Top Five Management Myths

In this week’s ATTRACTOR, Glenda describes five powerful myths about management. How can HSD help us understand the critical role of managers who are leaders and leaders who are managers?


I spent part of last week at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting in Vancouver, BC.  I enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones.  It was particularly interesting to dive—however briefly—into the deep waters of the academy. There was much to learn. Henry Mintzberg talked about management capacity, how to develop it, and the dangers that lie ahead if we don’t. It won’t surprise you, but my thoughts turn to Adaptive Action and Pattern Logic as simple and powerful ways to see, understand, and influence unpredictable futures.   Another common topic was the relationships among research, teaching, and consulting practice.  While I am surprised that these continue to be at odds, there is some good news.  My friend Dave Jamieson received a lifetime award for his role as a scholar practitioner and the leadership he offers to the whole community of management consultants, teachers, and researchers. Congratulations, Dave!  It was a wonderful time to slow down, take a break, and let my mind wander.   And it wandered into the strange world of management myths. 

Management Myth 1:  Management is not leadership.  At some point, academics and researchers separated these conjoined twins, but I have never met a practitioner who did.  Wherever you work in an organization, whatever your institutional title or level, you must manage details in the present while you lead toward a vision for the future. You literally cannot have one without the other. I am particularly conscious of how they intertwine these days in my role at the HSD Institute. We are in transition, moving into a new cycle of Adaptive Action.  In every meeting, I am simultaneously thinking about the details and the opportunities we are creating together.    

Management Myth 2:  You can measure everything that matters. I am all for measurement of things that can be measured.  That includes anything with clear boundaries, few significant factors, and obvious cause and effect relationships. Defects in quality, time on task, revenues generated, and staff turnover are perfect examples of meaningful measures, and they are important.  Equally important, however, are engagement, performance, customer satisfaction, professional development, and creativity, where numbers cannot tell the whole story. If you manage only to and by the numbers, you may win in the short term, but you are sure to miss important signals and lose the long-term game. Innovation and sustainability thrive In the high dimension, unbounded, and nonlinear space of the infinite game.  Patterns, rather than measurements, carry essential information there.        

Management Myth 3: “It is only about the people,” or “It isn’t about the people.”  You have heard experts claim both of these absolutes, but the world of the real manager is much more complex than either one. Of course every human being is important and deserves respect and support.  And, as a manager you relate to each person in a particular context of a job to be done. A successful manager focuses on the people and their work at the same time. To ignore either one is to limit the potential for both.      

Management Myth 4:  Theory isn’t practical.  A manager can do without theory as along as she:

  • Has unlimited emotional and social intelligence.
  • Never faces a new challenge.
  • Has no need to talk with others about what she does and why.
  • Is not required to work with others on shared problems.

In any situation that is more complex than this, a manager must be able to challenge her own worldview.  Assumptions and expectations have to be articulated, clarified, and tested by others.  The only way to do that is through conscious attention to something more general and rigorous than personal practice.  That is called theory, and, in my view, it is imminently practical. In HSD we use Adaptive Action as a simple way to integrate theory and practice into praxis.  Every action (Now what?) follows careful analysis and hypothesis building (So what?), and actions set the condition for new and unexpected patterns to form (What?).  Analysis is informed with mindful observation of patterns as they emerge (Next what?). These three steps, in iterative cycles, integrate thought with action. They bridge the gap between theory with practice in every conscious Adaptive Action.         

Management Myth 5:  I don’t have time.  Everyone has the same amount of time—24 hours in a day.  The problem is that you have too much “what” for your “when.” As long as you frame this question in terms of the amount of time available, you are stuck.  There is nothing you can do because you can never make more time.  When you reframe the challenge in terms of the number of things on your list, suddenly you have some choices to make.  You have lots of options. You can remove, consolidate, delegate, delay, rush, innovate, or defer. You choose. 

Moving past these myths is easier said than done.  As I write, I realize how these ideas influence me and my choices as a manager of a growing Institute. It is another great example of the power of praxis—theory and practice.  I find traces of these myths as I reflect on my own experience and the insights of scholars.  Neither one by itself is enough. In my experience, theory and practice braided together open options and inspire action. Now, back to work.


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