The 5 Dumbest Management Concepts of All Time

Geoffrey James

Here is an article written by Geoffrey James for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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It’s a truism that “nothing is certain in this world except death, taxes and bad management.”  But why?  Why does bad management remain so pervasive, even after decades of MBA courses, millions of management books, and billions spent on management training?

The root of the problem lies in five basic management concepts that became popular in the 20th century and continue to propagate stupidity.  As long as the business world kowtows to these obsolete management concepts, we’ll be plagued by managers who screw up.

Some of these concepts are dearly held panaceas for much of the business world.  Even so, they were ill-considered and ill-conceived from the start, and should be jettisoned for the good of everybody.

[Here are the first two. To read the complete article, please click here.]

Dumb Concept #1: “Downsizing”

Thousands upon thousands of articles in the mainstream business press characterize CEOs as “courageous” because they instituted a downsizing.  Apparently, the decision to fire people is so difficult, that the CEO who takes that path must be a brave and lonely soul.  He’s putting the interests of the investors ahead of his own kindhearted inclinations, and making the difficult decisions that will allow the company to remain profitable.

But, wait a minute, Chester!  How, exactly, did the company get into a situation where it needed to fire people in order to remain competitive? Sure, markets change like crazy in today’s world and business conditions become challenging.  But isn’t it the job of the CEO and the management team to predict those changes, and to staff the company appropriately, and retrain people, so that those challenges can be addressed?

Here’s the truth.  Downsizing is a sign of failure.  It means that management has failed and rather than doing the right thing — which is to quit without severance — they’re passing along the penalty for that failure to the people who, in good faith, tried to execute the flawed strategy that top management pursued.

That’s why top managers (and the kiss-butt journalists in the mainstream business press) love the word “downsizing.”  It makes the results of failure sound like a strategy, rather than a desperate way to remain profitable after top management has made a complete pig’s breakfast of things.

So, as we go forward, let’s stop calling it downsizing.  Let’s call it what it is: firing productive workers because top management  was a bunch of overpaid pinhead losers who shouldn’t be allowed to run a company again.

Dumb Concept #2: “Leadership”

A few years before he died, Peter Drucker was interviewed on NPR.  In that interview, he pointed out what should be obvious to everyone — that all this talk about “leadership” is a bunch of horse manure.

Yeah, yeah, the idea of leadership sounds neat — especially if you’re in management — and it makes a manager sound all charismatic and exciting.

But what is a “leader,” anyway?   What does a “leader” do?

I can’t hear the term without thinking of the leader of a marching band.  That’s the person who takes a big stick and makes it go up and down, while the band does the work of actually making the music.

One reason I think of that image is that, in my experience, most of the time the “leader” of the team is the person who found a parade and then got out in front of it.  (I once heard an executive in Fortune 50 company describe that odious behavior as “smart business practice.”)

The concept of a “leader” means that credit for what the team does goes to the leader.  And you see it every day, in the bloated salaries paid to “business leaders” and in the ridiculous way that some CEOs parade themselves as if they were rock stars.

You see it in the lower levels, too, where managers bloviate about leadership and “inspiring” people, when in fact they’re usually just making everyone under them want to puke.

What Drucker said — and I agree with him — is that the business world doesn’t need leaders. It needs managers — people who can actually manage a team of people.

Being a manager means being in service to the team.  It means giving the team credit and making everyone else successful.

So, as we go forward, let’s stop enabling all these tin-pot “leaders” by pretending that they’re doing anything other than grandstanding.  Let’s value the real managers, who actually do the hard (and largely thankless) work of making other people productive.

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Geoffrey James has sold and written hundreds of features, articles and columns for national publications including Wired, Men’s Health, Business 2.0, SellingPower, Brand World, Computer Gaming World, CIO, The New York Times and (of course) BNET. He is the author of seven books, including Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite (translated into seven languages and selected by four book clubs), and The Tao of Programming (widely quoted on the Web as a “canonical book of computer humor”.) He was also co-host of Funny Business.

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