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Managing

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A half century ago Peter Drucker put management on the map. Leadership has since pushed it off. Henry Mintzberg aims to restore management to its proper place: front and center. “We should be seeing managers as leaders.” Mintzberg writes, “and leadership as management practiced well.”

This landmark book draws on Mintzberg's observations of twenty-nine managers, in business, government, health care, and the social sector, working in settings ranging from a refugee camp to a symphony orchestra. What he saw—the pressures, the action, the nuances, the blending—compelled him to describe managing as a practice, not a science or a profession, learned primarily through experience and rooted in context.
But context cannot be seen in the usual way. Factors such as national culture and level in hierarchy, even personal style, turn out to have less influence than we have traditionally thought. Mintzberg looks at how to deal with some of the inescapable conundrums of managing, such as, How can you get in deep when there is so much pressure to get things done? How can you manage it when you can't reliably measure it?

This book is vintage Mintzberg: iconoclastic, irreverent, carefully researched, myth-breaking. Managing may be the most revealing book yet written about what managers do, how they do it, and how they can do it better.

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1 Managing Ahead

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We know more about the motives, habits, and most intimate arcana of the primitive people of New Guinea or elsewhere, than we do of the denizens of the executive suites in Unilever House.

Roy Lewis and Rosemary Stewart (1958:17)

A half century has passed since the words above were written, and they still hold true. Yet it is easy enough to find out what managers do. Observe an orchestra conductor, not in performance but during rehearsal, to break through the myth of the manager on a podium. Sit in as the managing director of a high-technology company joins the discussion of a new project. Take a walk with the manager of a refugee camp as he scans attentively for signs of impending violence.

Finding out what managers do is not the problem; interpreting it is. How do we make sense of the vast array of activities that constitute managing?

A half century ago Peter Drucker (1954) put management on the map. Leadership has since pushed it off the map. We are now inundated with stories about the grand successes and even grander failures of the great leaders. But we have yet to come to grips with the simple realities of being a regular manager.

 

2 The Dynamics of Managing

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I dont want it good—I want it Tuesday.

Have a look at the popular images of managing—that conductor on the podium, those executives sitting at desks in New Yorker cartoons—and you get one impression of the job: well ordered, seemingly carefully controlled. Watch some managers at work and you will likely find something far different: a hectic pace, lots of interruptions, more responding than initiating. This chapter describes these and related characteristics of managing: how managers work, with whom, under what pressures, and so on—the intrinsically dynamic nature of the job.

I first described these characteristics in my 1973 book. None of them could have come as a shock to anyone who ever spent a day in a managerial office, doing the job or observing it. Yet they struck a chord with many people—especially with managers—perhaps because they challenged some of our most cherished myths about the practice of managing. Time and again, when I presented these conclusions to groups of managers, the common response was You make me feel so good! While I thought that all those other managers were planning, organizing, coordinating, and controlling, I was constantly being interrupted, jumping from one issue to another, and trying to keep the lid on the chaos.1

 

3 A Model of Managing

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A good theory is one that holds together long enough to get you to a better theory.

Donald O. Hebb (1969)

In search of a better theory, we turn now from the characteristics of managing to its content: what is it that managers actually do, and how?

We begin with the gurus, most of whom have seen the job in its component parts, not its integrated whole, and the academics, who have seen the whole as lists of disconnected parts. This chapter proposes a model of managing that positions the parts within the whole, by depicting managing as taking place on three planes: information, people, and action, inside the unit and beyond it. A final section describes the well-rounded job of managing as a dynamic balance.

Managing One Role at a Time If you wish to become famous in management—one of those gurus—focus on one aspect of managing to the exclusion of all the others. Henri Fayol saw managing as controlling, while Tom Peters has seen it as doing: Dont think, do is the phrase I favor (1990; on Wall Street, of course, managers do deals). Michael Porter has instead equated managing with thinking, specifically analyzing: I favor a set of analytical techniques for developing strategy, he wrote in The Economist (1987:21). Others such as Warren Bennis have built their reputations among managers by describing their work as leading, while Herbert Simon built his among academics by describing it as decision making. (The Harvard Business Review concurred, for years pronouncing on its cover, The magazine of decision makers.)1

 

4 The Untold Varieties of Managing

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Not chaos-like together crushd and bruisd
But as the world, harmoniously confusd:
Where order in variety we see,
And where, though all things differ, all agree.

