The Management Delusion 

Every baffled new senior manager goes searching for answers in management/leadership books- but what these authors / management gurus really offer is the reassuring fantasy that there is a formula for success.

When I took up my first senior management post I was under no illusion that I knew what I was doing. My progress up to this point has been based on my skill and experience as a practiser, how I had experience being managed and my gut instincts. I knew enough to know that there were serious gaps in my knowledge. I had picked up sufficient jargon to bluff my way through meetings but I felt uncomfortable even out of my depth. My learning had been on the job with a few short in house courses on the practical stuff like recruitment, financial management, staff appraisal and equal opportunities.  The talk now was of business planing, strategies, being corporate, partnership working and of course political sensitivity. Like I said I knew the jargon. Value for money, performance management, efficiency and outsourcing, I was clear on the message if not always convinced. So what did other senior managers know that I didn't? 

There are hundreds of books on management and leadership. I have written some myself. There are books on successful leaders, books written on the characteristics of successful leaders and books identified by successful leaders as inspiring their success. I dipped in and out of a few, some told an interesting story but I didn't find any answers just a few good quotes to embellish my CV. In fact the books tend to contradict each other. As in " employees rate managers who are decisive and give off an aura of confidence" verses " employees don't rate managers who are over confident, don't listen and  are inflexible". According to the books an effective leader knows when to listen and when to act, when to back their own judgment and when to be persuaded by the arguments of others. They don't say how you develop this skill, some imply unhelpfully that great leaders are born with it. Or may be it's as one author suggested effective managers are just lucky, their in the right place at the right time, they make the right call and there are no " events" to through them off track.


The tutors on my MBA didn't have much time for these " self help" books. What was required was some serious research linked to theories on organisations. In fact they were less interested in leadership and management and more interested in different ways of understanding how organisations worked. They did however like case examples, so did I. That's why my second book was sub titled Short Stories on Modern Management based on my own case examples. 

The books and the management gurus encourage the idea that the answer is out there. I didn't find what I was looking for in the books I just got more comfortable and confident in the role. I'm not saying don't read management books I'm saying I found typically they over promised and under delved. Anyway who has got time to read books.  I found articles in the professional press more likely to be topical, relevant and shorter.  But sharing experience with other senior managers and a good mentor was a lot more helpful than anything I read. 

Blair McPherson former director author and mentor 



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