The Nature of Management

As Marjorie Kaplan, President of the Animal Planet and Science networks, noted in a recent interview, “it’s easy to be somebody’s friend. It’s harder to be their manager.”  While both are relationships they are different relationships.  What is the difference?  Likely it rests on the purpose or objective of why you are in the relationship.


Friends are in relationship because they like each other’s company and each like to associate with the other and each finds doing things together satisfying.  In practice friends tend to trust and have concern for each other, with the better the friendship the better the depth of trust and concern.   We have friends because we, as human beings, need interaction with other people—yes we’re social beings.


More than Individual ME’s

We are social beings as much as we are individual beings: people exist as individual beings as well as collective beings. There is an ‘I-We’ nature to our very being! Accordingly, we should not exist as independent selves—a bunch of ME’s–running about seeking to get what one can for one’s self as this would be destructive to humankind.  Moreover, if a person is inhibited or prevented from relating to other human beings, then his/her development will be diminished and feelings of desolation and despair will increase.  This is why people abhor solitary confinement and why those who are placed in isolation lose their (sense of) humanness and tend to lash out, exhibiting violent behavior against others.


Thus not only do individuals exist, so too do human cultures.  What this says is that we each have our individual world of experience and we each need to share a collective world of experience.  We each need to be part of a We!  Friendship is a means to satisfying the need for social interaction and to form a collective world within which to have a human (social) experience.  In trusting friendship we are also inclined to share and even reveal our personal concerns with another—relating to each other as persons.


Manager as Functionary

Traditionally the manager-subordinate relationship is one whose purpose is functionary where each represents an aspect of an organization’s work. It is an economic contractual arrangement that rests on legitimate authority of manager over subordinate—hence the term subordinate.  In this way the superior-subordinate relationship aligns with the vertical nature of hierarchy—power over those below and subordinate to those above.  Hence, all that is needed is the positional authority and voila you are a manager!  You are one who is put in (positional) relationship with others for a reason other that fact that each is a person. In practice trust of, and concern for one another are not the basis of this (functionary) relationship, as both are objects to be utilized toward furthering the business’ material gain.


Since this relationship rests on positional authority mistakenly most managers—denying their personhood—rely on the fact that they are the superior and those in positions below are subordinate to them. As Marjorie Kaplan insightfully recognizes “management is also lateral.”  What this means is that not only do you have to manage those over which you have legitimate authority, you also have to manage those over whom you have no authority—those at and above your level of the hierarchy.   This creates difficulties in object-to-object relationships.


I am reminded of an ancient Chinese adage expressed in the question “if people deal with those below them in the same terms as what they wish from those above them, who would not be grateful?” Treating people respectfully—not as an object but as a valuable person as you are—will engender trust and show a level of concern for the other.  Talk about winning the hearts and minds of others!  A relationship that rests on these qualities is far more helpful and productive than one relying solely on (implicit or explicit) contractual obligation: Isn’t this what all managers should seek to work with people who are helpful and productive? So this approach that requires developing helpful and productive relationships also applies to those over which you have authority.


Manager as Person

Are we suggesting that the manager-subordinate relationship should be based on friendship?  No, there need not be intimate sharing of one’s private life.  But it should be based on trust and concern like that of a good partnership.


Partnership implies equal status, not subservient status. Partnership requires a relationship, and a corresponding responsibility, that is not formally imposed but rather internally acknowledged.  In partnership relationships each makes a commitment not solely to the other, but to the We—the social collective—that is formed in and through a human relationship.


Kaplan speaks to the need in business organizations for helpful and productive relationships: “I think part of management is bringing people along. I want people to feel brave about their ideas. It’s really about saying, “Bring your best self.” Bring your best self every day to work. Bring your best self to the conversation. Bring your best self to the presentation. And we will give you something back. We’re investing in you. You’re investing in us, we’re investing in you.” You can’t bring people along if you don’t develop trust through a respectful and caring relationship—objects don’t engage and develop, people do.


Why is partnership not characteristic of the manager-subordinate relationship?  It is likely because such a relationship requires internal acknowledgement of our ‘I-We’ nature, particularly on the part of the one holding positional authority. By acknowledging our ‘I-We’ nature, a partnership simultaneously helps us meet our individual and collective needs; it brings to light the joint responsibility we each have for self-development and for our collective development.  Quite simply, it speaks to humanly productive relationships for progress.  As Kaplan asserts “I think that, on some level, managing without authority is a life skill. People do it in other parts of their lives. The point is that you have to be true to yourself. I think the ability to manage really comes from being true to yourself, and treating people respectfully.”  Yes in other parts of a manager’s life he/she actually acts out of his/her personhood—they have friends and are friends to others.  One cannot partition one’s life and yet remain whole—it is not the way of integrity.


So good management—which is often referred to as leadership—has more to do with interior development than skills training. Such interior development includes: the development of self, moral development, social development, emotional development, and intellectual/cognitive development.  In developing our humanness we acknowledge our ‘I-We’ responsibility, and with this the need to base our management more on our personhood and less on our authority.

5 thoughts on “The Nature of Management

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