Henry Mintzberg took on Harvard Business School’s teaching methodologies, in his widely acclaimed book Managers Not MBAs, by arguing that “conventional MBA classrooms overemphasize the science of management while ignoring its art.” In acknowledgement, management in this post is considered an ever evolving set of practices shaped by the cultural environment one finds him or herself in, where the “art of management” is to be practiced.

executive_managment_is_an_artIn the late 1980s and early 90s many large companies hired MBAs directly from top management schools and put them into “executive fast track” programs. The underlying premise was that these individuals were at the top of the intellectual ladder and had obtained a unique set of management skills that would enhance a company’s performance over time. This initiative failed for most companies, and was quickly abandoned. The essence of what these programs were based on was the premise that strategic management skills and insight was acquired, objectified, and exploited. While these individuals might have had a strategic value proposition, companies found it difficult to drive their value into their existing corporate culture and management practices.

How often, in the screening process for a managerial job, does a company perform behavioural testing of candidates to determine if they are a good cultural fit? This practice reflects an assumption that both the company and managerial candidate bring a fixed set of management skills to the hiring process. This testing is done to largely determine if the candidates “management style” conforms to that of the companies. Largely ignored, is the ability of a potential hire to adapt to a new management environment.

When one is first presented with the concept that the practice of management is best optimized when contextualized as an art form, many consider this declarative to be somewhat crazy. This type of reaction is certainly understandable as either in undergraduate or master’s university programs, management practice still taught as objectified set of skills. Nowhere is this management practice contextualization more relevant, then managers on expatriate assignments in emerging markets.

These markets are new and strange and call into question a manager’s learned, fixed set of management practices. Martin Heidegger, in his magnus opus, Being And Time, commented on by Carnage Mellon University, argues that a “factual situation” always surrounds a manager. Thus a manager is “thrown into” a situation that is already there. This means that the manager is not the cause of the situation. In fact, “the situation becomes the ground upon which a manager “finds themselves.” Thus one either relies on their taught set of management practices, or rather chooses to adapt their practice of management to become relevant and effective in the environment they are put in.

A Christ University study suggested that expatriate manager failure rates in emerging markets to be as high as 70 percent. Thus, how a new manager enters these complex cultural environments and reobjectifies their practice of management as an art form is essential to become relevant and effective. For managers who do not embrace this process, it is due to the application of management skills as a fixed set of held management practices.

For managers who are willing to open themselves up to becoming relevant in complex managerial environments, the cascading set of competencies and practices provide a step-by-step process to truly reobjectify the practice of management as their unique art form.

From day one onboarding, executives should enter an organization with an explorer adventurer mindset, where through accepting the strangeness of the unknown as a basis of learning, they can encounter a rupture of the familiar. Through real-time resilience, one is able to able to demonstrate competence along with observing subordinates’ values and beliefs in their organizational specific context. From this emerges individual empathy and respect for subordinates, which generates capability for one to work within the corporate specific way of thinking to become relevant and open. Through this process a new organizational manager moves from being an outsider to that of an insider who is fully engaged though treating the practice of management as an art form, rather than a fixed set of management practices.


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