What is Management?

A wide variety of definitions of “management” have been employed over the past century. Most of these definitions describe what managers do, with more recent research providing definitions that have emerged from exploring these managerial activities in the context of what results managers achieve. Over 25 years ago in 1982, Warren Bennis estimated that over 350 definitions of management had been proposed, all in the context of leadership, and all with some degree of “correctness”. This illustrates that there are many different ways to look at what management really is!

The perceived role of managers has converged substantially over the past several decades. Fayol (1949) identified the four behaviors of planning, organizing, coordinating and controlling as central to the task of management. Mintzberg (1973), as part of his doctoral dissertation, studied a collection of real engineers and managers to figure out the primary functions of the management role, and the jobs that managers actually did. He found that managers performed tasks in three basic areas: interpersonal communications, information gathering and assessment, and decision making. Kotter (1982), unsatisfied by the limitations of this study, followed up by observing a group of CEOs in their natural habitat. He found that social networking was not only the key activity of managers at the executive level, but the primary way in which they were able to execute and achieve their agendas. Luthans (1988) studied the results from all of his predecessors, and against the backdrop of a new data set, found that there were elements of accuracy in all of the prior definitions. He concluded that Fayol’s “traditional management” was complemented in the modern workplace by “people management” – followed by Mintzberg’s communications, and Kotter’s networking.

According to Kotter (2007), management is “the structured process of creating order amid complexity.” He contrasts his definition with a view of leadership as systemically inspiring a social group towards change within a dynamic external environment. This is consistent with the Burns (1978) view of transformational leadership as a combination of idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, individualized attention, and inspirational vision.

Bennis, W. (1982). What is leadership?
Burns (1978). Leadership.
Fayol, H. (1949). General and industrial management.
Kotter, J.P. (1982). The general managers.
Mintzberg, H. (1973). The nature of managerial work.

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