The field of management has been devoted much of studies and researches since the beginning of the twenty-first century. From the classical management theory to the professionalisation of management, from the emergence of managerial hierarchies to the inter-professional competition, however, the development of management studies has for a long time not been easy to answer the basic question, ‘What do managers do?’ Controversy always lies in the clashes of the view of ‘managers as rational actors’ or ‘bounded rational actors’, and ‘managers as cultural icons’ view. Based on these perspectives, arguments have also been developed over the issue of how important the managerial leadership is for the running of effective organisations. But it seems to be clear that, without a proper answer to these questions, how to design planning or information systems for managers, or even how to improve the practice of management, will be a myth.
The answer provided by Drucker states that “The manager is the dynamic, life-giving element in every business. Without his leadership ‘the resources of production’ remain resources and never become production. In a competitive economy, above all, the quality and performance of the managers determine the success of a business, indeed they determine its survival. For the quality and performance of its managers is the only effective advantage an enterprise in a competitive economy can have.” (Drucker, 1995, 13).
This famous ‘definition’ has, to a certain extent, outlined the general characteristics of modern managers. By this definition, a manager can be regarded as someone who is assigned a position of leadership in an organisation, as a rational tool to embody and carry out the central tasks of the organisations, hence to secure the organisation’s desired goals. This thought gives the managers’ perceived function a very ‘honorary’ comment, as Drucker also points out that: the (managers’) functions are ‘indispensable’ and are ones which ‘no-one but the manager can perform’ (Drucker, 1997, 39).
Similar perspective, known as ‘managerial revolution’, developed by Berle and Means also provides support to this idea. According to the perspective, they see managers as key agents in modern corporations, managers with different background and experience exercise leadership in some form, as well as exercise social responsibilities. It was often assumed that managers are ‘rational implements of scientific management’. The rise of significance of professional managerial elite becomes indisputable. More radical version of this view even ‘envisaged a managerially planned and controlled society beyond the workplace, with management becoming the dominant class of all industrial societies’ (Burnham, 1945).
More concrete descriptions about management functions have been introduced by Fayol. He identified five basic management functions, of which consisted of ‘planning general lines of action and forecasting; organising human and material resources within appropriate structures; commanding the activities of personnel for optimum return; co-ordination of varied activities and control to ensure consistency with rules and command’ (Thompson and McHugh, 2002, 88). This classification of manager’s activities has reflected the division of labour, as well as hierarchy of the bureaucratic enterprise. Through these functions, Fayol perceive that management would have the capacity to represent and integrate all interests to apply optimal solutions for the organisation, and act as a rational player in the corporate system.
Mintzberg’s study has brought arguments which might against these points. His study of various kinds of managers, including five American chief-executives officers, tends to demonstrate that managers are unable to plan or operate rationally. He does this through breaking the thought away from Fayol’s words and introducing a, according to his view, more supportable and useful description of managerial work. In his article “The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact”, he breakdown the folklores relate to managerial work and deemed the traditional management literature ‘not withstand careful scrutiny of the facts’.
For example, he emphasises that managers work at an unrelenting pace, and their activities are characterised by brevity, variety and discontinuity, and they are ‘orientated towards action’ and not reflective activities, while the folklore states that ‘the manager is a reflective, systematic planner’; whereas he perceive that managerial work has strong attachment to ‘line action’, and involves performing a great deal of various regular duties, the folklore says ‘the effective manager has no regular duties to perform’. He also overthrown the folklore that ‘the senior manage needs aggregated information, which a formal management-info system best provides’, by introducing the fact that great attractions lie in the ‘verbal media’, such as phone calls and meetings. Instead, he described the manager’s job in terms of various roles, or organised sets of behaviours identified with a position, of which comprise ten roles.
