I think that time has come to fundamentally rethink the way we train and reward managers. While social entrepreneurship has become a popular buzzword at management schools, and Andrew Cuomo, the new governor of the state of New York asked all his senior staff to take an ethics class in the first sixty days of his tenure, this is still just lip service. My proposal is far more radical:
Make managers redundant!
Let me explain what I mean.
4 Motivational Phenotypes of Knowledge Workers
When trying to understand the behavior and motivation of knowledge workers, it helps to group them into four phenotypes. These four types of knowledge workers, vastly differing in skill set and motivation, are: (1) the artists, (2) the scientists, (3) the teachers, and (4) the managers.
Artists want to create something new and beautiful, to touch the lives of people interacting with their art. Whether it is painters, sculptors, actors, singers, or orchestra musicians, they do what they do mostly not because they are paid to do it, but because they love what they do.
Scientists want to discover something new, to further the state of the art in their chosen field of science. Whether it is pure science like physics or astronomy, or applied science like medicine or engineering, their goal is to create something new by taking what is there, and combining it in new, innovative ways.
Teachers want to impart knowledge to their students. They want their pupils to understand, to become lifelong learners, and to be self-sustaining members of society. The creativity of teachers consists of developing new ways and methods of conveying and transferring knowledge.
Managers want to increase the success of the organization they are leading. Their creativity consists of taking the output of scientists, artists, and teachers to make the organizations they lead succeed. The main motivation of managers, as stipulated by proponents of the free market theory, is to increase the revenue of the organization they are leading, and thus also their own paycheck.
While artists and scientists want to create something radically new, either a new piece of art, or a new scientific insight, managers and teachers are mostly executors. Most of the time they do not really excel in creating new things, but in executing project plans, or executing curricula. Our education system rewards teachers to produce managers, not artists and scientists.
Income is negatively correlated to intrinsic motivation
Artists do what they do because they love it. They are the most intrinsically motivated of the four phenotypes – followed by the scientists and the teachers, who are scientists and teachers because that’s what they like, and not to get rich quick. This is very different for the managers, who most of the time chose their profession to be successful. They expect their success to be rewarded by fat paychecks and high status in society. The income of artists, on the other hand, shows a definitively long-tail distribution, meaning that there are very few Picassos and Brad Pitts getting rich and famous. Rather, the vast majority of artists can expect to make very little money over the course of their careers. Salaries of scientists and teachers show a similar distribution with most of them living off quite modest salaries. Income distribution of managers, on the other hand, shows a fat tail, meaning that many can expect to make a substantial income, and a still sizeable number can expect to make a lot of money. The most popular way for scientists, artists, and teachers to increase the size of their salaries is to accept “managerial” roles.
The key difference therefore between managers and the three other phenotypes is that artists, scientists, and teachers are intrinsically motivated, while managers are motivated extrinsically.
On a side note I would like to emphasize however that this discussion is about phenotypes. This means that this distinction into four categories is about oversimplified role types. Artists, scientists, and teachers don’t mind getting rich and famous, and managers might genuinely want their company to succeed in making the world a better place. Reality is never black or white, but rather somewhere in the middle, and most managers also have traits of an artist, scientist, or teacher, and the other way round.
So what are my recommendations for a manager?
The answer is very short: Forget about being a manager!
Trust your emotions. Become an artist, teacher, and scientist. Discover the joys of creating something new, of coaching your employees and help them grow. This will help you start doing what you love, and not what you are paid to, becoming intrinsically motivated in your job. This will also make you much happier. In short, become a coolfarmer!