Eight to Late

Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

What is management?

with 2 comments

Most textbook definitions of the art of management (or science, depending on one’s leanings) aren’t particularly edifying. They all  somehow seem to miss the essence of what it means to be a manager.  Judge for yourself –  here are some definitions of management  gleaned from online resources:

  1. Directing and controlling a group of one or more people or entities for the purpose of coordinating and harmonizing them towards accomplishing a goal.  (Source: Wikipedia)
  2. The process of getting work done through people (Source: UNR College of Business Administration, attributed to the American Management Association).

Additionally, this article  provides an annotated compilation of definitions.

My problem with each of the above definitions  – including those in the article – is that they emphasise a superior-subordinate relationship between the manager and the managed. Now, the good managers (that I know)  go to great lengths to downplay the “I’m the boss” aspect of the relationship. Yet, the definitions – through their use of words like direct, control, supervise, manipulate, get done etc.  – continue to propagate a distorted notion of what it really means to be a manager.

To date, the best definition I’ve seen is tucked away in half a line on page 19 of Scott Berkun’s book, The Art of Project Management. Here it is; a simple and succinct definition that captures the essence of what it means to be a manager:

Managers (are hired to) amplify the value of everyone around them. (Source: Scott Berkun, The Art of Project Managment, O’Reilly Media Inc., Sebastopol, 2005 – Page 19)

“That’s it!”, I thought, when I first read it.

What I like about this definition is that it downplays the superior-subordinate aspect of management, which is not that important anyway. Instead it  highlights the fact that everyone has something to offer (special skills, talents, whatever),  and that a manager’s job is simply to amplify that “something” to best effect.  As an aside I should add  that, in my opinion,  the tired debates on management versus leadership are misplaced, as (good) management encompasses many elements of leadership as well.

I’m interested in your opinion. What do you think –   does Scott Berkun’s definition capture the essence of what it means to be a manager? Let me know through your comments.

Written by K

January 3, 2008 at 7:37 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Kailash – The Sith have found your blog most informative! Well done.

    As for the definition of management; the other thing that begs a question is – is there a difference between leadership and management?

    I believe the Scott Berkun quote is more on the leadership side of things. But whether it’s a manager manager… product manager, project manager, etc… the managing of something is the coordination of resources to accomplish the goal.

    So what is a “manager” managing? Project Managers manage Projects. Product Managers manage products. Managers… are People Managers, they manage people.

    In terms of job function, they’re hired for the explicit purpose of managing people, which implies the subordinate relationship, in order to achieve corporate goals. I don’t think you’ll ever see a job req for a Manager position have “amplify the value of everyone around them.”

    However, I believe that the amplifying of value is part of the execution of getting work done through your people. Amplify their value… get more work done.

    In the end, there has to be accountability.


    Darth Sidious

    February 17, 2008 at 11:27 am

  2. I thank the Sith for their interest in my blog!

    Regarding your comments, let me first say that I agree: management does indeed imply a superior-subordinate relationship (by definition). However, the good managers I’ve known downplay this aspect of the relationship and yet achieve better outcomes than the run-of-the-mill bosses. They’re somehow better at “amplifying the value of people around them”. Most definitions of management tend to miss out on this, important, aspect of the role. It is more on the leadership side of things – as you point out – but it is (or should be!) a significant part of being a good manager.

    In the end, of course, work needs to be done, and there has to be accountability for it as well. I believe, though, that those who are better at amplifying the value of people will also be better at getting things done.

    BTW, I’ve found many of the Sith’s observations (http://sithsigma.wordpress.com) to be very insightful.

    Thanks again for your interest and your comments.



    February 18, 2008 at 11:05 am

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