These ten roles can be classified into three categories: Interpersonal roles, which include figurehead, leader and liaison roles. These roles in turn give rise to the three informational roles, which contain monitor, disseminator and spokesman roles. These two sets of roles enable the manager to play the four decisional roles, of which include entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator roles. Detailed analysis can also be found from his article, The Manager’s Job (Harvard Business review, Jul-Aug, 1975, 49-61). Mintzberg concludes the implications of this study as “managers cannot ‘professionalise’; and successful managers rely on personal qualities”. The results of his study to some extent coincide with Simon’s emphasis on ‘bounded rationality’ of manager’s behaviour.
More recently, however, there has seen a shift from viewing managers as rational actors to cultural leaders. The study of ‘cultural approach’ has created a profound impact on management studies. Many large organisations have undergone major changes which always led by culture. Notably seen companies restructuring by the latest managerial fads or new environmental pressures. Companies are increasingly seeking to recruit managers, who have experience and ability to manage across different countries and cultures, because the culture in which an organisation operates is a critical aspect of context which creates demand on an organisations members.
This has become one of the key management and leadership issues for this century. As Peter and Waterman’s analysis based on ‘excellent’ American companies, such as IBM, introduced a new vision of modern managers: ‘understand home and host country value orientations’; ‘adapt management practise to local conditions’; ‘recognise the importance of local customs, religion, history and politics’; ‘focus on global performance, not local results’ and ‘balance need for control with need for flexibility’, etc. Draw all those ‘managers as cultural icons’ perspective together, it seems clear that, an approach to management style and competence with marginalizing the demands and challenges of contrasting cultural contexts, would be impractical and inadequate.
Recall Drucker’s famous statement, ‘the manager is the dynamic, life-giving element in every business. Without his leadership… For the quality and performance of its managers is the only effective advantage an enterprise in a competitive economy can have.’ This statement offers a quite general description of considering the central importance of managerial leadership for the running of effective organisations. To extend and spread analysis into every aspect of management, it may be useful to stress the term ‘effective organisations’. Mintzberg perceives that the manager’s effectiveness is significantly influenced by his/her insight into his/her own work. Managers’ performance depends on the extent to which they understand and respond to ‘the pressures and dilemmas of the job’. Thus, effective-running organisations tend to be equipped with those managers who can be introspective about their work.
This is represented in many aspects of management functions, such as carrying out negotiations, motivating subordinates, resolving conflict, establishing information networks and disseminating the information, and making decisions as well as allocating resources. All these managerial work is of particular importance in deciding the viability and continuity of the organisation. Drucker’s another statement also comment on the importance of managerial leadership to effective organisations: ‘…(leadership) is the lifting of a man’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a man’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a man’s personality beyond its normal limitations.
Nothing better prepares the ground for such leadership than a spirit of management that confirms in the day-by-day practises of the organisation strict principles of conduct and responsibility, high standard of performance…’ (Drucker, 1995, 195). Based on those comments and arguments, it may seem reasonable to believe that no job is more paramount to society and organisations than that of managers. Because it is the managers determining ‘whether our social institutions serve us well or whether they squander our talents and resources’ (Mintsberg, 1973).
Conclusion might be drawn based on different views of contents and importance of managerial work and leadership. Managers’ job compromises a wide range of activities, and can be analysed through the ‘rational actors’ and ‘cultural leader’ perspectives, both the classical management theory and newly developed cultural approach provide theoretical supportable base to them. Due to the importance of managerial work and importance, it is worthwhile to study it realistically, in the hope of making significant improvements in its performance.
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Drucker, F, Peter. 1995. The Practice of Management. London: Heinemann.
Morgan, Gareth. 1998. Images of Organisation. First Edition. London: Sage.
Pugh, Derek, S. 1997. Organisational Theory: selected readings. Fourth Edition. London: Penguin.
Thompson, Paul and McHugh, David. 1995. Work Organisations. Second Edition. London: MacMillan Press.
Thompson, Paul and McHugh, David. 2002. Work Organisation. Third Edition. New York: Palgrave.