Detlev Six
Wednesday January 28th, 2009

(Deutsch) Ein Lob dem Einheits-Manager

The FAZ of Jan, 13th, 2009 printed an article on: The Uniform Manager. The theory was: due to similar career steps, managers get more and more uniform. My advice is for you to read the article and then refrain from automatically consent, because the truth is a little less drastic.

The Uniform Manager is a rhetorical figure of speech ideal for verbal combat and in reality should be called efficient manager.

I am sure you remember that Peter Drucker, the great philosopher in the field of management, defined the difference between an effective and an efficient manager as follows: an effective executive gets the right things done, whereas the efficient executive does things right. The latter delivers high quality output of what he has been told to do, whereas the former constantly questions what is on the agenda and defines his own priorities. In my estimation, the distribution is about 98.5 % against 1.5 %, and when one of the 1.5% effective executives travel to Germany, then this is truly no vacation for him, because in this country, we have a culture of efficiency. Mind you, I do not mean this in a negative sense. The dire consequences of crises can be softened and the way out of them can be copied from effective cultures.

What are the characteristics of an efficient culture?

It is characterized by an incremental readiness for innovation. Products and services are improved piecewise and mostly in agreement with the customers. The German industry of mechanical engineering is a good example.

What are the characteristics of an effective culture?

It is characterized by a revolutionary readiness for innovation. There is the eagerness to try something totally new, such as MBOs, CDOs and CDSs. That is: all those financial derivates that look to new to us now, or the atom bomb, or, to add a nice example, MP3.

In both cultures, we need efficient executives, and lots of them, because not every day is “a good day to write history” (that was the slogan of the FC-Bayern fans when their team played in the final match of the Champions-League in 2001). Effective cultures, however, pay tribute to their effective stars (Steve Jobs) and give them a different higher education.

For instance at St. John’s College in Annapolis or Santa Fé, where students do not listen to lectures, select additional courses, use textbooks, or write exams. Those are colleges where students meet the eminent philosophers of the last 2,500 years by reading their original texts: in Greek, Latin, French and German. Then there are discussions about the texts. No mention is ever made of a special field of practical application or a pre-form of such.

Let me now mention a significant issue, namely ethics. I mean ethics as responsible behaviour. Having received instructions as to what is “the right thing”, the efficient executive is in a highly secure position. All he has to do is make decisions based on the lines of what is “right”. Here, ethics is purely a product of convenience. Dependent on his own self-perception, the effective executive either is free to do what he wants or else condemned to such freedom. It goes without saying that he has to be a lot more concerned about responsible behaviour, because he is the personification of “the right thing”. He acts without others having told him what is “right”.

Did he do a good job when dealing with those totally new financial products? The answer is no. While the incremental executive dutifully worked towards a constant improvement of our world, the revolutionary executive picked the beautiful aspects of his job, the eagerness to take chances coupled with excellent payment, and never wasted a thought on the not so beautiful consequences of his activities.

Consequently, we now have to praise the uniform executive. He is more of an administrator than a designer. He never writes history, neither good nor bad. In times of prosperity, he is always praised and only in dire times, he must suffer an article like the one in the FAZ, where he is scolded for something he thought was his outstanding virtue. But in the same way as he represents 98.5 % of all executives, he will also get nice comments in all the FAZs of our world in 98.5% of all times.

So what about the effective executive? Maybe we can modify his education so that he will better see “the right thing” in the future? Then he might some day become a really good efficient executive.


(translated by Evelyn Gemkow)

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