My mission statement

The times we are working in now need a great deal of accelerated change and there must be no negotiating that down. So my mission statement for this part of my consultancy career is to be clear that there needs to be and will be a lot of change from the work that I do with individuals and organisations and if organisations don’t want that, then it is probably best to go somewhere else.

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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 8-6 daily grind and that Shakespearean drama is better left for the occasional evening at the theatre. This, as Paul Corrigan tells us, is sorely underestimating the potential influence of the great Bard.

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 than those faced by the monarchs and warriors of the late 1600s. Corrigan begins his book, however, by emphasising 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 recognising one’s changing responsibilities. Richard III and Macbeth both portray the destructive capacity of ambition that is unchecked by either 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 fully understand their individual skills and limitations, and to reward innovation.

Though managers with a passion for literature will enjoy this book, you don’t have to love Shakespeare to learn the lessons. Corrigan draws clear, useful parallels between the plays’ characters and the type of leaders that exist today. He doesn’t attempt to eliminate the ambiguities often found in Shakespeare’s complex characters, but instead offers up their strengths and weaknesses as descriptive signposts for the modern leader. —S. Ketchum,

“If you think you cannot read management books, then this is one to try.” — Times Educational Supplement