Where are the Missing Managers?

Jeffrey Ford Posted by Jeffrey Ford.

Jeffrey Ford is associate professor of management in the Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University in Columbus. He coauthored Deadline Busting: How to be a Star Performer in Your Organization with Laurie Ford in 2005.


Where are the Missing Managers?

Managers are missing.  Organizations apparently have plenty of leaders, but few managers.

I know this is true because the leadership literature says so. Over the last two years, we have been doing extensive research on the academic leadership literature as it relates to leadership of change.  One of the consistent findings is that people who are in positions of authority, which includes everyone from the CEO down to the lowest supervisors, are considered leaders by virtue of their positions and are evaluated on their “leadership style”.

So, here’s the question, if everyone in a position of authority is a leader, where are the managers?  Maybe managers are the people in positions of authority who scored low on leadership evaluations (we have not found any study that comes right out and says that).  Or maybe managers don’t exist in organizations because everyone is a leader (more or less).  Or maybe they are just mythical creatures created to give people who study leadership someone to disparage.

The popular belief is that there is a shortage of leaders (at least good ones) and that if we had more and better leaders, things would be fine.  That may be true, but not without managers – people who actually practice management. Too bad there aren’t any of those people anymore.

Some researchers propose that leadership and management are complementary, but much of today’s writing on leadership puts management down as unimportant or “cookie cutter” work.  Some academic research on leadership says managers just maintain the status quo and are only “transaction oriented”.  Leaders do what’s right, and managers…well they do something else.

Seems in these challenging times it would be useful to have a few more good managers, but we’d probably have to give them a better reputation for what they actually do to deliver organizational performance.