It’s hard to fault management on their efforts to improve how they manage. There is hardly an hotel I visit where I don’t run into badge-bearing managers on some course or other wandering off for coffee or lunch.  (I was going to add ‘bored’ but was afraid of being possibly unfair and overdoing the alliteration! But it would not be too unfair to add it.)  In 2014, expenditure on executive training worldwide exceeded $130 billion. No shortage of effort and commitment there, but, for more than financial considerations, I wonder and worry about the return on investment.  If you feel the cause of my  worry is unfounded, perhaps we could ask the ‘managed’ how much real change they have noticed and how better off are their lives as a result of the  $130 billion?  I think their answers would confirm my doubts around the return on investment.

Does this mean that we should stop investing in management development, stop trying to improve how we manage and just leave well enough alone? Not at all. Quite  the contrary. But it does mean that we get to, and focus on the heart of the issue, which is the very notion of ‘management’ itself.  Unless we do this we will throw more good money after bad, but, more seriously, fail to make any real difference to the lives of those being managed and fail to bring about any worthwhile improvement in the overall well-being of our organisations. What do I mean by this? Let me tell you about my golf!

My Golf Slice

I am at best a relatively poor golfer and those with whom I have played will not disagree with that assessment. My wife, kindly, claims that I could be quite a good golfer if I played more. I like that version of events. Whoever is right, there’s no argument at all around the fact that I very often slice my tee-shots.  The evidence is irrefutable –glistening, un-retrievable yellow golf balls laughing at me from the river on the fourth hole, and never to be found other ones in the black hole of trees and “rough” on all the other holes.  While, unlike management, I haven’t invested any money at all in trying to improve my golf, like management, I have invested considerable attention, effort, and experimentation. I have tried a lot – adjusting my stance, coming forward on the ball, taking the club back on the outside, on the inside and straight back, especially on the first 20 kms along the ground –  closing the club face, slowing the swing and on and on. Sadly, my own return on investment falls even shorter than that of management development programmes.

I happened to be buying something in the Golf Professional shop recently and shared my illness with the Club Professional. To cut a long story short – and it never was a very long story–he told me that until I got my grip right, I was wasting my time. He said I could keep experimenting, working on and trying out new things forever and it would make no difference and be all a waste of time. He showed me what he meant and got me doing it and I could actually feel what he meant. I know that, unless I get this right, I will continue my extraordinary efforts to get things right, and the ball to go straight and it will be all a waste of time and energy.

What Getting it Right Means

Were I less honest and better at spinning my own PR story, I would tell you that I am now playing off a handicap of 2.  But I will, eventually…soon, believe me, trust me!  I know you won’t but what I would like you to believe and trust is that unless you correct your grip on what real management and leadership need to be, you will waste a lot of unnecessary effort and miss out on unbelievably rich rewards from how you manage. The change in grip that I’m talking about will involve changing from ‘making things happen’ to ‘enabling them to happen’.  It will involve a shift from controlling to inspiring. It will mean seeing people in a new way,  full of creativity and goodwill.  It will be based on a view of the world as a place of ripe possibilities and opportunities, waiting to be discovered and developed.  Yes, these words can seem clichés, but they do represent a view of the world, a very different paradigm, a whole new grip on reality and the world. Miss it, and you will waste another $130 billion as well as people’s rich lives.  Get it, and you and your people and the world  will win the greatest prize of all – outstanding performance and rich lives, full of meaning and value.