Which is It? Overmanaged and Underled — OR, Undermanaged and Overled? How about Undermanaged and Underled?

In Leading Change, John Kotter states that some organizations try to implement a change program which is then likely to be “overmanaged and underled.”  In The Leadership Pipeline:  How to Build the Leadership-Powered Company by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel, that theme is more broadly developed.  They write:

Because of the new business realities, including ever increasing and unpredictable complexity; AND, because businesses “dramatically reduced their investment in talent development, greatly reducing or even eliminating training programs, development assignments, and time for coaching,” the famine for leaders is acute.

1.              The need for leaders has grown exponentially.
2.              There are not enough leaders to meet the demand.
3.              There is not enough “talent” from which to develop enough leaders.
4.              The inevitable consequence is that many (most?) companies are at least partly underled, thus underperforming.

Other authors, almost too numerous to mention, echo such sentiments.  Now comes The Best Leadership Is Good Management:  Too many so-called leaders fancy themselves above the messy, but crucial, work of managing by Henry Mintzberg in the latest Business Week (published on-line on Aug. 6, 2009).  Mr. Mintzberg argues that the opposite is true.  He states:

Corporate America has had too much of fancy leadership disconnected from plain old management.
We’re overled and undermanaged. As someone who teaches, writes, and advises about management, I hear stories about this every day: about CEOs who don’t manage so much as deem—pronouncing performance targets, for instance, that are supposed to be met by whoever is doing the real managing.

So – which is it?  I suggest that it is both.  I think there has been a failure in management.  This is the point of such books as Execution and Six Disciplines Execution Revolution.  Execution is all about management processes, actually getting the job done, well, and on time.  But I think we also face a failure of leadership.  It is leadership failure that keeps companies from facing an uncertain future with a strategy to survive and thrive.  How many have said that General Motors should have seen the changing landscape far before it did?  Leadership is about seeing the big picture, setting the direction—and then making sure that the job gets done.

So – I agree that we’ve got to get a whole lot better at management.  But we’ve also got to get a whole lot better at leadership.

Robert Greenleaf nailed this years ago in Servant Leadership.  He described two kinds of leaders.  His terms were different:  Conceptualizers and Operators.  But the two roles are the same – an organization needs leaders to help them see the future (conceptualizers), and leaders who can make that future happen (operators).

So, here’s Randy weighing in on the debate.  I think Mr. Mintzberg is both right and wrong.  He is right – we are undermanaged.  But he is wrong – we are not overled.  Too many American organizations are, sadly, both undermanaged and underled.

3 thoughts on “Which is It? Overmanaged and Underled — OR, Undermanaged and Overled? How about Undermanaged and Underled?

  1. Ed Savage

    Which is it?

    Over managed by a wide margin. General Motors was over managed for generations. Some executives saw that something needed to be done (could not totally deny 40 years of declining market share in the U.S. They were however, unwilling or unknowing of how to step up and make the changes happen.

    As bad as Roger Smith was (and he was bad), he set up a few incredible change experiments like Saturn and NUMMI (sp) (and he was incredibly good). What he was unable to do was truly act on the results or incorporate the lessons learned. New production methods, new labor relations, new customer relations, new ways to manage just jumped out of these efforts. He did little to develop people who could carry on his change efforts or even lead the organization. Nor would he make the cuts needed like keeping Chevy, Pontiac, and Cadillac and throwing away the rest. The cost 20 years ago is minor compared to the cost of the current bankruptcy.

    GM was managed to death in an interpretation of Sloan’s structure. Leadership, when there was some, escaped to better places leaving huge voids in GM.

    So, overmanaged and under led.

    Not fair to pick on GM, there are so many organizations that don’t change and it may take years, decades, but that failure to change, that lack of leadership, spells eventual doom. And that is the problem whern the average CEO has a term of 3 years, it never hits on their watch.

    I liked the quote from the August 2009 synopsis Randy from My Space’s CEO regarding change, the 6 year old company’s employees must go back to be the startup mentality it had in order to be successful.


  2. Mike Mayeux

    I agree with Randy. It’s both, but you have to add a third element. The cadence of change of an org. Daily evolution is required or your org will die.

    Three truths in business. Leadership will move people forward but never organizes them. Management will organize people but not move them. Change always comes hard and at a high price. Sacred cows freeze time and blocks change so it’s just a matter of time after that.

    There are many companies who at one time where well managed by brilliant leaders, who have just failed to keep up that level of performance. What works today will not always work tomorrow.

  3. Randy Mayeux Post author

    This is terrific dialogue. You have all three added to this discussion. Bob, I agree — the “right” level of management (and leadership) would make the right difference.
    Here’s what I know — too many companies are failing to reach their potential, so right-managing, and right-leading, and the right cadence of change, would all make the right difference.
    But, to agree with Ed — it all starts with right-leading. That sets the direction, and the pace.


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