As a manager, you may secretly long for the odd head to roll, for the plans of potential usurpers to be spectacularly foiled, for your role as fearsome leader to be acknowledged and lauded by all. Melodramatic fantasies aside, however, the more conventional leader in you may also believe that the job of managing is for the eight-to-six daily grind and that Shakespearean drama is better left for the occasional evening at the theater.
In Shakespeare on Management, Corrigan presents a number of Shakespeare's plays as lessons on leadership. Obviously, company leaders at the start of the 21st century deal with vastly different issues from those faced by the monarchs and warriors of the late 1600s and earlier. Corrigan begins his book, however, by emphasizing that while today's rapid pace of change creates an unpredictable environment for managers, a company in transition cannot achieve lasting success unless led by someone with exceptional leadership skills. The plays he examines are about the politics of leadership, and the intricacies involved in an individual's pursuit and execution of power and authority. Characters rise to great heights on the strength of their ambitions, but fall from grace on their lack of true leadership ability. Most of Shakespeare's plays deal with failure, but provide useful insights for managers intent on avoiding it. While Richard II points out the pitfalls of believing one's power stems solely from a title or position, King Lear demonstrates the disastrous results of not recognizing one's changing responsibilities. Richard III and Macbeth both portray the destructive capacity of ambition that is unchecked by a leader's morals or relationships. On a positive note, Henry V, Shakespeare's most heroic character, inspires leaders to develop the potential of their followers, to understand their individual skills and limitations .
The great Bard's influence has always been broad and far-reaching, but his insightful commentary on all forms of power and politics in his plays has made William Shakespeare the current darling of the management theory set. Power Plays stands out as an interesting and useful look at what Shakespeare has to teach leaders about the use and abuse of power, the skills of communication and persuasion crucial to a leader's success in achieving objectives, and reconciling and balancing values and responsibilities.
The coauthoring duo of Whitney and Packer is effective. John Whitney, a professor at the Columbia Business School, former CEO, and veteran of corporate startup and turnaround ventures, combines his professional knowledge of the business arena and his personal love of Shakespeare's plays with the dramatic experience and analytical insight of Tina Packer, the founder and president of Massachusetts's thriving Shakespeare and Company. Much of Whitney and Packer's interpretive skill lies in their ability to do just that--interpret effectively. Rather than merely attaching the human strengths and weaknesses exemplified by Shakespearean characters to any and every corporate success or failure they can pull out of the bag, the authors conduct careful examinations of exactly what it is that the playwright is attempting to convey. Only after demonstrating a perceptive grasp of the underlying messages of the dramatic action do they then apply that insight to contemporary, real-life businesspeople and environments. The messages range from the seemingly obvious though often ignored comments on power--"Use It Wisely or Lose It"--to the subtle complexities surrounding the development of an Iago character bent on evil revenge. --S. Ketchum