Why The Digital Age Integrates Leadership And Management

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Management,” according to Wikipedia, “is the science of managing resources of the business.” Yet, the practice of management over the last half century has often strayed far from science. The business community has tended to latch onto an inane platitude and devote hundreds of billions of dollars to its pursuit, only to discover after decades that the idea was misguided.

· Thus the concept of “maximizing shareholder value” was launched by the Nobel-Prize winning economist Milton Friedman in September 1970, and was all the rage in business until August 2019, when the Business Roundtable wisely declared that the concept was no longer defensible.

· The concept of “sustainable competitive advantage” was launched by Michael Porter in March 1979, and was all the rage in business strategy until November 2012 when Porter’s own strategy firm was unable to pay its bills and went bankrupt.

Leaders And Managers: Are They Different?

By contrast, psychoanalyst Abraham Zaleznik’s idea that “leaders and managers are different kind of people” is a prominent piece of management blather that continues to do great damage and has yet to bite the dust. Launched in 1977, the article created a vast training industry in leadership that continues even though the business school professors like Jeffrey Pfeffer have declared it to be “Leadership BS” that often makes things worse.

Zaleznik argued that leaders are heroic innovators with vision and character. They have “a bigger vision,” with “much in common with artists,” and “in working environment that is often chaotic.”

By contrast, managers are ridiculed unimaginative controllers, who “focus attention on process, not on substance,” who communicate to subordinates indirectly, using signals, not messages,” and “play for time” to reduce risk.

The fact that Zaleznik provided no more than anecdotal evidence for these breathtaking generalizations was no obstacle to their enthusiastic and widespread acceptance. Apparently Zaleznik’s psychoanalytic insights were sufficient “management science” in place of data. Harvard Business Review took the unprecedented step of republishing the article twice—in 1992 and 2004, as if to signify loyal support for the viewpoint.

Obviously, Zaleznik detested the world of management, making the even more absurd claim in his 1989 book, The Management Mystique, that the management mystique requires managers to “dedicate themselves to indirect forms of communication and ignore ideas, people, emotion and direct talk.”

An Upstairs-Downstairs World

Despite his low regard for management, Zaleznik nevertheless saw that managers were needed to get things done. And if he couldn’t change these despicable people, he could at least put “real leaders” on top of them.

In Zaleznik’s world, reak leaders would set direction: getting there was up to the munchkin-like managers. As a result, “leadership” became disconnected from getting things done in the world. Leadership was a set of character attributes, not a way of getting results.

“Management” was something more mundane, tactical, empty of ethics, and beneath the attention of serious people. It was an upstairs-downstairs concept of an organization, not too different from the fictional Edwardian estates of Downton Abbey or Manderley,

How Zaleznik’s Thinking Damaged Both Leadership and Management

Zaleznik’s two “classes of people” argument damaged both leadership and management. Every executive now wanted to be “a leader.” Aimless leadership training exploded. Executives spent time trying “discover the leader deep within themselves.” Executive compensation increased exponentially, independent of performance.

Meanwhile, no executive wanted to be called “a manager.” Managers came to be seen as incapable of real leadership. Under managers, command-and-control intensified, as managers struggled to find their role, often prompting complaints about “the frozen middle.”

Managers spent more and more time reporting on work than in doing work. The epitome of Zaleznik’s manager was Harold Geneen, the CEO of ITT (1959-1977) with some 375,000 employees, who defined the goal of management as: “to make individuals as predictable and controllable as the capital assets for which they are responsible.” For the firm to operate like a machine, micro-management and tight command-and-control were seen as essential.

Rescuing Leadership And Management

It is surely time to recognize that Zaleznik’s idea that leaders and managers are fixed character types has no basis in fact. Rather than looking at the type of person involved, executives in successful digital-age firms use the entire array of management and leaderships tools as and when needed. (Figure 1) Leadership is seen as a facet of the discipline of management, not vice versa.

And read also:

Why Maximizing Shareholder Value Is Finally Dying

What Killed Michael Porter’s Monitor Group?



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