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  • CFO Magazine

Harry Potter and the Corner Office

Management lessons from unusual sources.

Who would make a better CEO, Harry Potter or
Moses? Should you run your company
like the New York Yankees, even
though the team just failed again in
the clutch? What can Formula 1 racing
teach you about developing talent?
Does Attila the Hun still speak to
would-be masters of the universe, or
is Captain Picard a better role model
for the 21st century? And what would
Jesus do with an underperforming
subsidiary?

These are the kinds of questions
raised by recent additions to a thriving
literary genre: the pop management
book. Such books typically present leadership role
models from history, fiction, religion, sports, or popular
culture. They put new spins on old metaphors: business
as a game, sport, or war to be won; business as a spiritual
undertaking; business as an exercise in building or
growing.

The most popular pop management books match
their role models with the business mood of the day.
Thus, one of the earliest, Wess Roberts’s Leadership
Secrets of Attila the Hun,
debuted in the greed-is-good
era of corporate raiders and LBOs. For those who grow
faint at the sight of blood or Securities and Exchange
Commission investigations, books such as Jesus, CEO;
and Moses on Management eventually followed.

Peter Drucker these books are not. Most of them are
long on the softer side of management, such as motivation,
honesty, and team-building, but short on specifics,
such as strategy and effective decision making. That
doesn’t mean they lack value, however. Apart from being
entertaining, more or less, they can tempt managers to
think about business in new ways.

Neil Witmer, an executive coach and organizational
psychologist who runs the talent-management consulting
firm Witmer & Associates, says these books “create
contrasts from the routine way of thinking.” New ideas
come when managers go outside their usual frameworks
and look back in, points out Witmer; that’s why
companies shell out thousands of dollars to send executives
on management retreats. So why not save the money and buy a few books instead?

It’s less important which particular role
model or analogy or metaphor a book
uses, says Witmer, than that it provide a
perspective from outside the normal
scope of business. That said,
some models seem to work better
than others. Don’t count on seeing
Management Secrets of Paris
Hilton
anytime soon — although,
given the celebrity’s success at self-promotion,
you never know.

Earning Your Pinstripes

Sports analogies have been a
favorite in business for as long as
“team” has been spelled without an
“I,” so it’s not surprising that
authors would seek insight on the
playing fields of America.

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