You may recall from prior writings that my professional new year’s resolution was to read six business books. I have finished #3: Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership by Richard Farson. Here are the major takeaways from my read.
Farson has had a long, varied career as a psychologist, CEO and consultant. For decades, Farson has used keen powers of observation to look for the “invisible obvious.” This work is the result of those observations, many of which are paradoxical in nature.
Here are a few examples:
- Praise is an evaluation, and to be evaluated or judged makes us uncomfortable.
- As organizations solve lower-level discontent and the organization becomes healthier, high-order discontent ensues. So, the better things are, the worse they feel.
- We learn more from our successes than our failures. When we do a series of things right, we are encouraged to continue.
- Planning for the future is a good way to assess the present information you have.
- Strengths can become weaknesses when we rely too much on them.
Farson challenges the reader’s thinking on topics like communication, management techniques, change and leadership.
Since I hail from a training company, he really got my gears turning when I read the chapter “Leaders Cannot Be Trained, but They Can Be Educated.” I feared the author was about to dismantle our company’s mission.
Training, according to Farson, “leads to the development of skills and techniques.” Education “leads not to technique but to information and knowledge, which in the right hands can lead to understanding, even to wisdom.” He goes on to explain that education makes the learner examine his or her own personal experience when exposed to new ideas. The manager then becomes unique and genuine, which are characteristics of great leaders.
Upon completion of this chapter, I breathed a sigh of relief. By his definition, we are more accurately classified as an education company. After all, we do not arm learners with a list of new techniques to take back to their jobs. Rather, we present information and knowledge (in a fun, gamified way) then the learners decide how this information fits with their experience and how best to apply to their daily lives.