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The Fall of the Leader Manager

        posted by , February 19, 2013

Is a manager an administrator? A supervisor? A leader?

Most managers I've asked (and I've asked quite a few), will say that a manager is first and foremost a leader.

After all, "administrator" doesn't exactly have a glamorous ring to it. We'd all prefer to be leaders (most of us).

Unfortunately, the leadership status of the manager peaked in the 1950s and has been on the decline ever since.

Any Questions About Your Work

If you're a fan of films and television from the 1950s (like I am) you'll know that managers were portrayed very differently back then. Managers had big offices. They had assistants. They often had bars in their office!

Television might have exaggerate the glamorous lifestyle of the American manager of the 1950s. However, it's clear that management's leadership status was above what's found today.

The leadership status of middle-management has declined for several reasons:

1. The Shift to Management by Numbers

Management techniques such as Management by Objectives represents a shift to management by numbers.

Modern managers are expected to focus on quantitative data (numbers) to manage employees and make decisions. Qualitative skills such as judgment have been deprecated.

Managers are increasingly valued for administrative skills such as numerical analysis, process management, and data-driven decisions. Leadership skills such as judgment and creativity are often missing from a manager's job description.

2. Managers are Managing Less People

In the mid-1950s, the National Industrial Conference Board reported that first-line American managers had an average of 20 direct reports (with a range of 4 to 35).

Today it's common for first-line managers to have 1-5 direct reports. In some cases, managers may have no direct reports.

3. The Dramatic Fall in Skill Gap Between Managers & The Professionals They Manage

If you have a large skill-gap with someone they are more likely to see you as an authoritative figure.

In the 1950s, many managers were managing typing pools. Modern managers may manage teams of highly skilled professionals. For example, an IT manager might manage project managers, architects and technology specialists.

Such teams are less likely to see the manager as an authoritative figure.

This is an installment in the ongoing series of posts called Management: The Missing Manual.

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