Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Management of the Absurd

Farson, R. (1996). Management of the Absurd. New York, NY: Touchstone.
Summary: Like life, management is a series of paradoxes, according to Richard Farson. In Management of the Absurd, Farson discusses the many assumptions about management and leadership, and then contradicts each assumption. He begins by discussing that the any one truth may have an opposite that is also true, and goes on from there. His general opinion seems to be that leaders are born, not taught, and that no amount of training or technique can necessarily help a person lead. However, an education, rather than training, can mold a person to become more visionary and to have a greater perspective, and therefore be a better leader. He cites the paradox that although “participative management,” where the workers are involved in the decision making, “is widely agreed to be effective, [but] is seldom put in to practice.” He also cites that “most often what gets organizations in to trouble are the faulty leadership styles, poor internal relationships, and managerial blind spots.” Yet, he goes on to discuss that all leadership styles really do work because most people will try their best to get their jobs done no matter what kind of leadership they have. He leaves us with no answers, just more questions- intentionally.
Reflection: Being a very analytical and practical thinker, this book was very difficult for me to comprehend at first. It wasn’t until I finished the book, and “let it simmer” that it began to make any sense to me. It took several perusals of my highlights and notes, before I was fully able to make the connections I needed to relate Farson’s strange ideas to my personal situation, as a member of an organization and as a potential leader. In his very round-a-bout way, he still mentions the qualities of a great leader:
• the ability to elicit the intelligence and participation of group members
• serves rather than dominates
• helps the group stay focused
• humility
• a counselor and confidant
• confident in their institution
• trust their gut reactions
• Visionary
• Strategic thinkers
• Caring community builders
“Ultimately, people discover who we are and come to regard us as we regard them.” (37)
Effective leaders “see a bigger picture. They trust the wisdom of the group. Their strength is not in control alone, but in other qualities—passion, sensitivity, tenacity, patience, courage, firmness, enthusiasm, wonder.” (38)
Re: communication: “It’s crucial that we listen to the music as well as the lyrics.” (58)
Re: invisible lessons: “We never forgot these lessons, because they were taught not as part of the actual curriculum but rather by the ritual or form of education.” (59)
“…people are more likely to change when we reverse the flow of communication, that is, when people are not talked at but when they themselves have a chance to talk.” (62)
“But to learn from experience means that we have to process it in some way that makes it available to us. We have to analyze it. …. Many “who have been on the job for thirty years don’t necessarily have thirty years experience--- they have more like one year experience, thirty times.” (116-117)
“I bet the people who do that job best leave rake marks.: (165)

1. If there are no techniques that work for management, or, if all techniques for management work, why have management at all?
2. What is the point of this book, really??

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