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Management is a noble profession

By Jonathan Cook – 

Management is a noble profession. It is also the area of talent that seems to be most in demand and most difficult to find in companies – if salaries reflect the supply and demand situation.

In some quarters management has received a bad press through “managerialism” and through association with an economic system that many today believe to be exploitative and selfish.

But managers are the people who keep the wheels turning in society. They are the often-unsung heroes who keep the lights on, the traffic moving, the shelves stocked, services provided, and afterwards the waste removed.

Good management is a matter of life and death. The hospital manager a few years ago who failed to maintain the EEG machine in a rural hospital I know of in the north of South Africa, is quite possibly culpable for the death of the patient who came in with symptoms of heart disease – and could not be treated. I expect similar disasters happen several times a day – babies who die, accident victims who are not saved, ill people who are not diagnosed or treated in time because a manager did not feel like doing his or her job properly.

The testing ground manager who sells driving licences without testing is guilty of culpable homicide when an incompetent driver causes a fatal accident.

The careless or corrupt manager who allows misleading packaging on a food product, or who fails to check the proportion of cement in the concrete in a building site, or who channels money for school feeding into personal pockets instead of efficient procurement of nutrition – all these kill people.

There are times when incompetence or corruption is a death sentence.

On the positive side, the manager who builds a business that employs growing numbers of staff puts food on the tables of families and creates dignity that is priceless.

The manager who looks ahead and will not rest until water supplies are secured before they run out, that power stations are built in time, that customers are heard and competitors monitored so that the business survives; all these add value to our lives that is both tangible and intangible.

Bad managers cost lives; good managers create livelihoods.

There is another reason to consider management a good career – managers are not among those whose jobs are likely to be replaced by robots in the foreseeable future. In the past it was manual jobs that robots replaced – in factories, farms and mines. Next it will be more complex routine tasks, like driving. Looking ahead, it will be many of the professions that are replaced.

Algorithms are already better at diagnosing most ailments, so how many doctors will we need? Who needs a person to prepare a routine legal document? When is human judgement actually required in the preparation of accounts?

But computers are not that great for building teamwork, resolving interpersonal conflicts, thinking creatively about the future, making decisions in which moral judgement is required. For those we need people.

So let’s encourage our brightest and best to take on careers in management, not just as a way of climbing the corporate ladder and maybe making a fortune, but a way of serving humanity and leaving a legacy to be proud of.

And in our management talent development programmes, let’s not focus on training people in the things that a computer could do as well or better. Let’s rather find a friendly computer to do that, and develop the moral judgement, strategic creativity, human compassion and interpersonal effectiveness of the humans to whom we entrust the future of our companies and our society.

 

Jonathan Cook is past director of GIBS and currently chairman of the African Management Initiative (www.africanmanagers.org), which is headquartered in Nairobi and recently opened an office in Johannesburg.

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Jonathan Cook is chairman of the Nairobi-based African Management Initiative (AMI), a social enterprise focused on developing scalable approaches to support African managers in excellent performance, and adjunct faculty member and professional associate of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) of the University of Pretoria.

J@GMAIL.COM

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