When Did Managing Become a Dirty Word

By: Matt Gainsford


When you think of the term “manager” what thoughts, feelings and reactions does it evoke and why are companies like Forbes authoring articles on moving from management to greatness? Has management, as a word or concept, now become this sub-par or pariah like existence; something to move away and distance yourself from?  

Is there something in it or is it just semantics? What about Micro-Management? Did that term make you shudder when you read it? Why would remaining on top of a situation in a detailed and invested fashion that leads you to ask questions and maintain a full understanding of all the angles be so distasteful?  

Questions, questions, questions. When it comes to micromanagement the answer is easy. It is based in control, fear, and the expectation that something is going to fail unless the manager does everything in the power to make it work; it leaves no room for growth or outcomes that are better than expected. But what about just “manager”? 

Let’s head back to the source; what is the intended meaning of the word(s)? What do the words manage, management, and managing mean, and why have they become so taboo? Let us find the underlying cause of this so we can better understand and support our people. 

According to Webster (yes, the dictionary people) to manage means” 

  • To administer or regulate (resources under one’s control) 
  • Maintain control or influence over 
  • Control the use of 
  • Achieve one’s aims against heavy odds 
  • Succeed in something difficult 
  • In the position of supervising 

Aside from the act of succeeding against heavy odds, things don’t look overwhelmingly positive for the word, “manage.” It’s a mid-table showing at best. Managing seems to point more towards maintaining and surviving as opposed to growth, development, and optimism. If you’re a manager and you are reading this or if your organization uses the word manager, have no fear, this is not all doom and gloom and in no way is this meant to tarnish the stellar work you are doing. This is about vision, mindset, intention, and approach. This is about reclaiming the flag for the manager and raising it up to highlight what an impactful, sought after and successful leader can do (leader is also a loaded term too but that’s not our fight right now, we will get to that). 

In her book “Multipliers,” Liz Wiseman cites Antoine De St. Exupery who says: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.  

This is often the stigma that a manager has: gather all the right materials, divide it up and tell people what to do. It’s formulaic, cold, and gets a result but it offers no opportunity for growth. 

Liz Wiseman’s insights into equipping people to get the best out of people is a strong work. Liz describes two types of people leaders, Multipliers and Diminishers. 

According to Ms. Wiseman: “Multipliers aren’t “feel-good” managers. They look into people and find capability, and they want to access all of it. They utilize people to their fullest. They see a lot, so they expect a lot.” “The Diminisher is a Micromanager who jumps in and out. The Multiplier is an Investor who gives others ownership and full accountability.” “Diminishers are Decision Makers who try to sell their decisions to others. Multipliers are Debate Makers who generate real buy-in.” 

With these elements it could be said that the journey defines the destination. When we think of our people, the individuals who make up our organizations, whose hands are we placing them in? 

It might be shocking to learn that (on average) those who manage people get their first direct report at the age of 30 but don’t receive any formalized training until 42.  

When you think of the impact that a manager has on their people that’s a scary thought. If a manager is just concerned with achieving a task, they may achieve it, but at what cost?!  

It’s unlikely that we are going to be retiring the term/position of manager any time soon, so what can we do about it? One thing we can do is reframe it. To turn the manager into the coach. (lightbulb) 

It may be a slight change, but the impact is potentially company-defining. If you’ve ever seen the show Ted Lasso you may get a glimpse into what it takes to see people and how that fuels the success of your team with a sense of togetherness, vision, and the ability to see beyond the task. 

In taking a coaching approach to management you change a mindset and pave the way for reclaiming the word manager. 

A coach looks at what’s possible and plays out scenarios in which maximize the potential of the individual to drive success on the team. 

Coaches care, coaches inspire, coaches don’t take a punitive approach, their approach is one of forward motion; if we fail, we fail forward. Coaches make space for others to be their best. Coaches put the right people in the right positions, or as we consult our Partners when recruiting, to put the right people in the right seats. 

The best leaders recognize that they can’t do everything and that often the most powerful thing they can do is provide the support and encouragement for those around them to succeed. By inspiring team members to self-motivate instead of merely handing over instructions you foster a level of ownership and excitement that deepens connection, engagement, and future success.  

Coaches are all about the big picture and continued success. Coaches also recognize that people move on (often the result of calling people higher), coaches recognize it is a parade, but that success brings attraction. People want to work with coaches who succeed. 

By turning managers into coaches, you can turn teammates into top performers and attract A-Players. 

Equip your people, inspire them to grow, provide a landscape for them to put their abilities to work, craft a vision that creates a future. Turn managers into coaches, reclaim the word manager and sail away into the sunset having made a lasting impact; well, something like that. 

If you’re curious about learning more about what all of this means, then we would be happy to connect with you about it. We have a solution called M4P (Manage 4 Performance) that is doing just that (shameless plug). 

More than recruiters, Titus Talent Strategies are a team of Talent Optimizers who genuinely care about the work we do. We empower companies to put the right people in the right seats through informed, connected strategies that combine data with an empathetic understanding of what makes people tick. We recognize that our partners are investing in us and that results mean more than just people placed in a role. It’s about impact and connection. 

Related Insights

Talent Checkup

Want to start a journey towards building a high performing culture? We can give you a roadmap. It takes less than 10 minutes.