Project Description

IN MANY circles, we persist in referring to people as resources or assets or — the other dreadful yet common expression — as capital.

In my mind, such labels suggest that people don’t matter, only the organisation’s balance sheet does.

I am all for changing this. I am doing so with great respect for the many people I know who have the letters “HR” in their career title. I know their label doesn’t signify who they really are or what they do.

I believe that there is a nasty hangover in many organisations from the Industrial Revolution and particularly the idea of American management theorist Frederick Taylor — that people are replaceable cogs in an organisational machine.

I find it incredible that 100 years on, some people still think this way.

Today, I am naming the great elephant in the room, the obvious truth (at least to me) that is ignored or unaddressed: Management that sees people as replaceable cogs, and everything associated with this ideology, is dead.

What would happen in your business if management were no longer about people, but all about tasks and efficiency?

As far as I am concerned, modern management is all about efficiency. Modern management is therefore all about systems, processes, procedures. It’s about doing things right.

The secret to success is doing the right things — those that are good for people. Efficient management needs effective leadership — one without the other can lead to disaster.

Leader or manager

About 20 years ago, I was asked this question by a group of chief executive officers: “In your view, how is leadership different from management?”

I replied that one was about effectiveness, the other about efficiency; one was all about relationships and the other was all about tasks.

There was a lot of laughter in the room when one person asked: “Which one is which?” I took the bait and said: “In short, leadership is about people and management is about systems.”

A great discussion followed. A few hours later, I wrote in my journal: “Leadership is the art of inspiring people to bring everything remarkable they are, that one-of-a-kind each of us is, to everything they do.

“Leadership falters and usually badly without management. Management is the science of making it simple for people to bring everything remarkable that they are to everything they do.”

About 15 years ago, I replaced the word “science” with the word “practice”. I stand by my definitions. They have stood by me and my clients.

The great thinker and so-called father of management Peter Drucker nailed it when he said: “One does not ‘manage’ people. The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

So why are so many leaders trying to manage people? Beats me.

When I first created my definitions of leadership and management, I was also influenced greatly by American computer scientist Rear-Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. She said: “You manage things; you lead people.”

So why do so many leaders try to manage people? I only know of one reason.

A lot of people — men, in particular — like to plan, organise and control. These are still management functions. They are just not relevant to people.

To bury the beast called “people management”, we have to let go of the need to command and control. We cannot change the past. We can learn from it and celebrate the lessons. We can create the future.

Article by Ian Berry, an international business speaker, workshop leader and author with Training Edge International.