It formal organisation, but during the 1920s, the

It is virtually impossible to define management or what makes a good manager and this is partially  to do with the varying thoughts of the theorists who all have different interpretations. Two of the most contrasting theorists are Henri Fayol and Henry Mintzberg who are described by Mintzberg as being “As different …as a cubist abstract is from a renaissance painting” (Mintzberg 1989, pg 9). They have lead the way in which we see and think of modern day management. “The main emphasis of the classical writers was on structure and the formal organisation, but during the 1920s, the years of the Great Depression, greater attention began to be paid to the social factors at work and to the behaviour of employees within an organisation – that is, to human relations” (Mullins and Christie, 2005 pg 103) therefore shows us the great historical impact both these theorists had on how we can begin to understand and define management and the skills and qualities of a good manager. Both Fayol and Mintzberg have clear differences in their theories which will be examined further along with the other theorists say on the relationship of the two. However it is clear to see that both Fayol and Mintzberg have views on management which have shaped and contributed many theories and organisational structures in our world today but is it as simple as saying one is right and wrong? To determine this it is necessary to outline the main concept of both Fayol and Mintzbergs’s theories on management and leadership, the similarities and differences between them and ultimately come to a conclusion on which theory is more support and to be seen as superior. 

Fayol will be examined first and it is extremely important to look at the historical background and context which has lead to his belief and theories. As stated by (Wren 1994, p.193) “Fayol’s elements of management provided to the modern conceptualisation of a management process” shows the huge impact he has had on how we define management and it can be argued he is the founding father of modern day management. The basis of Fayol’s theory came from his personal life, he was a French miner by training and worked for Commentry-Fourchamboult-Decazeville as a miner at first before later working as managing director. He spent his whole professional life working in the same company which is interesting to note as his main theory includes the need to understand the structure and methods behind a company to truly understand how to manage it and it is a known interpretation that “his intention was to initiate a theoretical analysis appropriate to a wide range of organisations”(Pugh and Hickson, 2003, pg 104). This can be argued to be successful as we can see through the implementation of his theories in modern day society and organisation. This is in contrast to Mintzberg’s personal circumstances where he was modern day academic, gaining a degree, masters and a phd in management. Mintzberg in theory is the more qualified theorist and is currently associate professor in the Management school at McGill University (Mintzberg, 1975) showing he is world renowned and a very respected individual but is this enough? It is also interesting to note that Fayol has the experience in management but chooses to write about the theory behind it and Mintzberg has a lot of knowledge in the theory but choose to write about managers experience. Arguing the differences in their backgrounds shows that Mintzberg may be more qualified but Fayol’s hands on experience and learning while working could argue he has a more realistic and thought out theory on management and he argues that you need to understand the structure and methods behind a company to truly understand how to manage it which he does. 

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Henry Mintzberg was considered on the of the Human Relations Theorists- who’s ideas contracted that of the classical theorists in terms of factors that needed to be taken into consideration to determine how effective management was are social normals, economic factors and environmental factors such as lighting and length of breaks. This shows that point can be argued that Mintzberg’s modern theory was simply growing with the times and that management was becoming less about the manager himself and more about the employees. “If you ask a manager what he does, he will most likely tell you that he plans, organizes, co-ordinates and controls. Then watch what he does. Don’t be surprised if you can’t relate what you see to these four words” (Mintzberg 1975, pg 223). Whereas in Fayol’s theory, he identifies the five key element of managerial work which makes up much of the classical theory and is often viewed as the “managerial process” (Dessler, 1985, p.4). As many of Fayol’s theories were accurate in the contextual time in which they were written it could be argued that surely if his list of principles were published today that they would include many of things that distinguish his findings from Mintzberg such as flatter hierarchies, environmental working conditions and flexible working hours (Brooks 2009). On the other hand, this also reinforce the fact that we cannot simply assume that Fayol would have put theses findings if it was published in modern times because the reality is  that they were not included in his principles. However the point can still be argued that Mintzberg’s theories are not different to Fayol’s, infant they could just be a more modern up to date version and that Mintzberg’s claims that the management process is “folklore” (Mintzberg, 1973) is not correct. 

The first main difference between Fayol and Mintzberg’s theory is that in a sense Fayol was not a theorist at all and was a French miner at heart and therefore it is important to note that his theories must be based off something he realised during his thirty years experience as managing director especially when we look at the context in which his theories were published and we realise that there was very little research done about the process and hierarchy of management so it is quite possible to argue that Fayol’s were in theory “folklore” (Mintzberg, 1975) however is it not more accurate to establish the link between Fayol’s experience and his findings as he couldn’t possibly have just created and imagined the foundations and theory of which modern day management is based upon today. However as critics have pointed out, the fact Fayol only has experience in one company has to be examined and as Mintzberg examined five different managers and looked at their day-to-day tasks and duties it can be argued that although Mintzberg does not have the hand on experience he has looked at a wider range of sources which should make his theories and findings more accurate. To show this link further, Mintzberg’s findings need to be explored. Mintzberg opens up the issue ‘”What do managers do?” (Minzberg, 1975, pg 49). Mintzberg argues that we are ignorant of the nature of managerial work and that this shows in various flaws in managerial structure (Minzberg 1975) and Mintzberg also offers the thought that “managers work at an unrelenting pace” and are “simply responding to the pressures of the job” (Mintzberg 1975 pg61) but as we and other critics have pointed out out his studies are not on a theoretical basis and are purely on observations and therefore would further encourage the consistency and superiority in Fayol’s efforts. 

