It is possible to make a strong argument on how the myths of management can create serious intellectual and practical confusion. By myths we do not mean useless and inaccurate belief systems. After all, without some shared stories to tell ourselves about the world around us, human beings cannot know what they collectively believe, and hence all but the most elementary communications are severely limited. However, as the environment and organizational actors change, it becomes necessary for myths and myth systems to change. If they are prevented from changing, either by ignorance and inattention or, worse yet, by the dogmatic imposition of a particular organizational ideology, myths can become very harmful. The consequence is impairing the person`s capacity to understand or interpret the surrounding world. Then, the question is, what are the myth of management that may be presently impairing our capacity to understand and transform the manager`s world? Various scholars (Vail and Stacey) have profoundly researched this dimension, but let us say that there are at least seven that operate powerfully in our cultural consciousness and that have not yet been overturned by the world of radical change and transformation. These myths operate not as a list but as a profound ideological system of work or as conventional mental models.
- The myth of a single person called the manager, the leader or the champion. This conception implies that there is a coherent, whole function to be performed. It is a very old idea that received enormous reinforcement in the twentieth century with the adoption of the concept of "the administrator" and "the general manager" as the primary focus of universities and graduate programs with the mission of forming them. It is a vast abstraction, for all kinds of people without the title or the power have opportunities for management and leadership in contemporary organizations. It also grounds new research about the competencies skills and habits of this abstract manager.
- The myth that the leader leads and the manager manages is very much the legacy of thinkers of the nineteenth century with their concept of the firm and also with the notion of bureaucracy. The point is that one must make an enormous simplification to abstract a collection of people and physical objects out of the total flow and call it an organization. The traditional notion of an organization is a mixture of physical and conceptual differentiation. We have done this with such a degree of sophistication that the myriad of interconnections makes it difficult for us to understand the organization`s sensitivity to its environment. Furthermore, the through reification of the idea of organization dulls our sensitivity to all the different ways the organization can appear, depending on the point of view of the observer.
- The myth of control though the pyramidal chain of command. Hierarchy, the idea of having someone to report to, is another image that is deep in the culture`s psyche. It is almost synonymous of being organized, the idea that someone is in charge. The very common phenomenon of multiple power centers in postmodern institutions exists as an aberration, as something that should not be. A similar case has been with the development of multi-functional teams and empowered units. Yet there it is in the form of networks, matrix structures, project teams and business units. While managers rail against their operating structures, have you ever heard anyone say they love self-managed teams?
- The myth of the organization as a pure instrument for the attainment of official objectives. Following this belief, those concerned with the human side of the organization have been struggling with this story for quite a long time. It was demolished in the 1940s with the birth of the informal organization, but the myth keeps resurfacing whenever the going gets tough and we seem to think that some kind of stripping down the organization to its bare essentials is the way to ensure its survival.
- The myth of the irrelevance of culture relates to the flash conviction and feelings that the organization has its own way of operating that is the only right one. Hence, there is no need for changing. Our point is that pretending it isn`t there is foolish.
- The myth of a product as the organization`s primary output. As we move further and further into the service economy it is becoming more clear that we can`t think of service in the same way as we have always thought about products. Services aren`t standardized little packages. Service is a human interaction that unfolds in real time. To really think of oneself in the service business changes the way one thinks of the business, and especially the bottom-line. Thus, there is a paradox between the customized natural of service and the actual pressures to standardize it for purposes of cost control.
- The myth of rational analysis as the chief means of understanding and directing the organization. We have been making this assumption for quite a long time, meaning that effective action is a process of rationally figuring out what needs to be done. Even though more and more research is confirming its importance, intuition is still neglected. The seven myths could easily be called principles, and viewing them in such a way come to attach more truth and reality to these ideas than they warrant. This is how they get so deeply implanted in our minds. We are slowly moving out of a principles-driven world, at least in the sense of automatic reliance on principles. But even if we aren`t, the principles embodied in these seven myths need a much closer look than they have been getting.
Copyright 1997 QBS, Inc.