Barbarians to Bureaucrats
– by Lawrence M Miller
Organizations tend to follow a natural life cycle, very similar to civilizations. Business organizations exhibit patterns of development, moving from periods of vitality and growth to decay and disintegration. This book explains the theory of corporate life cycles. It compares corporate leaders to leaders in history and explains strategies for survival, growth, and excellence in the various stages. The book draws upon a case for the Law of Synergy, a way to harness the spiritual and material assets of the company, to break the cyclical pattern and advance the corporation to even more vital growth and development. Synergy is the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
The book is a must-read for managers, corporate leaders, and visionaries. One can learn about the different stages a company would go through and use the strategies to be better, result driven leaders. The book explains seven stages of an organization and seven different leadership styles. It sets the stage for this discussion with an introduction and then goes on to explain each of the following stages or leadership styles –
- The Prophet- The visionary who created the breakthrough and inspires people to take his mission forward
- The Barbarian- The commander in charge on the march to rapid growth.
- The Builder and Explorer- The developers of specialized skills, taking the organization from command to collaboration.
- The Administrator – The creator of system and structure. Shifting the focus from expansion to security.
- The Bureaucrat- One who uses the iron fist of control. Intolerant to new prophets and barbarians, leading to loss of creativity and expansion.
- The Aristocrat- The inheritor of wealth, the one who distances himself from those who do productive work. The one causing dissatisfaction, rebellion, and disintegration.
- The Synergist- The maintainer of balance, essential for the forward motion of a large and complex organization. He unifies and appreciates the diverse contribution of all other leaders.
The book goes into detail to explain each of the above stages of a corporation in separate chapters. It takes examples from history of civilizations and case studies of different businesses to illustrate the roles played by military and corporate leaders. The book also provides strategies for the reader to accomplish productivity and synergy at the various stages. It helps the user identify with one of the leaderships stages and provides strategies to maximize productivity. It is written with the background of historian Arnold Toynbee’s work on the cyclical pattern observed in the life of great powers throughout history. The patterns in business corporations are very similar to those in civilizations.
Understanding these lifecycle stages gives the corporate leader a synergist perception, enabling him to be sensitive to the spiritual and material forces at work within the corporation. It helps him understand the behavior of different sets of people and handle them better. In fact, it enlists the strategy that a corporate leader may use to handle people at various stages of the lifecycle. It also explains the reasoning behind the behavior of such people.
The author builds up a well-connected story, with all the stages. He explains the character of the leader at various stages by using suitable case studies. He enlists the features of a person making him such a leader. He then gives a historical example of such a leader and explains the leadership style of that historical character. He explains this at each stage of establishment, growth, and decline. He then provides a well-researched case study of such a leader in business. He explains the style of that leader by analyzing the case study and picking up some valuable lessons. He then notes the strategy to get along with such a leader. He goes on to explain the organization of the leadership stage and then ends by writing about the challenges and task such a leader faces at that particular stage.
The most valuable part of the book is the last chapters. Here, he explains the synergist proposition- the art of bringing the material and spiritual assets together and breaking the natural cycle. It shows the way a business leader can take to keep innovation going and prevent a company from decay and disintegration. The case study of Honda and the comparison he makes of Honda with Ford and GM is insightful to the reader here. Across the various chapters, he uses case studies of various business to illustrate leadership styles. It clarifies the good things one can take away and cautions the bad things one should avoid or improve on. After all, one can avoid costly errors by learning from other people’s mistakes.
The book has valuable lessons for a budding business leader like me, to learn from this style of writing. The book is rich with examples from history, case studies, and strategy. It all logically connects together to create a piece of reading that not only helps understand people better, but also helps improve one’s leadership style. The book ends with implementable lessons for managing the internal competition. It trains the reader into organized thinking. It helps the leader define the vision and values and the culture of the organization. Managers should translate beliefs into action to see results. Management should create structure, systems, skills, style, and symbols. The book explains this strategy, which if implemented can accomplish synergy.
Those looking to be leaders should read this book. One can relate to the rich business case studies and historical references in this book. It helps one to admire visionaries, understand fierce and aggressive leaders, join hands with the builders and explores, reason with bureaucracy, and get out of the shady deals of the aristocrats. Most importantly, it helps develop synergy in a practical way. Hence, one looking to build something new or supporting someone to build something new should read this book. As I am in the middle of building something of value to a large set of people, I have found the lessons of this book to be of incredible value. Hope you would find such a value too.
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Happy Reading !
22nd March 2018
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