Governing, managing

For those having challenges with the idea of self-organizing groups, some distinctions between governance and management (published in 2003) may help.

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Management, as a practice, traditionally is oriented more to setting direction

Management is derived from the mid-16th century Proto-Romance maneggiare , from a Latin root of manus (hand). A constructed definition then describes management as:

the general manner or specific action of applying skills or care in the manipulation, use, treatment, or control of things or persons, as in the conduct of an enterprise, operation, etc.

Its original sense comes from the French, who “encouraged” horses through the use of hands, carrots and sticks to perform in ways that served the trainers, but were not natural for the horses.

The application of “skills and care” is consistent with Drucker (1974), where management is described as a practice. Managerial activities are defined in the context of both business enterprises and public service institutions, and are suitable for management in both autonomous enterprises and inter-organizational relations.7

  • 7 These three tasks and the fourth dimension represent a paraphrasing of Drucker (1973), pp. 40-44.

To carry out its responsibilities, management must perform three tasks:

  • Management must define the specific purpose and mission of the institution.
  • Management must ensure that work is conducted productively and that workers personally achieve satisfaction.
  • Management must manage the social impact of the enterprise and responsibly serve external communities.

Moreover, as a fourth dimension:

  • Management must balance the present and the future, both the short-run and the long-run.

Management effectiveness depends on leaders adequately giving direction, organizing for productivity, handling social issues, and producing results. […]

Governance is usually oriented towards setting and enforcing bounds

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) presents governance as derived from the Latin word gubernare (to steer, direct, or rule), as well as the Greek kubernan (to steer). A definition for governance can then be composed as:

the general manner or specific action through which a social body is guided, directed, steered or regulated.

In this definition, the phrase “social body” tends to rule out governing an individual person or things. Normally, governing involves a group of people, rather than a single person. A thing may have a governor built in, but the operation of a machine normally does not connote a human component as part of its mechanism.8 The phrasing of this definition in a passive mode – i.e. “is guided, directed, steered or regulated” – suggests an approach of bounding or circumscription rather than direction. The social body may be led informally on a peer-to-peer basis, or through a formal authority charged with resources to enforce conformance. Governability, or the lack thereof, may be observed after principles, policies and rules have been established and communicated.

  • 8 A more thorough classification of systems and their abilities to exhibit choice is addressed by Ackoff & Gharajedaghi (1996), and Ackoff & Emery (1972).

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In small organizations, the governors (board of directors) and managers (officers of the corporation) often overlap. Good governance normally sees external directors as part of a board. The powers of the corporate directors, however, should be limited from the decisions made by officers and managers who are more active in the enterprise. The corporate directors have the power to remove the chief executive (e.g. president), and some influence in the selection of direct subordinates (vice-presidents). For the board to remove the officers of an organization is a drastic step that generally generates newspaper headlines.


Ing, David, David L. Hawk, Ian Simmonds, and Marianne Kosits. 2003. “Governance and the Practice of Management in Long-Term Inter-Organizational Relations.” Proceedings of the 47th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the System Sciences . .

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