Managerialism is the belief and practice that organizations have more similarities than differences. Managerialism holds the performance of all organizations can be optimized by the application of generic management skills and theory. Many enterprises and government people, and particularly new, technology-based firms, suffer the grave disease of managerialism.

To a practitioner of managerialism, there is little difference in the skills required to run a college, an advertising agency or an oil rig. Experience and skills germane to an organization’s core business are considered secondary. Managerialism is pervasive. It is why some believe in creating dubious management standards or metrics. The decomposing management science community is determined to perpetuate managerialism.



Managerialism is an unfortunate vestige of Fordism, industrialism and 20th Century manufacturing. It originated in controlling natural, mechanical, informational and human resource assets for large-scale production of goods in urban factory settings. Managerialism is found in obese government bureaucracies, moldering institutional settings, as well as venture-backed, fast-moving entrepreneurial firms.

Here is one succinct definition from Robert R. Locke:

Managerialism occurs when a special group, called management, ensconces itself systemically in an organization and deprives owners and employees of their decision-making power (including the distribution of emolument), and justifies that takeover on the grounds of the managing group’s education and exclusive possession of the codified bodies of knowledge and know-how necessary to the efficient running of the organization.”

The social reorientation of work, the digital enterprise, co-creation, collaborative commerce, seismic generational shifts, etc. have flipped managerialism on its head. We see contemporary management fail outright using applied managerialism for today’s complex innovations.Managerialism is dead.

Manufacturing QA methods such Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) and Total Quality Management (TQM) metrics applied to complex activities such as customer discovery and creation are disastrous. It’s a travesty of judgment. It hurts the very people business depends on!

Managerialistic business strategies such as like Balanced Score Card (BSC) and Six-Sigma (6∂) are still employed for complex functions like sales or consulting.  It is a comprehensive farce. It leads to confident failure. It’s painful to witness.

Managerialism insults workforce intelligence and is a direct cause of poor employee engagement. Managerialism is responsible for the high profile leadership failures, sexual harassment, and widespread malaise in Silicon Valley. Brilliant entrepreneurs, often will little self-control, fail as leaders.  




Managerialism exists because people are too afraid to suspend disbelief. Business people are struggling to unlearn (it’s difficult). Retiring the 20th Century notion of managerialism and grasping the principles of complex systems leadership requires a lot of unlearning. For aphorists, these will help defeat managerialism —

  • Vulnerability is Power.
  • Empathy is Innovation. 
  • Imagination is Leadership.

To correct managerialism practice competent listening and authentic conversation. A network mindset is essential. Retire command and control. Adopt coordinate and cultivate.

These are the main leadership practices for complex business systems and innovation. Paired with a strong people focus and customer attention, these practices will exterminate all lingering vestiges of managerialism. These critical, core behaviors allow you to lead with confidence in 21st Century business.

Colabria Action Research

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