Management drifts: do managers lack courage?
While I was discussing with the HRD of a large group that is having difficulty transforming, they bluntly told me “ You see Philippe, the real problem is that our managers lack courage. “And in fact this lack of courage is widely mentioned by some observers as one of the causes of the excesses of current management. Thus, Julia de Funès, philosopher and co-author with the economist Nicolas Bouzou of The Inhuman Comedy, an essay on this question, recently stated: ” So these are the people who work [dans les entreprises] who lack courage. “
The least that can be said is that such a statement is surprising. To say that managers, and implicitly all employees, lack courage and that this must be seen as the reason for management’s excesses is regrettable.
This is regrettable first of all because, under the guise of advocating new practices and defending the autonomy of employees, it actually amounts to perpetuating old mental models, even commonplaces: if there is a problem, there is necessarily a person in charge; the situation is not complicated, it is enough to want to solve it for the power; there are good guys (collaborators) and bad guys or cowards (managers); etc. If only some of them had a little courage, all the management evils would be solved! If all the guys in the world …
If only, if only… but unfortunately things are not that simple. If the future of management is only a question of courage, if everything is based on that, what is it that prevents managers from having more? What is it that organizations do not encourage their managers to have more? Mystery. Maybe it’s not easy to have courage, you see! It is easy to decree that it should be, it is more difficult to really have it.
To say that managers lack courage is regrettable then because it is easy, it is without risk and it pays a lot. To hear an economist and a philosopher call for the courage of managers, one cannot help but remember what Raymond Aron replied to those who reproached him for not joining the calls for desertion launched to the conscripts during the Algerian war: “I find it unpleasant, for quiet intellectuals who risk nothing, to engage young people to transform themselves into deserters, that is to say to run into danger. We don’t tell others to desert. We desert ourselves. “
Well for the excesses of management, we are a bit there: quiet intellectuals who risk nothing lift their noses for a moment. latte-macchiattoand urge managers to have courage. As often in this case, it costs nothing and it allows you to have a clear conscience by letting those who are on the ground take all the risks. And after?
But that’s not all. We should have the courage … but the courage of what? What would courageous action consist of? We never have even the beginning of a response from quiet intellectuals who call for courage. And I didn’t get any from my HRD either. Maybe it’s because these people think the answer is obvious? Ben courage, what!
Management, a complex problem
To say that managers lack courage is regrettable, finally, because posing the problem of management drifts in terms of courage suggests that the problem is simple and that it has a simple solution.
However, nothing is more wrong. Managers in large organizations are grappling with very complex problems every day. Improve performance, reduce costs, be more innovative, go faster, work as a team, develop talents, invest in CSR, be empathetic, detect burn outs, prepare their budgets, send back their reporting, manage their boss, Keeping their team running and moving forward on the latest initiatives at headquarters are just a few of the tasks they constantly have to juggle. And that was until the last few years. Because with the upheavals underway in the environment, and in particular the disruptions both in the markets and in the behavior and values of employees, the historical principles of management are called into question. Managers are therefore faced with a double difficulty: on the one hand, management has become incredibly complex because it involves resolving an increasing number of paradoxes, and on the other hand, everything must be reinvented if we do not want the business collapses.
Faced with this task, managers are often very alone. The general management is absent subscribers: it is content to produce strategic plans and slogans, and is little interested in the reality of management which it sweeps under the term of “implementation”, the said implementation being left in the care of managers.
So managers face this daily challenge with a lot of energy and they come to be accused of cowardice! It is not only unfair but above all it is counterproductive. It is of course not a question of exempting them from their responsibility: they are actors of this system in the same way as the school which teaches us from the earliest childhood that the problems of life are simple and that there are always has a simple solution itself. It is only a question of posing the problem differently if we really want to solve it and not simply to put the laughers on his side.
So let’s put the problem in the following way: managers do not lack courage. They face very complex situations, and the complexity of these situations continues to grow with the changes taking place. The heart of the problem is the shift of management with this changing reality, and it is from there that we must seek solutions by rethinking it. Shall we get to work?
About the link of management with reality, read my article Adherence to reality, a new management challenge?.
Philippe Silberzahn is professor of entrepreneurship, strategy and innovation at EMLYON Business School and associate researcher at thePolytechnic School (CRG), where he received his doctorate. His work focuses on how organizations manage situations of radical uncertainty and complexity, from an entrepreneurial perspective with the study of the creation of new markets and new products, and from a managerial perspective with the study management of disruptions, strategic surprises (black swans) and complex problems (“wicked problems”) by large organizations.