The majority of management decisions go unnoticed. Stuart Crainer reminds us of some that have changed our world.
Start any conversation about people who changed the world, and it’s likely that the first of those mentioned will be either politicians, scientists, writers, artists, sports personalities, media stars or entertainers. Their achievements, inspirations and personalities are pored over and celebrated. Managers? People in business are conspicuous by their absence in such conversations. Yet, management is one of the great triumphs of humanity; it’s grown into a discipline, a profession – and, for some, even a calling.
This may be why Eric Schmidt, named chairman and CEO of Google in 2001, once shared that he does not take his management job for granted: “I’m able to bring business expertise but, more importantly, operating experience. The people here at Google are young. Every day there are lots of new challenges. I keep things focused. The speech I give every day is: ‘This is what we do. Is what you are doing consistent with that, and does it change the world?’”
Of course, management is nothing new. Napoleon was exercising management when he deployed his forces. The ancient Egyptians practiced management when they built the pyramids. The teams of gardeners cultivating the Hanging Gardens of Babylon did not simply turn up and do whatever came first to mind. They were managed. And, as a steady stream of books attest, Jesus Christ was a manager (witness the book, Jesus CEO). “Jesus taught many great principles,” says Charles Manz, author of The Leadership Wisdom of Jesus. “One of his good decisions was to tell anyone who had not sinned to throw the first stone at a woman caught in adultery, thereby giving them the choice not to condemn, but to forgive.”
Okay, perhaps religion is not the first place to look for managerial legacies, but the more you look for great management decisions, the more you see – regardless of field or discipline. None of the great monuments of history would exist if it weren’t for management. The Italian painters of the Renaissance may have been artistic geniuses, but they were also shrewd managers able to take advantage of delegation. The labourers who built St Paul’s Cathedral in London did not gather spontaneously – they were recruited and managed.
Inevitably, some monuments are testimony to bad management. The Leaning Tower of Pisa would not attract tourists if it were perfectly vertical. For this we can thank a 13th-century Italian building supervisor, a manager by any other title.
The somewhat daunting reality is that virtually all decisions we make are managerial in nature. Decisions usually concern people (human resources), money (budgeting), buying and selling (marketing), how to do things (operations) or how things should be done differently, and better, in the future (strategy and planning).