It also has to be noted that critically, Fayol is not always well received with many theorists deeming his principles too idealistic like Mary Parker Follet who believed in general that the traditional hierarchy style of management should be destroyed and “her writings and speeches challenged the mainstream model of scientific management which emphasised rational-choice and hierarchical control” (Gibson et al.., 2013 pg 447). However it can be argued that Fayol’s principles were never meant to show what managers are actually suppose to do in the first place and therefore any cristicm on Fayol’s idealistic could be said to be inaccurate and false and Fayol was merely speaking about the function of management in an organisation and not what a manager was actually suppose to do. Mintzberg’s theory contrasts this as his whole theory and study was on managers and observing what they actually do so it can be argued that Mintzberg’s theory should be more accurate than Fayol’s as it tells us what managers actually should do rather than just on a theoretical basis. However as Mintzberg’s study was just on executive managers the suggestion could be made that different findings would have occurred if Mintzberg had opened up his study to all different levels of managers and may have given a more accurate representation of what managers are doing on a day to day basis. It is also important to note that Mintzberg was generally received well with critics with Kotter (1982), “broadly supporting Mintzberg’s findings”(Brooks, 2009, pg 161). This therefore shows that like many aspects of opinion, both theorists were received well critically but also criticised for their theories and therefore we must look else where also if we are to determine which theorist is more superior. 

Findings between Mintzberg and Fayol are quite similar in a number of ways as one scholar finds them with very similar critical links. Lamond (2004) believed that Mintzberg could have (perhaps unknowingly) made a connection between some of the qualities that Fayol had outlined in findings and the observations made by Mintzberg. “Mintzberg … made an attempt to elaborate the roles in which managers … engage when carrying out their managerial functions” (Lamond 2004, pg 334) This shows that Fayol’s findings couldn’t possibly be the idealistic views Mintzberg portrays if his own research and findings are based on and coincide with the views of Fayol. It also shows Mintzberg to be less reliable  and the suggestion could be made that this contributes to him being seen as less superior to Fayol because his ideas can be seen to simply be modern update of Fayol’s theories and not as different as he paint himself to be. 

It is safe to say that both theorists have pro’s and con’s surrounding their theories and as both were written in different circumstances, different countries and different periods of time, it is quite difficult to determine one is more superior that the other. The statement “two sides of the same coin” (Lamond, 2004, pg. 350), perfectly describe the relationship and link between Fayol and Mintzberg because as stated in the beginning it is extremely hard to determine a definition of management, this is especially difficult when we realise the different angle and approaches Fayol and Mintzberg have to management. Fayol shows through his theories a far more detailed description of the actual management processes and it can be stated that the theories and practices Fayol describes gives good direction to an efficient manager that also gives the flexibility to adapt to each workplace and in the modern day which means it can be adapted to virtually any workplace or profession. Mintzberg too shows a great knowledge and dept into contemporary management however he focus’ too heavily on the five managers he looked at and therefore has made his findings too narrow and specialised to be adapted to every organisation. This therefore portrays the idea that Fayol is superior in terms of effectiveness, adaptability and relevance- the key qualities of the managerial process. 



Dessler, G. (1985). Management. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Prentice Hall, p.4.

Minzberg, H (1989, page 9) cited from Lamond, D. (2004). A matter of style: reconciling Henri and Henry. Management Decision, 42(2), pp.330-356. 

Minzberg, H. (1975). Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact. Harvard Business Review, online July-August 1975, pp.49-61. Available at: Accessed 9 Jan. 2018.

Mullins, L. and Christy, G. (2005). Management and organisational behaviour. 7th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson, p.103.

Pugh, D. and Hickson, D. (2003). Great Writers on Organizations: The Second Omnibus Edition. 2nd ed. Aldershot, pp.140-144.

Smith, I. and Boyns, T. (2005). British management theory and practice: the impact of Fayol. Management Decision, online 43(10), pp.446-1334. Available at: Accessed 8 Jan.2018. 

Whitney Gibson, J., Chen, W., Henry, E., Humphreys, J. and Lian, Y. (2013). Examining the work of Mary Parker Follett through the lens of critical biography. Journal of Management History, online 19(4), pp.441-458. Available at: Accessed 9 Jan. 2018.