There are as many management theories as there are management gurus, academics, and bloggers. And theories— true or not — have a tendency to stick around. That means there are lots of myths.
Management isn't a science; it's an art. It involves millions of people in thousands of organizations, each of which is unique. That's what makes it so subjective, by definition. Sure, certain innovative management concepts become the rule; but they're rare, that's for sure.
These management myths aren't just the most common, they're also some of the most mythical and therefore easy to debunk. And one thing successful managers have in common is that they don't drink the Kool-Aid or buy into BS fads. So if you aspire to be a successful manager, don't buy into these.
Note: This article is based on an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog.
1: Bad managers are a bad thing
It's ironic that society is okay with bad spouses, bad marriages, bad workers, bad professionals — hell, bad people — but not bad bosses. Listen carefully: There's a bell curve for all things involving people. It's reality; it can never and will never change. Deal with it.
2: It's not what you know but who you know
Ah, the mantra of the perpetual underachiever, the assumption being that because he can't get a promotion it means the guy who did must know somebody. The truth is that overachievers work harder and yes, they schmooze harder too. That's why they know more successful people and are therefore exposed to more opportunities.
3: Management is the path to big bucks
For the vast majority, that's simply not the case. There's at least as good a chance that you'll hit the jackpot as a professional, individual contributor, or entrepreneur. That's because the big bucks are in a thin sliver of executive management and few managers ever get there.
4: You should be prepared for the job
Young managers should definitely get some basic training. But anyone who says he was adequately prepared for his first management role is BSing. A great deal of management skill simply can't be taught; it's best learned on the job, under fire, in the real world.
5: Abusive, confrontational, or dysfunctional managers are bad managers
Some of the most successful managers of our time fit that description: Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs, to name a few famous ones. Yes, there are plenty of best-selling books that promote the myth. But like it or not, I've never observed a correlation.
6: It's all about managing people
This is probably the notion I most strongly want to dispel. Sure, managing people is a big component, especially for line managers. And employees certainly want to believe they're first and foremost in the hearts and minds of their bosses. But if you look at the specific goals — how success is defined for most managers - they're typically more about managing a function or a business than about managing people.
7: Leadership and management are unrelated
I hear this all the time and it's a huge misconception. While it is true that there are different skill sets, they're still intimately related. The truth is that good management skills make better leaders and the converse is also true. I would argue that great management requires excellent leadership skills.
Yes, you learn a lot getting an MBA. Yes, it's a good piece of paper to have — especially from a topnotch school — if you aspire to senior management. But no, there is no credible evidence that it will make you or anyone else a better manager. That's largely because management is more art than science.
9: It's tougher to get in than it is to do
The truth is just the opposite. If you're capable, you'll become a manager. But it takes a helluva lot more than that to become a successful manager.
10: You should be able to do the jobs of those you manage
I can't even honor this myth with a logical argument; it's so ridiculous. For some people in some jobs — primarily line managers — it can help. In the vast majority of cases, however, there's little correlation, and it decreases further the higher you go up the management chain.
Perhaps the supreme, overriding uber-myth here is that there's a formula for management success. As long as people are unique individuals and organizations are unique entities — and they surely are — there can be no formula for successful management.
Certain qualities and processes work better for certain people in certain organizations and industries, but that's a far cry from a general blueprint for management success. It simply doesn't exist. So if you stop looking for formulas, you'll go a long way to becoming a more successful manager.