Only Time Will Tell: Lessons and Problems from Four Thousand Years of Management Thinking

Research Cluster

Speaker:Morgen Witzel, CLS Fellow
Date: Monday 20 February 2012
Time: 4.00 - 5.30 pm
Location: XFI Building, Seminar Room B

Further details

People have been thinking and writing about the problems of leadership, organisation and management almost since the beginning of civilisation. Analysing this stream of ideas, as I have attempted to do in my recent book A History of Management Thought, can give us some interesting perspectives on how we think about and do management and leadership now. For example, when we look at the longue duréé we find that the key ideas in management thinking very often emerge in response to conditions and stimuli in the wider economic and social environment. In other words, much of management thinking has consisted of reactive attempts to solve problems which have already emerged. Perhaps this is not surprising, but I suggest that this has consequences for how we view the relationship between leadership and management on the one hand, and society on the other.

What is more, the responses developed by thinkers on leadership and management are themselves very often socially conditioned and influenced. Our ideas on how to solve problems in management are conditioned by our own cultures, beliefs and values, and this has always been the case. In other words, instead of coming up with the ‘best’ solution, we come up with solutions that seem best to us at a particular time and place. I believe this has strong implications for future thinking on management and leadership.

Are management thinking and leadership thinking going in the right directions? Are we solving the problems that society poses for us? As Elliot Jaques said, we can never be entirely certain if we are doing the right things, and only time will tell whether we truly are. But the study of the history of management thinking  can reveal some home truths about the discipline we are all doing, and perhaps offer us some clues about where that discipline will go next.

Morgen Witzel is Fellow of the Centre for Leadership Studies and a Fellow of University of Exeter Business School. He is currently editor in chief of Corporate Finance Review and a former co-editor of European Business Forum. He is a frequent contributor to the Financial Times, The Smart Manager, Financial World and a number of other publications. He is the author of eighteen books, which have been translated into eleven languages.