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Mintzberg calls attention to numerous popular but false views about the nature of managerial work, separates fact from folklore, and provides the best information yet published on what managers do and how they do it.  He analyzes models, characteristics, and approaches to managing.  He examines commonalities and differences in managing in various contexts, including business, government, health care, and social services.  By shadowing 29 managers through a day in their lives, he reveals how ...

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Mintzberg calls attention to numerous popular but false views about the nature of managerial work, separates fact from folklore, and provides the best information yet published on what managers do and how they do it.  He analyzes models, characteristics, and approaches to managing.  He examines commonalities and differences in managing in various contexts, including business, government, health care, and social services.  By shadowing 29 managers through a day in their lives, he reveals how managing is affected by many factors — including national and industry cultures, organizational differences, level of the manager in the organization, and personal styles — and examines the various strategies that managers adopt to deal with these factors.  Mintzberg then identifies the main "conundrums" or dilemmas that managers must wrestle with (such as delegating versus retaining control, balancing order and flexibility, and gathering more data versus needing to take action) and describes how managers deal with those conundrums.  And he offers provocative and powerful new understandings of what makes managers effective and ineffective.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Mintzberg (management studies, McGill Univ.) tracks a typical work day in the lives of 29 managers in different fields to get at the heart of what it truly means to manage. He combines detailed observations and analysis with a comprehensive review of scholarly research as well as draws on his own early academic training as a mechanical engineer. Dismissing "flavor of the year" leadership theories, he concludes that to manage effectively, "there is a need for thoughtfulness—not dogma…not fashionable technique, not 'me too' strategies, not all that leadership' hype, just plain old judgment." Jim Manchester (More Than Money) narrates this valuable material in an engaging and dignified manner; recommended for managers at all levels and of all types of organizations. [The Berrett-Koehler hc was a 2009 LJ Best Business Book; the pb is publishing in March 2011.—Ed.]—M. Gail Preslar, formerly with Eastman Chemical Co. Business Lib., Kingsport, TN
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781576753408
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 306
  • Sales rank: 1,435,378
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Henry Mintzberg is Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.  He was selected as Distinguished Scholar for the year 2000 by the Academy of Management and won its George R. Terry Award for the best book of 1995 (The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning).  Two of his articles in the Harvard Business Review have won the coveted McKinsey prizes.  He has served as President of the Strategic Management Society, is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (the first from a management faculty), and has been named an Officer of the Order of Canada.  Mintzberg is the author of fourteen books.  He was recently ranked #9 in The Wall Street Journal's Top 20 Business Thinkers and #16 on "The Thinkers 50" — a list published in the Financial Times of "the world's most important and influential business thinkers."

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Read an Excerpt



Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Henry Mintzberg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57675-340-8

Chapter One

Managing Ahead

We know more about the motives, habits, and most intimate arcana of the primitive people of New Guinea or elsewhere, than we do of the denizens of the executive suites in Unilever House.

Roy Lewis and Rosemary Stewart (1958:17)

A half century has passed since the words above were written, and they still hold true. Yet it is easy enough to find out what managers do. Observe an orchestra conductor, not in performance but during rehearsal, to break through the myth of the manager on a podium. Sit in as the managing director of a high-technology company joins the discussion of a new project. Take a walk with the manager of a refugee camp as he scans attentively for signs of impending violence.

Finding out what managers do is not the problem; interpreting it is. How do we make sense of the vast array of activities that constitute managing?

A half century ago Peter Drucker (1954) put management on the map. Leadership has since pushed it off the map. We are now inundated with stories about the grand successes and even grander failures of the great leaders. But we have yet to come to grips with the simple realities of being a regular manager.

This is a book about managing, pure if not simple. I have given it a broad title, Managing, because it is meant to be basic and comprehensive, about this fundamental practice in its untold variety. We consider the characteristics, contents, and varieties of the job, as well as the conundrums faced by managers and how they become effective. My objective is straightforward. Managing is important for anyone affected by its practice, which in our world of organizations means all of us. We need to understand it better, in order for it to be practiced better.

