The present enormous offer of management and leadership courses may suggest that management is a career that could be learnt and should be aspired as a kind of supreme goal for any professional, independent from the discipline and industry, as resumed by Basecamp founder Jason Fried with the words:
“It’s unfortunate that management is the primary way to progress in one’s career”.
This idea might have it’s roots in a way of understanding democracy as a social organization of equal opportunities – in which anybody could become a king or queen, without further consideration that the very concept of monarchy implied leadership to be originated in divine command and not in merit or opportunity. Organizational theories, structure and theories of leadership are interdependent variables. It is not the aim to address the question if, and under which conditions, leadership or management and should be chosen as a career. Neither, shall the sublime difference between management and leadership analysed; management as an activity of maintaining, administering and operating a company; and leadership, as the discipline to guide, command, take strategic decisions and serve as model in an organization.
There are business contexts in which someone is thrown into the role of manager without a true alternative option. This is the case of most of our clients. We understand here that the manager is not simply the name of a function that allows for a higher salary. As a primer criterion, this article is understands the manager as the person who has the sole, or at least principle responsibility for the fortune of an enterprise, in a very existential way. We think here especially of two forms of business organization; the cooperative and the family business.
To understand the context of this article, imagine a business leader who has no other option, because she or he is the only heir of a family business, or because in group of people without any knowledge of the business world – one has been chosen as cooperative leader for being the only trusted by everbody. In this context, one premise, found in the same article of Jason Fried becomes highly problematic and shall be discussed here:
“We’re bad at most things by default”.
To proof this idea scientifically might be very complicated, if not impossible, for many reasons; what would “most things” mean, how would relevant “things” for measurement be selected, what means “by default”. The core idea of Fried is that management implies certain abilities and that abilities in general, and those for management in special could be learnt. He also implies that not everybody is equally apt for this position. By the way, this is another, very democratic idea – everybody has opportunity, but not everybody has the same ability, talent or interest, ergo only those who merit the position, based on those criteria, should be chosen for it. Fried’s statement is problematic for our client’s context for two reasons; one being very contextual and the other being of general interest.
The first issue we deal with, is that in a family business and in a cooperative, especially a rural cooperative, aptitude is the least important criteria, at least in practice. The most important question is trust, personal commitment and social merit. In a family business, someone might be considered the only acceptable manager, because he or she is the last heir, or the only one of the family still interested in the company’s welfare. There are many good articles and book in the market who help further with the question under which conditions a person should really be considered the last resort for company management and when to outsource management – despite the person’s poor performance in the field. There are also good publications which give advice on leadership styles, indirect leadership and other resources which might support a leader in her activities without compromising her symbolic position. We will not discuss this here further.
What concerns most about the idea that “we’re bad at most things by default”, is that, as Fried admits, management besides skills and knowledges of business administration or economics, requires foremost abilities to lead people. If one considers himself being bad a most things, he will naturally think the same of his employees and cooperators, won’t he? Fried compares management with sports in order to stress the idea, that it requires training. And he also mentions that not everybody has the same capacity to be trained as a manager. But what is this ability that demonstrates a person’s talent for management?
We think that the unique trait of a manager as leader is to see in what people are good!
It is not about market opportunities, tight calculations and charisma. Before anything else, a manager has to understand what people are good for and good in.
No business is run without people!
You can’t find market opportunities to understand people’s needs, i.e. potential clients’ needs. Needs are primarily based on the personal strive to survive, grow and develop as persons in this world.
You won’t control the supply chain, if you don’t understand how people overcome their limitations and get motivated to reallocate their schedules, work times and work relationships.
You won’t improve your value chain, if you don’t understand what value is, how it is created and why people value certain things over others. It’s all about finding people’s mutual compatible needs.
Finally, you need to understand, why you are or should be in this leading position. There are no good or bad reasons, there are only true or false reasons. An honest introspection can help to find your true reasons – and the family’s or cooperatives reasons for setting you in this position. This will help you to detect shortcomings and overcome them, in order to become a good leader for the success of the business as a whole and your personal satisfaction.