May 30, 2013

Has management become a dirty word?

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine yesterday about the perspective that "everyone is a leader" and what that says about management.  The debate around the difference between management and leadership is certainly not a new one, and it seems that everyone has a different definition for each of these concepts.  It does seem that in recent years the term "management" has taken on a bit of a negative slant.  We seem to have developed a perception of hierarchy, that in some way management is inferior to leadership.

My perspective one whether a person is a leader or manager is that it depends on context, and that it is a both/and and not necessarily an either/or.  Managers are very necessary, especially good managers.  Many good managers are also leaders and vice versa.  I also believe that it is true that everyone could potentially be a leader within a certain context.  For example if you are a father or mother you are a leader to your children, however it does not follow that you cannot be a manager if that is what your job role requires.

I love the way Dave Snowden & Cynthia Kurtz frame the meaning of management in this quote:

"Common perceptions of the work world as machine-like and ordered, and thus subject to the rules of order, are cultural legacies of the industrial revolution that still blind us to the fact that organisations are in fact complex adaptive systems. As an example, consider the etymology of the term “manage” itself. According to Williams (1983) the English verb “to manage” was originally derived from the Italian maneggiare, meaning to handle and train horses. The manege form of horseback riding, a more involved and time-consuming form than modern dressage (which was meant to replace manege with something more accessible to the unskilled) is a similar use of the word. In this earlier meaning the emphasis is on learning with, abiding with, adapting to, respecting, and working with another complex entity: the horse and rider as coevolving brambles in a wider thicket of social traditions surrounding beauty and form. Around the early 18th century, this original meaning merged with the French term menage, or household, making it easier to adapt the meaning of the combined term manage to the metaphor of the obedient machine, to the corridors of power, and to the actions of controlling and directing. The naturalistic approach we have advocated, in effect a return to manege rather than menage, is the most effective way to achieve results in organisations made up of real people. Its practice in the generation and management of learning networks is not difficult; it simply requires us to unlearn the practices that arise from a menage directorial tradition of management theory and relearn what we already know to be true of the manege multiplex world we live in."

(from Bramble bushes in a thicket, Kurtz & Snowden 2006)

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