Those befuddled by some or all of this practice—which hardly excludes managers themselves—should be able to reach for a book that provides insights from evidence, comprehensively, on the big questions. Few books even try; this one does. It addresses questions such as these:

• Are managers too busy managing to contemplate the meaning of management?

• Are leaders really more important than managers?

• Why is so much managing so frenetic? And is the Internet making this better or worse?

• Is the whole question of management style overrated?

• How are managers to connect when the very nature of their job disconnects them from what they are managing?

• Where has all the judgment gone?

• How is anyone in this job to remain confident without becoming arrogant? Or to keep success from becoming failure?

• Should managing be restricted to managers?

Whatever Happened to Managing?

I began my career on this subject: for my doctoral thesis, I observed one week in the working life of five chief executives. This led to a book called The Nature of Managerial Work (1973) and an article called "The Manager's Job: Folklore and Fact" (1975). Both were well received. My research also led to a stream of replication studies.

But that stream died out, and today we find remarkably little systematic study of managing. Many books are labeled "management," but not much of their contents are about managing (Brunsson 2007:7; Hales 1999:339). Look for the best evidence-based books on the subject, and you will likely settle on Len Sayles's Leadership: What Effective Managers Really Do and How They Do It (1979), John Kotter's The General Managers (1982), Robert Quinn et al.'s Becoming a Master Manager (1990), and Linda Hill's Becoming a Manager (first edition, 1992). Notice the dates.

As a consequence, our understanding of managing has not advanced. In 1916, the French industrialist Henri Fayol published General and Industrial Administration (English translation, 1949), in which he described managing as "planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling." Eighty years later, a Montreal newspaper reported the job description of the city's new director-general: "responsible for planning, organizing, directing, and controlling all city activities" (Lalonde 1977:1). So remains our prevalent understanding as well.

For years I have been asking groups of people in this job, "What happened the day you became a manager?" The response is almost always the same: puzzled looks, then shrugs, and finally comments such as "Nothing." You are supposed to figure it out for yourself, like sex, I suppose, usually with equivalently dire initial consequences. Yesterday you were playing the flute or doing surgery; today you find yourself managing people who are doing these things. Everything has changed. Yet you are on your own, confused. "The new managers learned through experience what it meant to be a manager" (Hill, second edition, 2003:9).

Accordingly, in this book I revisit the nature of managerial work, retaining some of my earlier conclusions (in Chapter 2), reconceiving others (in Chapters 3 and 4), and introducing new ones (in Chapters 5 and 6).

Twenty-nine Days of Managing

I could go on. This is the tip of the managerial iceberg. I spent a day with each of these and other managers—twenty-nine in all—observing, interviewing, reviewing their diaries over a week or a month, to interpret what was going on. The evidence from that research informs this book.

As shown in Table 1.1, these managers came from business, government, health care, and the social sector (nongovernmental organizations [NGOs], not-for-profits, etc.), and from all sorts of organizations, including banking, policing, filmmaking, aircraft production, retailing, telecommunications. Some of these organizations were tiny, others huge (from 18 to 800,000 employees). These managers spanned all the conventional levels of the hierarchy, from the so-called top and middle to the base. Some worked in major urban centers (London, Paris, Amsterdam, Montreal); others, in more out-of-the-way places (N'gara, Tanzania; New Minas, Nova Scotia; the Banff National Park in western Canada). Some were observed singly; others, in clusters (e.g., three managers of the Canadian parks, who reported to each other, on three successive days).

