Leadership Inflation and Management Devaluation

Who believes in their heart of heart that:

  • Familiar management approaches have become less and less relevant?
  • Thought leaders struggled to find a better approach to managing a business?
  • Coaching for leadership is that new management approach?

This opinion was formulated back in 2000 by the greatest coaches and thinkers in the world on management and leadership. I beg to differ.

The etymology of Management is the Italian maneggiare, which derives from the two Latin words manus (hand) and agree (to act).

Henri Fayol―developer of a general theory of business administration―famously defined management as to forecast and to plan, to organize, to command, to co-ordinate and to control.

Prof. Dr. Fredmund Malik―an Austrian pioneer of the state-of-the-art holistic systems-based management―defined management as the transformation of resources into utility.

Sun Tzu―the famous Chinese general and alleged author of The Art of War―says that “Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline. Reliance on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Fixation on trust results in folly. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty. When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, then one can be a leader.”

The aforementioned greatest coaches and thinkers defined coaching as a “behavioral approach of mutual benefit to individuals and the organizations in which they work or network.”

These organizations in which they work are neither a free resource that already exists in nature, nor are they a readily available standardized product that can be purchased. Such an organization is a system designed, built, implemented, maintained, and managed for the express purpose of transforming resources into utility. CEO Adventure describes these activities as Business Governance, which I defined as “a unique executive leadership responsibility aimed at keeping the outcome of a business system’s processes nearly uniform, notwithstanding variations in market forces or internal friction and conflict.”

In other words, a business system is a vehicle, and leadership is its driver or pilot. The Wright brothers experienced firsthand that piloting an aircraft requires a skill set that is different from the one used in building an aircraft. The fact that they discovered the principles of flight and incorporated that knowledge into the design, construction, and control of their Flyer, was not enough―they actually had to learn to fly their own creation.

Robert Pirsig makes similar observations in his epic book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in describing the difference between motorcycle maintenance and riding a motorcycle―understanding of the underlying form and experiencing the use of that vehicle.

Today, business education suggests that everyone should become a leader, the driver or the pilot. This suggestion implies that the state, nature and character of the vehicle is less important than people’s interpersonal behavior within the system. Note that every pilot who enters the airline industry must obtain a type-rating for the aircraft they are going to fly and a route-training for the destination they are going to fly. Having a commercial pilot’s license alone is not enough; you need to understand the specific vehicle’s underlying form and experience piloting the vehicle to its intended destination.

This disregard for the vehicle has resulted in an erroneous belief that people “who bring their A-game” can outperform the capability and capacity of a business system. Using exhortations to motivate and encourage people to do the impossible is an unfair leadership practice because it sets people up for failure. Being the leader of a complex system, which most businesses are, requires understanding of the underlying form―the principles that explain relationships between cause and effect, and means and ends. You cannot lead a system “to the next level” that you fail to understand!

Some time ago, the Dutch bicycle industry had a slogan that said Buy from he who can also repair. This reflects the same idea that understanding of the underlying form makes for better sales people, riders, drivers, and pilots.

Conclusion

Leadership is neither an advanced or exalted form of management nor is it a substitute for management. Today, management is even more relevant than ever before because of system complexity. Dr. Edwards Deming presented statistics showing that ninety-four percent of every success and every failure is systemic, which means that both are produced by one and the same system. Only six percent of every success and every failure is directly attributable to an individual person or a group of people.

You do the math; ninety-four percent of a business system’s performance outcome is related to the underlying form and only six percent is related to people’s behavior. Which body of knowledge has the greatest impact on business performance; leadership or management?

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