The end of Management as we know it?

The End of Management as We Know It?

In the past there has been a lot written about the difference between managers and leaders in terms of the people and the roles they perform. My personal view is that there is little place in the 21st century for ‘managing’ and that organisations now need leaders at all levels to survive and thrive.

The distinction that I draw between the process of managing and leading, based on my own experience and reading, is summarised in the following table:

Management Practices
Leadership Characteristics
Task oriented
Direction setting
Process focused
Outcome focused
Control conscious
Promoting autonomy
One style and paced
Varied / situational

Whilst, naturally, there remain a lot of managers in UK plc, I haven’t come across many situations where the management practices listed above are desirable or have proven to be successful in growing organisations.

In both small and large organisations I have worked with recently, there is an increasing focus on promoting the leadership characteristics identified above at all levels of the organisation. Indeed, I believe that the challenge is no longer to reconcile the differences between leaders and managers but to promote improved relationships between leaders, at all levels, and their self-managing colleagues.

Leadership at all Levels
To encourage the shift away from the management mentality, I think we now need to think of anyone in a position of responsibility within an organisation, (a leader, manager, team leader or supervisor) as a leader and to encourage them to demonstrate the same leadership characteristics.

After all, these are the characteristics that it has been proven engage employees the most – and surely we should be developing leaders to get the most out of our people, rather than to maintain outdated concepts of command and control?

Just managing is no longer enough…
By its very definition, ‘managing’ implies coping with and maintaining situations as opposed to being progressive and taking things forward. And in a world of constant change, if you stay where you are, you will soon be left behind.

Whilst the nature of the global economy provides the ‘pull’ to adopt leadership characteristics across organisations, there is also a compelling ‘push’ factor which is the increasing expectations of employees. Young people entering the workplace no longer expect to have a single career or one employer for life and want interest, variety, challenge and development. They expect the employer to offer a rewarding role in a supportive organisation that creates opportunities for personal growth. And it is not just new entrants to the workplace who have these expectations… Established research demonstrates that most of us want to do something with a clear sense of purpose that provides an opportunity to work with greater autonomy and in way that enables us to continually improve and master what we do, (see Dan Pink’s book ‘Drive’ for a fuller explanation of these motivations).

So, who is going to take the lead?
I suspect that the opportunity and need to change I have highlighted above is something that most senior leaders in organisations are aware of, or at least would understand if they stopped to think about it. However, and herein lies the nub of the problem, these are the very people who feel they stand to lose from breaking down the leadership / management barriers.

Many leaders see themselves having achieved positions of importance in the hierarchy that they have worked hard to obtain and that they want to protect. And this is the main reason that ‘them and us’ situations between senior leaders and managers and employees develop – a belief from the top that you have to have done your time and earnt your spurs to be one of us!

However, if we look at leadership as a behaviour, rather than as a role, it is clear that anyone in a position of responsibility at any level of the organisation could become a leader. To achieve this shift in emphasis, and to benefit from the significant results it will deliver, senior leaders in organisations will truly have to let go and lead…

Jonathan Booth