I am not ready to send you to a museum to study the habits and hang-ups of the 20thcentury manager just yet. But I do see this as an opportunity to create dialogue related to the death of management as we know it. I am in no way abdicating that organizations of the future will be leaderless. I am however sounding the alarm that leaders must find a way to redefine themselves before it is too late. The trends are already proving that organizations are flattening their hierarchies and are doing more with less human capital. The greatest threat to the manager today is denial that things will change whether they are ready or not. The problem, as I see it, is that most all managers are classically trained in business schools to run an organization via the classic command-and-control hierarchy. Many business schools are failing us in that they teach leaders a 19th century approach to leadership. Add to this confusion a 20th century approach to human relations and you have a pending ice age of epic proportions over the field of management. Management is evolving into something greater than a single position of status. Organizations are not moving to leaderless insomuch as they are trending toward self-leadership models. Self-leadership is where everyone contributes from their own strength and skill-set. Everyone has a say in the strategy and direction of the organization as a whole.
I was recently involved in a dialogue with some business colleagues on the matter of who is responsible for the strategy and its achievement in an organization. The crux of the conversation was around why strategies fail. I argued strongly for the coming of the flatter more agile organization that moves away from the idea of a leader dictating vision, goals and process. As you can imagine some of us old school classically trained leaders pushed back on this notion. There is no question in my mind that the state of leadership is in transition. We are about to see the greatest shift in organizational leadership since Fredrick Taylor adopted the Scientific Management approach to production in the 1890s. In an effort to give structure to this idea of self-led organizations, I have adopted the idea of the Open Organization. An Open Organization is simply a method of self-leadership in which individuals participate in the movement of an organization from their strengths. The Open Organization is a decentralized structure which trends away from authoritarian management styles, separatist titles and privileges of multilevel hierarchies found mostly in the 19th and 20th century. So, what are we to do to save our managers? First we should acknowledge the correlation between effective leadership and how much autonomy is given to the followers. A leader who does not trust their followers appear to have the most trouble with change. Leaders who do not trust are most likely to be the ones that go extinct first. Leaders must learn the art of empowerment of their followers. The power behind the Open Organization is that people already tend to self-manage when everyone else can see what they’re doing. Open allows other people jump in when they notice something amiss and of course everyone learns when anyone makes a mistake or does something brilliant. The agility of the organization is the key to the extinction of the manager. Manager’s and hierarchies tend to strangle agility, bogging the organization down in the process of decision making. The organization of the future must be unfettered to make decisions else, it too will die. Now is the time for managers to adapt or expire. We leaders must redefine our roles in relation to our organizations effectiveness. The world is pressed on all sides by a diminishing full-time workforce as well as differing cultural, generational, political, and religious views. The organization of the 21st century must be more agile than ever before. Organizational design is essential to how the organization deals with the challenges it now faces. We no longer can afford to lead a 21st century organization with 19th and 20th century models and processes.