Alexander Pope, Windsor Forest

Spend a few hours with a variety of managers, and you will likely be struck by how varied this job can be: a bank chairman visiting branches; a Red Cross delegate on the lookout for tensions in a refugee camp; an orchestra conductor in rehearsal and then performance; an NGO head engaging in formal planning while fighting off a political challenge. Managing is almost as varied as life itself, because it is about so much that happens in life itself.

The last two chapters looked at the common characteristics and roles of managing. This one considers its sheer variety. How to find order in the variety we see? That is the intention of this chapter.

Our inclination has been to proceed one factor at a time. Academics call this contingency theory, and they call the factors variables. In research, these variables are isolated (size of organization, or level in hierarchy), and their impact on the practice of managing is studied. For example: The larger the overall organization, the more time the top manager spends in formal communication (from my 1973 book, p. 130).

 

5 The Inescapable Conundrums of Managing

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The centipede was happy quite Until a toad in fun Said, Pray, which leg goes after which? That worked her mind to such a pitch, She lay distracted in a ditch Considering how to run.

Mrs. Edward Craster (1871)

Managing is rife with conundrums. Every way a manager turns, there seems to be some paradox or enigma lurking.

McCall et al. identified questions about management that emerge time and time again across organizations, including these:

Why dont our managers have a broader perspective? They seem to be firefighters, but not fire preventers?

Why dont our managers delegate more?

Why doesnt information pass up the hierarchy? (1978:38)

If such questions could be resolved simply, they would go away. They remain because they are rooted in a set of conundrums that are basic to managing—concerns that cannot be resolved. In the words of Chester Barnard: It is precisely the function of the executive . . . to reconcile conflicting forces, instincts, interests, conditions, positions and ideals (1938:21). Notice his use of the word reconcile, not resolve.1

 

6 Managing Effectively

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Now this is not the end.

It is not even the beginning of the end.

But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Winston Churchill

Welcome to the end of the beginning.1 This chapter considers the tricky subject of managerial effectiveness. Trying to figure out what makes a manager effective, even just trying to assess whether a manager has been effective, is difficult enough. Believing that the answers are easy only makes the questions that much more difficult. Managers, and those who work with them, in selection, assessment, and development, have to face the complexities. Helping to do so is the purpose of this chapter.

Before I scare you away, let me add that I had a good time writing this chapter. Perhaps the complexity led me into a kind of playfulness—about the inevitably flawed manager, the perils of excellence, what we can learn from happily managed families, and more. So I suspect, or at least hope, that you will have a good time reading this chapter.

We begin with the supposedly effective but in fact inevitably flawed manager. This leads us into a brief discussion of unhappily managed organizational families, due to the failure of (1) the person, (2) the job, (3) the fit, or (4) success. From here it is on to healthy managed organizational families, which can be found where reflection in the abstract meets action on the ground, supported by analysis, worldliness, and collaboration, all framed by personal energy on one side and social integration on the other. This takes us to three practical issues: selecting, assessing, and developing effective managers, asking along the way. Where has all the judgment gone? The chapter, and the book, close with a comment on managing naturally.

 

APPENDIX Eight Days of Managing

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OBSERVER: Mr. R._______, we have discussed briefly this organization and the way it operated. Will you now please tell me what you do.

EXECUTIVE: What I do?

OBSERVER: Yes.

EXECUTIVE: Thats not easy.

OBSERVER: Go ahead, anyway.

EXECUTIVE: As president, I am naturally responsible for many things.

OBSERVER: Yes, I realize that. But just what do you do?

EXECUTIVE: Well, I must see that things go all right.

OBSERVER: Can you give me an example?

EXECUTIVE: I must see that our financial position is sound.

OBSERVER: But just what do you do about it?

EXECUTIVE: Now, that is hard to say.

OBSERVER: Lets take another tack. What did you do yesterday?

(Shartle 1956:82)

As noted in the text, I observed twenty-nine different managers for a day each, writing this up in straight descriptions of what happened (as well as what was discussed) and conceptual interpretations of what I could make of these descriptions. This appendix presents the descriptions of eight of these days to anchor the use of this material in the book and to illustrate the rich and varied realities of managing. The descriptions of all twenty-nine days, as well as their conceptual interpretations, are available on www.mintzberg-managing.com, which is almost as long as the text of this book itself.

 

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