The Rise of Psycho Management in Australia


Author:  Robert Spillane

Publisher:  Michell Andersen Publishing Pty Ltd

Edition:  2011

This book is about Australian managers and their love affair with psychologists.  Robert Spillane is a Professor at the Graduate School of Management at Maquarie University.  This book appears to be an eclectic collection of essays on this topic.

In the preface of the book Robert Spillane claims that the ultimate test of performance at work is the achievement of results.  He claims that if people have performed, they have earned the right to argue with their managers.  However, nowadays individuals who argue with their managers are likely to be accused of lacking the “soft skills” of management.

Spillane’s premise is that the popularity of soft-skill managers in Australia has created psycho managers – managers who manage by performance and personality.  Accordingly psychologists have been welcomed into management to work with managers to encourage them to master themselves; others work with managers to encourage them to master others.

Chapter 1 is an account of Australia, “the weird country”, which has a talent for bureaucracy and where work is viewed by many as preparation to enjoy the weekend.

Chapter 2 is a consideration of how Australians distrust managers.  He describes the tension between”hard” modern managers and “soft” post-modern psycho managers.  Spillane concludes that  Australian managers are often criticized for their insufficient commitment to work performance.

Chapter 3 is an excellent consideration of the work of Peter Drucker who believed that good management depended on whether a manager provided guidance in setting business goals and standards.  Drucker believed that the key question in management is:  What will they contribute?  He emphasized disagreement, argument and contribution.   He also believed that the role of psychology in management was to master oneself and to focus on the objective demands of the job.  He also believes that there is one style of management:  to make strengths productive and weaknesses irrelevant.  In stark contrast Maslow’s “Needs Theory” which favoured the psychological health of the manager is discussed.  Maslow believed that a heirarchy of seven needs determines management style, although only five needs are taught to managers.  Needs six and seven – aesthetic and spiritual - are never taught.  Maslow propounded that the key question in management was:  Will they get along with each other?  Maslow emphasized agreement, harmony and motivation and kargued that psychology is the most important subject for managers to master, apply to others and to focus on the person’s motivational state.  Unfortunately Drucker is rarely taught in detail and Spillane claims that MBA students are force-fed Maslow.

Chapter 4 is a consideration of major theories of motivations including Maslow, McLelland, Herzberg, McGregor (Theory X and Y) and Ouchi (Theory Z).

Chapter 5 is a strong criticism of personality tests especially MB (Myers Briggs) and emotional intelligence based on legal cases.  He believes it is again the conflict between performance over personality.

Chapter 6 – Unintelligent Intelligence is a further extension of Chapter 5 outlining the difficulties with IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests and EQ (Emotional Quotient).  His views about Machiavelli were very interesting.

Chapter 7 – The Leadership Myth is an excellent consideration of this topic.  He claims that “leader” derives from ‘leadare’ which means to take people on a journey.  The concept carries the assumption that followers choose to accompany the leaders and that there is no conflict of interest.  These assumptions do not apply to all super-subordinate relationships.  Managers have coercive power over their subordinates and it is naïve to believe that the latter freely choose to follow the former.

He claims that many writers on leadership fail to consider the power of the hierarchical relationship and the diverse ways in which people follow others, most of which are not examples of leadership.  He claims that when we start calling managers and bureaucrats leaders, there is no line of demarcation between those who influence others because of their exemplary personal qualities and those who influence others because of their position.  The remaining chapters address the issues of RSI and stress.

This book is an excellent book to read as it challenges prevailing paradigms, assumptions and outmoded shibboleths like Maslow’s hierarch of needs which he claims has been unthinkingly accepted by the world over.