For each day (or cluster of days), I described what I saw and then interpreted it in conceptual terms. I let each speak for itself. And speak they did—for example, about how old-fashioned managing by exception can be very up-to-date; about how the managers of Greenpeace have to give as much attention to the sustainability of their organization as to the sustainability of our environment; about how the real politics of government may happen on the ground, where the bears meet the tourists. These days also spoke to the wide variety of contexts in which management happens: I found myself holding on the back of a motorcycle for dear life at it raced through Paris, from one press interview to another; sitting alone in a concert hall of 2,222 velvet seats watching a conductor rehearsing an orchestra; lunching once in a restaurant established by an enterprising refugee in an African camp, and another time freezing in the Greenpeace cafeteria in Amsterdam; walking in a pristine park discussing "bear jams" (traffic jams caused by motorists who stop to see the bears that have ambled down to the highway). All of this, I assure you, provides a wonderful setting to contemplate management and life—since managing is about so much of life.

A single day, albeit reinforced by discussion of other days, is hardly a long time. But it is remarkable what can come from straight and simple observation, with no agenda other than letting reality hit you in the face. As Yogi Berra, the sage of American baseball, put it: "You can observe a lot just by watching." Combine all twenty-nine days, and you have a good deal of evidence about the practice of managing.

Throughout the book, I weave in illustrations from these twenty-nine days, both the descriptions of what happened and the conceptual interpretations of why it happened. Eight of these descriptions are reproduced in the appendix, to anchor the book. The descriptions and interpretations of all twenty-nine days have been made available on a Web site ( To give a sense of this, let me quote some of the titles of the write-ups that appear on the site and figure in the later chapters:

• "Managing on the Edges"—about the political pressures experienced by those managers in the Canadian parks

• "Managing Up, Down, In, and Out"—about the effects of hierarchical level on five managers of the huge National Health Service (NHS) of England, from the chief executive to two head clinicians in hospitals

• "Hard Dealing and Soft Leading"—about the contrast in the work of the head of a film company, between managing externally and internally

• "The Yin and Yang of Managing"—contrasting the work of two chief executives, one of a fashion museum, the other of Doctors Without Borders, both in Paris but worlds apart

• "Managing Exceptionally"—about two Red Cross managers in that refugee camp in Tanzania, managing by exception in exceptional ways

Before proceeding, it will be helpful in this opening chapter to revisit three other myths that get in the way of seeing managing for what it is: that it is somehow separate from leadership; that it is a science, or at least a profession; and that managers, like everyone else, live in times of great change.

Leadership Embedded in Management and Communityship

It has become fashionable to distinguish leaders from managers (Zaleznik 1977, 2004; Kotter 1990a, 1990b). One does the right things, copes with change; the other does things right, copes with complexity. So tell me, who are the leaders and who are the managers in the examples described earlier? Was Alan Whelan merely managing at BT, and Bramwell Tovey merely leading on, and off, the podium? How about Jacques Benz in that project meeting at GSI? Was he doing the right things or doing things right?

Frankly, I don't understand what this distinction means in the everyday life of organizations. Sure, we can separate leading and managing conceptually. But can we separate them in practice? Or, more to the point, should we even try?

How would you like to be managed by someone who doesn't lead? That can be awfully dispiriting. Well, then, why would you want to be led by someone who doesn't manage? That can be terribly disengaging: how are such "leaders" to know what is going on?5 As Jim March put it: "Leadership involves plumbing as well as poetry" (2004:173).

I observed John Cleghorn, Chairman of the Royal Bank of Canada, who developed a reputation in his company for calling the office on his way to the airport to report a broken ATM machine and such things. This bank has thousands of such machines. Was John micromanaging? Maybe he was setting an example that others should keep their eyes open for such problems.

In fact, today we should be more worried about "macroleading"—people in senior positions who try to manage by remote control, disconnected from everything except "the big picture." It has become popular to talk about us being overmanaged and underled. I believe we are now overled and undermanaged.

Konosuke Matsushita, who founded the company that carries his name, claimed, "Big things and little things are my job. Middle level arrangements can be delegated." In other words, leadership cannot simply delegate management; instead of distinguishing managers from leaders, we should be seeing managers as leaders, and leadership as management practiced well.

