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Making Sense of Management 

What is Management?

Much has been written about organizational management, but while there is a general consensus as to its basic meaning as an organizational function, there is little agreement as to how to define it and how to characterize its essential elements.  Without a clear, concise and concrete working concept of what management is and what the various terms often associated with it mean, it is difficult to establish useful management principles upon which to create and develop effective management competencies and practices.  The following is an attempt to distill the prevailing management theories and philosophies into some simple, basic concepts that may help executives not only acquire a better appreciation for what management is, but also facilitate the development of management skills for enhancing organizational success.   

The discipline of management can be succinctly defined as the process of applying professional knowledge and skills for the coordination and administration of the activities of an organization in accordance with specified policies for the achievement of clearly defined organizational objectives.  A simpler way of saying it is that managing has to do with getting things done through people. Managing is not an organizational function in itself, but rather an integral part of the responsibility—to some degree—of every executive in an organization and at times, even of line workers such as in the case of self-managed teams.   Managers possess the authority to invest time (theirs and others) and resources (tangible and intangible) for the attainment of organizational objectives.  Along with this authority comes the responsibility for achieving desired expectations and accountability for the results they generate.  Today, organizational management is usually focused on the functional divisions of personnel management, production management, marketing management, operations management, financial management and informational technology (IT) management.   

At its core, management has to do with optimizing the return on an organization’s critical business assets through the effective application of strategy, people and processes.    


Since these three basic management functions are interrelated, a manager’s responsibilities can encompass all three areas. The degree to which individual managers are involved in each of these areas varies from organization to organization and with each manager’s level of authority within an organization.  Generally speaking, the higher up a manager is in an organization’s hierarchy, the greater will be his or her involvement in determining strategy and setting organizational direction.  Managing processes is usually the domain of mid-level managers.  While management usually involves overseeing and assuming responsibility for the work of other people, not all managers have direct authority over subordinates (except perhaps, for administrative personnel) reporting directly to them.  Many manage projects or functional areas where the focus is on specific duties or responsibilities rather than on getting results through people. Examples of this would be a purchasing manager or training manager.

Management Functions 

There are several fundamental management functions that any organization needs to implement effectively to run smoothly and achieve goals and objectives.  They can be effectively categorized into planning, organizing, staffing, directing, controlling and leading. 


Planning is the conscious determination of a future course of action both short-term and long-term.  It sets the direction the organization will take.  Planning involves translating the organizational mission and vision into actionable objectives as well as determining how those objectives will be achieved.  It involves setting strategies and policies, determining projects and programs, setting rules and procedures and preparing budgets.   


Organizing is the process of arranging and coordinating an organization’s physical, financial and human resources for the achievement of organizational objectives.  It involves providing an organization with everything needed for its successful operation.  It includes activities such the establishment of an organizational structure, the identification of operational activities, the assignment of responsibilities, the delegation of authority and the implementation of policies and procedures.  


Staffing is the management function that deals with the proper recruitment, selection, preparation and placement of individuals to fill the identified roles in the organizational structure.   


Directing involves setting in motion the organizational elements put in place through planning, organizing and staffing.  It deals with the processes through which managers guide and influence the work of subordinates to implement the specified activities of the organization.  Directing has to do with getting people to do what needs to be done. The directing function can have many complexities and be implemented through a range of approaches.  Primary among these are:

  • Supervision - direct oversight of the work of others through observation, instruction, guidance and feedback
  • Rewards and Consequences - influencing subordinates to act in a prescribed manner by employing tactics such as positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and monetary and non-monetary incentives.
  • Communication Channels - directing subordinates through the established communication channels existing in an organization (e.g., one-on-one conversations, meetings, telephone, email, voice mail, etc.).
  • Modeling Behavior - influencing subordinates to act in a prescribed manner by personally demonstrating a desired behavior.


Controlling is a process of monitoring and evaluating performance to verify that what is happening conforms to established plans, and if not, to assess the deviation of actual performance so that corrective action can be taken to ensure desired results will be achieved.  Controlling helps to ensure that the right things are happening, in the right ways, and at the right time.  Its underlying purpose is to help the manager assess whether or not the enterprise is on course.  

Ther terms "leader" and "leading" are often used interchageably with "manager" and "managing" respectively. Some people tend to refer to anyone who holds authority in an organization as a leader. Others view leadership as being the opposite of management. This philosophy is the basis for the "boss vs. leader" mindset that we have probably all been exposed to at one time or another.  We believe that leading can more accurately be described as one of the functions of management rather than being either the same or the opposite of it. We characterize leading pertains to a manager’s capacity to influence others to act in a desired manner to achieve organizational goals using the power of personality rather than power derived from authority or position.  Leading has to do with connecting with others so as to persuade them to behave in a certain manner because they “want to,” not because they “have to.”  It represents the ability to appeal to peoples’ intrinsic wants and needs to drive behavior consistent with organizational objectives.  The leading function performs a very similar purpose to the directing function, and is implemented in much the same manner except in regard to employee motivation.  Instead of motivating through rewards and consequences, the leader motivates by appealing to the hearts and minds of people.  

