What If Harry Potter Ran General Electric? This is the tantalizing suggestion that sets up Tom Morris’ new book that explores the place of ancient wisdom in the lives and practices of business and professional leaders. Tom Morris a long time close friend and colleague whose creativity in presenting the wisdom of ancient philosophers to business and professional people constantly amazes me. His latest book is another example of a unique place in the field of philosophy that Tom Morris has developed since his days teaching philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.
I’ve not read any of J.K. Rowling’s books about a boy wizard named Harry. After reading Tom’s book, I believe I should. If Harry Potter Ran General Electric is a bridge between the fantasy world of Rowling’s imagination and the world that business and professional people face every day. Both Rowling and Morris present us pictures of the ethical realities that both the young Harry and the rest of must address in order to be successful without losing our integrity.
Morris’s book is more intentionally focused on leadership than his previous books. Whether you own a small business or staff a cubicle in a global corporation, there is something here for you. This isn’t a formulaic approach to leadership. There is no leadership matrix revealed here, except that leadership is “always fundamentally a relational, interpersonal role”(p.152). Each chapter explores insights from the Harry Potter stories that illuminate the nature of leadership. Having spent two decades engaged with leaders and their development, I find Morris’ perspective is right on the money. That perspective is that great leaders like Harry Potter and the headmaster of Hogwarts School, Albus Dumbledore, display the qualities of “high competence and deep character.” (p.156). It is the deep character side of leadership that If Harry Potter Ran General Electric describes.
Very compelling is Morris’ description of courage in Harry.
“Harry seems to have it all. But the sorting hat finally responds to the full range of everything it senses by sending him to the one residential house founded to support and develop the quality of courage. And that’s very interesting indeed, since the young Harry Potter is a boy who experiences about as much fear and anxiety as it’s possible for someone his age to feel. In fact, Rowling goes out of her way to represent, in as vivid a manner as she can, Harry’s visceral experience of the negative emotions and sensations on fear.” (p.27-28).
He goes on to lay out a five-step process to develop courage.
1. Prepare for the challenge.
2. Surround yourself with support.
3. Engage in positive self-talk.
4. Focus on what’s at stake.
5. Take appropriate action. (p.32).
If Harry Potter Ran General Electric is a gold mine of insight for ethical living. Morris pairs truth and trust as essential elements of leadership. “Business, like life, demands truth and trust. Without truth, people can’t work effectively. Without trust, people can’t work efficiently.”(p.10).
He has a fascinating chapter on lying in all its many forms. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. It is a very difficult subject, particularly in organizations where there is a low-level of trust for the leadership. There is an interconnectedness between truth, trust, honesty, integrity and the ability for an organization to find success.
"This topic is of foremost importance in our own time, since every ethical problem in the real world of business in the past few years has been created by lies, sustained by lies, and guarded as well as greatly exacerbated by lies. Most of the lies don't even get into the headlines. People lie to themselves about what's going on. They lie to their associates and clients by what they withhold as well as by what they say and how they say it. People spin, dodge, and try to buy time. they deflect attention from where it ought to be and hype what isn't at all what it should be. They show in many ways that they don't fully appreciate the positive power of the truth." (p.98-99).
In the chapter on The Ethics of Wizards, Morris looks at the nature of corruption and unethical people.
"It has often been said that the difference between an ethical and unethical person is very simple: An unethical person loves things and uses people; an ethical person loves people and uses things. The unethical person's philosophy of life can typically be summed up in two beliefs: Power is to be pursued. People are to be manipulated. This second belief is just another way of expressign the old immoral philosophy of life that 'the end justifies the means.' An unethical person is always manipulative, never treating others the way he would himself want to be treated, but in every way using other people for his own personal ends or goals." (p.82-83).
In his chapter entitled Leadership Alchemy, he tells us what we already know, and what we can find in the Harry Potter books. “The real leaders in Harry’s world aren’t necessarily the people with the organizational or institutional status and title.”(p.152). He goes on to describe Harry’s place in the community of Hogwarts School.
“No one has appointed him to an official post as student leader. … when his fellow students realize that they need some serious practical training in the Defense Against the Dark Arts, so that they will be able to protect themselves and those around them if attacked by Voldemort or his evil minions, they ask Harry to teach and lead them. They naturally look to him when he launches into important action to remedy some serious wrong. … People with the right skills often find themselves in a position to assume a leadership role, regardless of whether any official power has appointed them to the task or not. And then, with the right character, they are accepted as such by those they lead.”(154-155.)
The value of Tom Morris’ If Harry Potter Ran General Electric is that is a practical assessable understanding of virtues and practices of ancient wisdom as seen through the lens of a contemporary children’s story. This is a book to share widely.
It would be an excellent book for a discussion group. Perfect to give to daughters and sons who are fresh into their experience of professional life. Share it with friends, colleagues and family. It is not a book to quickly read and be done. It is a read that is rewarded in reflection and conversation.