The oldest approach to management involves telling people what to do, if necessary by using violence or the threat of violence

Management: A Very Short Introduction (2013) is a delightful book, which provides a brief and cogent overview of management theory and practice.

The book’s author, John Hendry, is founding director of the University of Cambridge MBA and has been teaching management for over 25 years.

Reason has its limits

The first chapter defines management and outlines everyday meanings of the concept – as in: “How are you managing? How are you coping?”

John Hendry notes that management involves controlling things as well as coping with things that are out of a person’s control, but that still have to be dealt with somehow.

With regard to management as a rational, technical activity, he notes that reason has its limits. He also discusses unintended consequences related to assumptions that are not suitable for the task at hand.

He notes that when management theory draws upon social science research, the sole interest is in what might be useful. This means that ideas and concepts may be borrowed without regard for their underlying assumptions or scientific validity. This often leads to outcomes that are confused and contradictory.

Management and authority

John Hendry notes that the oldest and simplest approach to management involves telling people what to do and to make sure it gets done, “if necessary by using violence or the threat of violence” (p. 26).

He adds that management through coercion is manifested in bonded labour, the military, and many other arrangements whereby work gets done. Although Hendry doesn’t refer explicitly to war as work, so far as I can recall, the conceptualization that war is work that soldiers do comes to mind.

A discussion of the distinction between Max Weber’s conceptualization of traditional authority, charismatic authority, and rational or legal authority leads to the following passage (p. 30), which I read with interest. I have broken the longer text into shorter paragraphs for ease of reading:

Birdsong

“An insightful example of how legitimate authority can embrace coercion is given by the writer Sebastian Faulks in his novel Birdsong. Set before and during the First World War, this points to parallels between the violence with which one of the characters routinely treats his wife; the violent subjugation by the same character of the workers at his factory; and the violence imposed on conscript soldiers in the trenches, sent by their senior officers ‘over the top’ to their almost certain deaths, to no obvious end, under threat of execution if they resisted, and with chaplains in attendance.

“In each case the violence portrayed here was not a counter or alternative to legitimate authority, but a socially legitimized part of that authority. The traditional authority of a husband over his wife included the authority to beat her. The traditional-cum-rational authority of the factory owner included the authority to forcibly subjugate the workers.

“The rational authority of the officer combines with the traditional authority of the priest to justify sending people to their needless deaths. In many societies today such violence is no longer seen as legitimate. It constitutes an abuse, not an exercise of, legitimate authority. In many other societies, however, little seems to have changed.”

[End of excerpt]

Comment

Warfare exists as a brand and as a back story. Both the brand and the back story are of interest. In the case of the First World War, as it relates to Canada, the brand at the outset, for quite a few young men in Canada – in particular, in English Canada – was: “This will be a great war to be a part of. It will be done in a month or two. Then we come back home and get on with our lives once again.”

At the end of the First World War, when surviving soldiers returned home, the back story came to be told, in some detail. Some aspects of the brand – and of the legacy of the war expressed as the brand – changed as a consequence. The reputations – in a sense, the brand message – of the British generals who led the British forces during the war were at a high point right after the war. Within the next 10 or 20 years, their reputations were vastly diminished. In recent years, their reputations have been to some extent rehabilitated.

The story of Douglas Haig – the rise and fall and subsequent partial rehabilitation of his reputation – has been documented in a range of overviews. An excerpt from one such overview, about the general, can be accessed here.

Some passages of text in an article, or in a school history text, will deliver the brand. Accessing the back story, getting a sense of what warfare entails, takes a little more work. Yet if we seek to know the back story, we need to make the effort to get acquainted with the corroborated, fact-based evidence, which presents itself in a wide range of formats – including poems, novels, graphic novels, diaries, eye-witness accounts, and archival resources.

Mental health in police services

As an addendum to the overview of the text that John Hendry has published, I would add that the culture of police services, in a city like Toronto, comes to mind. That is, how is such a police force managed – in relation, by way of example, to mental health issues that police officers may face?

The story shared by the widow of a Toronto police officer who committed suicide comes to mind. In this regard, a July 17, 2014 CityTV Toronto article is entitled: “The Inside Story: Family blames Toronto police for officer’s suicide.”

I became aware of the story as a result of an interview that Heidi Rogers — the widow of Sgt. Richard “Bucky” Rogers – at 7:10 am on Metro Morning on Oct. 10, 2014.

Heidi Rogers has remarked, in one of the interviews I’ve listened to or read about: “The change in culture has to come from the top.”

Children’s rights movement

The joint awarding of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize to children’s rights activists Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India come to mind, with regard to John Henry’s overview (pp. 26-28) of bonded labour.

An Oct. 10, 2014 CBC article is entitled: “Nobel Peace Prize: Malala Yousafzai, Kailash Satyarthi win 2014 award.”

“Satyarthi, 60, has been active in the children’s rights movement since 1980. His work has led to the rescue of thousands of children from slavery, and he has survived several attempts on his life.

“In maintaining the traditions of Mahatma Gandhi, Satyarthi has ‘headed various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain,’ the Nobel committee said Friday.”

[End of excerpt]

Update

A March 6, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “René Girard’s theories still explain the violence all around us: French-born scholar spent his career trying to understand what what makes violence a chronic problem.”

 

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