See more on the shoulders of giants!
See more on the shoulders of giants!
Good leaders learn from the best. Why? Because you can see further on the shoulders of giants. In the business world, the best thinkers are often labelled “gurus”. But who are the best? What exactly makes someone a guru? How and why do you apply the best ideas of leading thinkers to your situation?
Here in the first of a three-part article, we provide some answers to these questions. We discuss what makes a guru, who they are, and how we determine their worth. These are crucial questions for anyone looking to emulate a good leader.
The second article, developing good leadership qualities, further explores the value of gurus, asking and answering the question: why should good leaders be bothered to learn from the gurus?
The third article, leadership exercises: putting the best ideas to work, contains a useful tool to help you evaluate the ideas of the business gurus, and to apply them in your own work.
The idea of a management guru is often ridiculed, perhaps associated with the creation and exploitation of “the next big thing” in management thinking. Nonetheless, serious thinkers support the role of serious management gurus. Charles Handy makes the case:
‘Great ideas lie wasted unless someone turns them into a viable activity or a business, through management.’
Perhaps this is reason enough to explain why good leaders should learn from the best! Handy goes further though, explaining that the role of a guru is:
“…to interpret and spread around what seems to be working, helping managers to cope in a world that changes fast.”
He suggests that they “often use common sense, but they see the sense before it becomes common and that’s what can give companies and their managers the competitive edge. The insights and methods of the gurus can make a big difference to the way we manage our organisations.”
Handy’s definition of a management guru is both pithy and pragmatic: someone who interprets and spreads what seems to be working.
If good leaders should learn from the best, how do you tell a genuine guru from the multitude of management writers and thinkers? The definition we’ve used suggests that the crucial criteria should be: do the ideas help, and is there evidence that they work?
As an old Italian proverb suggests: “it’s not enough to aim you must hit.”
Firstly, one useful way to identify the best is to look at those who have already gained widespread recognition. Who appears on the numerous lists of top thinkers in the fields of leadership, business and management? The Thinkers 50 is one example – an annual ranking of the most influential living management thinkers. It’s one way of seeing who is highly regarded, based on a survey (of business people, consultants, academics and MBA students), analysis of google references to candidates, and their scoring against 10 criteria. These give some indication of the nature and role of management gurus:
However, as The Thinkers 50 acknowledges, it only features the most influential living management thinkers. So giants, such as Peter Drucker who led the early lists until his death in 2005, are not included. So try the Inc. list of all-time top 50 leadership and management experts.
Secondly, good leaders can learn from the best by reading some of the excellent books which review some of the ideas that have shaped management thinking. Providing overviews of 34 leading management thinkers, Carol Kennedy’s book: “Guide to the Management Gurus” is just one example. For Kennedy:
“Timing is of the essence in achieving gurudom. Timing; originality; forcefulness; a gift of self-promotion and perhaps above all else, the ability to encapsulate memorably what others immediately recognise as true – these are the marks of the modern management guru.”
Finally, you could take the considered opinion of the gurus themselves. Warren Bennis suggests that
“If Peter Drucker is responsible for legitimizing the field of management and Tom Peters for popularizing it, then Charles Handy should be known as the person who gave it a philosophical elegance and eloquence that was missing from the field.”
We have already explored Handy’s definition of a guru. On the BBC website Handy introduces his choice of twelve significant gurus in: “the Handy guide to the gurus of management”
Handy sums up his position with reference to the giant of management giants. “My view that the role of the guru is to interpret, explain and forewarn is one that is shared by the prince of guru’s, Peter Drucker.”
Good leaders have much to learn from the best but is time spent studying the words of management gurus really time well spent? This is the subject of our second article: developing good leadership qualities by learning from the best. In particular we explore six reasons why learning from the best really matters.
Why should good leaders learn from the best? Perhaps because:
“If I have seen farther than other men, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” Sir Isaac Newton
If you’re interested in developing your leadership qualities, take a look at one of our leadership e-guides. Leading Insights is packed with more leadership stories, and some leading insights into how they can be used! Insights such as:
Tipping point leadership
Find the glass
Leaders need to be cathedral thinkers
Would you recommend your service/organisation to your friends?
Putting on a performance
Would people pay to see your team perform?
Saliency, sagacity and serendipity
Great work days
Conveying what you care about
The kind of goals leaders set matters
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