Management: In Search of a Guru

by Joanne Leitschuh

Have you ever admired someone so much that you wanted to imitate their actions or follow their vision? Some managers find security in having a guru from whom they can acquire direction. What exactly is a guru? In Management Today, Stefan Stern writes: "Take a half-decent - but not necessarily startling or original -idea, sum it up in two or three choice phases, stretch it out with a few rhetorical flourishes to 5,000 words, get it published in the Harvard Business Review and, bingo, you are launched on a new and potentially lucrative career as a management guru." 1

Some say that "Managerialism" is today's all-conquering world religion. It seems that every few years there is a new "idea" that is spread quickly by books, the internet and conferences. Managers don't want to look humiliated if they fail, so they look to people who have tried AND succeeded. Because management techniques are forever changing, there is always that hunger for "truth".

The first guru was Frederick Taylor who was an American inventor and business analyst. 100 years ago he believed in the twin goals of productivity and efficiency. Henry Ford was influenced by "Taylorism" and this idea is still with managers today. Peter Drucker developed "Management by Objectives". Tom Peters gave us the term "searching for excellence". James Champy made us consider "re-engineering and downsizing". In these challenging days, we need to link contemporary words like innovation, creativity and talent to old fashioned words like leadership, knowledge and learning.

Do we need more gurus today as the future seems uncertain? It seems that it could be risky to follow a single vision if they are out-of-date or don't quite meet the demands of a challenging business. Who should we look to to motivate us and inspire us as we set out daily and long-terms goals for our businesses? Even if a guru's vision isn't 100% practical or applicable, they can offer stimulation and allow problems to be seen in a new light. However, for one person's idea to solve countless managerial problems is impossible.

Stimulating Ideas From Gurus Past and Present

It would be a shame if the people looking for leadership identified with Dilbert, the popular cartoon guru created by Scott Adams. He is an oppressed office-cubicle dweller who doesn't like his job, feels work is getting worse, and blames the management for bad products and a meaningless life. In his comical way, he shows the important influence that a good manager can make in the lives of others.

Ideas from these gurus certainly stimulate my thinking as an office manager of a jewellery business. I have a lot of ideas swimming in my head but which ones are applicable? Which ones will stand the test of time? Can I really WIN by following so-and-so's theory? How much should I let them influence me? Who can I trust? Even Tom Peters said recently in an interview that he faked his data in his book, In Search of Excellence.2

What is important for me is that I am learning to discern which ideas are inspired by God. Not wanting to sound mystical, I know that my position isn't an accident. Who knows how long the Father has been training me for the day-to-day decisions that need to be made? I may not make the right decisions all the time, but I know He is carefully considering what obstacles He puts in my way and which ones He's withholding. He has chosen the people I work with. He wants to show all of us - as we talk together - which goals to set and how to achieve them. I have no doubt that if I am open to hear His voice and am willing to go where He leads, He can be my personal Guru. He knows that I desire truth - not only in my mind - but in my heart.

There IS security in having Someone to look up to. I will remember Proverbs 2:6-8 the next time I am faced with a complex problem that needs a desperate answer: "For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of His saints."

1. Stephen Stern, "The Guru Guide", Management Today, (October 2001).

2. John A. Byrne, "The Real Confessions of Tom Peters, Business Week (December 3, 2001)

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