In a series of three posts, Mayvin Principal Consultant Tony Nicholls sets out the opening chapter for his future book. His aim is to socialise his thinking in order to invite commentary and critique. He writes based on experiences working and consulting in various types of organisation. This experience is intermingled with the theories and research offered by others, from various fields of practice.
In this first post, Tony starts to set out his thinking for why management needs a stronger focus in order to counterbalance the decades-old obsession with leadership.
Management has to be the new black
It would have been very easy and probably expected if I had chosen to write a book about leadership rather than management. If most commentators on the subject are to be believed, it is the only thing that makes or breaks organisations, businesses and countries. It is even suggested that leadership is the only thing that will save our planet from us.
I don’t subscribe to this view. I believe management is where it is at. Leadership is important, but when the rubber hits the road and things need to get done, management steps up and delivers. It is through management that organisations are made or broken, businesses grow or decline, countries flourish or descend into chaos. And it is management, doing things, making changes, that will, hopefully, save the planet.
But this is not about leaders and managers. I am referring to the activities of leadership and management, not the roles that people hold and the titles they are given. This might seem like semantics, but I believe there is an important distinction to make between the activities of leadership and management and the people who hold particular roles with the titles of ‘manager’ or ‘leader’.
The distinction between leadership and management
We have developed a language around leadership and management that has become inextricably linked to that of the leader and the manager. We now assume that leaders lead and managers manage. Linked to this, because senior people are more likely to be considered leaders and given the title to match, leadership is considered by many as a pastime only for the upper echelons.
My experience tells me everyone is both manager and leader and that management and leadership responsibilities, therefore, sit within all roles in an organisation. The differences between roles as we move up through the levels of an organisation lie not in whether the role holders become more leader than manager, but in the fact that the resources and levels of risk in their portfolios increase. They are making bigger decisions, not becoming more leader and less manager.
We have created a bifurcation in the practice that actually sits with everyone in our organisations. We are told we are either leader or manager when in reality we are always both. To illustrate this, let’s pretend for a moment that we hadn’t invented the concepts of management and leadership. When preparing to write about this, I found myself at a loss. So strong is the leader-manager narrative, that when I challenged myself to come up with an alternative way to frame the activities of leadership and management, I struggled. If these concepts are seen to be a common set of capabilities, inextricably linked, always at play in the same person, then what might we call this ‘thing’?
Facilitation as an alternative
A colleague suggested ‘facilitation’. This makes a lot of sense to me. Facilitation conjures up images of someone managing time and resources in order to create a space within which others can engage in conversation and complete tasks. The facilitator role-models the presence expected of others. Their default position is to trust others and to demonstrate trustworthiness. They allow others to do the work and develop as a consequence. Isn’t this the essence of what we are looking for from a combined set of leadership-management capabilities?
I find it interesting that when an alternative, single concept is used to frame the activities of people in organisations, the problems seen with the historically imposed bifurcation drop away.
Redressing the balance between leadership and management
I do not live in hope of ever-changing the narrative on leadership and management being two separate practices. I resign myself to using the language of leadership and leaders, management and managers. I therefore come back to advocating management and managers, not leadership and leaders when we are focused on supporting more effective change. I do not want us to drop the leadership narrative altogether. What I would like is to redress the balance between the favoured practice of leadership over its poorer cousin, management.
To explore alternatives to the concentration of power in top leaders, we must reflect on how we deify leadership. We must look closely at what actually takes place in organisations that delivers the change we see. This requires us to look more closely at the art of management. For this to happen, Management has to become the new black.
In his next post, Tony will explore management practice in more detail. He will argue that all management activities are focused on change. Additionally, he will suggest that the concept of steady-state, business-as-usual, is a myth.