Sample Content: The Origins of the Word "Management"

Jul 21, 2020

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In this Resource, taken from the Nomadic Academy Resource library, we explore the origins of the word management. This Resource is just one example of the 100s of learning resources we have on management and leadership in the Nomadic Academy. It is designed to deepen and further the learning happening in our Management in the Moment Program.

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Today, if someone referred to management at their company as “hands-off,” we might think their managers take a somewhat relaxed approach to day-to-day managing. “Hands-on,” on the other hand, might simply be a nicer word for micromanaging.

But originally, there was no such thing as “hands-off” management. This is because, at its root, “manage” comes from the Latin word manus, meaning “hand.” This is also where we get the word “manual.” In this sense, managing something originally meant to, in some way, control it with your hands. This is likely where the Old Italian word “maneggio,” which refers to the art of training horses, comes from; it’s this word that ultimately gave rise to the English word “manage.”

This seems like no accident. Hands are, after all, one of the primary ways that we actually interact with our physical world. They are filled with some of the body’s smallest nerves and dense layers of muscles, giving us sensitivity and fine precision found in few other places on our body. One Swedish study even found that our fingers are sensitive enough to detect bumps as small as 13 nanometers. At the same time, we can use our hands for incredible feats of strength, using them to squeeze, grip, or even crush.

As managers in a modern organization, we may not be breaking wild horses or using our hands to literally shape our team members, but just like all “managers” past and present, we have some form of control. We choose when and how we exercise the power we have, just as though we were using our hands.

We can hone our sensitivity to carefully guide and lead our team, knowing when to push and when to pull, judiciously deciding how much force to use (or not). We can carefully calibrate our actions to respond to the way that they respond to us. Or we can use our power to manage and lead with force, to exert constant pressure on them, or even to crush them if we’re not careful.

The same hands that carefully sculpt a delicate piece of porcelain can also break it into pieces. Being a good manager is not a question of maximizing our power; it’s about learning how to properly use it. We aren’t born knowing how to tie our shoes, use eating utensils, or write a sentence either, but like all things worth learning how to do, all it takes is practice.


In the Nomadic Academy we ask our learners to discuss this article together. Here's the discussion prompt we ask learners to respond too:

Think back to the best managers you’ve had. Looking back, what’s one thing you learned from the way they used their power and authority? Alternatively, think about a manager who wasn’t as good at this. What’s one lesson to learn from their example? Share your response in the space below, and be sure to respond to your fellow learners to keep the conversation going.

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