A Paradigm Shift In Leadership Theory is Needed

The Existent Paradigm

Western theories and practices of management are spreading around the world like wildfire. American titans of industry are putting in writing their practice of management, or leadership, as Lee Iacocca and Welsh have done, and their books are being translated and worshiped like prayer books. Western business schools are opening branches all over the world, teaching management theories and leadership practices as well as the functional disciplines of marketing, finance, supply chain management, etc.

I suggest that what is being spread around the world is not just a benign, value-free, logical, systemic process. I suggest that what is being spread along with the theory and practice of management and leadership is a value-loaded political philosophy.

The word “management” has no translation in any other language, except Hebrew, I believe. In fact, in Spanish the word manejar (to manage) refers only to the handling of horses or cars.

I suggest that the metaphor of handling cars or horses for the managerial or leadership role in the present paradigm is not far-fetched.

Having searched many English dictionaries for synonyms for the concept “to manage,” I have found that the common denominator for all the synonyms is their assumption that management, as a process, is conducted via a one-way flow of energy: We, the managers/ executives/ leaders (different words with the same elitist connotation): “We are management; you are not.”) You are managed. We decide what the organization should do, and then by different means we cause you , the managed. The led, to execute those wishes.

I am managing, leading well if I choose well where to go, and if the car or the horse—the organization/those I manage—executes my plans as I wish.

My content analysis of management books, theory, and trade, and analysis of dictionaries reinforced this elitist notion of what leadership or management is all about. Here are some of the synonyms I found for “to manage”: to govern, to control, to handle, to manipulate, to plan for, to dominate, to decide for. In this context, the concept “to motivate” is synonymous with “to manipulate;” I know what I want you to do. The only question is: How do I motivate you, i.e., how do I make you want to do what I want you to do?

A Japanese executive, Konosuke Matsushita of the Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, in Industrial Participation (Spring 1985, pp. 1, 8) is quoted as saying “the essence of management is getting the ideas out of the heads of the bosses and into the hands of labor.” (Emphasis mine.)

How about “leading?” the elitist connotation is the same. Here is what Dwight D. Eisenhower had to say about leadership: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it.” (The italics are mine.)

Do you notice that this one-way flow of energy is not democratic? Those who are governed have no say about who will govern them or how. Note the words “supervisor” and “subordinate.” “Supervisor” originates from the words superior vision, and “subordinate” is sub-ordinary.

Management is not only a process. It promotes an elitist class structure.

This elitist, non-democratic paradigm of management or leadership emerged because the founding fathers of management theory— Taylor, Fayol, Urwick, Newman, Koontz, , , ,—derived their insights about the process of management from their own experiences with hierarchically structured, non-democratically managed industrial or military organizations. It is true that the human relations school of management introduced by Elton Mayo initiated concern for the human element, and from that emerged the field of behavioral science, but it did not change the paradigm. Management or leadership still uses a one-directional flow of energy: I am management/ leader and you are hereby being managed/led. You have no institutional way to choose whether I will be your leader or not, nor do you have the undeniable right to influence how I exercise my authority over you. You cannot replace me, but I can replace you. The system is, at best, benign authoritarianism.

This whole framework, I suggest, resembles parent-child relations, and this perhaps explains why management and leadership theory and practice, as they were developed, and are currently being practiced and taught, feel familiar and thus acceptable.

Managerial theory and practice, based on the existent paradigm, promote class distinctions and polarization. They promote a rewards system in which executives might be paid several hundred times the salary of a worker. It establishes a system in which those who have, have lots and are thus politically powerful, whereas those who have little, if any, perceive themselves as marginalized and impotent, without the power to promote their own interests democratically.

The repercussions are, I suspect, widespread depression and apathy of the masses with regard to work and its conditions; masses that feel they are doomed to pain and hopelessness since socialism did not provide a solution either.

There is more to it. I believe the “hidden hand” theory of Adam Smith—which states that competition, or adversarial relations, in a free market will, in time, produce the optimal allocation of resources—has subconsciously impacted the existent paradigm of management too. It legitimized the adversarial relations between management and workers. Between leaders and those led. It legitimized the competitive atmosphere among managers and leaders too.

Adversity is not only tolerated but legitimate. The paradigm legitimizes conflict while the chronically changing environment, which is making problems more complex, calls for cooperation rather than competition.

There is more to it still. The theory and practice of leadership and management, the existent paradigm, are based on the American culture of individualism. An individual, he or she also has the authority, as an individual, to finalize decisions. Although board of directors make decisions as a group—the paradigm of individualism has not changed. The CEO, elected by the board and reporting to the board, has individual responsibility to produce results, and this individual accountability permeates all the way down to the last person in a managerial position.

Individualism fosters loneliness, not only at the top. It permeates all the managerial ranks. In a rapidly changing environment—which, by definition, means rapidly emerging new problems that need to be dealt with—loneliness means continuous and relentless stress.

The solution should have been participative management but participation in decision-making is not a cornerstone of American culture. “Time is money” and participative management takes time, thus it is perceived, at best, as a necessary evil.

The result of all this is a culture in which time pressure dominates decision making; where there is a mad dash for the dollar to meet ever-rising financial goals; an atmosphere of adversarial relations both in the market and in the workplace; loneliness at the top as well as throughout managerial ranks, elitism that demotivates the masses and leads to alienation .

The existent paradigm promotes a culture that increases the economic bounty but only for some, at the expense of emotional and social fulfillment, and at the expense of the disempowered masses.

There is more to it. Not to be ignored. Disempowerment in the workplace subconsciously undermines political democracy. Why would people believe they have the ability to impact Washington if they cannot even impact their workplace?

Is it not ironic that on one hand we send our children to die to promote democracy around the world and on the other hand train, equip millions of manager to do the opposite?

A new paradigm of management theory is needed: a universal theory that is culture- and industry-neutral, non-elitist, that nurtures democratic processes and social relations while still producing superior economic results.

For those who know Symbergetictm management theory and practice, there is one.


Ichak Kalderon Adizes Ph.D.

Founder, The Adizes Institute LLC

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