Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Friday, July 17, 2009

Leader vs manager – reflections on Hitler as this blog turns three

I have been reading Mark Mazower's Hitler's Empire: Nazi rule in occupied Europe (Penguin Books, London 2009). It is quite a gripping if also depressing book.

Mazower focuses on the way Nazi Germany administered the large European empire it acquired so quickly and then lost. There is no doubt that Hitler was a great leader. He was able first to place his stamp on a nation and then lead that nation into a huge and initially successful war. He failed, something for which we can all be thankful, because he was such a bad manager.

I do not think that Hitler would have claimed to be a manager. In fact, he would have dismissed the concept. He was simply the leader. Management was the responsibility of others.

The problem is that Hitler’s own leadership approach made effective management impossible.

The Germans were very good at managing particular things, Adolf Eichman and the death camps are an example, yet the overall Nazi empire was run in an increasingly ramshackle fashion. Even those things that were effective had unforseen side effects.

Hitler’s difficulty, although he did not see things in these terms, is that he was the leader. Power was increasingly centralised in his hands. The German system dissolved into a series of satrapies each competing for the leader’s attention.

Reading the detail in Mazower left me with the very strong feeling that Nazi Germany could easily have won the Second World War or, at least, worked to a peace that preserved their core gains. The leadership that drew them into the war and gave them initial gains condemned them in the end.

Leadership versus management, that’s the rub.

When I started this blog all that time ago in July 2006, I called it managing, not leading, the professional services firm. I used the word managing deliberately, because it reflected my view that management in professional services was not very good.

In my first post on 2 July 2006 I said:

This blog has been created to encourage debate about and to provide information relevant too the management of all professional services firms.

With time, I hope that it will develop into a valuable resource.

I am not sure that I have achieved the second. However, I remain convinced that improved management in professional services is critical.


Elise Walker said...

It's a good thing then that Hitler was not a very good manager or else we would be dealing with him for a longer period. Congratulations on the blog's third anniversary!

Ronnie Ann said...

Hi Jim! I just popped by - after way too long - and saw this interesting and insightful (also inciteful?) post. It's totally in keeping with your original intent. Nicely presented. And as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, I am ever so grateful Hitler was indeed a terrible manager.

Hope you are well!

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Ronnie and thanks. Life is like that, isn't it? So little time to visit and chat, or even to post sometimes!

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Elsie. I suddenly (and belatedly) realised I had no thanked you!

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