Gods of Management | Charles B. Handy

Summary of: Gods of Management: The Changing Work of Organizations
By: Charles B. Handy


Ready to discover how ancient Greek mythology can inspire contemporary management styles? In ‘Gods of Management: The Changing Work of Organizations,’ Charles B. Handy explores how four distinct organizational cultures influenced by Greek gods (Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and Dionysus) can provide valuable lessons for effective leadership in modern organizations. By examining their ideologies on influence, power, motivation, and change, this overview will help you comprehend how balancing these distinct cultural styles can lead to successful and adaptive businesses. Step into the world where ancient gods breathe fresh air into contemporary management practices.

Four Gods of Management

The book explores four management styles portrayed by Greek gods: Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and Dionysus. The ancient Greeks considered their gods to be emblematic of specific interests, values, and symbolic emphasis. Similarly, modern leaders can choose from these four management styles to create different corporate cultures. Each style embodies distinct assumptions about power, influence, motivation, learning, change, and the future of work. The book emphasizes the importance of understanding these styles and their underlying assumptions to create a vibrant and successful corporate culture.

Greek God-inspired Organizational Cultures

Discover the four organizational cultures inspired by Greek gods and how they can help you navigate different contexts.

In this book, the author introduces four distinct organizational cultures inspired by Greek gods: The Club Culture (Zeus), The Role Culture (Apollo), The Task Culture (Athena), and The Existential Culture (Dionysus). Each culture has its own characteristics and is suitable for different types of organizations.

The Club Culture, represented by Zeus, values speed over quality and has a central authority that wields the most influence and power. This culture is pervasive in start-ups, brokerage firms, investment banks, and other entrepreneurial organizations. In such organizations, empathy is built on trust and affinity.

The Role Culture, represented by Apollo, is bureaucratic and follows strict rules, flow charts, and order. This culture values predictability and stability and is common in life insurance companies, state industries, and local governments.

The Task Culture, led by Athena, relies on teams to identify problems, find solutions, and allocate resources in a continuous process. This culture is prevalent in advertising agencies, consultancy groups, and organizations launching new products.

Finally, the Existential Culture, ruled by Dionysus, attracts individuals who want to rule their own destiny. The individual doesn’t serve the organization in this culture; instead, the culture exists to support individuals. This culture is common in professions such as doctors, artists, attorneys, or architects, where managers have less status, and people view them as capable of tackling unpleasant but necessary tasks.

Understanding these organizational cultures inspired by Greek gods can help individuals navigate different organizational contexts more effectively.

Mythological Gods and Leadership Strategies

The book discusses how leadership varies across different cultures based on four mythological gods: Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and Dionysus. Each god represents a distinct strategy for learning and problem-solving. Zeus-like leaders are intuitive and value learning through apprenticeships. Apollonian leaders are analytical and consider learning a formal training process. Athenians promote team approaches to problem-solving, and Dionysians prefer learning through experience and oppose hierarchical thinking. The book also explores how each culture enacts change and motivates their teams. Zeus-like cultures focus on replacing people and rewarding those who know powerful people, while Apollonian cultures reward formal authority and status symbols. Athenian teams change through persuasion, and individuals value self-development, variety, and results-based paychecks. Dionysians approach change as a negotiation and find value in being creative and improving the world.

Workplace Culture Influencers

Workplace culture is shaped by four main factors including size, life cycles, work patterns, and people. Larger organizations tend to be more formal, while those that cycle through change quickly prioritize problem-solving. Organizations can use various work patterns, but those with copy and flow patterns align with Apollonian cultures, while those with unit patterns lean towards Zeus-like cultures. Cultural preferences are shaped by generation, early experiences, environment, and personality. For instance, today’s individualistic youth culture does not align well with the Apollo Role Culture, while individuals working in a team-based Athenian culture may not enjoy it if they have an individualistic personality.

Cultural Differences in Organizations

Social psychologist Geert Hofstede studied the cultural differences of various nations and concluded that national differences manifest themselves most sharply in how people perceive uncertainty, individualism, masculinity, and power. These differences affect how organizations develop default cultures. For example, people in Austria and Germany tend to value equality over hierarchy, while in France, people tend to enjoy power, hierarchy, and individualism, making their workplace cultures more Zeus-like. Organizations that balance the cultural elements of different mythological gods, such as Athena, Zeus, and Dionysus, offer positive lessons. Different types of organizations also tend toward different cultural styles. For example, in schools and academic institutions, Dionysian and Apollonian cultural elements vie for control with Zeus-like management. The principles of management may not be as universal as some would like.

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