What is Management?


What is management?What is management? Management is like investment: its goal is to get the most out of resources, add the most value or get the best return. Management can be defined as: achieving goals in a way that makes the best use of all resources.

This definition covers self-management as well as managing people, being a manager. Whenever you prioritize, you are managing your time. You manage yourself and all other resources at your disposal in order to do a good job.

Leadership, by contrast, is about influencing people to change direction. When senior executives decide to change direction, this is seen as leadership. But because it is a decision, it is actually a management act - not leadership. Decisions flow from authority, leadership is an act of influence. Leadership is an attempt to influence followers. It's never a decision of any sort. All decisions made by executives are managerial actions.

This is not the conventional view of leadership and management but, if leadership is an influence process, one implication is that there can be no such thing as autocratic leadership. Decisions can be made autocratically, but deciding for people is not a type of influence so it shouldn't be classed as leadership.

The Meaning of Management

We need to understand the meaning of management in order to know what management skills to develop. Think of what is means to be an investor - someone with money to invest and wanting the best return. Such a person shifts his or her money around regularly to improve return.

Similarly, managers have resources at their disposal to invest - people, material and a budget, in addition to their own time, talent and energy. Smart managers think carefully on a regular basis about how to get the best return on these resources. When managing people, it is not just a matter of having the right employee in the right place at the right time, it is also about developing and improving that resource.

Effective managers are catalysts, brokers, facilitators, coaches and people developers. Because thinking is the most important work we do today, managers need to ask stimulating questions to draw new solutions out of people, to get mental work done through them. This makes managers faciltators more than decision makers as they were thought of in the old days.

Certainly they still make decisions, but ineffective managers do too much of their own thinking, hence not reaping the fullest possible return of all resources at their disposal. They are poor investors as a result.

Effective managers know that delegation is not enough in today's knowledge driven world to get work done through people. This is because most of the critical work we do today is to make decisions, solve problems and think creatively. This is mental work. Smart managers get this kind of work done through people by asking them the sorts of questions that stimulate people to think, to draw solutions out of people.

Ineffective managers may delegate a lot but this is so they can be free to do most of their own thinking and problem solving. They fail to work with and through people when it comes to this mental work. Skilled managers know how to get the best out of people by asking them the right questions - those that make them think differently, not simply fact-gathering questions.

Management needs to be upgraded for the 21st century. It needs to cast off its negative image as mechanistic, controlling and task oriented. We need a concept of management that makes it nurturing, supportive, coaching and developmental. This is essential to divide the load between leadership and management more equally.

The difference between managers and leaders

This question, as asked, is a problem because it focuses on people in roles. This is normally how we think about them but there is a better way. We need to recognize that all employees can both lead and manage. For example, whenever you set priorities, you are managing your time.

Whenever you set an example by working harder or smarter and others follow your example, you have shown leadership. Similarly, when you convince your boss to think differently, you show leadership bottom-up. Thus management and leadership are functions, which are like tools because anyone can use them.

Writing, analyzing, knitting, cooking are also process tools that everyone can use. Managers use the same management tools and processes used by front-line employees; they just have more resources to manage.

Leadership works through influence, while management works through decisions and facilitation. Leadership must be restricted to selling the tickets to the journey. It can't take followers to the destination. Why? Because this is the only way to account for a number of otherwise odd kinds of leadership such as leading by example, green leadership and bottom-up leadership.

Take green leadership for instance. If a green leader promotes green policies in Norway and is followed by an organization in India, then leadership is not a two-way relationship between leader and follower and leadership stops once the target audience buys the proposal. This is important if we want to explain how leadership can be shown bottom-up.

All the old clichés about management are wrong, on this view. Our negative attitude toward management arose following the success of Japanese business in the West. This led to a great hue and cry to replace managers with leaders. Management has had a bad name ever since, totally undeserved.

Management's bad name

Everyone has wanted to be a leader, not a manager, ever since the early 1980's. Japanese business success at that time drove Western managers and gurus to proclaim an end to management. They wanted to banish managers and replace them with leaders. This was an emotional overreaction. Instead, we should have upgraded management. The views expressed on this website, Leadersdirect, are not in line with conventional thinking which has little to say about the role of manager that is very positive. It is because of this historical baggage that you hear people say that managers are only interested in the present, preserving the status quo, keeping things ticking over and that they are controlling or bureaucratic.

This is total nonsense. If we define management simply as the aim to get the best return out of all resources, then ANY style that works is compatible with this definition. Enlightened managers can be people-oriented and good at fostering innovation. They can SHOW leadership by promoting better ways of working and by setting an inspiring example.

Management Today

We can't live without good management. Nothing would get done without it. On a personal level, how could you make best use of your time and your life if you didn't set priorities and invest your time wisely?

Similarly, the world is so complex that nothing is possible without the coordination of large numbers of people. This takes good management. Management today, is about facilitation, enabling others to act, being a catalyst and coach.

See also: What's a manager? and Managers as Leaders.


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