Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership
by Richard Farson
This was one of the books from the list of 40 that I posted about previously. It is essentially 33 quite short essays regarding some counterintuitive issues in management. I have mixed feelings about it.
On the one hand, I liked it a lot better than any of the other management books I’ve had to read. In some ways, it is very much a response to other management books, even. I’m not sure it would even stand alone very well if you haven’t already read others, since so much of the time it is pointing out flaws in common management techniques. It does give some background for the points it makes, so maybe it could stand alone. I’m just not sure. But anyway, I believed a much larger percentage of this book than I did any of the other management books I’ve read.
The main piece of advice that the book gives is that managers should treat people as people and give them some respect. Human interactions are complex and most people will react badly to managerial manipulation. This is a conclusion that I appreciate a great deal.
On the other hand, the book is more a series of philosophical discourses rather than any specific advice, and a lot of the examples the author uses are rather dated. Farson comes across as a bit of a technophobe with too much nostalgia for ‘the good old days.’ (And the fact a book published in 1996 comes across as dated makes me kind of depressed. I’m getting old! 1996 wasn’t that long ago, surely?) He also really likes the words “absurd” and “paradox,” using them whenever he possibly can.
Anyway, I would say that this is not an inherently good book, so I don’t recommend it as such. But, if you’ve read a lot of management books or are interested in management, this is a very useful book to give you an alternative perspective from the standard ones and I highly recommend considering that alternative.
Your lukewarm review actually makes me like the book quite a bit, without having read any of it, of course. I can’t help but love a book that emphasizes just treating people as actual people, and it is disheartening how many managers could use that advise and how other management books offer what seem like lots of tips for avoiding doing just that, like a bunch of bullet points on how to give the appearance of respecting employees without actually doing so.
It’s kind of amazing that Farson got to present as an “absurd” and “paradoxical” idea, the idea that following a how-to-show-respect checklist is not actually respectful. I’m really pleased that Farson does point that out, but it’s really depressing that it’s considered a startling new point. Also depressing: He also assures the reader that women really can be wonderful employees, capable of the same level of work that men are.