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InfoQ Homepage News Noted Professor Decries "Macro Management"

Noted Professor Decries "Macro Management"

Dr. Henry Mintzberg, an outspoken and controversial scholar in the areas of management and business strategy, recently challenged [pdf] "the heroic leadership so commonly portrayed in the press – the great one who rides in on the white horse to save the day...", insisting that this separation of leadership from management is part of a pervasive problem in both business and education.  He suggested that businesses and communities stand to gain by applying models where the leadership role is shared.
We have this obsession with “leadership”.  Its intention may to be to empower people, but its effect is often to disempower them.  By focusing on the single person, even in the context of others, leadership becomes part of the syndrome of individuality that is sweeping the world and undermining organisations in particular and communities in general.

...We hear a great deal about micro managing these days – managers who meddle in the work of those who report to them.  Sure it can be a problem.  But more serious now is macro managing – managers who sit on "top,” pronouncing their great visions, grand strategies, and abstract performance standards while everyone else is supposed to scurry around "implementing". I call this "management by deeming."

We have too much of this leadership apart – the hyped-up, individually focused, context-free leadership so popular in the classroom as well as the press.
Writing in the Financial Times on October 23rd, Mintzberg decried management which is selected and imposed from "outside" a group, and voiced a need for more “distributed leadership,” in which the role is fluid, shared by various people in a group according to their capabilities as conditions change.  He also suggested that the word "leadership" may poorly describe this model, as its effectiveness lies not in any individual (the leader), so much as in the collective social process – essentially in community.  He wrote:
How about if we challenge every single speech, programme, article, and book using the word "leadership" that does not give equal attention to "communityship" in one form or another?  This could have profound implications, not only for the effectiveness of our organisations, but also for the democracy of our societies.
This may sound surprising, coming from the current holder of the Cleghorn Chair of Management Studies at McGill University, but he does value both leadership and management, when practiced in a balanced way.  In the article, he talked about "appropriate leadership" and "just enough leadership" - phrases that sound rather like terms used Agile software development circles.  Mintzberg has been challenging prevailing ideas in his field for a long time: Della Bradshaw, writing in the Financial Times described Mintzberg's role as a controversial thought leader in business education circles:
Prof Mintzberg’s views on management education have long been controversial in business schools circles, but have often proved prescient. He has spent the past decade railing against the traditional teaching conducted on North American MBA programmes. ...Prof Mintzberg argues that the conventional MBA classroom overemphasises the science of management at the expense of its practice, and that most MBAs are too young to appreciate what they are being taught.
Mintzberg elsewhere proposes that post-graduate management programs would be more effective if they targeted practising managers (as opposed to younger students with little real world experience), and emphasised practical issues over theory.  Such programs, whose students would likely have seen and experienced "hero leadership," might also provide more fertile ground for his ideas about collaborative leadership and the effectiveness of self-managing groups.

Mintzberg holds a PhD from from the MIT Sloan School of Management, is an Officer of the Order of Canada and of  L'ordre national du Quebec, and in 1994 authored The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, criticising some widely used practices of strategic planning, and considered by some to be required reading for those involved in strategy-making within their organisations. 

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