Let’s Get Rid of Management


This is the 23rd in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

People don’t want to be managed.
They want to be led.

Whoever heard of a world manager?
World leader, yes.
Educational leader.
Political leader.
Religious leader.
Scout leader.
Community leader.
Labor leader.
Business leader.
They lead.
They don’t manage.
The carrot always wins over the stick.
Ask your horse.
You can lead your horse to water, but you can’t manage him to drink.
If you want to manage somebody, manage yourself.
Do that well and you’ll be ready to stop managing.
And start leading.

It seems to be as if Mr. Gray is trying to portray leaders in a positive light and managers in a negative light. He also seems to suggest strongly that we don’t need managers, that everyone should strive to become a leader.

I disagree with this perspective. In my opinion, manager and leader are two different roles, and successful organizations need both.

Curt Richardson, founder and CEO of Otterbox, wrote an article on this topic in Inc. magazine in June 2013 that looked at the differences between leaders and managers. Richardson sates the following:

Leaders have a unique ability to rally employees around a vision. Because their belief in the vision is so strong, employees will naturally want to follow them. Leaders also tend to be willing to take risks in pursuit of the vision.

Managers, on the other hand, are more adept at executing the vision in a very systemic way and directing employees on how to do so. They can see all of the intricate moving parts and understand how to make them harmonize. Managers are usually very risk-adverse.

It’s true that some managers can inspire and some leaders can systemically execute, but these are not their core strengths. For a start-up, the entrepreneur really has no choice but to be both leader and manager, which is usually okay since it’s probably just him/her and one or two others. Understanding which you are will help you make important, early choices about whom you need to grow that complement your strengths and ensure the success of your business.

I agree with Richardson that firms need both effective leaders and effective managers. They are two different skill sets, and each have different, but necessary, objectives.

Alan Murray, author of the Wall Street Guide to management, states the following:

Leadership and management must go hand in hand. They are not the same thing. But they are necessarily linked, and complementary. Any effort to separate the two is likely to cause more problems than it solves. Still, much ink has been spent delineating the differences. The manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.

But in the new economy, … management and leadership are not easily separated. People look to their managers, not just to assign them a task, but to define for them a purpose. And managers must organize workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results.

Murray notes that the great management theorist, Peter Drucker had the following to say about this issue:

… one does not ‘manage’ people. The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.

So it seems as if many ways that the roles of leader and manager have merged into each other today, but for an individual to be successful in such a role, they need to accomplish both management type tasks (organizing, executing, evaluating) and leadership type tasks (inspiring, motivating, creating a vision).

So maybe Mr. Gray from United Tech was on to something after all.

Perhaps an analogy to distribution can be made. Often times there is a desire to get rid of the “middlemen” in a complex distribution system, as a way to improve efficiency and lower costs. And while firms may be successful in getting rid of the middleman, the firms usually can’t eliminate the work that middlemen do.

Mr. Gray may be calling for the elimination of the manager position, but you can’t get rid of the work that a manager does.

The ideal individual is someone who is both an effective manager and leader, but that is likely a difficult combination to find.

One final note about the United Tech ad. There is reference to the classic phrase, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” (modified in the ad above).

Such an attitude seems almost defeatist, and a few years ago I heard a much better version of this phrase:

You can lead a horse to water, and while you can’t make him drink, you can make him thirsty.

And making him thirsty may just be the role of a manager…



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