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Shakespeare in Charge The Bard's Guide to Leading and Succeeding on the Business Stage

By Norman Augustine and Kenneth Adelman 
Published by Talk Miramax Books April 2001; $12.95US; 0-7868-8644-7

Shakespeare is timelessly wise and eternally popular, and his plays arecover packed with essential insights into human psychology and the use and abuse of power. Like almost no other dramatist, Shakespeare looks deeply into what it takes to be a leader, and how leaders need to act under demanding and extreme circumstances. In Shakespeare in Charge, Norman Augustine and Ken Adelman show how Shakespeare's shrewd understanding of palace politics and the strategies of warfare can just as easily be applied to the twists and turns of the corporate world.

Divided into five acts -- On Leadership, Confronting Change, Making Your Play in Business, Risk Management, and Crisis Management -- Shakespeare in Charge guides the reader through crucial issues that face every corporate player, with close readings of key scenes from Shakespeare's plays and real stories from the world of modern business. Here Falstaff meets Victoria's Secret, Cleopatra tangles with the Internet, and Hamlet wrestles with AT&T. Each act concludes with Acting Lessons that present the essence of Shakespeare's wisdom.

More than just an entertaining guide to a new aspect of Shakespeare's remarkable legacy, Shakespeare in Charge is full of penetrating advice about leadership in a changing world. Whether it is looking at Henry V's amazing ability to motivate a team facing almost certain defeat and turn the situation around, or King Lear demonstrating the perils of poor estate management, Shakespeare in Charge reveals the Bard's management genius in its full glory.

Author Norman Augustine has served as Chairman and CEO of the Lockheed Martin Corporation and on the corporate boards of Procter & Gamble, Black & Decker, and Phillips Petroleum. He has written for Harvard Business Review, Newsweek, Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and is author of three books.

Kenneth Adelman, former ambassador to the U.N. and U.S. Arms Control Director, is the author of four books and formerly syndicated columnist. He began teaching Shakespeare at Georgetown University in 1977, and now teaches the Bard at George Washington University.

Reviews "Shakespeare in Charge is timeless and timely. Kenneth Adelman and Norman Augustine have given us a wonderful comparison between the wisdom of the Bard and the wisdom of the current captains of industry. Lighthearted, insightful and cleverly informative -- a neat read, recommended." --General Colin L. Powell (Retired)

"Norman Augustine is a star at both managing and teaching -- talents that blend with those of Kenneth Adelman to the reader's benefit in this practical and engaging book." --Warren Buffett

"The wisdom of Shakespeare offers surprising insights into the world of business. Shakespeare in Charge shows how the Bard can bridge the issues faced by a 16th century shopkeeper and a leader of a 21st century global enterprise." --Michael Armstrong, Chairman and CEO, AT&T

Excerpt The following is an excerpt from the book Shakespeare in Charge: The Bard's Guide to Leading and Succeeding on the Business Stage by Norman Augustine and Kenneth Adelman Published by Talk Miramax Books; April 2001; $12.95US; 0-7868-8644-7 Copyright © 1999 Norman Augustine and Kenneth Adelman

PROLOGUE

"To know the force of human genius, we should read Shakespeare," wrote essayist William Hazlitt. It's the genius revealed in the Bard's profound insights into human nature that has made him so extraordinarily successful for four hundred years.

Today, in our world barraged by entertainment options as never before, Shakespeare remains an undisputed star of stage and screen. His plays are staged more than other playwright's in the world's major cities and -- in North America alone -- form the basis for more than 140 Shakespearean summer festivals and theaters. Upward of 300 movies have been made of his plays, at least five in 1999 alone.

And Shakespeare is taught in more than 90 percent of American high schools and in all colleges. "Shakespeare is the best mind-altering substance I know," said English professor Helen Whall of the College of Holy Cross.

Many business executives think they lack the time for Shakespeare, or the training to understand his archaic language. (Shakespeare, typically, predicted such a response: "Tis ten to one," the spokesman wagers in the Epilogue to Henry VIII, that "this play can never please all that are here." Some in the audience may even have "come to take their ease and sleep an act or two.")

