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Are You Guilty of Practicing Lofty Leadership?

Here’s what management legend Henry Mintzberg has to say about it.

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BY Entrepreneurs Organization - 05 Feb 2019

lofty leadership

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) is committed to its mission of helping entrepreneurs learn and grow to new levels of leadership. Fostering strong relationships with the managers who drive success in your company is critical to growth. We asked Henry Mintzberg, founding partner of Coaching Ourselves, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal, an award-winning management consultant, and author or coauthor of 20 books including his latest, Bedtime Stories for Managers, to share his view on the changing landscape of management and how it impacts growth. Here's what he shared:

In your 50 years as a writer and educator focused on management practices and development, how has the style, practice and perception of good management evolved?

I believe that good managing is fundamental; the content of the practice changes but not the best aspects of the practice. What I have noticed over the years is an unfortunate trend of more and more bad management--by which I mean management that favors lofty leadership that's disconnected from what actually goes on, on the ground, in organizations.

The remedy for this is what I call engaging management, where people are involved and knowledgeable about the day-to-day operations of their companies. CEOs tend to spend a lot of time with other C-suite executives. What they should do is escape the C-suite and spend more time with people in the organization who can offer a completely different perspective.

In fact, I'm a proponent of eliminating the term "top management" altogether. "Central management" has a far more appealing ring to it.

What is the most significant challenge for leaders in our evolving technological age?

The danger of some technologies, particularly email and the internet, is that they can remove managers farther from the action, as they pretend to manage on a screen. While you can communicate instantly with your entire staff via daily emails, how completely are you really communicating with them?

Yes, technology is continuously changing, but it's important to recognize what hasn't changed: Our food, friends, furniture and fixations are mostly still the same, right? I mean, as you dressed yourself this morning, you likely employed a 13th-century German invention: the button.

In a similar vein, human relationships and the need to foster them haven't changed. You can't see facial expressions or decipher gut reactions from your staff via an email response. Meeting face-to-face and nurturing relationships remains the cornerstone of managerial excellence.

Many technologies intended to make our work easier simply increase the frenetic pace of managing and thereby drive more of it over the edge.

It's no secret that managers don't always agree with the company's owner, and that founders are sometimes displeased with their managers. How can the two work together?

I believe that an excessive reliance on numbers is often the problem, so as difficult as it may be, try not to make numbers the main focus. When you manage the bottom line only, it's as if you make money by managing money instead of focusing on the importance of your products, services and customers.

An entrepreneur knows the company best and feels most strongly about it because he or she has the deepest investment in its success. While entrepreneurs may hope to transmit that depth of feeling to managers, they'll never be able to do so to the same degree that they feel it. On the other hand, managers may feel that the owners of their company tend to micromanage and get too involved with the details. That can be necessary when an intricate vision is being brought to fruition, but each side has to respect the other for it to work smoothly. Focus on cultivating that respect.

What's the most surprising thing you've discovered about leaders during your years of studying them?

My first surprise was the biggest: During my doctoral thesis research, I observed five chief executives who were interrupted an awful lot. I came to discover that they, in fact, encouraged such interruptions because they're so action-oriented. Who knew!?

You've written extensively about the need to regain balance in our society. How do you view the role entrepreneurs can play in achieving that balance?

Entrepreneurs, and business people in general, need to make social change from their sphere of operationthe marketplace. All businesses need to be run responsibly, and to do that, they can contribute through their business activities to the social changes we require. For example, companies can make an impact by contributing better and better equipment to deal with climate change while adopting environmentally friendly practices in their own operations.

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