In theory: Gods of Management

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

Management thinker Charles Handy wrote a highly influential book called Gods of Management, which was published in 1978. In it, he argued that organisations and their managers are under the sway of four archetypal Greek gods: Zeus, Apollo, Athena and Dionysus.

Zeus represents leadership by trust; Apollo rules through bureaucracy; Athena is the goddess of problem-solving; and Dionysus is the god of individualism. Each organisation and each manager is guided by one of these gods. For example, a charity that favours processes and systems is influenced by Apollo. A Dionysian organisation, on the other hand, is one where each person is left to do their own thing and whose staff join together only to share resources. A GP surgery is a good example of this.

But not all organisations are influenced by only one of these gods. In fact, says Handy, it is important to realise that the most effective organisations are the ones that create a balance of power between each of the gods and place a particular god in the ascendancy depending on what needs to get done.

But where does that leave you, the third sector manager? There's probably not much you can do about restructuring your charity to readjust the balance of power between the gods. Better to concentrate on what you do have influence over: the team you manage.

Who is your Zeus? Your Apollo? Are they matched to the right kinds of tasks? It's no good putting a charismatic Zeus leader in charge of the accounts, because he or she will evaporate into a cloud of frustration. Nor should you put a bureaucracy-loving Apollo in charge of new fundraising ideas. Work out which god you are: if you're a Zeus, you'll relish the power you have over your minions. If you're an Athena, you'll see each task as a problem that needs to be solved.

Whatever you do, don't get too carried away. Turning up to work in a chiton is not a good idea.

 - Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today

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