The Death of the Manager (the coming extinction)

09wquestion-1346176260458I am not ready to send you to a museum to study the habits and hang-ups of the 20th century manager just yet. But I do see this as an opportunity to create dialogue related to the death of management as we know it. I am in no way abdicating that organizations of the future will be leaderless. I am however sounding the alarm that leaders must find a way to redefine themselves before it is too late. The trends are already proving that organizations are flattening their hierarchies and are doing more with less human capital. The greatest threat to the manager today is denial that things will change whether they are ready or not. The problem, as I see it, is that most all managers are classically trained in business schools to run an organization via the classic command-and-control hierarchy. Many business schools are failing us in that they teach leaders a 19th century approach to leadership. Add to this confusion a 20th century approach to human relations and you have a pending ice age of epic proportions over the field of management. Management is evolving into something greater than a single position of status. Organizations are not moving to leaderless insomuch as they are trending toward self-leadership models. Self-leadership is where everyone contributes from their own strength and skill-set. Everyone has a say in the strategy and direction of the organization as a whole.

I was recently involved in a dialogue with some business colleagues on the matter of who is responsible for the strategy and its achievement in an organization. The crux of the conversation was around why strategies fail. I argued strongly for the coming of the flatter more agile organization that moves away from the idea of a leader dictating vision, goals and process. As you can imagine some of us old school classically trained leaders pushed back on this notion. There is no question in my mind that the state of leadership is in transition. We are about to see the greatest shift in organizational leadership since Fredrick Taylor adopted the Scientific Management approach to production in the 1890s. In an effort to give structure to this idea of self-led organizations, I have adopted the idea of the Open Organization. An Open Organization is simply a method of self-leadership in which individuals participate in the movement of an organization from their strengths. The Open Organization is a decentralized structure which trends away from authoritarian management styles, separatist titles and privileges of multilevel hierarchies found mostly in the 19th and 20th century. So, what are we to do to save our managers? First we should acknowledge the correlation between effective leadership and how much autonomy is given to the followers. A leader who does not trust their followers appear to have the most trouble with change. Leaders who do not trust are most likely to be the ones that go extinct first. Leaders must learn the art of empowerment of their followers. The power behind the Open Organization is that people already tend to self-manage when everyone else can see what they’re doing. Open allows other people jump in when they notice something amiss and of course everyone learns when anyone makes a mistake or does something brilliant. The agility of the organization is the key to the extinction of the manager. Manager’s and hierarchies tend to strangle agility, bogging the organization down in the process of decision making. The organization of the future must be unfettered to make decisions else, it too will die. Now is the time for managers to adapt or expire. We leaders must redefine our roles in relation to our organizations effectiveness. The world is pressed on all sides by a diminishing full-time workforce as well as differing cultural, generational, political, and religious views. The organization of the 21st century must be more agile than ever before. Organizational design is essential to how the organization deals with the challenges it now faces. We no longer can afford to lead a 21st century organization with 19th and 20th century models and processes.


PIC3Dr. Philip A Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, published author and lectures internationally. His most recent e-book “Organization 3.0 – The Evolution of Leadership and Organizational Theories Toward an Open System for the 21st Century” is available exclusively on Amazon.  Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching and serves as Adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Leadership and Business Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He is a Doctor of Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia. He can be reached at


16 thoughts on “The Death of the Manager (the coming extinction)

  1. Barry Mermelstein


    I believe your premise is a sound one, and that the successful organizations of the future will in fact learn how to gather intelligence from the members of their organization to plot and maintain the most effective strategies. Having lived in traditional organizations for the bulk of my career, the “leader” will generally tend to follow their own vision. Unfortunately this vision is often not clear to others, nor does it necessarily take into account the valuable information that can be available from other talented members of the organization, particularly when there are direct conflicts. Those who play the “yes man” game are often viewed more positively and reap rewards, while those who are in conflict but attempt to add value to the organization are often seen as malcontents. In the end, often the best people will leave if other opportunities present themselves, and the residual organization becomes a monopoly dominated by one view of the world. If lucky, the remaining organization can still thrive, but quite often, it will lead to its demise.

  2. Jim Pappafotis

    No doubt that the organization will have to flatter. This has been a key tentant all along, but what is different now is that the team makeup is more critical. Finding the right skills, and working in a decentralized, often not face to face, is important. Technology can link the team’s but the one’s that do not embrace it will fall behind.

