Reviewing one’s own book is an interesting idea; finally a chance for some
objectivity in a book review!
I will review my first book The Nature of Managerial Work, (1973), together
with my next-to-last one, Simply Managing (2013), because they address the
same topic, 40 years apart. (In fact, Simply Managing is an abbreviated version
of Managing, published in 2009, with some of the more formal material taken
The samples are different. The former was based on one week of
observation of 5 chief executives, three of them in businesses, while the latter
was based on a day of observation of 29 managers at all levels, more distributed
across private, public, and plural sector organizations.
The structure of the two books may appear to be similar, with a number of
chapters paralleling each other, although some are in fact quite different. I shall
review these similarities and differences, chapter by chapter, before asking in
conclusion what I learned in these ensuing 40 years.
The openings are rather different. In Managerial Work, I summarized the
book in the first chapter and presented a review of earlier literature on the nature
of managerial work in Chapter 2—in terms of various schools of thought—as
would be expected in a book that derived from my doctoral thesis. Simply
Managing is meant to be a more popular book for managers, so there is less
literature review and a more provocative introduction: to various myths of
managing (for example, the distinction between leaders and managers). On the
other hand, the whole of Managerial Work debunked a number of myths of
managing, so perhaps the two books are on the same page, so to speak.
CHARACTERISTICS OF MANAGING
I was happy to keep the next chapter of Simply Managing much like that of
Managerial Work. It was the best received chapter, and since I claim in one of the
myths of Chapter 1 in Simply Managing that managerial work is a fundamental
practice that does not change, why change this chapter? It points out the pace
and pressures of managing, which perhaps resonated with readers tired of this
job so often having been described as akin to orchestra conducting (in
performance anyway, not rehearsal!).
Yet maybe I too got a little caught up in this. Of the 29 days of observation
discussed in Simply Managing, some certainly demonstrated these
characteristics (e.g., the entrepreneurial head of a chain of retail stores and the
head nurse of a surgical ward in a hospital), but others were somewhat more
calm. Other characteristics described in both books do, however, seem to apply
more generally, such as the oral nature of managing and the wide range of
contacts that managers have, both inside and outside the unit they manage.
CONTENT OF MANAGING
The next chapter of both books considered the context of managing, what I
called its “working roles” in Managerial Work and “a model of managing” in
The ten roles I described in Managerial Work (figurehead, leader, liaison,
monitor, disseminator, spokesman, entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource
allocator, negotiator) received a good deal of attention: finally something in print
beyond the tired words of “planning, organizing, coordinating, commanding, and
controlling” (all words for controlling) that had dominated the literature for half a
But I was not especially happy with this by the time I came to the revision. I
didn’t feel that this description was wrong so much as inadequate—constituting a
list instead of a model. So the chapters of Managerial Work and Simply Managing
differ markedly. I like the model in Simply Managing, shown as managing on
three planes—information, people, and action—into the organization and out to
its surroundings. On this model, I laid various roles, similar to those of the earlier
book but conceptually tighter. I think this captures the spirit of the practice of
managing well, but I’m not sure that anyone has taken much notice, at least
compared with the earlier ten roles. I hope this changes.
VARIETIES OF MANAGING
Both books have chapters on varieties of managing. That of Managerial
Work was much more systematic, presenting hypothesis on the effects of, for
example, the nature of the industry, the level of the job, and the size of the
But what were managers to do with that? So in Simply Managing, I
dropped the hypotheses. I studied the 29 days carefully and came up with a
conclusion that surprised myself: that some of the factors we assume to be most
significant—such as national culture (for example, managing in China versus the
U.S.)—may not be all that significant, while others—such as the form of the
organization (professional versus machine, etc.)—may be more so than
previously thought. Myths remain in understanding managerial work.
SCIENCE, CONUNDRUMS, AND EFFECTIVENESS
From here the two books diverge. Managerial Work went into an aberration
about science in managerial work: programing it for greater effectiveness. I rarely
repudiate what I have written, and I am not sorry I included this. It did indicate my
inclination back then. (I had worked in Operational Research at the Canadian
National Railways before I did my graduate studies at MIT.) But I soon realized
that this was a bit of a dead end.
What I did instead in Simply Managing particularly pleases me. Before
concluding with a chapter on managing effectively, I added a chapter on the
conundrums of managing (some threads of which can be found in Managerial
Work). As an objective reviewer, I find this chapter terrific, and hope it will get
much more attention. Imagine asking “How can a manager keep informed when
the very nature of the job removed him or her from the very thing being
managed?” Or “How to maintain the necessary confidence without slipping into
arrogance?” I think these conundrums get closest to describing the intricate
complexities of managing: I use them when I do workshops with managers.
The last chapter of Simply Managing, called “Managing Effectively”, is playful, but
I am happy with it because I believe it addresses the right issues with serious
intent: the inevitably flawed manager; selecting the devils you know; the
difficulties of assessing managerial effectiveness; and how to develop managers
by recognizing that, while no manager can be created in a classroom, people with
experience in the practice, can there be given the opportunity to learn by
reflecting together on their own experience.
40 YEARS LATER
I am quite happy with Simply Managing, happier than with Managerial
Work, even though the latter has done so well. Simply Managing has yet to
succeed like that, but I feel that it deserves to. The job of managing is important,
and the more we all understood it, the better it will be practiced. We are still
inundated with myths about managing, such as the nonsense that “If you can’t
measure it, you can’t manage it.” Whoever measured with any sophistication the
culture of an organization, the potential market for a truly new product, or
managing itself. Indeed, has anyone ever even tried to measure the performance
What have I learned in the ensuring years? To be more playful for sure—to
ease up and let go. Readers learn more, and so does the author. I also learned to
see managing more comprehensively. With that one exception (of programming
the job), I think I was on the right track in 1973; now I can see better where that
track is headed. As I state in Chapter 1 of Simply Managing, the practice is
fundamental and does not change—not ensuing 40 years. But my perception of it
At least what I call “Managing Naturally” in the last chapter of the new book
hasn’t changed. What has changed is that now we have so much more managing
unnaturally: “leaders” who sit on “top”, measuring and then exercising their
authority by remote control, instead of rolling up their sleeves and facing the fact
that good leadership is embedded in engaged management.
If this is not clear to you, let me suggest that you read a really good book. It’s
called Simply Managing.
Pour citer cet article
reviewed by Mintzberg Henry, « Henry MINTZBERG, The Nature of Managerial Work (1973) & Simply Managing: What Manager Do - And Can Do Better (2013). Paperback: 298 pages Publisher: Harper & Row (1973) Language: English ISBN: 978-0060445560 Paperback: 216 pages Publisher: Berrett-Koehler (2013) Language: English ISBN: 978-1609949234», M@n@gement
2/2015 (Vol. 18) , p. 186-188
URL : www.cairn.info/revue-management-2015-2-page-186.htm.
DOI : 10.3917/mana.182.0186.