Managing Excerptations: Managers and Morality

management Leadership Morality

I started my blog to kick my non-writing habit. I've now got enough material to start blocking out a book (hooray!). So while I'm doing that, I thought I'd start a small series looking at some of the books that have influenced me.

"Managing expectations" is one of my least favourite managerialisms. I cringe whenever I hear it. Expecting is about hope, which is the only thing that keeps many professionals going. We take what we can from life and do our best with it.

So this series is about some of the excerpts that caught my eye over the last six months. They're part of what gives me hope about the profession of management.

I read a lot. My view is that the practice of management is going through a scientific revolution a la Thomas Kuhn. There is so much good material out there that reading is a requirement for the modern management professional.

I also read in parallel. I've just finished Peter Druckers 2001 book The Essential Drucker. There is so much packed into this book its formed the primary lens that I apply to my work.

So I'm going to dedicate the next few Managing Excerptation posts to some of my favourite parts. Think of it as a drunkards walk through a book review.

One of the things I like about Drucker is that he gives a clear sense of the purpose and dignity of the profession and practice of management.

Purpose because he works to free the word 'management' from the inert mess that it is generally portrayed to be. Dignity because he works to raise the sights of the profession towards the achievement of great things. He also doesn't buy the false dichotomy of 'management' and 'leadership'.

What is 'management' anyway?

"Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant. This is what organization is all about, and it is the reason that management is the critical, determining factor. Our ability to contribute to society also depends as much on the management of the organization for which we work as it does on our own skills, dedication and effort."

One of the crappier things we do with our business writing is convert everything into the passive voice and past tense. We take the life out of things with the way we write about what we do. I suspect part of that is what the late great Sumantra Ghoshal called the "excessive truth claims" of the economics-inspired business community seeking after a set of eternal principles.

This is what 'management' too often is. An arid desert of a word that few responsible and value seeking management professionals can see themselves inhabiting. We also convert the word into a pejorative. 'Managers' become the source of all that is bad in our society of organizations. In its place we raise the flag of the 'leader' as the symbol of good that opposes the bad of the manager.

Like many socially based dichotomies, the manager vs leader distinction is misdirecting and simplistic. It distracts us. It encourages to seek fine distinctions where there are none. Expectations bias is where you find what you expect to find and confirmation bias is how we prove that what we have is real.

When I manage I work to make people capable of joint performance. To do this I must exercise both my head and my heart. I can't leave my head behind and descend into the mindless vapidity of cheering on well meaning statements of resolve by pretty people on the big stage. And neither can I leave my heart behind and fill my world with abstractions and calculations that encourage me to make amoral decisions in closed boardrooms. Drucker,

"Management deals with action and application; and its test is results. This makes it a technology. But management also deals with people, their values, their growth and development - and this makes it a humanity. So does its concern with, and impact on, social structure and the community. Management is deeply involved in moral concerns - the nature of man, good and evil."

To manage is to balance responsibility with control. It's not an easy task. To make it easier we are tempted to substitute an easier question. More head and less heart. Or less head and more heart. But that's the easy way out. It isn't one that Drucker would have suggested and it's not one that the committed management professional should take.

Image via Gratisography