  3. Three questions:
    1. Who will help facilitate and nurture a meaningful dialog between the many independent workers following their own passions and ideas? Technology can provide the platform but people easily get distracted and/or tunnel visioned.
    2. Who wil provide feedback and coaching? I recognize that today’s Manager’s are not good at this. That is why the Coaching field is growing. However it is a testimonial to the need for Coaching.
    3. Has our belief that “good teamwork” out performs individual results gone away or been proven wrong?

    Maybe the Servant Leader/Manager concept will finally will get its opportunity to prove its value.

    What do you think?

    1. Bob:

      Thank you for such great questions. I would like to start off with the thought that Servant Leadership is very much at the core of an Open Organization. My hope is that my article awakens us to the idea that we need to have these earnest discussions related to who will facilitate and nurture the human capital of the future. You are right that technology will be of some use – but there is an issue of training et al. The organizations that I’ve researched that are doing “Open” do not seem to have an issue with individuals getting distracted because 1) they optimize their organizations for happiness and 2) the hire the very best and empower them to do their jobs. Novel ideas, I know… Your question of who will give feedback and coaching indicates thought that there is no one in charge. An Open Organization is far from leader-less. As a matter of fact, everyone is a leader and decisions (including some hiring and firing) are made by the collective voice of the employees. Open Organizations are not without rules and structure. In fact, they have a Governance that very much explains the rules of engagement. While most leaderless organizations typically do have some that could be seen as managers – they typically despise being called such. I see these individuals very much as servant leaders. We are several years away from this idea really taking hold in general industry. I am seeing a lot of push back from some of the Gen-X and older generations on this. “Its not the way we do things…” I get pretty much outright rejection from some who see this as the flavor of the month idea. My thinking is that this idea is evolving and emerging as a serious response to the top-down hierarchies we have grown to know.

  4. Trevor

    This is a most interesting discussion.

    You mention that you have researched organisations that currently function with an “open organisation” phiosophy. Would it be possible for you to provide more detail about the “structures” they have adopted to facillitate the success they are experiencing. The “Governance” that you mention is I assume, the basis upon which each individual models their behaviour and determines how they interact to achieve their commonly agreed goals. Am I correct in this assumption? If so, I would be interested to ascertain how the “Governance” was established and by whom.

    I established a small company some fourty years ago and attempted to build it as an “open organisation”. I failed and resorted eventually, to the model that everyone appeared to understand and in which they appeared to be more comfortable. I suspect that my lack of success resulted from the absence of a few critical elements. The first would have been the “Governance” or as I understand it the constitutional framework. The second was the lack of training to ensure that both new and existing members were assisted to understand how the organisation operated, what their roles were and how they contributed to the organisation. These were issues that were often discussed, but I fear not sufficient emphasis was placed on how their contributions and strategic insight would benefit the company. Suffice it to say that all the employees had, before joining our company, been schooled in the classical 19th century business philosophy, so they were entering, or operating in a very different environment. The third was the lack of commitment to propagating the behavioural changes that were necessary for success over the longer tem. This could of course have been a result of the first two points. Fourth, was the the lack of trust and fifth the desire to avoid taking responsibility for errors and failiure. The last two and the desire for power, are often the root of the political dysfunction perpetuated in 19th century styled companies.

    I am convinced that the open organisation can and possibly will be, the “structure” that many organisations will buy into. The strictures of old management philosophies will only be practised by organisations that do not have, or do not want to have, the breadth of vision to embrace the advantages of an open organisation.

  5. Wayne Bergman

    Great topic… we need to differentiate between Management & Managers and Leadership & Leaders. These are two different disciplines & roles. I do not see that either is going away but I do see the need to better train in both areas. Example: We may ask people to learn how to manage a process or area in an organization we have assigned. In this role we may ask them learn how to lead as well. Not everyone wants to do or step into the role and do what it takes to be a leader. In my experience we need to address the needs of each discipline separately. Management is not dead, neither is leadership. Successful organization need strong managers.

    1. Jen Crook

      Excellent points made regarding leadership vs. management. Many years ago I read an HBR article about this exact differentiation. Unfortunately, I think many good managers are promoted to leadership positions but they can’t lead. The “Peter Principle” redefined for the 21st century?

