Rounding out the Manager’s Job

Reading Time: 47 min 

Tom Peters tells us that good managers are doers. (Wall Street says they “do deals.”) Michael Porter suggests that they are thinkers. Not so, argue Abraham Zaleznik and Warren Bennis: good managers are really leaders. Yet, for the better part of this century, the classical writers — Henri Fayol and Lyndell Urwick, among others — kept telling us that good managers are essentially controllers.

It is a curiosity of the management literature that its best-known writers all seem to emphasize one particular part of the manager’s job to the exclusion of the others. Together, perhaps, they cover all the parts, but even that does not describe the whole job of managing.

If you turn to the more formalized literature, you will find all kinds of lists — of tasks or roles or “competences.” But a list is not a model (even if presented in the form of a circle, meaning the ends have been joined), and so the integrated work of managing still gets lost in the process of describing it. And without such a model, we can neither understand the job properly nor deal with its many important needs — for design, selection, training, and support.

To play with a metaphor, if the toughest nut to crack in our knowledge of management has been the manager’s job itself, then that may well be because we have done just that. We have been so intent on breaking the job into pieces that we never came to grips with the whole thing. It is time, therefore, to consider the integrated job of managing.

That is what I set out to do several years ago, after becoming discouraged with all those lists and circles (including one from my own initial study of managerial work, first published in 1973).1 I did not feel the need to go find out what managers do. We knew that already, I believed, based on a considerable body of research and publication over the past decades. Our need was for a framework to put all this together, a model of managing, if you like. People had to be able to “see” the job in one place, in order to deal with its component parts comprehensively and interactively. In fact, as my ideas developed, the metaphor of the nut came alive, for the model has taken the form of an interacting set of concentric circles.


1. H. Mintzberg, The Nature of Managerial Work (New York: Harper & Row, 1973); and

H. Mintzberg, “The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact,” Harvard Business Review, July–August 1975, pp. 49–61.

2. P.F. Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).

3. M.E. Porter, Competitive Strategy (New York: Free Press, 1980).

For a comparison of strategy as perspective and position, see:

H. Mintzberg, “Five P’s for Strategy,” California Management Review, Fall 1987, pp. 11–24.

4. A. Noël, “Strategic Cores and Magnificent Obsessions: Discovering Strategy Formation through Daily Activities of CEOs,” Strategic Management Journal 10 (1989): 33–49.

5. J.P Kotter, The General Manager (New York: Free Press, 1982).

6. Noël (1989).

7. See R. Simons, “Strategic Orientation and Top Management Attention to Control Systems,” Strategic Management Journal 12 (1991): 49–62; and

R. Simons,“The Role of Management Control Systems in Creating Competitive Advantage: New Perspectives,” Accounting, Organizations and Society 15 (1990): 127–143.

8. See H. Simon’s discussion of intelligence, design, and choice, in The New Science of Management Decision (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1960).

9. H. Gulick and L.F. Urwick, Paper on the Science of Administration (New York, Columbia University, 1937); see also

H. Fayol, Administration industrielle et générale (Paris: Dunod, 1916); English translation, General and Industrial Administration (London: Pelman, 1949).

10. See F.W. Roethlisberger and W.J. Dickson, Management and the Worker (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1939).

11. See Karl Weick’s criticism of my inclusion of leading as a role in my 1973 book in:

K. Weick, “Review Essay of The Nature of Managerial Work,” Administrative Science Quarterly 19 (1974): 111–118.

12. M. Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1918).

13. L.R. Sayles, Managerial Behavior: Administration in Complex Organizations (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964);

Mintzberg (1973); and

Kotter (1982).

14. L.R. Sayles, The Working Leader (New York: Free Press, 1993).

15. T. Peters, “The Case for Experimentation: or, you can’t plan your way to unplanning a formerly planned economy” (Palo Alto, California, pamphlet issued by Tom Peters Group, 1990).

16. A. Grove, High Output Management (New York: Random House, 1983).

17. K.E. Weick, The Social Psychology of Organizing (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1979).

See also:

H. Mintzberg, “Crafting Strategy,” Harvard Business Review, July–August 1987, pp. 66–75.

18. See H. Mintzberg, “Managing as Blended Care,” Journal of Nursing Administration (forthcoming, 1994).

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