The Science of Management and Leadership

The many of the sciences not connected to the physical understanding of our world are often criticized for not being real sciences. These critics are incorrect with this complaint, as rigorous mathematics and statistics has been repeatedly applied in fields like economics and political science to demonstrate a very accurate understanding of society, people and their behavior. Moving further from the physical world, I had no appreciation for how much the fields of management and leadership had been developed into sciences. While it these fields may not easily lend themselves to experimentation, they have revolutionary theories that continue to affect our progress as people.

A key assumption that management science has debunked is the idea of the natural born leader. As it turns out, a person’s physical appearance or natural predisposition does not automatically make them naturally fit to lead people. Rather, leadership is a skill that is learned and can be taught. Research is beginning to reveal that the most successful people tend to be sociable, which is also a quality that can be learned and taught. But being sociable alone will not make someone a great leader, but it may be one of the most important prerequisites.

A successful leader is not necessarily someone who has been granted legitimate authority to tell people what to do, but rather one who can influence the way people think and motivate them. Here is where learning and studying leadership is important, because it is easy to be mistaken about what actually motivates people. Some leaders feel that pay and benefits motivates people, when in fact, these things can’t or won’t motivate people for any significant amount of time. Why not, since these are clearly things that people desire? As it turns out, research in management science has revealed that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not two points on the same scale, but rather two completely different scales! This intuitively makes sense, when you consider that there are some jobs you may not be willing to work, no matter how high the pay is. Why? Because the dissatisfaction will overwhelm the satisfaction of receiving money.

Frederick Herzberg summarized this by introducing the “two-factor theory” to the field of management science. Herzberg explained there are two factors affecting people’s job satisfaction, which are motivators and hygiene factors. We understand that motivators motivate, but what do hygiene factors do? Hygiene factors are factors that will lead to dissatisfaction if they are not met. Hygiene factors include pay and benefits, but also include things like work conditions and vacation. Then what are actual motivators? Surprisingly, motivators correspond with higher order needs, and tend to be things like challenging work, recognition for one's achievement, responsibility, opportunity to do something meaningful, involvement in decision making, and a sense of importance to an organization.

As you can see, motivators correspond more with emotional needs, whereas hygiene factors correspond with basic psychological needs. Then it may not come as a surprise to learn that management science is finding most successful leaders are those that are empathetic, which means they are mindful of the thoughts and emotions of others. While this seems obvious, it runs counter to how many leaders manage. I speculate this is because satisfying emotional needs is difficult and time consuming, and altogether an issue that makes many leaders uncomfortable. A good leader must learn to overcome these uncomfortable conversations, and accept it is a natural part about understanding and motivating people.