The art and practice of management

It’s funny how we think we are SO clever these days. It’s true that by most standards we are, in most parts of the world, a refined society defined by advanced thinking, mastery of technology and clever utilisation of available resources to achieve desired outcomes.

So much so, that we often fall into the trap of thinking that our excreta offers no malodour. Ha! The joke is on us.  And rarely is it more apparent than in our approach to management.

There are many, many clever, intellectual tomes on management that argue all manner of styles, approaches, conceptions and systems to get the job done well. It is a deeply considered and widely theorised aspect of the broad structure of democratic capitalism that underpins governance of the bulk of the world’s population.

On that basis alone you would think we could get it right, surely? But, no, we screw it up time and again. And, almost always, we screw it up because of one silly, flawed, stupid approach to the creation of managers.

For those who have been in the workforce for some time, reflect on how managers get elevated to their positions of authority.

So often, someone excels in a particular practice: whether it be customer service, payroll, correspondence, accounts, purchasing or administration generally. Even when it comes to particular professional disciplines such as journalism, law, accountancy, research, whatever: we make the same mistake.

Someone becomes so good at their specialist field, we decide they must/should be elevated to a higher position of authority. We choose to recognise their ability by making them a manager.

But – and this is the crux of the stupidity of this deeply ingrained approach to rewarding merit – we make them a manager without any necessary training in management, per se.

If you are good at a particular challenge, then you are surely good enough to manage others undertaking similar tasks is the mindset that dominates western approaches to the organisation and control of staff.

It is such a ridiculous folly!

Constantly, we see (and many of us have suffered the same fate) people elevated to managerial positions without any commensurate training in the art, discipline, theory and practice of management to prepare them for the challenges that inevitably lie ahead.

The underlying assumption is always that – if you are good at a certain task – then you have the innate capability to manage others in similar roles. Dumb!

Mastering the requisite skills, abilities and understandings to be able to bring out the professional best in others is a demanding challenge. It requires concentrated and very specific training and broad-based education.

Yet, so often, it is neglected.

Perhaps someone has undertaken research and study into the actual and/or potential cost of this glaring lapse to state/national/global productivity? But on the big stage it must amount to billions of dollars.

Spare just a brief moment to reflect on the many flaws that characterise most managers (and I have been one for forty years and am/have been guilty of most of these ‘sins’ myself) and contemplate the productivity gains that could be achieved if managers were adequately trained to fulfil their roles to a high standard of competence and professionalism.

It is not that many of those thrust into management are not adequate to the task. But most, at least initially, flounder. That tends to damage staff morale and productivity immediately. It also damages self-belief and that is one of the most fundamental attributes of a capable manager. In effect, senior management (who should know better) strive to kill the goose they hope will encourage staff to lay golden eggs.

It is a peculiar form of madness that has negatively impacted capitalism for decades, if not generations. Management training has progressed in amazing leaps and bounds over recent decades and offers wonderful skill and capability acquisition, encompassed by broad theoretical and practical understandings of relevant philosophical approaches.

But, still, in so many workplaces it remains an ignored opportunity. When will we ever learn?