13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
I generally do not like busines books that are built around historical or fictional characters. The analogy in most cases is superficial and of little interest. On the other hand, I love it when Peter Drucker draws on examples from a hundred or more years ago. Interestingly, this book permits a timeless series of reflections that feels a lot like reading a Drucker example. I can remember thinking of analogies to my own life when first reading Shakespeare, so the idea of having a successful leader draw leadership lessons from Shakespeare made immediate good sense to me. Also, it occurred to me that when strong themes continue from Shakespeare to today, that is probably a good sign that we should all pay special attention. We are probably in contact with something very fundamental about human nature. That was a new and useful thought to me. On the other hand, I suspect that we all find ourselves in Shakespeare so anyone who writes about the lessons of Shakespeare is really drawing a portrait of themselves. In this interesting book, you will find a portrait of Norman Augustine, someone who is a modern exemplar of fine leadership qualities. I found myself looking forward to seeing what areas the authors would decide to portray about Shakespeare. I also enjoyed rereading material that I had not seen in twenty or thirty years. I found the lessons that related to personal character to be especially good reminders that good character is what ultimately draws us to others. Further, the authors provide their own lessons throughout, drawing from the examples in Shakespeare as well as modern cases. That gives a lot of useful perspective. I found that I did no know the modern cases, so they added to my enjoyment of the book. At the same time any good reviewer would have to note that many people will find this book hard to read, particularly as the authors shift back and forth between modern and Shakespearean English. If you have that reaction, I suggest that you slow down and read aloud if you want to get the most benefit from the book. Also, you can also skip some sections if you are getting more the Bard than you like. If you are not a big Shakespeare fan, you may not like this book. There's a lot of subtle humor there for those who like puns. I do, so I was laughing throughout. You might want to read a few pages first to see how you react. On the other hand, if you do not read Shakespeare in Charge you will miss the opportunity to get new insights into and from some of Shakespeare's best stories, such as Henry V, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. Simply because a book provides some reading challenge is no reason to ignore it. Anyone who has skipped Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past would have avoided a tough read, but missed a remarkable learning experience. Shakespeare in Charge presents such an opportunity. I have read and enjoyed Norman Augustine's other books, but I must admit that this is my favorite. Please do read it. Leadership is a hard road, and those who succeed will know that the path to progress is never easy. I think you will find yourself rewarded for your efforts. You'll have had a chance to learn from two masters, Shakespeare and Augustine. Good luck with applying the very valuable and interesting lessons to helping those around you, and yourself!
30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2000
Norman Augustine and Kenneth Adelman hop on the Bard's very crowded coattails with this attempt to translate soliloquies into sales. Give them points for timing. 1999's Shakespeare in Love garnered seven Oscars. Now that everyone thinks Shakespeare looked like Joseph Fiennes, Will is hotter than ever. But do men in tights using words like "anon" and "whilst" really have anything to teach middle management? Perhaps. Shakespeare's genius was his ability to plumb the human psyche, dissect the motivations of his characters, and make even taking out the garbage sound like poetry. To the extent that business success is often determined not by who makes the best widget, but who understands the complexities of person-to-person relationships, the premise of this book is on target. Yet stuffing Hamlet and Henry IV into three-piece suits is a stretch, to say the least. Each chapter is a quick study of a different Shakespearian play; for instance, Julius Ceasar as a model of poor succession planning within an organization, or The Merchant of Venice as a lesson in risk management. The parallels drawn between these plays and modern case studies flow naturally and well. The authors, however, cram so many Shakespeare quotations into their little book, even in the opening credits, it is very nearly swamped. Many of these quotes are strained, discombobulating, and downright annoying. This reaches a laughable low when a case study opens with Victoria's Secret's sales going flat: "Leslie H. Wexner, the chairman of Intimate Brands, decided on a strategy posed by Posthumus in Cymbeline, who says, 'I will begin the fashion - less without and more within' and so changed the company by offering the best bras on the market." Taking snippets of Shakespeare out of context and hammering them sideways into a business case study does not make them wise proverbs for the CEO, they remain poorly packaged gimmicks for selling a book. In the Historical Figures as Business Gurus genre, read Donald T. Phillips' Lincoln on Leadership for truly useful advice. As for Shakespeare in Charge, you can get the same effect for much less money by reading the Wall Street Journal while watching a video of Hamlet.
33 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 1999
It's become fashionable to use fictional or historical figures as gurus of modern business wisdom. We've got Machievelli, Attila the Hun, and, just a few weeks ago, Goldilocks, to name a few.
I'm not sure why this has come about; perhaps it's only a gimmick to grab our attention and set a particular book apart from the crowd.
Gimmicks are OK, I suppose, but, after you get past that, content & usefulness reign. Unfortunately, that's not the case in this book.
This is probably the most pretentious book I've come across. It would be fabulous if you were teaching a "Business as Literature" course. It'd be the perfect book.
It's not perfect for the general reader. If you hated or didn't understand Shakespeare in school, you're not going to feel any differently now.
