The idea of management is old. Very old. In an expansive work titled ‘A History of Management Thought’ (which this blog plans to examine in more detail in future posts- affiliate link here), management scholar Morgen Witzel examines management activity from Ancient Greek Roman, Chinese, Phoenician, and Egyptian cultures, spanning over 5000 years of history. After fifty centuries, one might have high confidence that we have a good idea of what exactly it involves. Well … maybe not so much.
Definitions of management are easy to find, and there are many. These definitions are similar and yet they do present subtle differences that expose differences ranging from slight contrasts to outright divergence. It would be painfully boring to present a bunch of definitions, so let me just provide an overview.
- Some emphasize the role of planning or making decisions on behalf of a business or organization.
- Others revolve around controlling resources, or coordinating activities, or leading people, or perhaps some combination of those.
- Still others are outcome focused, discussing making things happen or getting things done through people or groups or processes.
- A few brave souls attempt to capture all of these elements and mostly find that as coverage increases clarity and usefulness decrease.
- The boldest even seem to recognize the broad and to some degree enigmatic nature of management in the definition itself – Peter Drucker defined management as a ‘multi-purpose organ that manages business and manages managers and manages workers and work.’
Many (a frightening number, I would venture to say most and perhaps even the preponderance of) managers become so without much – or any – knowledge of the history of management, or of the nuances reflected in the many definitions of management, or even a single definition of management. I suppose the working definition in that case is ‘stuff I have to do and/or have seen other people do’. In itself, there is nothing remotely wrong with this. Like almost everyone else, you got the management job by virtue of being good at the job being managed, whether it was engineering, law, accounting or so on. But now, like everyone else, you find yourself only partially prepared for the broad and challenging demands of management.
If any of the preceding paragraph seems painfully familiar, this blog is for you. Not very long ago, we found ourselves in a very similar situation. Working really, really hard doing e-mails, actions, reports, presentations and on and on and on … and yet always feeling behind. We decided to do our homework and examine the practice of management from a systems perspective based on a combination of management theory coupled with real-life experiential knowledge. In this blog, we plan to share a perspective and framework that helps us at least some of the time. If you are the opposite case, and you are a management nerd who already knew everything in this post and never feels as if you are falling behind or out of control, this blog is most definitely for you – we kindly ask your help teaching us and anyone else who ventures along. Either way, we’ll see you in the comment section! – Eric