If you only read one thing this week…

Are the ‘Supertexts’ in the Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership relevant? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
March 14, 2007, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Articles, Book reviews, If you have time for longer reading!

In ‘The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership‘, Steven Sample makes the case that effective leaders should be reading the things that others are not – the books that have been continually read for at least 400 years, and have influenced society and thinking to an extraordinary degree. Sample calls these ‘the supertexts’. Is he right, or is this simply a pretentious way to raise eyebrows by carrying around a copy of The Agamemnon of Aeschylus?

His list includes; the great religious texts – The Torah, the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, The Pali Canon of Bhuddhism, and the Analects of Confucius; the ancients and the classics; Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Shakespeare’s plays, the plays of Sophocles, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Montaigne’s Essays, Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Machivelli’s The Prince, Upanishads, Virgil’s Aeneid, plays of Aeschylus, Plutarch, Beowulf, Chanson de Roland, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed, and Moore’s Utopia as a start.

As you can see, I’ve linked each of Sample’s supertext to a free ‘e-text’ that you can download from the internet. Most (but not all) come from Project Gutenberg.

So – the question for discussion (use the ‘comment’ button at the bottom of the article) is: Is Sample right? Should we dig out out our high school copies of the classics and dust them off? Do they really contain timeless wisdom? Of the ones we’ve read, which were the most interesting? Are they relevant and timeless, or outdated and pompous?


2 Comments so far
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I’m not sure about these texts in particular, but I agree that there’s a lot of wisdom from the past and that management needs havent changed so much that we can’t learn from it. Ultimately, management is about relating to people and that hasn’t changed. It’s similar to the thesis in 7 Strategies of Highly Effective People–it’s important not to lose sight of character, which has been an important component of management and leadership forever. I think I have to check out Guide to the Perplexed. That’s just too interesting sounding a title to pass up. -Sarah B.

Comment by Sarah

Having picked up a copy of Sample’s book in an airport a few years ago, reference to it in the Globe caught my attention. I am not much interested in the questions for discussion. Sample seems to be a guy who has had some success, so it would seem that there should be some value in understanding what he has done and how he sees things. I have not read many old books, but I did happen to pick up the Agememnon of Aeschylus a while back. What struck me was that many of the relationships described and the converstations that Aeschylus wrote about 2,500 years ago sounded just like those I had seen and heard in our projects last year. It was also surprisingly entertaining. It seems to me to be worthwhile to contextualize some of what the old guys had to say to the cultures and societies that we work in now. Although we have long since left behind some of the scientific work of the ancients, we have not moved forward as much in our understanding of human nature and human relationships. So we wouldn’t we be better off learning from them, rather than trying to figure out something on our own that someone else has already figured out? As long as we can keep our fucus on the tasks for which our organization exists, and balance our learning from others with our learning from our own experience, we can improve on our efforts to enable postive change.

Comment by Tom Hensleigh

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