Book review: How to be Great, James Adonis

By David Hill

James Adonis.
James Adonis.

One of these years, someone will write a book called How To Be Utterly Self-Centred. When it comes, I'll applaud its honesty. In the meantime, we have this self-help manual. Adonis - a match of surname and subject which proves there is indeed a God - is an Australian "People Management Thinker" and "Leadership Educator" and I'm sure he's also kind to children and small animals.

How To Be Great began as he searched for "The Answer" - a lot of capital letters are harmed in the writing of this book. What do history's top guns have in common? What can we learn from them? Fair enough, though you might care to question your purpose in wanting to do so.

Adonis believes studying such folk will develop your adaptive leadership skills, help you handle the accelerating pace of change, make you lucid, self-aware, flexible. Still fair enough - and obvious enough. So we get 52 of the world's illustrious/notorious - the term "great" is a pretty slithery one - types from Alexander the Great to workers' rights advocate Mary Parker Follett. Jesus comes in at Number 5.

There are some damn fine people here.

Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Anne Sullivan - the tutor of Helen Keller, environmentalist Wangari Maathai, the also-gloriously-named Wilma Mankiller, first woman leader of the Cherokee. Others include Julius Caesar (stabbed); Joan of Arc (barbecued); Benazir Bhutto, Lincoln, Gandhi, Kennedy (all shot). It's a high-risk job, being great.

Each of the 52 comes with a brief bio emphasising their organisational/admin achievements. Princess Diana knew how to turn superficial encounters into meaningful
relationships; Cleopatra was slick at manipulating the work environment.

Then there's a list of bullet points. Walt Disney can teach you Conceptualisation. James Cook is good for Client Focus and How to Maximise Involvement. Bet you never knew that.

Finally, there's the inspirational sayings. Catherine the Great: "I praise loudly; I blame softly." Lenin: "Sometimes, history needs a push." I liked those two.

I'm sure lots of business folk, politicians and other mover-shakers will read this avidly, implement it eagerly and rise rapidly. I'm equally sure that'll be ... great.

How To Be Great
By James Adonis
(Nero Books $35)

- Canvas

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