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END OF MODULE ASSESSMENT (EMA) A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF “WHAT MAKES A GOOD MANAGER” 11 APRIL 2012 Total Word Count:2,727 Reference Word Count: 706 Cover Page: 37 Essay Word Count: 1,982
INTRODUCTION The purpose of this essay is to critically appraise the statement: “The range and the complexity of the demands and situations faced by managers mean that there can never be a generally agreed answer to the question: what makes a good manager?” The statement contains a range of assumptions in relation to existing management theories. One assumption is the notion that there can never be a common position on what makes a good manager. Does the statement, implicitly or otherwise, argue that modern organisations (national or international) are impervious to management theory scrutiny? There is certainly a vast array of academic literature pursuing the issue from a variety of perspectives (Hales, 1999). I propose to evaluate this statement through the prism of leadership and decisionmaking theories. At a personal level, the answer to “what makes a good manager” will invariably be subjective, incorporating personal bias and draw upon an employee’s personal set of experiences. Individual cognitive styles have a profound effect on the way people communicate and relate to each other. Adopting a scientific approach enables the removal of emotions and facilitates a more focused discussion about what a good manager is (or is not). MANAGER VERSUS LEADERSHIP For decades management theorists have devoted considerable effort to analyse what a good manager might look like. The use of adjectives such as successful, effective or responsible managers demonstrates the diversity of effort. Theorists such as Buckingham (2000), Prahalad (2010), Bartlett and Ghoshal (2003) highlight traits and behaviours they consider to appear in “responsible, great or global” managers. Whetstone (2003) highlights good managerial behaviours through a tripartite structure of: being (who the manager is), behaviour (how the manager acts) and results (outcomes). Luthans (1988) published his taxonomy of behaviours common to successful and effective managers, reporting successful managers engaged in networking and more communication than unsuccessful managers. Kent et al (2001) published “leading” and “managing” competences on a functional basis. 2
Complementary work has assessed the extent to which managerial skills have evolved since the 1980’s (Gentry et al, 2008,) or the extent to which Mintzberg’s (1973) ten management roles and thirteen managerial characteristics remain relevant. With this diverse source of material, why has it not become possible to reach a more universally agreed position on what makes a good manager? TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN? One possible reason is the extent to which management and leadership (or managers and leaders) are considered as either separate processes or simply a difference in style (Kotterman, 2006). Talbot (1997) stresses the absence of consensus on what constitutes “management” and the lack of agreement on what managerial skills are as leading to “little agreement on what competencies are needed to be a good manager”. Despite this lack of clarity, “management and leadership” and “manager and leader” are used interchangeably within academic literature, leading to confusion over the respective organisational roles of managers (Toor and Ofori, 2008). Kotter (1990) distinguished ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ as different processes and outcomes. Zaleznik (1977) makes a similar point claiming that “management and leadership” are qualitatively different”. Taking a different approach, Mintzberg (1971) asserts that leadership is the most widely recognized of managerial roles. In a later paper, Mintzberg (1994) proceeds to make the case that both leadership and management are important to the balanced development of managing. Alvesson and Sveningsson (2003), cited by Vie (2010), highlight the overlap between the two styles. With the leadership versus management debate ongoing, these diverging perspectives and lack of clarity make responding to diverse and complex situations increasingly more difficult.
ALTERED CONTEXTS: GLOBALISATION AND COMPLEXITY Globalization has fundamentally altered the managerial landscape and business environment. Changes to organisational structures, flatter hierarchies and new working practices have introduced new levels of complexity. These changes occur at a national and international level as managers are moved more frequently across international boundaries or cultures. Such change and levels of complexity has led managers to look for answers within other management theories. Complexity theory can provide a useful framework for helping managers understand how they can help themselves and their organisation adapt to their environment. Tetenbaum (1998), cited by Smith (2005) highlighted seven drivers that had led some managers to seek refuge in complexity theory: technology, globalization, competition, change, speed, complexity and paradox. According to Smith (2005), complexity theory as a management tool can be used to induce the emergence of innovative solutions that managers can utilize in the process of managing complex situations. An additional benefit for managers from complexity theory is its ability to enable an understanding of organisational behaviours at the expense of encountering the paradox of control, leading to the imposition of more, rather than less, forms of control (inhibiting potential innovations and creative culture in the process). DECISION-MAKING WITHIN COMPLEX SPACE The process of decision-making is central to managerial work. Decisions can be straightforward or profound, with implications for the organisation and its employees. Interestingly Mintzberg (1971) identified decision-making as one of three distinguishing features of management (alongside interpersonal and informational skills). How then do managers (good, effective or otherwise) make decisions in complex, emergent and unplanned situations? Bounded rationality is a model of decision-making in which managerâ€™s settle for satisfactory, rather than optima, outcomes. This is deemed to be satisficing (Simon, 1956) which whilst it can
