What is Management?

Management is different from leadership but just as important. To understand the nature of management, we need to be clear how it differs from leadership. The first step in answering the question: "What is management?" is to understand the basic tasks of all organizations. Like any other species, an organization needs to take care of its immediate business of survival but it also has to evolve to ensure its fitness to cope with changes in the environment and the actions of competing species.

Management is the function that organizes the execution of today's business. Leadership is the evolutionary mechanism that changes organizations to prosper in tomorrow's world. Whenever a species or individual animal runs into obstacles, variations occur and new forms are selected from those variations. Leadership is a risk taking type of action that explores new frontiers and promotes new ways of behaving. It follows that, in a stable environment, good management is all that is needed to prosper; leadership in this context isn't required.


This portrayal is not the popular one where leadership means being the top dog in a group regardless of what's going on in the environment. Also, management has been cast on the rubbish heap since the late 1970's following the initial wave of Japanese commercial success in the West. We wanted a scapegoat for our failure to compete with the Japanese, and management was fingered for this role. Jack Welsh, Tom Peters and other gurus called for more leadership and an end to management, which they saw as stifling innovation. The reality was that a lack of competition created a complacent attitude AND lackluster management. It was the way management was practiced that was the problem, not anything to do with management as a function. We simply needed to upgrade management for a new reality.

What is Management?

Being hierarchical by nature and inclined to worship heroes, we tend to regard the person in charge of our group as a leader. But complexity demands specialization and executives need to perform multiple roles that depend on the unique demands of their situation. If their main function is to maintain quality, low cost and good customer service while motivating employees to perform to their potential, then they are performing the management function, not showing leadership.

Management is like investment. Managers have resources to invest - their own time and talent as well as human and financial resources. The goal or function of management is to get the best return on those resources by getting things done efficiently. This doesn't entail being mechanical. The manager's style is a contextual issue. With highly skilled and self-motivated knowledge workers, the manager can be very empowering. Where the workforce is less skilled or motivated, the manager may need to monitor output more closely. By saying that management is a function, not a type of person or role, we better account for self-managed work teams where no one is in charge. Managemenet simply makes the best use of all resources even when we manage ourselves. Hence management does not necessarily entail a dictatorial, controlling overseer. Skilled managers know how to coach and motivate diverse employees. Getting things done through people is what they do.

The aim of management is to deliver results cost effectively in line with customer expectations and profitably, in the case of commercial organizations. It is not only leaders who can be inspiring. Inspiring leaders move us to change direction while inspiring managers motivate us to work harder.

Management is a vital function thanks to the complexity of modern organizational life. The need to coordinate the input of so many diverse stakeholders, experts and customers requires enormous patience and highly developed facilitative skills. Excellent managers know how to bring the right people together and, by asking the right questions, draw the best solutions out of them. To facilitate well requires managers to work very closely with all relevant stakeholders.

By contrast, the leader can be a bit of an outsider. Like Martin Luther King, Jr. promoting desegregation on buses to the U.S. government from the sidelines, the leader can induce people to change even with no direct involvement or authority over the people who are needed to take the hoped for action.

Managers don't just keep ongoing operations ticking over. They also manage complex projects like making a modern movie or putting the first man on the moon. Leadership is only required to sell the tickets for the journey or to resell it periodically if resistance develops, but management drives the bus to the destination.

What is Management?

See http://www.lead2xl.com for more articles like this one. Mitch McCrimmon has over 30 years experience in executive assessment and coaching. His latest book, Burn! 7 Leadership Myths in Ashes, 2006, challenges conventional thinking on leadership.