Management is not Business

How important are management skills?

Many readers ask me why I don’t write more about management. Here’s why: learning business fundamentals is more important to your long-term success. Management study is a great complement to strong business skills, but it can’t replace them.

Business and Management are not the same thing. If you follow the business media and the business academic world, it’s easy to get the impression that management is what business practice is all about. It’s not: business and management are two separate but complementary skills. Personally, I choose to focus on teaching business, which is more essential and better suits my interests and skills.

Business is fundamentally about creating and delivering value to paying customers. Management is about organizing a group of people to accomplish a common objective. Management is often an important part of most businesses, but by no means is it the most important part.

There’s a clear distinction between people who actually get things done and people who help other people get things done (see Are You an Implementor or an Enabler?). Businesses can (and do) exist without managers. Businesses can’t exist without the people who actually create and deliver value to paying customers.

Management as Politics

Management has more in common with politics than it does business practice. That’s not a bad thing: skills that help you discover what the people you interact with actually want, help you influence them, and help you organize them around a common goal are incredibly valuable.

Large businesses inevitably suffer from what I call “communication overhead” – as an organization grows, every individual in it must spent a greater percentage of their available time communicating enough with others just to stay on the same page, leaving less time for actual productive work. Developing your skills as a leader and standard-bearer is useful in these situations, since without some level of organization, it would be easy for everyone to spend so much time communicating with each other without completing any tangibly productive work. That’s why effective managers are in high demand in large companies.

There’s a catch, however: without business skills, it’s possible to organize and lead a group of people towards the accomplishment of the wrong objectives. Unless certain fundamental objectives are achieved, the business will fail. Without a firm understanding what’s actually important to a business and what’s not, even the most effective manager can lead the most talented and disciplined team to ruin.

What Management Study Won’t Teach You

Here’s what the study of management won’t teach you:

  • How to discover what people want to buy.
  • How to create tangible value people are willing to pay for.
  • How to find and communicate with potential customers.
  • How to complete a profitable transaction.
  • How to manage your business’ cash flow.
  • How to set up useful processes and systems.

Whether you’re a manager or not, if you want to succeed in a business setting, you need to know how to do these things well. Otherwise, you risk wasting good work and valuable resources pursuing the wrong objectives. Without creating and delivering real value to real paying customers, a business will inevitably fail.

Where (and When) to Hone Your Management Skills

If you want to hone your management skills, websites like Manager Tools are fantastic – they’ll teach you what to do and why it works. If you have management responsibilities (or want to have them someday), I highly recommend spending time learning management techniques.

Before you focus on management, however, it pays to spend time ensuring your business skills are solid. After spending time with the Personal MBA Business Crash Course, reading the books on the Personal MBA reading list, and studying other sources of business information, you’ll be much better prepared to lead your team to the objectives that will really make a difference.

(Photo credit: svilen001 at

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