Why can’t you buy yourself a Steve Jobs? Part 2

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In a previous post, I outlined 3 reasons that make it impossible or at least difficult to make a copy of a human in the form of a robot manager from the standpoints of the unpredictability of the world, the impact of the machine on humans and communication. But there is something else in management science that is also blocking progress in automating the work of the manager.

What is it?

Well, in management science, for decades no one has been able to say what a manager actually does! The reason for this state of affairs is the existing ways of representing the manager’s work and the research method, which is most often the survey method.

I will write separate blog posts on research methods, but for now I will just focus on the dominant ways of representing the manager in management science.

There are three such approaches. The first is based on managerial skills, i.e., the ability to elicit cooperative effort in the team that a given manager manages [1]. The second approach is based on managerial roles, that is, the manager’s area of interpersonal, informational and decision-making activity [2]. The third approach focuses on management styles, that is, the manager’s preferred way of managing people aimed at combining the activities performed and the manager’s managerial roles in order to achieve the highest efficiency of the tasks assigned [3].

From the point of view of representing the work of a manager for many decades, the most dominant approaches have been the managerial skills that a manager should possess and the managerial roles that this manager should perform. Managerial skills became known when, in 1964, H. Koontz and C. O’Donneil [4] began discussing the importance of managerial skills in various business situations. A few years later, R.L. Katz [1] proposed an approach in which managerial skills described managerial work. In doing so, a managerial skill was defined as the ability to work effectively in the role of a team leader and to build cooperation in the team that this manager leads [2]. 

The typology of managerial skills at the time divided skills into 3 groups: technical, interpersonal and conceptual skills. Technical skills were considered most important for lower-level managers, interpersonal skills for middle-level managers, and conceptual skills for executives [5]. One of the more recent typologies of managerial skills includes such skills as critical thinking, problem solving, conceptual thinking, idea generation, persuasive skills, etc. [6].

On the other hand, in 1980, H. Mintzberg [2] proposed that a manager’s job be described in terms of 10 roles within 3 areas: interpersonal, information and decision-making. In his assumptions, these were common to the work of all types of managers. Managerial roles were defined as areas of professional activities that are undertaken by a manager [2]. At the same time, H. Mintzberg introduced a typology of managerial roles into management science, which includes such roles as representative, leader, liaison, monitor, information distributor, spokesperson, entrepreneur, dealing with disruptions, distributing resources, and negotiator [2]. Other classic role divisions can also be found in the literature, such as leader, collaborator, conflict resolver, information sender, decision maker, resource allocator, entrepreneur, technician [7] or explorer, organizer, controller, advisor [8].

However, both perceptions of a manager’s work have so influenced scholars and practitioners that most studies on managerial work have described it through managerial skills and managerial roles. However, research in this area still doesn’t provide answers to what a manager actually does, and the answer to this question is crucial to building a better or worse copy of the manager.

In the next post, I will present a third approach to managerial work – leadership styles – which brings research on managerial work closest to answering what a manager really does.

[1] Katz, R. L. (1974). Skills of an effective administrator. Harvard Business Review, 52(2), 90-102.

[2] Mintzberg, H. (1980). The nature of managerial work. New York: Prentice-Hall.

[3] Blake, R.R., & Mouton, J.S., (1965). International managerial Grids. Training Directors Journal, 19(5), 8-23.

[4] Koontz, H., & O’Donnell, C. (1964). Principles of management. McGraw-Hill, New York.

[5] Kaiser, R.B., Craig, S.B., Overfield, D.V., & Yarborough P., (2011). Differences in Managerial Jobs at The Bottom, Middle, and Top: a Review of Empirical Research, The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 14(2), 76-91.

[6] Ullah, F., Burhan, M., & Shabbir, N., (2011). Role of Case Studies in Development of Managerial Skills: Evidence from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Business Schools, Journal of Managerial Sciences, 8(2), 192-207.

[7] Pavett, C.M., & Lau, A.W., (1982). Managerial Roles, Skills, and Effective Performance, Academy of Management Proceedings, 95-99.

[8] McCan, D., & Margerison, Ch., (1989). Managing High-Performance Teams, Training & Development Journal, 10, 53-60.

[9] Sinar, E. & Paese, M., (2016). The new leader profile. Training Magazine, 46, 46-50.