In a fairly predictable way, despite the proliferation of industrial & business management theories and associated gurus preaching them, a somewhat seldom discussed topic is the embedded political ideology. Writers from Adolph Berle to Walter Benjamin, Alfred Chandler, Jr., Harry Braverman and David F. Noble — and beyond — have discussed the ways management theories tend to consolidate class power in the hands of management. But beyond that, it is worth noting philosopher Slavoj Žižek‘s theory that it is impossible to escape ideology, that the very notion of deciding what is or is not a “fact” is governed by an ideological system, as well as sociologist Pierre Bourdieu‘s theory that all action is interested, which leads to the conclusion that most management gurus simply argue for their own self-importance. So this is a rough-cut at assigning industrial & business management theories to a crude left/right political spectrum (sorted roughly chronologically). This is obviously an incomplete list, and focuses mostly on Americans.
These gurus tend toward the philosophical, are the most explicitly political (usually with an explicit favoritism for the powerless), and are usually the least known or discussed as management theorists per se and their theories have seen the most limited real-world implementations (some offering only works of fiction); they favor communal or cooperative approaches and strict egalitarianism. Many are opposed in principle to “great individual” approaches and collective anonymity dominates. Examples of corresponding political economists: Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Thorstein Veblen, Rudolf Hilferding, Michael Hudson.
Henri de Saint-Simon
Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers
Ursula K. Le Guin
These gurus tend to emphasize psychology and morality (and even sometimes “new age” spirituality), assume that people are fundamentally good but are mistaken, confused or inept in acting on good intentions, and align with liberalism; they tend to advocate “flatter” organizational structures that are more inclusive for decision-making while drawing a line somewhere to regulate acceptable “flatness” (usually as a compromise to avoid the programs of the left). Examples of corresponding political economists: John Stuart Mill, John Maynard Keynes, Karl Polanyi, Joan Robinson
Mary Parker Follett
Walter A. Shewhart
W. Edwards Deming
H. Thomas Johnson
These theorists are frequently benevolent aristocrats in a liberal mold, and often focus on restraining, containing or limiting excesses and bad actions and tend to use discussion and reporting schemes to deflect attention from (rather than to resolve) questions about the unequal distribution of power in organizations; appeals to “gradualism” are common; a key difference from the center-left is that the center-right tends to more explicitly restrict decision-making to specified groups and to more strongly preserve and reinforce hierarchies and castes, perhaps within some limits. Examples of corresponding political economists: Adam Smith, David Ricardo, David Hume, Jeremy Bentham, Joseph Schumpeter, Irving Fisher, Paul Samuelson
Frank and Lillian Gilbreth
Rosabeth Moss Kanter
These theorists tend to be dictatorial and authoritarian (though rarely acknowledging as much), and in recent times often premising their theories on anti-leftist grounds and market-theocractic principles if they even bother to offer justifications at all; hey tend to believe that some people are inherently better than others (to the point of relying on hero/savior motifs, if not “divine right of kings” argument) and usually seek to create or maintain steep hierarchies of power and privilege without clear limits; most business schools and working business executives overwhelmingly fall in this category. Examples of corresponding political economists: Vilfredo Pareto, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman
Frederick W. Taylor
…this is far right category is almost a catch-all for most modern management gurus, including almost anything from the Harvard Business School.
If you have ever been exposed to management theories and found them distasteful, perhaps it is because those theories come from a different political orientation than you normally endorse? Often these gurus argue amongst each other more than they establish any sort of practical standards (arguments are most strident when they try to distinguish the theories of directly adjacent political segments), and some of the arguments ignore particular political segments — it is extremely common for the theorists of the left to be entirely ignored.