Will modern “management” go down in history with antibiotics and soda as something that started out benevolent but ended up harming many people?

As we shift to an economy in which creativity, compassion, and dare I say, humanity, are the way in which people and companies will win the hearts and mind of people – many of our beliefs about how a manager should behave will be challenged if not destroyed.

Professors Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden recently published an incredible piece of research that looked at what drove meaning in people’s work. The fascinating finding was what they didn’t find:

“Instead, our research showed that quality of leadership received virtually no mention when people described meaningful moments at work, but poor management was the top destroyer of meaningfulness.”

I loved working in strategy consulting. However, after several years of focusing on “organizational change” and researching what leads to performance in our modern businesses – I came to some questions that came to undermine everything I had learned and my own role in it:

1. What if by designing organizational change in a top-down manner, this undermines any semblance of hope that any improvements will ever be realized?

2. What if 95% of managers and leaders only end up destroying human motivation and that the 5% of inspiring leaders are only doing so by some miracle or act of courage tied to their own personal motivations?

My personal beliefs from conversations with hundreds of people over the years are that both are true in more cases than not. Taking this to its logical conclusion – that my work was largely meaningless and that I was solely enriching myself is part of what drove me to go out on my own to dive deeper into what we can do about it.

So perhaps you are sitting there reading this as a people manager or other leader in a company and saying well, shucks Paul what the hell am I supposed to do?

I do believe that the purpose of a manager and leader is more important than ever. However, we need to shift away from even thinking about it as management and we need to unlearn the way we think we are supposed to “manage.”

I believe the sole purpose of leadership in today’s working world is to create environments where people can thrive.

This means understanding human motivation, understanding your employees as people and what drives them, it means helping them create more sanity in their lives (yes, maybe coming to work late to get more sleep) and it means yes, supporting them to leave their company if they can thrive elsewhere.

What do you think?