The paradox of management

It recently occurred to me that the job of a manager (so often praised in our knowledge economy) is essentially a paradox, as its ultimate objective is to make itself obsolete.

A manager is essentially a problem solver. While the nature of the problems is certainly very vague, it goes from implementing a measure pushed down from higher up in the organization to dealing with a sick employee, but essentially, it all falls under the umbrella of problem solving because managers only have a very indirect responsibility on the product or service delivered by their organization.

It follows as a logical conclusion that a well managed entity will not have any problems, but that would be no permanent achievement to the manager as he knows very well that issues will soon reappear in the changing environment he works in. Incidentally, the best manager will not only have made his organization problem free, but will have implemented the mechanisms to solve them without any sort of oversight or implication on his part, since such are the characteristics of ideal processes. At this point, he will have fulfilled his role has a manager, he will be laid off or moved elsewhere, and the group of people he once led will continue to thrive and adapt without him.

Utopia aside, it feels to me like the most efficient, elegant and adaptable systems on this world always have an organic feel to them or are even naturally organic. Look at the web, look at social media, look at cities, look at society but most importantly, look at life around you.

There will always be a need for oversight and stewardship in the future, natural selection is too cruel for blunt application on human organizations, but I foresee that the current role of manager will redefine itself to that of an enabler, where the crux of the job is no longer to direct, but rather to create the conditions or more precisely, the ecosystem where an ideal can bloom, exist and subsist.

I ought to give credit to Matthew Crawford’s inspiring book, Shopclass as Soulcraft for an hint on this idea. In fact, it would not surprise me if he had thought of it before I did.

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