Whether in the confines of academia or the columns of newspapers, it is a lot easier to muse about the glories of leadership than it is to come to grips with the realities of management. Obviously this comes at the expense of management, but it has also undermined leadership itself. The more we obsess about leadership, the less of it we seem to get. In fact, the more we claim to develop leadership in courses and programs (I counted the words leader and leadership over fifty times on the Harvard MBA Web site in 2007), the more we get hubris. That is because leadership is earned, not anointed.

Moreover, by putting leadership on a pedestal separated from management, we turn a social process into a personal one. No matter how much lip service is paid to the leader empowering the group, leadership still focuses on the individual: whenever we promote leadership, we demote others, as followers. Slighted, too, is the sense of community that is important for cooperative effort in all organizations. What we should be promoting instead of leadership alone are communities of actors who get on with things naturally, leadership together with management being an intrinsic part of that. Accordingly, this book puts managing ahead, seeing it together with leadership as naturally embedded in what can be called communityship.

Managing as a Practice

After years of seeking these Holy Grails, it is time to recognize that managing is neither a science nor a profession; it is a practice, learned primarily through experience, and rooted in context.

Certainly Not a Science Science is about the development of systematic knowledge through research. That is hardly the purpose of management, which is about helping to get things done in organizations. Management is not even an applied science, because that is still a science. Management certainly applies science: managers have to use all the knowledge they can get. And they certainly use analysis, rooted in the scientific method (meaning here scientific proof more than scientific discovery).

But effective managing is more dependent on art, and is especially rooted in craft. Art produces the "insights," and "vision," based on intuition. (Peter Drucker wrote in 1954 that "the days of the 'intuitive' manager are numbered" [p. 93]. Half a century later, we are still counting.) And craft is about learning from experience—working things out as the manager goes along.

Thus, as shown in Figure 1.1, managing can be seen to take place within a triangle when art, craft, and the use of science meet. Art brings in the ideas and the integration; craft makes the connections, building on tangible experiences; and science provides the order, through systematic analysis of knowledge.

Most of the work that can be programmed in an organization need not concern its managers directly; specialists can do it. That leaves the managers with much of the messy stuff—the intractable problems, the complicated connections. This is what makes the practice of managing so fundamentally "soft," and why labels such as experience, intuition, judgment, and wisdom are so commonly needed to describe it. Put together a good deal of craft with the right touch of art alongside some use of science, and you end up with a job that is above all a practice. There is no "one best way" to manage; it depends on the situation.

Nor a Profession It has been pointed out that engineering, too, is not a science or an applied science so much as a practice in its own right (Lewin 1979). But engineering does apply a good deal of science, codified and certified as to its effectiveness. And so it can be called a profession, which means that it can be taught in advance of practice, out of context. In a sense, a bridge is a bridge, or at least steel is steel, even if its use has to be adapted to the circumstances at hand. The same can be said about medicine. But not about management:

Many medical skills of diagnosis, inference and treatment ... assume that illness can be decomposed into separate problems that do not differ much between patients and can be treated by fairly standard remedies.... In contrast, much managerial work involves dealing with problems that are quite interdependent with other parts of the organization, are specific to this particular firm, market and industry and not readily reduced to a general, standard syndrome that can be treated by a specific technique. (Whitley 1995:92; see also 1989)

Little of management practice has been reliably codified, let alone certified as to its effectiveness. That is why Hill found that people "had to act as managers before they understood what the role was" (2003:45).

Ever since Frederick Taylor (1916) dubbed his work study method the "one best way," we have been searching for the Holy Grail of management in science and professionalism. Today that lives on in the easy formulas of so much of the popular literature, whether "strategic planning," "shareholder value," and so forth. Yet time and time again, the easy answers have failed, giving the illusion of progress while the real problems have continued to fester.