It's not Shakespeare's fault this book fails. Here are some of the problems I found:
=> even though the authors give plot summaries, unless you are very, VERY familiar with the play in question, you will find the business stratagems difficult to deduce from the context
=> it is abysmally difficult to read because quotes from the plays are strewn in between the business parallels the authors are trying to get across
=> though it's sprinkled with examples from modern day businesses (Virgin Atlantic; Amazon.com; Pak Mail Centers; Dell; & more), they get lost in a sea of Elizabethan English
=> in many places I thought the authors were working overtime trying to make plots fit the business lessons they were touting
Did I say it was pretentious? Oh, boy, is it! Here's why. The book's overall format is set up like a play: Prologue, Act I, Act II, and so on, right up to the Epilogue.
Then, at the beginning of each chapter, ah-hem, excuse me!, each act, you get a quote (from the Bard, of course).
And then, get this -- Dramatis Executivus Summarius -- which I take to mean dramatic executive summary. This is nothing more than an overall introduction to the theme for the chapter. It's enough to make you scream.
What follows is the business information broken down into Scene I, Scene II, etc. until you're just about gagging over the entire concept. It goes too far.
Mixing a business example with a quote slows down the reading. Try this one.
"When (Richard) Branson phoned People's Express and kept getting busy signals, he concluded that "they must be doing really well or they're really inefficient. If either was true, I figured there was room for competition." He promptly bought a single 747 and began flying customers. He felt akin to Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet: "In delay, we waste our lights in vain, like lamps by day."" (pp.18-19)
Yeah. Sure. Akin to Mercutio. Do you see what I mean?
I recommend this book to anyone who's a fan of Shakespeare, who loves business books built on gimmicks, or who teaches Literature.
For everyone else --pass.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 1999
This book is classy, and informative. I was surprised that Warren Buffett, Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, Michael Armstrong, and Sam Donaldson each gave the book "five stars" and lavish praise. I had never seen them give a book any blurb, let alone ones so effusive. Miramax, producer of "Shakespeare in Love," won seven Oscars for that movie. Now that it published "Shakespeare in Charge," it deserves seven similar awards for this book. I agree with B&N. This is headed for the bestseller list, and really should be there.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2000
This slim easily-read volume organises and extrapolates Shakespeare's wisdom on modern business matters, particularly with regard to situational leadership, change, operations, risk and crisis management- all through managing people. Even several MBA programmes, a gauge of current business thinking, include `Shakespeare management' courses.
The engaging, insightful and informative contents include:
* Act I- on leadership- relating to Henry V's intuitive inspirational leadership in beating the vastly larger French forces at Agincourt, with lessons for today including: be poised and ready to exploit opportunities, have courage and determination, have clear vision and goals, closely examine details, encourage straight talking and listen clearly, be competent in company's field of activity, and set example caring for team.
* Act II- confronting change- relating to Petruchio's search for fortune by taming the rich shrew Kate following personal tragedy- turn misfortune into opportunity, set a few clear goals and pursue heartily, don't diversify too far beyond core competencies and change one thing at time, establish change as normal, implement change quickly and boldly, and have a broad flexible plan to cope with future uncertainties.
* Act III- organising operations- relating to the assassination of Julius Caeser- recruit the best for key positions (determined by personal attributes, job skills, motivation, teamwork) avoiding boastful job-churning "assistant to, consultant or advisors", succession planning, manage complexity of a "thousand actions" towards goals, effective use of communications (know topic, preparation, be concise, avoid "no comment" or "off the record", go hi-tech, prepare for leaks), attention to detail and management of people.
* Act IV- risk management- relating to Portia's management of husband-created severe risk in Merchant of Venice- risk is necessary for success, analyse in light of alternative options, seek facts and be wary of validity, act toughly, do not risk all, and understand & manage consequences.
* Act V- crisis management- relating to Claudius and Hamlet- always be prepared for a crisis, assess customer verdict (good or bad), have crisis team in place in advance, report promptly appropriate information to the public, have a crisis centre, practice crisis plans, be quick, include an outsider in team, maintain operations during crisis without distraction, and let intuition & honour guide you.
* Epilogue- for life and corporate management- recognise and manage existing assets, assume responsibility, guard credibility, build strong and flexible mergers, select friends and colleagues carefully, recognise frailties and encourage development, prepare for crises and recover quickly, be fiscally responsible, and finally prize reputation.
The few weaknesses include the occasional typos and grammatical errors, and the lack of bibliography assisting further exploration of this concept. It could also be said that the lessons already exist in management texts, and that business often looks in the past for inspiration and guidance- but not so interestingly and ably illustrated. Possibly those who have already invested effort in trying to understand the many levels of Shakespeare's work will find this book easier to read.
