to contend with an exponential increase in the pace of change. Also, you are managing people who have options, and less commitment to their workplace. Not to mention having to deal with the new generation of young people dubbed the “millennials.” I remember speaking to a Teller Supervisor who needed to have tellers in place prior to the 8:30 bank opening time. She lamented how the young tellers would sometimes casually saunter in at 8:45 and looked quite surprised when she made a fuss about the lateness!

So let us choose one area to work on to start becoming a better manager. How about more effort on staff development? It is good value for money to train staff. Remember this quotation from the management guru Peter Drucker - “If you think training is expensive – consider ignorance!” When you see a harried, harassed manager who finds it impossible to take a vacation – probably he/she needs to develop staff to be able to take care of things while the manager is off!

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