Because of their codified knowledge, engineering and medicine must be learned formally. And so the trained expert can almost always outperform the layperson. Not so in management. Few of us would trust the intuitive engineer or physician, with no formal training, yet we trust all kinds of managers who have never spent a day in a management classroom (and we have suspicions about many of those who spent two years).


Excerpted from MANAGING by HENRY MINTZBERG Copyright © 2009 by Henry Mintzberg. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


A Note to the Reader....................xi
1 Managing Ahead....................1
2 The Dynamics of Managing....................17
3 A Model of Managing....................43
4 The Untold Varieties of Managing....................97
5 The Inescapable Conundrums of Managing....................157
6 Managing Effectively....................195
APPENDIX Eight Days of Managing....................237
About the Author....................305
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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted February 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Scholarly report on managing

    Managing, believes scholar Henry Mintzberg, is different from leading. To study which skills are essential to good management, Mintzberg spent an entire day one-on-one with 29 managers from different kinds of organizations and from different sectors - including banking, retail, filmmaking, government, nonprofits and healthcare. Mintzberg looked at managers who worked in the executive suites as well as on the front lines. He learned that although managers differ considerably in their activities, the skills they need are surprisingly similar. Although quite general and not entirely new, getAbstract recommends this comprehensive guide to managers, executive placement experts, consultants, students and others who wish to get back to basics and to develop the traits essential to becoming an effective, able manager.

    To learn more about this book, check out the following Web page:

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 31, 2009

    A must read for those serious about management...

    Mintzberg presents the most comprehensive and descriptive model of management functions I have seen. His model describes three planes that represent where managing takes place. The planes are the information plane, the people plane and the action plane.

    I will not describe his model in detail here. However it is important to note the model is not simple. It has been my personal experience that people and organizations crave simplifying assumptions to the point they embrace them as the only truths that are needed. So, if you are looking for the "three steps to..." or the "five essential factors..." or the "eight ways to" this book is not for you.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with simplifying assumptions as long as we remember circumstances and context are always more complicated than that. Mintzberg correctly points out how a lot of management are leadership books focus on one competency or aspect and what is needed is a balance/blending of many aspects. Specifically he states " is time to recognize that managing is neither science nor a profession; it is a practice, learned primarily through experience, and rooted in context."

    Therefore, if you are a manager and believe you can always get better at it, this is a book you should read. It provides a context for management. It does not tell you what to do in specific situations. I personally believe that greatness (at anything) is the summation of knowledge of a lot of little things. Everyone can get the basics right but it is the subtleties that result from knowledge and real life experience that result in exceptional levels of performance.

    With regard to the book itself the book has key points in bold text and this makes it easy for time constrained readers to quickly scan to items of importance and and then dive in where there is an interest.

    Here are ten interesting and/or valuable points I found in the book. There are many more but I will just list these from my perspective:

    I. Much of an informed manager's information is not even verbal so much as visceral...seen and felt more than heard.

    II. In the leading role managers help to bring out the energy that naturally exists in people.

    III. Managers are gatekeepers and buffers in the flow of influence. (Mintzberg's description of 5 ways managers can get this wrong is priceless)

    IV. The pressures of managing are not temporary but perpetual.

    V. Managing is no job to approach with hesitation: it simply requires too much of the total person.

    VI. Successful managers are flawed, we are all flawed, but there particular flaws are not fatal, at least under the circumstances.

    VII. Managing contains many inescapable conundrums. (Chapter 5 documents these and is worth the price of the book by itself)

    VIII. The self study questions for managers in Chapter 6 are a powerful tool to improve your performance as a manager.

    IX. A remarkable number of effective managers are reflective: they know how to learn from their own experience; they explore numerous options; and they back off when one doesn't work to try another.

    X. Measure what you can, but then be sure to judge the rest: don't be mesmerized by measurement.

    If you are a high level leader this is a book that is worthy of giving to your managers and then scheduling a monthly meeting where a single chapter is reviewed and the important points and take-aways are discussed.

    Dr. James T. Brown PMP,PE,CSP

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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