Management is Too Important to Leave to the Managers

Go Boss Yourself!

Jurgen Appelo
Jun 17, 2014 · 3 min read

When an organization’s culture is bad, don’t just blame the managers. Management of an organization is everyone’s responsibility.

Management is too important to leave to the managers. I have come to this conclusion after twenty years of being a manager, writing two management books, giving eighty management courses in thirty countries, and speaking at almost 100 conferences worldwide, some of them about management. I firmly believe that, like keeping the noise down, the files organized, the meeting room tidy, and the customers happy, management is everyone’s job. At one time or another, we all fit the description of manager. [Tobak, “Learn How to Manage.”]

I am pleased to say that, of all the participants in my public workshops, fewer than twenty percent considered themselves to be managers. The other eighty percent were usually developers, coaches, consultants, entrepreneurs, team leaders, and other kinds of creative networkers. This wide diversity of participants shows that either management is an activity that is relevant to many more workers than just managers, or that I am extremely bad at targeting the correct audience for my courses. I prefer the former interpretation!

For two years, I kept track of the questions that participants from all over the world asked me during these management workshops. These are the questions I encountered most often:

How can we motivate our workers?
How can we change the organization’s culture?
How can we change the mindset of managers?
How can we get teams to take responsibility?
How can we improve teamwork and collaboration?
How can we get managers to trust their teams?
How can we develop people’s competencies?
How can we be agile when the organization is not?

Notice that all these questions, except the last one, are asking, “How can we change other people?” This attitude is a reflection of the traditional approach to management: one person manipulating the behaviors of others.

But what if all these management problems were simply the outcome of an incorrect interpretation of management? When everyone is trying to manipulate everyone else, should we be surprised that problems never go away and that new ones keep popping up? When I ask audiences if their organization’s culture needs to change, almost everyone says yes! It seems that few people learn, but most find fault in how their colleagues work. Perhaps they could change the culture together if they just start learning what has already been tried successfully elsewhere.

When it comes to working together in organizations, managers are mistaken, workers are misled, organizations are misbehaving, and many people feel miserable. While at the same time the happiness of workers is crucial because happy people are more productive. [University of Warwick, “We Work Harder When We Are Happy”] I firmly believe we can only improve worker happiness when everyone feels responsible for management and learns to manage the system instead of managing each other. The only reason people suffer from bad organizations is that they don’t stand up to say, “I’m not taking this any longer; go boss yourself!”

Jurgen Appelo is Europe’s most popular leadership author, listed on’s Top 50 Management Experts and 100 Great Leadership Speakers.

Tobak, Steve. “Want to Be Successful? Learn How to Manage.” <> Entrepreneur, 19 February 2014. Web.

University of Warwick. “We Work Harder When We Are Happy, New Study Shows.” <> ScienceDaily, 20 March 2014. Web.

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