I was maybe one year into my career when my team leader left the company. The system had bred into me that where you sat on the company organogram was a key measure of career progress. So I decided it was time for me to step onto the first rung.
I mustered the courage to make my case. Entering the office of someone so senior they actually had an office was somewhat intimidating. My emotions were thrown into turmoil as she appeared to choke on her coffee. It soon registered that I had just witnessed a live demonstration of ‘laughing underwater’. Like a game of snakes and ladders my ascent had been thwarted.
Looking back, as we transition from the industrial to the digital era I can only presume she was prescient and considerate enough to save me from my misguided career progression. I think that is the real message behind ‘lacks management skill’.
Back in the industrial era we of course needed managers to ensure the workers worked. And worked in a manner that confirmed to the factory processes. It was a given that workers disliked working and so needed to be corralled into productivity.
The allure of entering the management class was attractive back then. You could tell people what to do. And better still you didn’t have to give an explanation. You were allocated to an office or at least your cubicle had alpha positioning. You might even be allocated a car. And in some cases you got to eat in a more civilised canteen and possibly no longer had to deal with grubby customers.
But of course the world has moved on and delayering of management is standard practice these days. But the more fundamental change is that workers are starting to enjoy work. Workers are increasingly looking beyond the economics and choosing a path that reflects their passion. In what is increasingly the social economy, such people live and die by their reputation. As such their intrinsic motivation trumps any carrot / stick management tricks.
Successful companies will be those that can act fastest on the best information. Traditional hierarchies are thus obstacles to success. Collaboration is key. The flatter the people structure the better the collaboration.
Bottom line: we no longer need managers.
Despite my earlier brush with career advancement, I managed to become a project manager whilst working at the European Space Agency. My team was largely made up of space scientists from across Europe. My team meetings were largely acts of kindness by my team members. They knew what they had to do. Their reputation and their life’s work depended on it. They regarded my meetings as a kind of career tax. They understood that coming from the commercial world I had to have a sense of control so they played along.
How scientists behaved back then is how modern workers are starting to behave. Management (though not leadership) is dying along with the industrial era.
You have two choices if future-proofing your career is important to you. Become an entrepreneur and use your vision as a leadership beacon to inspire others. Or become a specialist, an artisan, whose creative skills cannot be replicated by technology. Those in management are standing right in front of the progress bulldozer. Time to decide which way to jump.