Show, donít tell 

Harry G. Starren

There is a certain increasing suspicion regarding management. The suspicion is unmistable. Once upon a time, management was seen as the solution; now it's seen as the problem. Most organizations are over-managed, but under-led. At least in 'our world' that is.

A world of rules and regulations is choking the initiative and the life force out of something that was once vital and powerful. 'Management as a discipline is seen as an American discovery. And even though Europe had had its own wise management gurus, for the most part the discipline is seen as American. Management is seen as an American (and/or English) discovery that has delivered few dividends.

The Industrial Revolution was begun in the UK, but gathered significant steam, so to speak, in the US and after that spread over the entire world. Whoever seeks to understand everything regarding this still evolving revolution deserves to take a trip to Japan and certainly in these days to China. These 'Asian Tigers' are being ridden by managers whose frame of thinking was shaped in the US. The Asian management elite is frequently educated in the US. Not always literally, but certainly in education systems that are modeled on the US. They have attained MBA status, but unfortunately, and to our horror, also in that double meaning of the abbrevation: 'Masters of Blind Ambition'. At least in our eyes.

If the economies in these countries threaten us (at least according to one interpretation), then it comes because they understand American knowhow better than its discoverers. Japan built its giant automobile industries on the shoulders of the Americans and learned well from the American gurus Demming and Juran. 'They know, because we told them so'.

What now? What can now happen is what usually happens. That we are forced to learn our own lessons, but in a new way. The lesson of renewal. But it doesn't have to follow the predictable formula. It can be different. If the world already knows the 'correct' path, we need to follow a new one. Consider 'The Road not Taken', the title of the Robert Frost poem referred to by John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address.

Our unmanageable workforces are therefore an advantage, as is the criticism of management. In creative environments, the vanguard of the knowledge economy, traditional management does not work well. In these environments, what does work is inspirational leadership. Leaders who take responsibility and give others the freedom to do the same.

An here is where we have something to offer to each other. How do you cope with those stubborn people we might call our children: highly educated, creative and cocksure? Show, don't tell. Ask, don't direct. Be genuine and generous. Be positive and dare to see the green pastures that are beyond the mess of today.

By adapting the lessons we already know: beyond management. Leadership. If there is anywhere that leadership is really put to the test, it is in the US. Especially now. Keep in mind what Nietzsche wrote: 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger'.

So whenever the Asian tigers bite us, we have to remember: 'We told them so'. And maybe take the road less travelled. The road from management to leadership.

And change the world – again.

Source: AmchamNews December 2008.


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