By Henry Mintzberg
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009
Reviewed by Jack C. Green, PhD, MBA, Professor of Strategy
Henry Mintzberg provides an interesting perspective on managing. His original book, The Nature of Managerial Work, is the starting point for this book, which contains more than 350 references to additional literature on management. The basis of this book is observing 29 senior managers from various profit and nonprofit organizations, each for one day. From these observations, Mintzberg draws conclusions that do or do not support his earlier findings, and also compares his conclusions to those of other writers.
Instead of drawing conclusions at the end of each chapter, Mintzberg uses boldface type throughout each chapter to draw the reader’s attention to his major points. This way, the reader can move through the book and find a specific area of interest, and it is easy to stop and review the relevant sections. The reader can also glean the essence of the book quickly just by reviewing the boldface type.
There is no “cookie cutter” approach to managing—no single diagram or test to understand an effective manager. Much of managing is idiosyncratic based on the organization and the manager. Mintzberg argues that “to be a successful manager, let alone a great leader, maybe you don’t have to be wonderful so much as more or less emotionally healthy and clearheaded” (234). He found that to be the case with the 29 managers that were the subjects of this book.
While the research in Managing does add to the body of knowledge in this area, it is clearly limited by the length of time spent with each manager—Mintzberg quickly admits the limitations, noting that the time chosen to observe each manager largely was a function of two individual’s calendars. It does provide a comprehensive review of the literature, however, and draws comparisons to the literature and Mintzberg’s qualitative research.
Managing could be an appropriate introductory text for an undergraduate class in business, but this reviewer expected more.
Henry Mintzberg’s Managing could be an appropriate introductory text for an undergraduate class in business. With his reputation for being somewhat of an iconoclast, I expected more. I began reading with enthusiasm and great expectations. My expectations were too great!
Most of this book is a rehash with some updating of his first book, The Nature of Managerial Work (1973). Maybe this reviewer has just become too jaded! Or maybe I have spent enough time with C-level executives and mid-level managers to feel that this book is nothing more than a beginner’s introduction to the subject. I cannot see using it in any of my MBA classes, nor with clients.
In the second paragraph of the preface, the author writes of deciding to revisit the subject of that first book. He comments,” … not that I believed managing had changed; I changed, or at least I hope so.” For this reader, both comments are open to question. Technology has changed both the context and the practice of management. Or at least that is true in publicly traded for-profit organizations. With technology, board members and major investors can do their own research and expect quick responses from the managers who have been entrusted to make reasonable returns on the dollars invested. Three of Mintzberg’s interviewees manage not-for-profit organizations. Perhaps there has been little or no change in that arena.
My less than enthusiastic endorsement of Managing was confirmed by Mintzberg’s words toward the end of the book. He writes:
“We hear a great deal of hype about change these days. It seems that no management speech can begin without paying homage to the claim that ‘We live in times of great change.’ Are we sure? My car uses the same basic internal combustion technology as the Ford Model T.”
Hmm … could it be that Canadians do not have hybrid cars and do not expect to use cars powered by alternative energy sources? And then there is the matter of how the context of management is influenced and sometimes forcibly changed by changes in the broader social-cultural environment. Are women managers in Canada viewed and treated in the 21st century the way they were in the 1970s?
Based on this assessment, I give Managing a meager one star.