facilitate real-time decision-making, can also fail to deliver complete solutions, deferring more complex decisions for the sake of compromise outcomes. CONTINGENCY THEORY AND SENSEMAKING In most instances, decisions will be situational: contingent on the moment. This can lead to difficulties in defining more clearly how decisions are made by managers in response to complex situations - a criticism levelled by Schoonhoven (1981) who argues that contingency theory is not, in a conventional sense, a theory at all because of the ambiguity attached to the concept. Contingency theory functions on the premise that there is no one single best way to manage. This is a reflection of the reality that organisations, their employees and wider environmental factors are in relative states of constant flux. Connected to the process of contingency is the ability to make “situational” sense of a given situation. Weick et al (2005, p.410) state that sensemaking involves engaging uncertainty with questions such as “what is going on here” and “what do I do next”. This is considered crucial by Weick (Coutu, 2003) in a business environment defined by “more globalisation and high-velocity change”. In volatile environments, where agile decision-making may be a critical factor, sensemaking will be critical. The relevance of making sense of context and situations, and the link to decision-making theory is noted by Sargut and McGrath (2010) who affirm that “sensemaking is vitally important – with it, we would have no framework for viewing and understanding the world”. PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE AND REFLECTIONS I agree with the statement that the level of complexity and depth of management challenge will mean there will never be a generally agreed answer to the question “what makes a good manager?” The question of management versus leadership remains contested and will likely continue to do so. Theorists argue them as either mutually exclusive (e.g. Kotter and Zaleznik) or supporting (Mintzberg). Collectively they fail to provide multi-contextual clarity on what ingredients contribute to defining
‘good manager’ behaviour. Nor do they integrate factors such as international cultural adaptability, which in a global context matters (Hofstede, 1980, p.398). From a personal perspective I found the trait/behaviour lists insightful in raising my self-awareness and self-recognition. In my role as Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Macedonia, I am responsible for drafting the Embassy four-year business plan. This process I lead through stakeholder engagement (internal and external) and involves content-based conversations – behaviour considered to be ‘managerial’ by some theorists (e.g. Kotterman, 2006 and Capowski, 1994). Juxtaposed with this position is the reality that the business plan is a four year document that requires strategic context setting to ensure organisational support for its long-term goals. This “visionary ’behaviour is considered a ‘leadership’ competence. Other examples where I move between the two styles are when I delegate work to subordinates (manager) or creating a four-year Embassy “Reward and Recognition” strategy (leader). I recently attended a Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) course entitled “From Management to Leadership” that, inter alia, is designed to allow individuals to focus on differences between management and leadership. Within the FCO there is a clear distinction being made between leadership and management behaviours. This implicitly acknowledges that as individuals progress within the FCO, there is a greater need for leadership skills, and by extension, a lesser need for management skills (the name of the course reinforces this perspective). This could have implications for the future of the organisation (and my own career development as well, which I why I have found the course of studies very useful). I previously noted the extent to which complexity and uncertainty play an increasingly prominent role in contemporary organisational life. To separate leadership and management, treating them as decoupled concepts, risks diluting organisational talent and capabilities, reducing organisational effectiveness and eroding competitive advantage (Pindur et al, 1995).
There is a broad range of literature on what makes a good leader or a good manager. I have highlighted the extent to which both are used interchangeably. A further example of this can be found within global expatriate management, where global manager and global leader distinctions also remain contested (Suutari, 2002, cited by Cappellen and Janssens, 2010). From my own experience I can see the extent to which organisations, including my own, constantly look to find new ways of surviving and operating more effectively on a global scale, working across cultural, political, social-economic, military, cultural and functional boundaries. It is only good and proper that the debate continues on what environmental and organisational factors impact on the behaviours of managers. A manager may be ‘good’ in one context but “bad” in another setting. The importance of contextual awareness is highlighted by Martinko and Gardiner (1985) who note that managers behave differently within alternative environments. This supports the view that the relationship between sensemaking, decision-making and leader/manager traits, needs to be viewed in a holistic manner if managers and leaders are to deliver competent performances. CONCLUSION: A THIRD WAY: LEADER-MANAGERS In conclusion, Bass (1990), cited by Toor & Ofori (2008), argues that sometimes leaders manage and managers lead. From my own personal experience I agree with this comment. In smaller organisations, opportunities exist to flex managerial and leadership skills on a more frequent basis. The key point is that a combination of both skill sets is more preferable: “what is needed is better management and better leadership” (Hay and Hodgkinson, 2006, p3.13). Yukl (2002) builds this proposition by stating that a new label “leader-manager” may be more appropriate. This proposition has the benefit of recognising the value of combined set of skills, allowing the current debate about leadership versus management to move to one where the discussion is focused on the shared strengths of management and leadership. Kent (2005) supports this notion, stating
that the challenge is “to help organisations develop complete leader/managers”. This ‘synergetic effect’ can lead to the sum of the whole being greater than the two parts. Gardner (1990) argues that ‘leader-manager’ traits would encompass inspiration and vision, empowering employees and valuing their contributions. My own practice as a manager and leader has been influenced to the extent that I recognise these characteristics e.g. when leading and managing the business planning process (utilising a bottom-up/top-down methodology). I see the benefits of this in our annual staff survey data (where our leading and managing scores have increased substantially). In an increasingly globalised business environment, establishing what is called a “global mindset” can only enhance organisations working across boundaries and borders, diverse organisational cultures and dealing more effectively with levels of complexity inherent in the contemporary business environment. That is one of the many personal development lessons I take away from this MBA learning experience.
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Published on Jan 12, 2013