Thursday, February 16, 2012

Successful vs. Effective Real Managers - Luthans Study - Managerial Implications

Managerial Work

Famous French administrator and writer Henri Fayol explained managerial work in terms of  the functions of planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling. Koontz and O'Donnel developed a very popular textbook on management around these functions.

Recently this classical view of managers been challenged by the landmark work of Henry Mintzberg.
On the basis of his observations of five CEOs and their mail, Mintzberg concluded that the manager's job consisted of many brief and disjointed episodes with people inside and outside the organization. He discounted notions such as reflective planning. Instead of the five Fayolian functions of management, Mintzberg portrayed managers in terms of a typology of roles. He formulated three interpersonal roles (figurehead, leader, and liaison); three informational roles (monitor or nerve center, disseminator, and spokesman), and four decision-making roles (entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator). Even though according to me this typology does not replace functions of management framework, many do consider it that way.

John Kotter also provided his description of managers  based on his study of 15 successful general managers. Kotter also challenged the traditional view by concluding that managers do not so simply perform the Fayolian functions by spending time in collecting and analyzing data, but rather spend most of their time interacting with others. In particular, he found his general managers spent considerable time in meetings getting and giving information. Kotter refers to these get-togethers as "network building." Networking accomplishes what Kotter calls a manager's "agenda" - the loosely connected goals and plans addressing the manager's responsibilities. By obtaining relevant and needed information from his or her networks, rather than from the formal information systems, the effective general manager is able to implement his or her agenda.

Fred Luthans and his coresearchers, Richard M. Hodgetts, and Stuart Rosenkrantz used trained observers to freely observe and record in detail the behaviors and activities of 44 "real" managers. From this study they concluded that the activities done by real managers are as follows:

1. Communication. This activity consists of observed behaviors that  include answering procedural questions, receiving and disseminating requested information, conveying the results of meetings, giving or receiving routine information over the phone, processing mail, reading reports, writing reports/memos/letters, routine financial reporting (expense accounts etc.) and record keeping, and general desk work.

2. Traditional Management. This activity consists of planning, decision making, and controlling. Its observed behaviors include setting goals and objectives, defining tasks needed to accomplish goals, scheduling employees, assigning tasks, providing routine instructions, defining problems, handling day-to-day operational crises, deciding what to do, developing new procedures, inspecting work, walking around inspecting the work, monitoring performance data, and doing preventive maintenance of management systems.

3. Human Resource Management. This activity contains: motivating/reinforcing, disciplining/punishing, managing conflict, staffing, and training/developing. 

4. Networking. This activity consists of socializing/politicking and interacting with outsiders. The observed behaviors associated with this activity include non-work-related "chit chat"; informal joking around; discussing rumors, hearsay and the grapevine; complaining, griping, and putting others down; politicking and gamesmanship; dealing with customers, suppliers, and vendors; attending external meetings; and doing/attending community service events (Networking is different from communication by the way it is defined or conceptualized).

According to Luthans et al. these four activities are what real managers do. They include some of the classic notions of Fayol (the traditional management activities) as well as the more recent views of Mintzberg (the communication activities) and Kotter (the networking activities). This view which includes human resource management activities explicitly, is more comprehensive than previous sets of managerial work.

Successful and Effective Managers

In their research study, Luthans et al. defined success operationally in terms of the speed of promotion within an organization. A success index  was calculated by dividing a manager's level in his or her organization by his or her tenure (length of service) there.

Effective managers were determined on the basis of two criteria. (1) getting the job done through high quantity and quality standards of performance, and (2) getting the job done through people, which requires their satisfaction and commitment.

Surprising Finding

Many managers who are the upper third of effective managers are not in the upper third of successful managers. This means effective managers are not progressing rapidly in their organizations.

The managerial implication is that senior managers need to be careful at the promotion time. The subordinates who spend time in networking activities are getting undue preference in promotions. This will be detrimental to the organization in the long run.


1. Fred Luthans, "Successful vs. Effective Real Managers", Academy of Management Executive, 1988, 2(2): 127-132.

Online version available at
2. Henry Mintzberg, "The Manager's Job: Folklore and Fact," Harvard Business Review, July-August 1975, 53, pp. 49-61.
3. John Kotter, The General Managers, New York: Free Press, 1982.

First published on Knol (Knol No.405)
Knol not available after 30 April 2012

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