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Leading lights

Behind most clever business ideas is a person who questions the way things have always been done. Morgan Witzel names some of those who put forward a better alternative.

Managers often lack many of the things we need to do our jobs. Depending on circumstances, we may be faced with shortages of skilled labour, financial resources or reliable data. However, one thing managers today never lack is advice. Small armies of consultants, advisors and analysts are waiting in the wings ready to tell us how they think we should be doing our jobs – in exchange, of course, for a fee.

Every so often there is a figure that stands out from the crowd, one who speaks with an authoritative voice and delivers a new, important message – or else reminds us of old truths that we have forgotten. These management gurus tend to come and go: a few years ago it was the likes of Charles Handy (The Empty Raincoat) and Jim Collins (Built to Last) who held sway, now it is more likely to be people such as Henry Chesbrough or Marshall Goldsmith.

The gurus speak and write powerfully and persuasively. We enjoy listening to them and reading them, but do they have much real impact on the world? Do they change the way we manage? More importantly, do they change it for the better? I corresponded recently with one guru, a world-respected authority on leadership since the 1980s, who commented a little sadly that nothing much seemed to have changed since he first started writing. We respect the gurus, but very often we fail to put their views into practice.

The reasons why this happens are a fascinating subject in their own right, but in this article I want to concentrate on that small handful of gurus who are exceptions to the rule. Here are three people who really did create permanent and lasting change and whose work continues to affect us today.

This is an extract from the Finance & Management Magazine, Issue 205, December 2012.

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