5 Leadership Lessons: Charles Handy’s Wisdom

Charles Handy’s memoir, Myself and Other More Important Matters, is full of candid insights from a thoughtful life.  

Here are a few lessons to take away: 

1. If all your expectations with life work out well then you probably haven’t pushed yourself far enough. There may be lives out there that you could have lived had you dared more.  

2.  I learnt that in most human situations there is no textbook answer, that everyone is different and that you have to make your own judgments most of the time, make your own decisions and then stand by them. Only in technical matters does the expert know better.  

3.  Schools, at every level, prefer to teach what can be taught, rather than what needs to be learnt.

4. Organizations are not machines. They are living communities of individuals. To describe them we need to use the language of communities and the language of individuals.

The essential task of leadership is to combine the aspirations and needs of the individuals with the purposes of the larger community to which they belong. You do not need to be a genius to see that the task is much easier if the leader knows what the purpose of the community should be and can convince everyone of its importance.  

5. My belief is that most people have a fundamental understanding of what makes organizations work. They just need to be reminded of it and encouraged to apply their understanding to their own work. The late Sumantra Goshal of the London Business School once described Peter Drucker as practising the scholarship of common sense.  

I would like that said of me. For example, it is only common sense that people are more likely to be committed to a cause or mission if they had a hand in shaping it. That does not need research to prove it. Nor do you have to see the research to know that groups are likely to produce better results than the same individuals acting on their own.


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