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More People, More Areas of Expertise, More Roles: Understanding the 21st Century Manager

Posted by Mary Bradbury Jones on June 14, 2016

understanding the 21st Century managerIt's undeniable that the workplace has changed, reflecting changes in market ideologies and generational shifts. With it, the roles and requirements have changed widely for job titles that haven't. In today's post, we'll take a peek at history to reflect and find new ways of understanding the 21st Century manager.

Changing Role of Managers Over Time

While elements of management have certainly existed for as long as there's been an organized work force, the way we understand management now evolved out of the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the 20th Century. Consider the fact that, in 1911, Frederick Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management which, among other things, encouraged employers to view those working for them as cogs in a machine.

Fast forward to the 1950's, and you’ll see bestselling recommendations from thought leaders like William Whyte, who in his book The Organization Man outlined managers that inspired and maintained employees who were willing to trade individual goals and ideals for those of the corporation in exchange for job security and benefits. The generations that followed sought to protect themselves through the union and labor movements, only for corporations to turn against them. Being a manager meant finding people that would work when others wouldn't, or trying to keep the peace by straddling the line between the lower and upper parts of an organization. Fast forward again to the 1990's, when Generation X learned that employee loyalty didn't equate to job security, and so they began to change the market. In conjunction with technology, not just the workplace, the world changed.

Managerial roles are often defined by the generations meant to fill them, and each generation has a radically different understanding of the workplace than the next. The roles they play are critical to the people they manage and how those people function best for themselves and the brand at the same time. Understanding the 21st Century manager requires understanding that "manager" is a job that comes with many hats to wear.

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The Many Roles They Play

Perhaps this is due in part to the recession, or perhaps it's due to the fact that the rapid evolution of technology has changed the way people work at home, at the office, and with each other around the world. Especially in smaller businesses, managers even do more work than simply managing other employees and ensuring the proper flow of work and project completion.

Here's just a few of the skills modern managers need to balance:

  • Promising the right things — Managers are very much middle men, and they need to bridge companies that can't promise employees lifelong jobs with hires that can't afford to constantly act as free agents. They need to understand what the company can promise and foster an environment where everyone acts as allies working toward the same goals. That means encouraging connections, encouraging a love of the industry, and a commitment to building careers no matter where they lead.
  • Aligning employee and corporate goals — Despite the fact that employees probably won't stay for the long term, managers need to ensure that employees have a reason to stay and a reason to work hard. In many ways, that means inspiring employees to understand the context of their work, and how it furthers both the employees themselves and the company as a whole.
  • Clearly communicating and recognizing hard work — Communication is vital to any functional workplace, but in the modern workplace, it can be the difference between low employment turnover rates and high ones. Employees need meaningful, ongoing feedback, and they need to be recognized and rewarded for jobs exceptionally well done. This will keep motivation and morale high. What's more, 79% of employees that quit their jobs cite lack of appreciation as a key reason to leave.
  • Becoming a team leader — Being a manager isn't just about being someone people report to. It means aligning team members with each other to get the work done, and what's more, use and teach team building skills.
  • Enabling productivity — Because the nature of business is always changing, it requires managers to have people-focused competencies. This very much includes coaching employees, or enabling them to be coached and trained in new skills by positioning them in classes and workshops they might not otherwise have attended.

In fact, in a Forbes article, contributors David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom presented an excellent comparative structure between the manager of today and the manager of the 50's:


  • Managers were an authority figure
  • They oversaw compliance and focused on correcting flaws
  • They did this by watching over employees shoulders
  • Managers were responsible for enforcing policy and managing the voice of the department
  • They demanded subordination


  • Managers are coaches and motivators
  • They oversee performance with a focus on improvement
  • They do this by looking at the results
  • Managers are responsible for enforcing productivity, but are also in a position to accept new perspectives and warrant change
  • They demand cooperation toward completing common goals

With this glimpse into understanding the 21st Century manager, you have the perspective you need to either relate to your manager or your staff more effectively. If you're interested in improving yourself as a manager, train to become a manager in the future, or train someone else to be a manager, be sure to look into the Professional Development Courses available at CLIMB Professional Development and Training.


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The PCC CLIMB Center provides a variety of professional development  training. Just some of our courses include leadership, sales, customer  experience, online sales and management, IT and software, and  communication. Our top priority is to help you and your team reach your  full potential. We offer open enrollment classes for individuals seeking  their own professional development and contract training for organizations.

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