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January 24, 2008

News & Opinion: Charles Handy on Gurus

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 4:55 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

So far this is my favorite book for the year. OK, I know it's only January, but that means a lot of books will have to live up to this one. It's an insightful look into the life of one of the best managerial writers and observers in the business book world.

Book Excerpt from: Myself and Other More Important Matters by Charles Handy:
Tom Peters was the first management teacher to turn public performer in a serious way. Fortune called him the 'Ur-guru' or original guru. The Economist described him as the 'Ober-guru'. Peter Drucker had written more and for longer (he died aged ninety-five in 2005, writing to the end) and was probably the wisest of all, but he preferred to describe himself as a writer and was, in truth, a poor performer on a platform. Who first coined the word 'guru' to describe Peters and his like is unclear, and the word is not in any case particularly appropriate. Peter Drucker once quipped that journalists only came up with the word because 'charlatan' was too long for a headline. These management gurus do not cultivate groups of acolytes nor do they hold forth in any sort of management ashrams, but they do lay claim to certain truths about organizations and how they should be manged, and they are certainly not shy about their beliefs and ideas. There are now guru tables that rank the top fifty or so performers according to their popularity among managers, and there is a recognized core of people on the 'guru circuit' rather like professional tennis players. Some of these gurus reckon to do at least one hundred performances a year, usually at opera-star fees with the same sort of billing.
It is unclear how one comes to be a guru. You cannot apply to join the club, for there is in fact no formal club. Nor can you nominate yourself as a guru. It is a title that is given to you by the media or the speaker agencies that manage these folk. Most of them are American, because the circuit of conferences mostly exists in America, although it is now expanding alongside the spread of the global marketplace...

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.