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management vs. leadership

Management Skills                                     

The degree to which individual managers actively demonstrate proficiency in each of these
fundamental management functions depends on.  
  • The functional requirements of an organization
  • The manager's executive level within an organization
  • The manager's specific responsibilities
  • The manager's experience and training
  • The manager's confidence level
  • The organization's culture

The managerial responsibilities of a corporate CEO for example, would likely require proficiency in all of the management functions, but might require a special focus on planning and leading.  The success of a mid-level manager such as a vice-president of sales might depend more heavily on the functions of staffing and directing than on planning and organization.  An accounting manager might focus on controlling and little else.  A good rule of thumb in regard to management functions is that senior managers are concerned more with defining the nature of an organization and establishing success objectives while lower level managers are more concerned with the effective implementation of work processes and procedures to achieve those objectives.  Nonetheless, the six functions are usually highly integrated in the day-today realities of running an organization. 

While each management function requires a specific skill set for optimum performance and there certainly can be variations between organizations, certain management skills are universal and generally apply to all managers at all levels in all organizations.  These include decision-making, problem solving, delegation skills, interpersonal communication skills, goal-setting skills and self-management skills, and they are typically elements in workshops and seminars that focus on entry-level management.

Leadership vs. Management 

There is an ongoing dialog regarding the relationship of the disciplines of leadership and management.  For some, there is no difference between the two, and the terms are often used synonymously.  They see a leader as being simply the highest ranking executive in an organization without regard to the extent to which such an individual actually exhibits leadership behaviors.  This view characterizes leadership as a position at the top of an organization. Others view leadership and management as polar opposite disciplines in guiding the efforts of subordinates.  “Managing” is seen as task-oriented, autocratic, domineering and insensitive to people’s needs while “leading” is associated with being emotionally-engaging, motivating and visionary.  In this context, managers are seen primarily as following established processes to accomplish organizational objectives in which people are treated simply as another organizational resource.  Leaders on the other hand, are perceived as innovators who reinvent processes to put people first and who empower and inspire them toward the achievement of their organization’s vision.  Managers are said to have subordinates while leaders are said to have followers.  The clear implication in such comparisons is that in today’s business environment, is that a “leadership” style is enlightened, progressive and productive while a “management” style is oppressive, stifling and inefficient. 

At Symbiont Performance Group we reject the characterizing that management is any less worthy or desirable a discipline than leadership and believe that doing so does a great disservice to the ranks of the many great managers who run our organizations today. The work of managers is not just the mundane monitoring of daily operations.  We see management and leadership as being neither the same nor opposites.  We feel that most of the popular distinctions that are made between “leaders” and “managers” are distinction that would be more accurately applied to the functional differences that generally exist between upper and mid-level management. We categorize leadership as a function rather than a position and view leading as just one of the fundamental functions of management discussed above along with planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling. We consider directing and leading as parallel management functions for achieving the essentially the same outcome, i.e., moving people to take action.  Here then, is where an accurate and valid distinction can be made—comparing directing to leading.  Comparing leading to managing on the other hand is like comparing apples to fruit.  It is an inappropriate comparison and only serves to confuse and complicate the discussion.

The basic distinction between directing and leading is that a director’s power is authority-based while leader’s power is derived from his or her own persona.  Both directors and leaders motivate others to act, but they do so in different ways.  Directors motivate through the use of rewards and consequences.  In such a situation subordinate generally do what they are told because of the benefits they receive by doing so (i.e., salary, praise, promotion, etc.) or to avoid the negative consequences of not doing so (being fired, being demoted or being otherwise penalized).  Leaders motivate through non-authoritarian means to move people to act in a specific manner by aligning an individual's internal desires for the satisfaction and fulfillment of personal needs with the accomplishment of a common organization goal. see internal motivationsee needs theory. 

Leadership is strictly informal influence.  Leaders motivate people to act by persuading them to want to do what needs to be done.  Viewed in this way, there is no such thing as autocratic leadership.  Because leaders are not dependent on authority for their power, they are capable of influencing individuals at any level of an organization whether they be superiors or subordinates as well as individuals outside of any formal organizational boundaries.  In fact, a person can be a leader without having any managerial authority whatsoever.  This is evidenced by some of our great social and political leaders.

Since management and leadership are not mutually exclusive, an executive can be both.  There will be times when a directing approach may be more effective and times when a leadership approach will be.  Not all managers need be leaders, but managers who possess leadership skills are likely to be more successful overall.  Furthermore, being an effective leader can often compensate for deficiencies in other management functions.  Many senior managers reach high executive levels by virtue of their leadership skills more than because of any other factors. However, to remain in such positions, senior managers must also demonstrate proficiency in the other management disciplines to produce sustainable organizational results.



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