Managing: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: September 18th, 2012 by bobmorris

Managing
Henry Mintzberg
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2009)
A brilliant explanation of “the practice of management”Whenever I ask someone, “What does a manager manage that is most important?”, some respond people, others work to be done, and still others resources. Thus far, no one has suggested what I think is most important: managing one’s self effectively. That determines how well or how poorly one manages anyone or anything else. Mintzberg apparently agrees because in this book, as he explains, “I observed twenty-nine different managers for a day each, writing this up in straight descriptions of what happened (as well as what was discussed) and conceptual interpretations of what I could make of these descriptions.” They comprise a remarkably diverse group in that their members represent all three of “conventional hierarchy levels” of management (top, middle, and bottom) in all sorts of organizations (i.e. business, government, health care, and social sector) located in major urban centers as well as more remote locations (e.g. Ngara, Tanzania). He was curious to know what they did, how and why they did it, and what their own perspectives on management are.

Here’s a passage in the first chapter that caught my eye: “It has been fashionable to distinguish leaders from managers…Frankly, I don’t understand what this distinction means in the everyday life of organizations. Sure, we can separate leading and managing conceptually. But can we separate them in practice? Or, more to the point, should we even try?” My own opinion is that in the healthiest organizations (whatever their size and nature may be), everyone at all levels and in all areas of operation lead or manage, depending on what is needed in the given situation. Consider this mosaic of Mintzberg’s own thoughts about various key issues:

“I believe we are now overled and undermanaged…In other words, leadership cannot simply delegate management; instead of distinguishing managers from leaders, we should be seeing managers as leaders, and leadership as management practiced well…The more we obsess about leadership, the less of it we seem to get…Accordingly, this book puts managing ahead, seeing it together with leadership as naturally embedded in what can be called communityship…It is to recognize that managing is neither a science nor a profession; it is a practice, learned primarily through experience, and rooted in context…Put together a good deal of craft with the right touch of art alongside some use if science, and you end up with a job that is above all a practice…The manager, by the definition used here, is someone responsible for the whole organization or some identifiable part of it. [Moreover] the manager has to help bring out the best in other people, so that they can know better, decide better, and act better. [Therefore] let’s recognize management as a calling, and so appreciate that efforts to professionalize it, and turn it into a science, undermine that calling.”

The material that Mintzberg provides this narrative is best viewed as his contribution to a deeper understanding and wider application of the core principles of what he views as the practice of effective management. Here are several of the areas that he rigorously examines:

The material that Mintzberg provides his narrative is best viewed as his contribution to a deeper understanding and wider application of the core principles of what he views as the practice of effective management. Here are several of the areas that he rigorously examines…and illuminates:

o “Toward a General Model of Managing” (Pages 47-50)
o “Strategic Planning as Framing? Deeming? Scheduling?” (63)
o “Some Myths of the Conductor as Leader” (71)
o Table 3.1 “ROLES OF MANAGING” (91)
o Table 3.2 “COMPETENCIES OF MANAGING” (92)
o “Form of Organization” (106-108)
o “The Job Context” (109-115)
o “The Temporal Context” (115-121)
o “Personal Styles of Managing” (121-133)
o “The Dilemma of Delegation” (173-179)
o “The Riddle of Change” (189-191)
o “A Framework for Effectiveness” (206-207)
o “Assessing Managerial Effectiveness” (221-225)
o “Development: From Management to Organization to Society to Self” (230-231)

Readers will especially appreciate, also, the material provided in the Appendix as Mintzberg provides the aforementioned “descriptions” of the day spent with eight of the managers “to anchor the use of this material in the book and to illustrate the rich and varied realities of managing” in a real-world context. “The descriptions of all twenty-nine days, as well as their conceptual interpretations, are available on www.mintzberg-managing.com, which is almost as long as the text of this book itself.”

Those who share by high regard for this book are urged to check out other books by Mintzberg, notably The Nature of Managerial Work (1973), Mintzberg on Management: Inside Our Strange World of Organizations (1989), Strategy Safari, co-authored with Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel (1998), Tracking Strategies: Towards a General Theory of Strategy Formation (2007), and Management? It’s not What You Think! co-authored with Ahlstrand and Lampel (2009).

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