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I have written few blog posts about the different ways of thinking organizations. However, I think there’s still room to think about the role of a manager more closely. In the rise of “managerialism” the role of a manager (or leader) has been raised to be the most important role in the modern organizations. That is reflected in the compensation and power that is given to these roles.

But what is the reason this role is seen to be so important one?

Doxa of managerialism

The official explanation is that it is the leader-manager that is responsible for the success/failure of an organization. It is the manager who creates the visions and plans for the organization and who leads the execution of those plans to reach the desired goals. It is his skills, education and charisma that detemines the destiny of an organization. A strong leader can make sure that the organization is functioning well and employees are doing the right things. No matter whether the organization has 20 or 20000 employees, the manager is leading the show. In large organizations he has hierarchically structured managment layers to help to control the organization, but all the same, it is the manager-leader that is accountable for the success.

This is so internalized view that in most organizations it isn’t questioned at all. It doesn’t even occur to people that it could be questioned. In other words the field or discourse is in the state of what Pierre Bourdieu calls “doxa” – an unquestioned truth. When the awareness of the society develops further it might be possible to problematize that view and find also other viewpoints. This is when the state of doxa transforms into “heterodoxia”. In other words it is now possible to question the dominant discourse and have different opinions. The strategy of the ones in power is then to create “ortodoxia”, a discourse that tries to strengthen and legitimize the viewpoint that used to be the doxa. However, now it has to defend itself against heterodoxia which means that great deal of rationalizing is needed to maintain the ortodoxia. This is what the MBA programs and common management literature try to do.

The Divine Origin of Management Sciences

So what is the development behind that view of manager as the final responsibility behind the success of an organization?

Sosiologist Pertti Töttö points out that it all goes back to the middle-ages. Before the 14th century western world, people really didn’t separate the nature, God and human beings. It was all part of cosmos, the divine order. However, in the 14th century the society was developing in a way that it became possible to start to think about the nature as a separate phenomenon from the God. People developed theories about how nature worked according the divine laws that were made by God, but how God himself was outside of the nature. God created the laws according to which the nature worked, but as an outside observer He wasn’t bound by those laws himself. In the religious context the people were quick to separete themselves from the nature too. Human beings, unlike other creatures of the earth, were also created separate from the nature, as the image of God. Thus it was possible to study and utilize the laws of nature in favor of them. Of course this freedom concerned only the religious people, the Christians – pagans were ruled by their blind instincts like other animals. Only the religious people could gain divine control of their animal origin.

This was the unquestioned doxa of the middle-ages. The same analogy is easy to see in the modern organizations also.

This was the unquestioned doxa of the middle-ages. The same analogy is easy to see in the modern organizations also. Only the managers have gained ability to take the perspective of outside observers, who can study the laws of markets and organizations in order to control the employees to work towards the predefined goals. Unlike the manager-leader, employees are ruled by the mechanistic laws of the nature. Organization is like a machine and the manager-leader is running it.

In the 18th century Immanuel Kant developed this philosophy further. He separated organisms from mechanistic nature and saw that they were lead by other laws. Instead of being ruled by mechanistic laws they were ruled by organismic laws. Organisms had an inherent purpose that they developed towards. A seed became a flower or a tree according that purpose. Even though Kant didn’t think human beings should be seen as organisms, this thinking has been widely accepted in the management sciences also. Systemic management science doesn’t see organizations as mechanistic constructs but organismic ones. Here again the manager takes the divine standpoint of outside observer and creates purpose for the people and for the organization. As employees are ruled by the organismic laws of the nature, they have no choice but to fulfill the purpose of the organization.

There are some differences in the ways of seeing employees to be rule by mechanistic rules (e.g. Taylorism / Scientific Management) and organismic rules (e.g. Agile / Lean development), but the doxa of leader-manager as an outside observer controlling the employees and organizations remains the same. There aren’t many explanations of why the managers can take this view that others can’t, except that some of them has been trained in some MBA programs. But as we saw, the roots of this view come already from the religious dogmas of 14th century.

From the doxa of managerialism to heterodoxia of complexity sciences

There has been various writers during the 19th and 20th century that has questioned the basic assumptions of the doxa described above. They have questioned e.g. the existence of autonomic individuals and power as static form of control. However, managerialism has remained so strongly as the dominant discourse of economical sciences that it is justified to say that in most of the organizations it is unquestioned truth, a doxa. This is easy to see if one looks at the compensations of top executives.

One reason for this is that in natural sciences oriented field, only natural sciences oriented theories are accepted. If the manager isn’t responsible of building organizations, visions and plans – then who is? Complexity sciences provide natural sciences oriented explanations of how it is possible for large groups of people to organize themselves to cooperative patterns that make it possible to build products – without a need for blueprints or any particular person to control it all.

But this isn’t enough. Even in the cases where the state of doxa is broken and transformed to heterodoksia it is very difficult to change the dominant discourse. Ortodoxia of managerialism is maintained and protected by people who have invested to it and benefit from it.