Management is NOT about ‘Doing it to People’

Simon Black – 

A typical definition of management and leadership is:

Managing: gets the most efficient utility from people & resources;

Leadership: gets people to do things they would not otherwise do.”


In a nutshell those previous statements on management and leadership summarise conventional wisdom  accrued since 1900, first through either traditional  ‘scientific management’ methods or later ‘human relations’ approaches. The latter approach, pioneered by Elton Mayo, was apparently devised to counteract the rigidity and hierarchies of the former. Unfortunately both approaches have the same defective focus – ‘doing it to people’. They are both a reflection of a command-and -control mindset which many would percieve as ‘managerialism‘.

There are two basic reasons for hiring people – to do the work and to improve the work (a tag line which I attribute to the psychologist and author John Seddon). Managerialism involves neither activity – so why do we have managers and leaders? A leader’s job is to enable workers to do those two things and provide a context for understanding that activity.

Improvement comes from understanding the system and making meaningful improvements to ensure better outcomes. ‘Doing it to people’ does not achieve this, but simply adds new layers of new ‘work’ – appraisals, briefing meetings, writing reports, filling in forms. Worse still this work assumes that for people to be effective they need to have stuff ‘done’ to them – like an inoculation for inherent bad characteristics – perhaps laziness, lack of intelligence or (potential) insubordination. This is the darker side to a manager’s mindset.

Whilst most managers and leaders do not want to be working for the ‘dark side’ and genuinely want the better for their teams, they must understand that if they follow the scientific/human relations approach the consequences of their actions are: de-motivation, a loss of dignity, a diminished sense of purpose, and reduction of productivity in their staff. In other words the effect on their team is just as if they actually had a negative attitude towards those people. In other words their staff will not like it and work will be negatively affected.

In knowledge industries, additional contributions to the total cost of this disruption is hidden, for example losses of skilled workers, high staff turnover and recruitment and so on. In conservation projects these costs can be proportionally high and the impact on project continuity and sustainability huge.

The choice is clear: managers and leaders need to find a better way…


Hanlon G. (2015) The Dark Side of Management: A secret history of management theory, Routledge

Roscoe, P. (2015) How the takers took over from the makers. Times Higher Education, 26 November, p48

Seddon, J. (2003). Freedom from Command and Control. Buckingham: Vanguard Press.

Case Study from Hawaii – Purpose, Vision and Values in Forest Bird Conservation

Case Study

Hanna Mounce is a colleague who leads the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project. A very good summary article of the challenges which her team face is described in an Audubon article on their efforts to restore high altitude ecosystems in Maui, Hawaii. As a leader Hanna  has to ensure that her team are purposeful, buy into a meaningful vision which steers the direction and planning of work and have a common value system which makes sense to the team and can be recognisable to outsiders.

The purpose of the team is to protect and recover the island’s endangered species and ecosystems (particularly the forest bird species).

The vision is to restore high altitude ecosystems which will provide malaria free habitats protected against the effects of climate change. This vision is not so much about restoring lost landscapes (a ‘nice to have’ option) but is linked to and justified by the fundamental purpose of the project – these new landscapes will become the last wild refuge for endemic species as malaria encroaches lower altitude habitats.

The values of the team include a persistent belief that conservation of Maui’s endemic species is feasible and worthwhile. The species are not a lost cause, the work is not an excuse for a career in field conservation. The team members believe that the work is valuable, meaningful and will make a difference.


Jarvis B. (2015) How Scientists are Racing to Save a Rare Bird From Extinction. Audubon, Sept-October.