Leadership by Geoff Colvin

The future of management: Back to basics

November 17, 2010: 1:59 PM ET

By going back to a basic definition of management, we can help managers make better choices, rather than suggest they invent something that has never been thought of before.

By Julian Birkinshaw, contributor

When you ask children what they want to be when they are older, how many of them say they want to be a manager? I've certainly never met one who had such aspirations. In part this is because management is a pretty amorphous concept to a ten-year-old. But it's also because we adults aren't exactly singing the praises of the management profession either.

For example, in a 2008 Gallup poll on honesty and ethics among workers in 21 different professions, a mere 12% of respondents felt business executives had high/very high integrity -- an all-time low. With a 37% low/very low rating, the executives came in behind lawyers, union leaders, real estate agents, building contractors, and bankers.

What should we do about this? Some observers would like us to get rid of the word manager altogether, favoring terms like leader, coach and entrepreneur. But I believe a more useful approach is to reinvent management -- to go back to first principles, and recapture the spirit of what management is all about.

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