But a growing number of executives find that time spent with the Bard is a sound investment, and unpredictably enjoyable. The Bard boom has hit the boardroom. For business leaders find that Shakespeare's plays offer deft and gripping explorations of the world of power which remain as relevant today as they were in the sixteenth century. The lessons they teach are remarkably useful in today's tough corporate universe.

At first blush, it might seem that Shakespeare and modern management don't mesh. Shakespeare conjures up images of crazy princes, ugly witches, fallen kings, and sulking guys in tights holding skulls of worthy corpses. The word management conjures up images of crazy prices, ugly deals, fallen CEOs, and sulking guys in gray suits holding stacks of worthless options.

But the two do mesh. For business involves people, and people -- fundamentally -- don't change. The essence of business is thus remarkably constant.

While the accoutrements of corporate life are now dramatically high tech -- dominated by e-mail, cell phones, the Web, and PCs -- the basics still hinge on human nature. Corporate affairs remain dependent largely on the strengths or failings of the men and women who make up a company or organization. The darker side of human nature -- greed, overreaching ambition, ravaging jealousy, dishonesty -- is as likely to undermine or even destroy a business now as it was before the days of the Internet and pagers. And, as we shall see, it is this darker side that Shakespeare understands so well.

Not all business recapitulates Shakespearean tragedy, of course. But neither do they habitually achieve the happy ending of the Bard's comedy. Success is difficult to achieve at any level. Many modern executives face a series of obstacles along their path that require intense understanding and careful handling. As Rosalind puts it in As You Like It, "How full of briers is this working day world." A study of Shakespeare can teach us, in our "working day world," how best to handle those "briers." For he offers the most penetrating insights into what makes people and organizations tick at every level.

Shakespeare is fascinated by the depths and complications of human relationships: boss to subordinate, colleague to colleague, lawyer to client, customer to salesperson, parent to child, and friend to friend. And he probes the range of human emotions -- ambition, hurt, pride, grief, and love -- as well as portraying the motivation behind our acts, wise or foolish, generous or malicious.

Across the Shakespearean stage strolls every type of human leader, manager, advisor, consultant, communicator, and customer. Each of these characters can deepen our awareness of the real people we work with and meet every day. Being able to recognize these types helps us to understand them, and means we're able to deal with them more effectively.

Take Nestor, an obscure character in a reasonably obscure play, Troilus and Cressida. Nestor, we're told by everyone, including himself -- repeatedly! -- is old, respected, and wise. His advice is given in the interminable war council for the interminable Trojan War, which is into its seventh year when the play opens.

Nestor presents his advice, and colleagues show the appropriate respect. It is not until we've heard him several times that it dawns on us that he expounds laboriously what speakers before him say crisply. To another's nugget of thought, Nestor adds neither depth nor breadth. When everything's already been said, he keeps on saying it.

Once we've perceived that Nestor contributes nothing but reiterates everything, we heighten our ability to recognize the real Nestors who prattle on in boardrooms, executive suites, conferences, and courtrooms all over America. Listening to Nestors can be maddening, but knowing it's a Nestor we're listening to can help us to be more wary.

Every business, too, has its Kent, the loyal retainer in King Lear. Kents will never run an organization or command real power, but they contribute their best when working closely with the CEO (or King), counseling, correcting, knowing the King better than he knows himself, and staying faithful. Lear, the old foolish king, impulsively banishes his favorite daughter Cordelia when she is unwilling to proclaim excessive love for him. Lear then banishes Kent, too, when he violently objects.

But types like Kent are not easy to fire. Shakespeare's Kent disguises himself and returns to serve Lear through the storm on the heath and the thousand afflictions he endures. While recognizing Lear's flaws, Kent still regards him as "every inch a king" and epitomizes the loyalist, even after Lear's death. A Kent is worth keeping on the payroll.

