The Emergent Manager


Tony Watson & Pauline Harris

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    We all have to manage our lives. And some of us are also paid by employers to ‘manage’ at work. The Emergent Manager is a study of both these things – and of how they relate to each other. It focuses on the ways in which people come to be managers in work organisations and how they learn to do managerial work. What it shows is that there is no clear point at which one becomes a manager and that there is no clear formal learning process which prepares people for a managerial career. Indeed, for many, the process of becoming a manager can be traced back into their earlier lives. And, for everyone, the ‘becoming’ process continues long after they are first given a managerial title.

    At a more general level, The Emergent Manager is a study of how people in managerial work shape their personal identities and their working lives – at the same time as being shaped by the world around them. Great emphasis is placed on managers' own words in considering how forty of them, working in a variety of settings, make sense of their work and their lives. These settings range from a construction company to a bingo hall, a hospital ward to a retailing company, a university department to a prison wing, a courtroom to a civil service department, a restaurant to an engineering company, a social work department to a building society, a school to a bank. Within this variety of organisational settings and this variety of human personalities there are some fascinating similarities as well as some intriguing differences.

    The book is written to be meaningful to any reader who is curious about how managers in a variety of work contexts talk about and make sense of what they do. Readers who are themselves involved in managerial work should, however, find it especially helpful to reflect on what other managers say about the challenges they face and how they handle the pleasures, pressures and pains of shaping their lives – at home and at work. But the book is also addressed to an academic audience who will be interested in how it relates these issues to methodological, theoretical and substantive debates about what is going on in the world of management and work organisation and how we might most effectively understand it.

    At the heart of the book is a notion of the human being as always in a process of ‘becoming’. Every one of us is continually changing, adapting and learning, it is argued. This can be experienced as something frightening and unfulfilling. Alternatively, it can be exciting and rewarding. Our book is about managers and their ongoing emergence – something which, as the study shows, has both fulfilling and frustrating aspects to it. But the book has been written by two people who are also ‘emergent’ – as researchers, writers, teachers and private individuals. In the same way that researching and writing the book has played its part in our emergence as academics and human beings, we hope that it may be of value to everybody who reads it. We have learned a lot from doing the research and we hope that you, the reader, will enjoy the book and will also find that it plays a part in how your thinking and your practices – be they academic or managerial – go on to emerge.

    We dedicate this book to all of those who gave us so much of their time and of their selves in contributing to this research.

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