Volume 1, Issue 3, 2001
The Exemplary Guru
Among many managers Charles Handy might well be described as a ‘world class’ management thinker. He is certainly the first British management author to have achieved international guru status. The author of widely-commended management best-sellers and MBA set texts, known through broadcasting and
management videos, he has presented himself more recently as a self-styled ‘social philosopher’. But just how philosophical is he? Does he offer genuinely new ideas? And what explains his vast appeal? Ashly Pinnington considers three works from Handy’s social philosopher period. He argues that they are conservative and focused on the interests of managers and business owners rather than employees or society as a whole. Like a mediaeval friar seeking converts, Handy uses mythic structures and exempla to invest his claims and propositions with plausibility and authority. Drawing on research into management gurus as a phenomenon, Ashly Pinnington concludes that when we read authors like Handy we should attend not merely to the ‘philosophy’ but also to the way narrative techniques are used in conveying ideological and moral messages.