His counterpart, the Fool, is less conventional than Kent, but just as valuable. Every organization has its "court jesters" who joke and fool around but often articulate -- through their jokes -- an unpalatable truth, and are able to speak to the boss in a way that no one else will dare. Lear laughs at the Fool but recognizes that his clowning conceals shrewd advice. It is the Fool who advises Lear -- and us, incidentally -- to "have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest, lend less than thou owest."

Executives should watch out for characters like Cassius in Julius Caesar: highly competent but destructively resentful. As we will see in our closer examination in Act III, Cassius has a sharp mind and sound judgment, but he bridles under supervision, which limits his effectiveness on a team where clear reporting structures and trust are crucial.

Also on the "executive beware" list is the absentee leader. This is the CEO or boss who is constantly traveling, living far from headquarters, or so engaged in extracurricular activity that he loses any sense of priorities. He ignores the admonition of Lepidus in Antony and Cleopatra: "Small to greater matters must give way. "

He speaks before the arrival of Antony, who was a skillful soldier, loyal friend, steadfast man of action and communicator par excellence in Julius Caesar. Antony has been indulging in a life of pleasure in Egypt, where Cleopatra's seductive powers hold him. He is sufficiently self-aware to admit how far he has strayed: "These strong Egyptian fetters I must break, or lose myself in dotage," but in fact he doesn't manage to break away. Finally a military defeat caused by Cleopatra leads to Antony's personal humiliation and the ruin of his reputation, and then a botched suicide. Luckily, most corporate absenteeism does not result in such drastic dénouements.

Shakespeare's plays are full of characters that can be studied for useful corporate analogies, but Shakespeare in Charge focuses on five plays in particular, and five characters.

Act I explores overall leadership through the glorious feats of Henry V. New on the throne and forced to prove himself, he uses time-tested leadership techniques to succeed most royally. Watching Henry's skill in deploying these techniques gives top executives some useful lessons in the art of leadership.

Act II queues off the cyberoptic speed of change in today's business. A popular comedy, The Taming of the Shrew shows how Petruchio, its pivotal character, both reacts to and implements change in people and institutions.

Act III is filled with nuts-and-bolts advice from Julius Caesar on getting the job done in business -- goal-setting, recruitment, team-building and operations, corporate communications, and more.

Act IV delves into the art and danger of risk-taking found in abundance in the only Shakespearean play named after a businessman, The Merchant of Venice, and starring its most adept executive, Portia. She and others must "give and hazard all" -- risky business indeed.

And Act V shows what happens when risks go bad or when avoiding risks makes for bad business -- or when bad things just happen. Crisis management consumes Claudius in Shakespeare's most intriguing and popular play, Hamlet.

Throughout we offer Shakespeare's plots and words in a user-friendly way, tailored to the busy corporate executive. Aside from our readings and personal interpretations of key Shakespearean scenes, we present crisp business lessons drawn from the play at hand. These are supported by other Shakespearean examples, as well as by stories from the contemporary business stage.

We are not academics, and this is not intended to be an objective critical assessment of Shakespeare. The aim is to open up Shakespeare's wisdom for the business reader and pair it with our own experience as practical men who have worked in the corporate and political worlds at a high level.

When we started writing this book in 1997, we felt like pioneers. Since then, Columbia University's School of Business began offering its MBA students a business course called "In Search of the Perfect Prince," centered on case studies from Shakespeare. And in June of 1999 Britain's Cranfield University School of Business launched a cooperative venture with the Globe Theatre, under Richard (son of Sir Laurence) Olivier, in which executives can spend a weekend at the Globe learning about global business from Shakespeare's plays.

It seems significant that others are setting out to teach business courses based on Shakespeare at a time when business itself is changing at a swifter pace than ever before. It perhaps confirms that the wisdom of one of the world's greatest minds can be made useful to a smart executive in a risky world.

"Speak on, but be not over-tedious," says Burgundy in Henry VI, Part I. We have spoken on long enough for a Prologue. Knowing our intentions, executives can now proceed into the Acts. "All things are ready, if our minds be so!" as Henry V declares at the outset of his adventure.

Copyright © 1999 Norman Augustine and Kenneth Adelman

 

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