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Updating "Classic" Management Theories

Updating "Classic" Management Theories

What classic management theories do you use?

Dan McCarthy | Great Leadership

June 01, 2010

I was in a meeting recently and we were discussing the potential impact of a new management initiative we were about to launch. I made a reference to “the Hawthorne Effect”, and half the room, mostly the gen Xers and Ys, had no idea what I was talking about. The crickets were deafening.

Now THAT was a senior moment.

It did make me wonder about the staying power of management models, processes, skills, and conventional wisdom and ask myself a few questions:

1. Should a good management or leadership theory stand the test of time? At the end of the day, will the competencies required for great leadership ever really change from what was required for Hannibal to lead his men across the Alps?

2. As practitioners in management and leadership development, if we don’t build a foundation of “givens” within our profession, don’t we run the risk of always chasing after the latest fad or flavor of the month?

3. Do we need to keep coming up with new labels that basically mean the same thing (e.g., delegation > empowerment > distributed leadership )?

4. What was the greatest thing before sliced bread?

5. After they make Styrofoam, what do they ship it in?

To some extent, I would have to say “yes” to the first three questions (#4 & #5 courtesy of Steven Wright). There are way too many people in our field that are not true professionals – they don’t do their homework, and rely too much on their own personal experience. They’re the ones who tend to jump from one fad to the next, enthusiastically promoting each one with an almost religious passion.

However, there’s also a danger of not keeping up with the times and sticking with models or skills that really have outlived their usefulness. At best, you run the risk of coming across as a dinosaur when you explain a management model that was developed in the 1920’s to a group of Millennials. Even worse, you may be relying on models that really don’t apply in today’s world.

As for coming up with new names that mean the same thing as something else… So what? Is there really anything wrong with that, as long as it’s been repackaged in a way to make it more appealing to a new generation? I’m thinking we’re better off keeping our mouths shut, instead of trying to prove how smart we are. Besides, when you’re over 40, it’s not good a good career management strategy to be caught saying things like:

- “same old same old”
- “we’ve tied that before”
- “back in the day”
- “when I was your age”
- “I can remember when we didn’t have”
- “The greatest thing since sliced bread”

Getting back to Hawthorne…..

Next: The Hawthorne Effect >>


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