      At that time I was working within a very large organization trying to change their basic structure and flatten the organization. The theory was that this would create greater agility, while also encouraging people to move laterally instead of vying for promotions to only move vertically. Well, it didn’t work. The company developed MORE silos, became much more top heavy, and lost market share along with credibility.

      I disagree with the premise of this article entirely, and would instead submit that today’s organizations need to find the leaders, the managers, AND the innovators to succeed, not move towards organizational anarchy with an “Open Organization.”

      1. Jen:

        You raise some really good points. What I am particularly interested in are the reasons you believe that your organizations attempts to “go open” failed. I would submit that the process of change is very difficult and the process of going open is even more difficult for an established organization. I would also submit that a true Open Organization is very much a structured mechanism and if done right will not resemble anarchy or chaos in the least bit. A true Open Organization requires a set of First Principles and an organizational Governance that dictates the rules of engagement. If you would be so interested, I would love to engage you in a deeper discussion on your former organization. I am writing my organizational thesis on the Open Organization and I think it would help my work greatly if you are interested.


  6. I do agree that centralized leadership hierarchy is gradually disappearing. The structure kills innovation and put employees at odd when they have a different option or view from the leadership. Many of the classic traditional leaders are so much into their ego that they are deaf to a good sound idea that will add value to the organization. Some will even go as far as feeling like who are you to question my vision, what makes you think you have a better idea, I have been doing this for so many —–years, I run this organization, i am the one that have this vision etc. Behaviors of these nature suppresses ideas, honest contributions and stifle innovation which will eventually lead to the demise of the organization. Open organization is gradually permeating organizations and it is going to continue in a big way. The environment is ripe and ready, the new generation, the new technology, the fast changing workforce demography, the mind set, the demand for flexibility, the eager to be heard and contribute to the process are all indication that open decentralized organizational structure is here to stay.

  7. Graham King

    I like the idea of a new leadership and management model – one that encourages a much wider contribution from everyone to the direction and performance of an organisation – it is not before time because for me it is clear that the old models do not and have not worked for some time.
    A new model does however beg some questions about the need for new capabilities. In many organisations I have worked in there seems to be a dominant mind set – be it of IT, of financial numbers or even people [much less common in my experience]. In the new model it feels like there is a need for a very different emphasis – with a much broader and more rounded appreciation of what enables success particularly at the leadership and management levels. I have seen little evidence of this emerging successfully to date – am I missing something?

    1. Graham:

      In my assessment, the reason it has not yet been successful is because the organizations that try to institute it without collapsing the hierarchy are doomed to fail at it. It IS an issue of mindset and that mindset must shift from the very founder(s) of the organization and run throughout. The organizations I’ve studied that are successful in this regard hard leaders (founders) who are sold-out on the idea of flatter, more open hierarchies. It is about letting go of preconceived notions of what leading is all about. The other foundational truth here is linked in the fact that these organizations do not have an effective “knowledge commons” to share information efficiently, nor do they have an organizational governance that frees followers to operate in an Open Organizational environment. Finally the organization must have clear “First Principles” to point them to the path of success. My assessment is that as long as the leader and/or followers look through the lenses of command-and-control and hierarchy… this will be a challenge for that particular organization.


  8. Luis Bolio


    I think your work is right on the spot. And I guess that a by-product of that will be crucial for the new upcoming managres, but they may be more prepared than current Baby Boomers (that will hang to the power as long as they can, and whither ayaw indue time) and GenXers (lost in the middle).
    get a degree, get ajob, be good at it and wait for retirement),
    I say new generations will be more prepared because they are already living their lives (via social media) in the way Companies will work in the future (open to everyone, changing when and where will be needed).

    But my comment above just streses two point:
    a) Organization’s talent will shrink in mid/top management positions, because what they will need si different talent and skill sets for different situations, and thos will be available from the outside on a temporary basis (thus cheaper in the long run)

    b) New generations will have to start thinking not in traditional terms (get a degree, a job, be good and wait for retirement), but on “How do I choose to help organozations grow and thrive”

    Excellent work


  9. Frank Borsi

    I think that there is a lot to be learned about this new paradigm, I think that we need more concrete examples to really understand it. Your work is to provoke the mind to go in new directions, and you have done that.

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