Wow. This is the next “Good to Great” – and only 7 years after that, not 20 as Collins’ book was after “In Search of Excellence.” Mintzberg once and for all establishes that management and leadership are immensely complex and have to be learned in the heat of practicing them, not from books or traditional courses. It’s one thing to say this to people and quite another to assemble a massive review, in very short, but dense form, proving it in the words and findings of a century of researchers.
I wrote the rest of this post to a friend, another keen observer, David Creelman of Creelman Research, who brought it to my attention. I realize this is actually a review:
Just finished Managing and have some thoughts it seems good to put down here. It’s an impressive assembly of far-reaching thinking. I think it will probably frustrate and confuse a lot of readers, which is too bad, but possibly an inevitable step in recognizing what really works. The management/leadership complex is just that – very, very complex without any clear single answers, very situational and requiring unique fit or adaptability to succeed at. I agree with the general premise, but would word it a bit differently. I would say not have said we are wrong to hold up leaders as worthy of examination and sometimes praise, but we are wrong to deify the idea of leader and leadership (and wrong to talk about it as a set of things that can be learned by the usual rote learning we get in schools). However, I believe that leaders do make a difference if they operate as Mintzberg outlines – constantly learning and reflecting and by trial and error efforts to improve things. I’m sure he would agree and wonder a bit why he didn’t make that more clear.
As I see it, organizations solidify the ossified structures they form in hopes of sustaining themselves as the original driving leader(s) move on. Theoretically the structure that worked should be able to adapt with new people coming into the slots and changing them to fit changing circumstances, but we haven’t paid nearly enough attention to that concept. We treat the structure almost as sacred once it’s in place (despite the tendency to constantly ‘re-organize’ to solve every problem, which really amounts to re-arranging the deck chairs – it doesn’t really change much – the power hierarchy is too attractive to those rising in it). To some extent the organization structure does ensure some continuity, but for how long if it doesn’t evolve?
It’s easy for those appointed to assume that they somehow inherit the stature of those who built the organization in the first place, not realizing it wasn’t a one-person show, but a cooperative effort that may be seen from outside to be one person. The fact that some initial leaders are strong-man types who create by force and maintain power by force leads to confusion as well. When we know that 90% plus of leaders believe they’re in the smartest 10%, it’s easy to see why they are so willing to try to impose their vision as Mintzberg points out is so common among those newly promoted. At that moment you’re at the peak of confidence in your infallibility; it’s just been proven, so why not impose it? Then it’s hard to back down and reveal your uncertainty as things begin not to work. You may not even realize it isn’t working and just apply more force to drive things the way you ‘see they will work if only everyone cooperates (with your vision).’
We need to help people see that maintaining and developing existing organizations is no less challenging, but very different from the initiating, entrepreneurial phase, that a different type of leader, adept with equally difficult, but different challenges, is needed – one who needs to manage and lead in a very different way, with more visible involvement of others typically, building a truly learning organization, which has to start with a learning leader.