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5 pieces of career advice we learned from Charles Handy

The influential Irish-born workplace philosopher is to make a rare appearance in Dublin next month.

Charles Handy and his wife Elizabeth, who also has a photographic exhibition in Dublin on 28 June.
Charles Handy and his wife Elizabeth, who also has a photographic exhibition in Dublin on 28 June.
Image: Photocall Ireland

THE INFLUENTIAL WORKPLACE guru Charles Handy is to give a special talk in Dublin at the end of next month. Born in Clane, Co Kildare, Handy started his own career in marketing for Shell International in the 1950s but went on to become a management and organisational behaviour expert.

On 28 June, he will speak about ‘The Changing Shape of Work and Home’ at the Mansion House in Dublin. He is appearing at the invitation of Relationships Ireland – his uncle Canon Handy was one of the founding members of the organisation which gives non-judgemental and non-denominational relationship counselling to couples and families. The organisation is celebrating its 50th year in operation this year.

Handy will give his insights into how companies, organisations and individuals can adapt to the rapid pace of change in work and home life. CEO of Relationships Ireland, Brendan Madden said:

Professor Handy’s key message is that change is hard but that those individuals and organisations who recognise the inevitability of change and prepare themselves are much better to adapt.

The 50th anniversary conference of Relationships Ireland takes place two days later, on 30 June, at the Mansion House and should give some timely food for thought.

Handy has proven to be ahead of the curve on workplace issues – and has frequently featured on the Thinkers 50 list of influential philosophers in various sectors of life.

Here are just 5 theories of his that have entered the business and career lexicon:

  1. “Portfolio working”: We hear more and more now of “portfolio careers” where a person has a number of different income streams from different clients and different types of work: Charles Handy coined the phrase “portfolio working”. So you might be an accountant who looks after the books for one business but also takes family photographic portraits on another day and teaches a yoga class on Tuesday nights. Congratulations – you have a portfolio career and are less likely to lose all your income stream at once as you would be if you were in one full-time job.
  2. The “shamrock organisation”: Handy, a bit like the legend of St Patrick, used the shamrock plant to describe the structure of an efficient company – one made up of managers, specialists and a flexible labour force.
  3. The “gods of management”: The title of his 1978 bestselling book, Handy helped us figure out the different type of managers that were suitable to different types of organisations. For example, an ‘Apollo’ manager is one which organises employees through order, reason and bureaucracy; ‘Athena’ prefers a task-based culture of expertise, wisdom and meritocracy; a ‘Dionysus’ prefers to lead through individualism, professionalism, non-corporate culture. In other words, the-then novel idea that a one-size manager does not fit all.
  4. ‘Careers for life’ are a thing of the past: Handy was one of the first to recognise this trend – he did so in the 1980s – and forewarned a generation to prepare themselves for the fact that they will have to move jobs, or change careers at least once in their lives. It has proven to be pertinent advice for this generation too…
  5. “Proper selfishness”: When Handy wrote his book The Hungry Spirit in 1997, he suggested that businesses and individuals reconsider where they invest their time and money. He predicted that a business which gets too large “can lead to a lack of focus, too much complexity and, in the end, too wide a spread of control”. Little did he know that in 2012, Ireland in particular would be living through the aftermath of just such a scenario.

Tickets to the Charles Handy talk at the Mansion House on 28 June are available here. There is an early bird special if booked before 31 May.

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