management practice enables change

Inviting Dialogue on a Forthcoming Mayvin Book – Part 3: Shifts in management practice, not more leadership, enables change

In the last of three posts, Mayvin Principal Consultant Tony Nicholls continues to set out the content for his future book. His aim is to socialise his thinking in order to invite commentary and critique.

In his first post, he set out his thinking for why management needs a stronger focus to counterbalance the decades-old obsession with leadership. The second post argued that the focus of management practice is to enable change.

In this final post, Tony explores his belief that it is changes in management practice at the top of organisations, not the development of better leadership, that actually allows power and accountability to trickle down into the organisation.

Managers and their Models

I’ve already discussed the fixation we have with leadership and leaders. It’s as if management and managers are considered poor relations. Also, it seems that managers do not need to focus on their humanity as much as leaders. In management, it is the models, tools and techniques that are centre stage. In contrast, for leadership, it is the person, their individuality and their presence that is more important.

There is an assumption that the manager themselves is neutral in the effective application of management practice. With leadership, the person and personality have become everything. The hero leader shows up with presence and authenticity, motivating and inspiring others with visions and empowering practices.

Outdated Management Practice

With the leadership-management pendulum firmly stuck towards the leadership end of the spectrum, we see nearly all consultancy and academic efforts focused on understanding and developing leadership practice. As a result, much management practice has become outdated and out of sync with how organisations actually emerge out of the messy reality of human beings coming together to achieve a common goal. This outdated practice is often increasing the challenges that come with change, not reducing them. It also risks stifling creativity and innovation.

Leadership to the Rescue?

At some point, leadership became the antidote to outmoded management practice. It was from leadership, not management, that creativity, innovation and engagement were to spring. For the right reasons, we have become fixated on leadership.

I’m not arguing for leadership to be down-graded in any way and for management to usurp its counterpart. What I’m noticing is that with this fixation on leadership, aspects of management practice that support change have been cut from the management narrative and pasted into the leadership narrative. This has resulted in the belief that if change is to be successfully delivered, it is primarily within the gift of leadership and leaders to enable it.

This point is illustrated in my earlier statement:

“The hero leader is expected to show up with presence and authenticity, motivating and inspiring others with visions and empowering practices.”

Bringing Management Practice Back Into Focus

My experience suggests that as leaders step back and do less leading, they are able to focus instead on changes to their management practice. This is when we see the hoped-for changes to ways of working. When leaders, or more appropriately senior managers, focus on how they are managing we see improved motivation, engagement, and efficiency.

How often have we seen leaders say to their people “we want you to be empowered” only to find these same people feeling powerless as the leaders continue to manage in the same ways? It is only when the leader changes their management practices that the power and accountability trickle down the system. Critically, it trickles to those that can exercise it in the best interests of what needs to be done.

Thanks for reading Tony’s final post laying out the opening chapter of his future book. Read the other posts in the series here.  Please drop him a line at tony.nicholls@mayvin.co.uk or join the conversation on Twitter.