The significant strengths include: the light-hearted, energetic, attractive writing style intertwining quotes from Shakespeare with global contemporary examples (e.g. Aerospace, Pharmaceuticals, and even dot.coms); solid contents with relevance to business with various "acting lessons" (many summarised above); and the credibility and experience of authors as senior global executives. A recommended refreshing look at business success for all levels within business.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2000
The use of Shakespeare for subjects beyone the English Lit. classroom is a favorite of mine, so I was well-disposed to this book, one of the authors of which is a former disarmerment negotiator (Kenneth Adelman). My mile reaction is based on my belief that much of the book is either common-sense stuff that you don't need Shakespeare to know (do you need a book to tell you to look both ways before crossing the street?), or the anologies are streched a bit. Using, "The Taming of the Shrew" to teach contingency planning and salesmanship is streching the point a bit. I believe that Shakespeare (who wrote his own plays, no matter what Joe Sobran thinks) could well have injected his religous and political views into his writing, but the idea that he ever gave a thought to making points about business practice may be streching it. The best chapter is the one on "Julius Caesar," which involves charachers leading organizations and struggling for control of an organization - Rome - in crisis. For this chapter alone the book is worth having. The chapter on "Henry IV, Part I" is also good, as are the examples from "Hamlet" and "King Lear," although the authors miss what may have been the real point of the latter play. The good chapters are the ones that examine the decisions of leaders, usually kings, in confronting change, crisis, and opportunity. The weaker sections are the ones that strech anologies, as noted above. a point to remember with using these examples is that the leaders in the dramas are usually political, vested with monarchical authority. Their calculations can be transliterated into those of an executive, if one exchanges subjects for employees, customers, etc., but not always with the relationships and nuances of meaning intact. A better use of Shakespeare is inthe arena of public administration/political science, with Bloom and Jaffa's "Shakespeare's Politics" being an excellent example. While I would read this book again, it must be remembered that common sense needs no classic for illustration, and that it might be possible to construct almost ant absurd scaffolding upon Shakespeare, with less regard to meaning and intent that ought to be the case. -Lloyd Conway
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 1999
I loved Lincoln on Leadership and this is in the same vein. Not stuffy or preachy but lots of real business stuff and easily linked to Shakespeare. I can use the lessons and quotes and plan to do so.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 1999
Adelman and Augustine obviously have a great grasp of both the business world and of Shakespeare. And though seemingly an odd combination, the authors make Shakespeare and business leadership work well together. This book puts a unique and fresh slant on a topic which craves creativity. Excellent!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 1999
"'Tis wonderful," quoting Henry V as his exceptional leadership skills turn the Battle of Agincourt into one of the most astonishing victories in history. This book is too a victory in itself. The net-net -- a fabulous must-read! The way Adelman and Augustine relate today's business strategies and issues with the incredible insight of The Bard is maraculous.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I approached the reading of this book with great anticipation and was disappointed. Here are three of the reasons. First, it is ludicrous for Augustine and Adelman to try to correlate the highly structured system of hierarchies within the Elizabethan Chain of Being with the 21st century business world. Granted, much of value can be learned, for example, from the leadership and management of England by Elizabeth I as indeed Axelrod in Elizabeth I CEO as well as Higgins and Gilberd in Leadership Secrets of Elizabeth I have already demonstrated. Nonetheless, Shakespeare's major characters share a world view which is wholly different from that shared by the most admired contemporary CEOs (e.g. Gerstner, Grove, Kelleher, Walton, and Welch). Second, the tone and diction of Augustine and Adelman's narrative trivialize many of Shakespeare's most profound insights into human nature. They discuss literary characters based on historical figures as if they actually are historical figures and they discuss plot developments as if they are actual historical events. Third, and most disappointing to me, Augustine and Adelman add nothing original (much less compelling) to our understanding of either business leadership or business success. Consider the nine "Lessons" they only briefly discuss in the Epilogue:
1. Recognize and manage the assets we already have.
2. Assume responsibility.
3. Consider credibility the most valuable corporate and personal equity, yet most vulnerable to rapid depreciation.
4. Use mergers to compound strengths. Yet realize that, to pay dividends, the bonds between the partners must be both strong and flexible.
5. Consider personnel selection to be as critical in choosing friends in life as it is in finding bosses, colleagues, and subordinates in business.
6. Appreciate how human frailties and failings should inspire tolerance and a desire to help associates realize their full potential.
7. Brace for a crisis and recover as quickly as possible.
8. Practice fiscal responsibility.
9. Prize reputation as the core competency in the accounting of corporate and personal life.
Granted, I have quoted these Lessons out of context but the fact is, none really has much of a context; moreover, they are the key points which Augustine and Adelman (not I) emphasize. I urge those interested in Elizabeth I to read the two books about her mentioned earlier. Also, to read several of Shakespeare's greatest plays (let's say, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth) and then, perhaps, an authoritative commentary such as McElroy's Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies. Having done so, any reasonably intelligent person should be able to recognize the nature and extent of relevant correlations between the Age of Elizabeth (exemplified by but by no means limited to the works of Shakespeare) and our own. My view is that we do not read the works of authors such as Shakespeare to gain a better understanding of business leadership; rather, to gain a better understanding of human nature and, thereby, of ourselves. One man's opinion.