Posted by: wordsmithsuk | January 18, 2011

The Best of Adair on Leadership and Management: book review

In this book, editor Neil Thomas has bound together all the essential nuggets of wisdom from John Adair’s long and distinguished career. It’s almost every piece of theory that the new or aspiring manager could ever need – how to manage yourself and how to manage others.

You will have come across most of this material many times before, unless you are very new to management or have just arrived from the planet Zog. Want to check how to manage your time? That comes up on page 3. Need to gen up on motivation theory? Turn quickly to page 171. Got a problem to solve? All you need is on page 47. The underlying aim, says Adair in his foreword,  is to make you into ‘a more effective leader and manager’.

The problem for me is that mugging up on the theory doesn’t transform anyone into a good manager. To be fair, Adair admits this in his foreword. But I don’t agree with his assertion that it’s enough just to sit quietly and reflect on one’s performance. Managers also need feedback from others – from their own managers, from team members, from colleagues and from mentors. In fact, there is a whole raft of theory on self-development or continuous professional development which is missing from this book. Good managers aren’t automatons putting bulleted lists of theories into practice. They try to do their best in difficult situations, and often get it wrong. The best managers are able to face up to their mistakes, and learn from them.

It would help if the material contained a few examples and case studies to bring this dry old stuff to life, and to make it relevant to the challenges and circumstances that managers face in 21st century. There are no people in these pages – just lots of bullets, theories and information. There is no hint of the diverse environments and cultures that managers have to deal with, that management is a tough job, that (whatever Adair would have us believe) there are often no right or wrong answers. When reading this, I longed to read about flesh-and-blood people who are struggling with the reality of life in business and trying to apply the arid theories to real situations.

Apart from the sections on managing yourself, the book contains about 50 pages, yes 50 pages, of bons mots from just about everyone ever tried to say anything at all wise. That includes Poe, Schiller, Homer, Montgomery and my Aunty Peggy from Rochdale. A few appropriate quotations would be acceptable and thought-provoking. But page after page of large print? It feels like padding.

The content does a good job of summarising all the well tried and tested management and leadership processes and approaches. It would be useful for students and wet-behind-the ears managers. But it does nothing at all to motivate and inspire readers who want to move on to the next level.

Do you want to be a better manager? Do want to learn how or coach/mentor your team members so they can develop their skills? You won’t find anything better than this ‘masterpiece of blended learning’.

Coaching and Mentoring for Success is a double audio CD with lots of online resources available from Word Smiths’ website or from Amazon.


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