More Leadership = Less Management

The purpose of leadership is to create more leaders, not more followers!

When I first began my business career I took a crash course in business fundamentals, a mini-MBA my partner at the time called it.  Coming from academia (marine biology to be exact) I didn’t have much background in business or much understanding of the role of management.  To my surprise most of what I learned I now call “applied common sense” and one of the key things I remember to this day are the five classical functions of management: planning, organising, staffing, directing and controlling. As we grew our consulting firm a solid understanding of these five activities was very helpful to me.

Over the years I have been fortunate to have an inside view of many different companies in numerous industries, from nuclear power to retail to financial services and one of the striking things about modern organisations is the large number of managers and the numerous layers of management between the CEO and those doing day-to-day value adding work.

I wrote a previous blog on Cost Creep, but there is also such a thing as Management Creep (I’m not talking about a person).  I define “management creep” as the process whereby more and more managers are added to oversee other people’s work and to check information produced by others, to plan for others, to organise others and to direct and control the work of others. Up to a point this seems logical but it can get out of control.  One senior executive a few years back commented; “we even have managers checking on managers who check on other managers”.  And it is telling when a new CFO comes in and cuts back the number of managers and the company keeps right on performing.  Obviously those extra managers and layers weren’t adding significant value.

Why the perceived need for so many managers and layers of management?  In my experience, poor business processes and lack of leadership behaviours at all levels are the key drivers that make decision makers at the top of organisations think they need more managers, which to them is a way of mitigating risk. And they are correct, poor business processes and lack of leadership do create risk, but adding more layers of management is not the sustainable solution.

The early work of Michael Hammer and reengineering and later the tools and techniques of Lean have proven how dramatically direct and indirect costs can be reduced and service levels and productivity increased by redesigning business processes. However, too few executives will take the time to do the hard work to redesign basic business processes that were developed years ago (legacy processes) and in many cases are not appropriate for today’s fast-moving, highly competitive modern business environment. Their simplistic solution is hire more managers.

And very rarely do senior executives make the connection between improved leadership skills and behaviours in the lower levels and reduced costs, greater speed and improved performance.  The military gets the connection big time and spends considerable time and effort on improving leadership skills at all levels.  Not so in most business organizations.  Yet those that invest in leadership development at all levels reap the benefits in the need for fewer managers and checkers checking on checkers!

The phenomenal success of Zappos (an internet retailer selling shoes, not even their own brand) is a great example.  While they call it their “family culture”, if you dig into the Zappos organisation you will find that people are selectively hired for leadership attributes and many of the self-directed teams at Zappos display they types of leadership behaviours that make the need for excessive layers of management, and costs, obsolete.

So, think about this equation the next time you are rethinking your business model:

more leadership = less management

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
This entry was posted in corporate culture, leadership, strategy execution and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s