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Mintzberg, in a recent Harvard Business Review survey, was picked by leading management gurus as one of the thought gurus they follow closely.
Corporate Dossier caught up with the man they call Mintzberg as he was visiting France, for a freewheeling discussion on his views on the state of management. He was at his provocative best as he tore into popular beliefs about business, management and leadership. �Mostly, leadership is about getting other people to be heroic in a sense. But what we have instead, are an increasing number of ego trips � leaders who are less concerned with stimulating others, and more with making big dramatic decisions themselves.� If you are shocked, don�t be. Mintzberg, who is the Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada and also teaches at INSEAD in France, has always been this way.
For more than 30 years of his career, his views on strategy and organisations have been kicking up many a storm and dispelling long-cherished management ideas.
Mintzberg also sees a big shift in the way businesses are being run today.
A major part of the problem is the obsession with charismatic and heroic leaders, who become the face of the organisation and give the impression of single-handedly turning the company around or delivering a brilliant performance. Says Mintzberg, �Chief executives want to push up their share prices, want to get the attention of the press, so they do dramatic things. But often those things are ill thought out, as we saw with Vivendi or AOL-Time Warner, or AT&T , and we�re not getting better leadership or more effective management. We�re getting a heroic view of leadership, and I think it�s making things far worse.� Staggeringly high compensation packages add fuel to fire, and Mintzberg agrees that CEOs are under intense pressure to portray themselves as swashbuckling saviours, which they aren�t: �We say that organisations are about networking and knowledge workers, yet we are centralising organisations around chief executives, to a degree that�s startling, at least in the publicly traded American corporations. And we�re paying those people in obscene ways as if the entire organisation depends only on them.� In this day and age of high profile charismatic leaders, according to Mintzberg, what�s missing are the fundamental truths about how a business should be run.
Mintzberg assails managers for focussing on improving shareholder returns and taking their eyes off the real issues, like serving the customer well and inspiring their employees to perform better which he terms �managing Quietly�.
�Shareholder value is a fancy term for pushing up the price of the stock, and what it means is corporate social irresponsibility.� Indeed, beneath the veneer of glamorously projected corporations, there lurk bigger problems that need to be addressed, says Mintzberg. The corporate scams that have become a regular feature in the past few years have only managed to expose part of the malaise. �Enron is not the problem. It�s just the tip of the iceberg that�s above the surface; it�s the revealed illegal corruption that can be dealt with in court. The problem is the legal corruption, the exploitation of customers, of workers, and high executive compensation � all of that is the legal corruption that�s undermining the whole economic system,� thunders Mintzberg.
Mention the words �strategic planning� and you�ve touched a raw nerve. Critical of the very concept of formalising the strategy process, Mintzberg opts for the term �strategic thinking� as a more effective and practical approach � which was the subject of his 1994 book, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning .
�Most strategic planning would be an extrapolation of existing strategies because what�s called strategic planning is really strategic programming,� says Mintzberg, and goes on to add, �It seems you can programme a process that will magically give your strategy � it just doesn�t work. Strategy comes from clever people who can synthesise a lot of information. You don�t get strategy through analysis; it evolves out of efforts and experiments and tasks, where little ideas grow into big initiatives.� But given that businesses today have to function around a greater degree of complexity, isn�t the task of managing today more difficult than it was in the past? Mintzberg doesn�t buy these arguments and in fact dismisses them summarily. �Was the Depression a simple time, WW II a simple time?� he counters. �I hear all this about change, change, change � a lot of it is nonsense... some things are changing and some things aren�t. We only notice the things that are changing.� For all his focus on managers and managing, leaders seem to be conspicuous by their absence in Mintzberg�s framework of management thinking, and he clearly doesn�t like being drawn into the manager versus leader debate. �I don�t like that distinction. I�m not against leadership. I just think that managers have to lead and leaders have to manage. Managers who don�t lead are boring, and don�t motivate anybody; and leaders who don�t manage are disconnected, and they don�t know what�s going on.�
But Mintzberg reserves his strongest criticism for management education. While his theories and ideas have been studied by business school students the world over, Mintzberg sees a mismatch between what business schools claim to teach � management � and what they actually deliver � business skills.
Mintzberg, who is himself a doctorate from Sloan at MIT, puts it down to the kind of people business schools admit, and their approach to teaching management. In fact, Mintzberg�s new book, Managers not MBAs , which is releasing this month, deals with this issue.
He concludes by telling us that the numbers-driven and formulaic approach to managing businesses is overrated, and he attributes equal importance to gut-feel and intuition: �Peter Drucker said in the 1950s that the days of the intuitive manger are numbered, and I say we�re still counting.