Jo Owen on… How to Manage

13 January 2017 -


The latest in our series leading up to the 2017 Management Book of the Year awards

By Management Book of the Year shortlisted author Jo Owen

What is the difference between leadership and management? My publisher has a simple answer which is demonstrably true: leadership sells more books. This is a disaster. Everyone wants the glamour and prestige associated with being a leader, and no one wants to be associated with the hum drum world of management.

But the reality is that for every revolutionary leader, you need thousands of effective managers who make sure that the trains run on time. And the reality is that management is getting harder than ever.

This will not come as news to anyone who is feeling the stress of being on 24/7 and being passionately loyal to an employer who may decide to downsize, offshore, right size, outsource, restructure or just let you go at any moment.

A short, revisionist history of management will show why management is becoming so tough.

In the 19th century life was simple for managers. The job of the manager was to get ideas out of their heads and into the hands of the workers. The bosses had the brains and the workers had the hands.

So the key skill for a 19th century manager was intellectual: it was a largely rational world in which workers were just slightly unreliable machines. This was a comfortable arrangement for bosses, less comfortable for workers.

Marx predicted that the workers would get their revenge through revolution. He was half right. They started to get their revenge not through revolution, but through education.

An educated work force was clearly able to do more, but it also demanded more. Managers no longer had a monopoly of wisdom. They also lost their coercive power as the one firm town disappeared: employees could choose where to work.

The 20th century gave managers two challenges. First, they had to be smarter than before to stay ahead of their workforce. More problematic was that they had to start treating their workers like… human beings.

This created a whole new skills set requirement around motivation, performance management, coaching, managing conflict and all the other soft skills of emotional intelligence. High IQ was not enough: managers needed high EQ (Emotional Quotient) as well.

In the 21st century, things have become yet harder. Look around your office and you will find plenty of smart (high IQ) and nice (high EQ) people who languish in the backwaters.

Meanwhile people who are not so nice or smart levitate to the top. These people have something else: high PQ or Political Quotient.

Managers need political skills because they have lost direct control. In the 20th century the task of the manager was to make things happen through people you controlled. Now, courtesy of flat organisations and outsourcing, you have to make things happen though people you may not control.

That means learning the political arts of influencing and persuading, building alliances, finding sponsors and power brokers, knowing which battles to fight and when, finding your claim to fame and staking your claim.

Business schools are good at the rational skills of the 19th century; they struggle with the 20th century skills of managing people and are blissfully unaware that the 21st century represents a whole new set of challenges.

But if you want to succeed, you need all three skill sets: rational, emotional and political.


Jo Owen is the author of How to Manage, which is shortlisted in the Practical Manager category of the 2017 Management Book of the Year awards

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