from THE IDEAL EXECUTIVE, Why You Cannot Be One and What To Do About It
A New Paradigm for Management

by Dr. Ichak Adizes,
2004, Adizes Institute Publishing, Santa Barbara

Problem: Despite the proliferation of management schools, the inflation of incentives and the flood of management books and consultants, the goal of finding or training the “ideal manager” remains as elusive as the unicorn.

A corporate fairy tale (The outdated paradigm)

According to the classic managements textbooks and best-selling guides, the ideal manager is knowledgeable, achievement-oriented, detail-oriented, systematic, and efficiency-oriented; organized, a logical and linear thinker; charismatic, visionary, a risk-taker, and change-oriented; and sensitive to people and their needs.

He can integrate all the necessary people to successfully achieve goals. He knows how to build a team while making himself dispensable. He judges himself by how well his group performs; by how well, together and individually, the group members achieve their goals, and by how well he facilitates the achievement of those goals.

He listens carefully, not only to what is being said but also to what is not being said. He understands the need to change, but introduces change cautiously and selectively. He is able to identify leadership potential among his staff and is not afraid to hire and promote bright, challenging subordinates. He is self-confident enough to respect people whose styles are different from his own.

He doesn’t complain when things go wrong, but offers constructive criticism instead. His subordinates are not afraid to report failures; they know that he will be reasonable and supportive. He encourages creativity and looks for consensus in decision-making. He is charismatic, capable of motivating others to work hard to achieve the goals of the organization. He can delegate. He trains his subordinates systematically. He resolves conflicts diplomatically, respecting people’s expectations and ambitions and appealing to their social consciences. He shares information instead of monopolizing it and using it to gain power.

He is driven by a strong code of values. He is analytical and action-oriented; sensitive without being overly emotional. He seeks results, but never by sacrificing the process. He systematically develops markets, production facilities, finances and human resources for the organization.

His organization is a well-integrated entity with defined goals, whose members fully accept and cooperate with one another. No dysfunctional behavior on the part of his subordinates is easily observable.

The problem is: Where on earth do you find this animal?

With the exception of ourselves, of course, there aren’t too many of those managers around.

Joking aside, the reason you cannot find this ideal manager is because he is perfect, and the perfect manager is as mythical as the unicorn. That’s why I call this theoretical person “the textbook manager” – because he or she exists only in textbooks.

Expecting to find perfection is a characteristic of adolescence; we should have passed that stage by the time we reach adulthood. That is why I am bewildered by textbooks and schools that keep trying to produce something that cannot be produced. No wonder many executives are frustrated with their MBA-trained managers. No wonder, also, that management consultants are losing credibility and that management trainers are paid poorly.

The fallacy of management education

There is a big confusion in the field on what management is granted. But one thing we do know is what mismanagement is and it is a subject of books, articles and gossip at cocktail parties

But how successful have we been? In spite of the thousands of books written, and the millions if not billions of dollars spent on training managers and consulting services, we have not yet produced a viable, consistent theory and practice of management that is robust, repeatable, universal and holistic. In order to fix mismanagement we need to correctly define it.

A proof of this failure is our inability not only to define the process adequately, but even to name it. We are continually creating new words to label new processes that we hope will achieve the desired results.

The word that was originally used to describe the process was “administration.” That is why business schools used to be and some still are called Graduate Schools of Business Administration, and those that are in the profession of managing and have the diploma to prove that they have been professionally trained are Masters of Business Administration and the first journal in the field was the Administrative Science Quarterly. But since administrators failed to produce the desired results, the word “administrator” is now used mostly as a synonym for “bureaucrat.”

So a new word came into use: “Management.” Educational institutions became Graduate Schools of Management instead of Administration. But when the desired outcomes were still not achieved, the word “management” came to denote only the middle level of the hierarchy – and the need for a new word emerged.

That word was “executive”; thus we began to hear the terms “executive training,” “executive action” and “Chief Executive Officer.” When even this did not work, the word “leadership” evolved to replace “executive,” and this is where we are today (2004).

Although there are plenty of books that will tell you how leadership is different from administration, which is different from executive action, which is itself different from management, I suggest that this new fad will not work either. In fact, I would not be surprised if in the next few years yet another new word is coined to define the process, while the word “leadership” is redefined to mean some piece of the managerial process or hierarchy – exactly what happened to the words “administration” and “management.”

The root problem is that the paradigm has remained the same; it is the same woman in a new dress. The paradigm that has not changed is that the entire managerial process is always personified in a single individual, whether we call him administrator, manager, executive, leader, tsar or sultan, who should do this and should do that. This is a manifestation of the American culture of individualism.

The paradigm of the “lone leader”– all-wise and all-powerful – has never worked – and as the rate of change keeps accelerating, increasing the level of uncertainty that needs to be dealt with, and as businesses become global instead of local, a paradigm shift is now more necessary than ever.

What is needed then?

So, then, how should we define “managing,” if in some countries management is prohibited, in others it’s socially discouraged, in some organizations it is shared with those who are not even considered to be managers – and in some countries the word doesn’t even exist?

What is needed, first, is to recognize reality, and second, to deal with it – which involves finding a definition of the process that is value free, universal, applies to any industry – both for- or not-for-profit – and that works in the marketplace; in other words, produces the desired behavior and results.

As a faculty member at UCLA, and while teaching at Stanford, the Columbia University Executive Programs, and Tel Aviv and Hebrew Universities, I have observed that management theory and texts deal with what should happen, while organizational development (OD), Organizational Behavior, people focus on how things are – on the dynamics of the system. OD is more descriptive/analytical, while the management theory and the strategy group is more analytical/prescriptive. The Org Beh group is phenomenological in its approach while the management theory group (which practically disappeared over the years in most universities that teach MBAs) are structuralists as a school of thought. And there is no love lost between the two groups of thought. But the reality is that both approaches are necessary for good management. The question is how does one integrate the behavioral thinking with the prescriptive structuralist thinking.

A workable, robust system of management must be descriptive analytical and prescriptive and be based on an honest reflection of reality. And that is what I am trying to do in this series of three books: (1) The Ideal Executive, Why You Cannot be One and What To Do About It, (2) Management/Mismanagement Styles, How to Identify a Style and What To Do About It, and (3) Leading the Leaders, How to Enrich Your Style of Management and Handle People Whose Style Is Different from Yours