Five Lessons for Managers and Leaders from Fictional Characters

Management is a very pivotal part of any organization or enterprise, and the successful manager has to be  on his toes all the time to ensure that the organization is moving in the right direction. The author of a fictional work also performs the same role, coordinating plot points and character and harmonizing them all to form a work of lasting literary value.   Most managers do not regard works of fiction as adding value to their work, but one would be suprised to find out that  management advice may be found in the unlikeliest of places – in a novel, poetry piece or drama text.  Using five characters from four classics as illustrations, here are five lessons for successful managers.


CHARACTER: Ivan Alexandrovich Khlestakov,

IN:  Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector

LESSON:  Rapid response, and ability to adapt

Khlestakov is a civil servant who while stranded in a rural town, gets mistaken for a high ranking government inspector by the officials of that town. He  proceeds to act the part of the government inspector, swindling the people of money and other valuables before he disappears and the officials realise their error.

Khlestakov did not set out be a con man, but he managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the officials because he was able to spot an opportunity in the blink of an eye, and use it to his advantage. Rapid response to issues  is a must have feature for any manager  who hopes to make headway in his/her chosen enterprise.  like Khlestakov, it is inevitable that a manager will be confronted with a situation that defies everything he  knows and which he would have to think of a radical solution to the problem,  quickly. It is the duty of  a good manager to respond proactively to changes in the business environment and  help his team members to do thesame. A good manager be able to think on his feet, must be in tune with the latest trends in his line of business, he must have the latest information at his fingertips. Like Khlestakov, what will make a difference between a mediocre manager and an an excellent one is the ability to adapt and recreate, a good manager is like the Chameleon which adapts to survive, not like the dinosaur, who died out because it failed to adapt to environmental changes soon enough.


CHARACTER:   Dorothy Gale or Dorothy

IN: Frank L Baum’s  the Wizard of Oz

LESSON:  ability to work in a team, ability to create a good team

Dorothy Gale or simply Dorothy, is a little girl who  gets lost in a strange land known as Oz. in a bid to find  her way back home again, she meets a Scarecrow, a Tin woodsman and a cowardly lion, who join her  on her quest. The team encounters witches, wizards and other strange creatures and have a lot of great adventures.

Every business enterprise or management position is like a journey into unknown territory, there is no way a single person, no matter how gifted or learned the person is, can navigate the  difficult terrain all alone. This is where a good support systems comes into play.  The ability to assemble a good team is a quality that a good manager must possess. Because it is one thing to understand your vision and goal, it is another to make sure the people working with you understand it too. Like Dorothy, a good manager must make himself attractive,  and articulate his vision in simple easy to follow terms, so that his teammates can know exactly where he is going and be able to follow him there. It is also important for the manager to also note that the tin woodsman, the scarecrow and the Lion had different reasons for joining the mission, so also do your teammates have their own reasons for being part of the team. It is the manager that must harmonize their respective visions with his, in order to ensure that everybody contributes to the success of the enterprise.  Business, like life is an adventure and is best enjoyed in the company of others.


CHARACTER:  Phileas Fogg

IN:Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days

LESSON:  Methodical preparation and planning

Phileas  Fogg is a London Gentleman who makes a twenty thousand dollar bet with with his friends that he could travel around the world in precisely eighty days, No more or less.  In the course of his journey he comes across different cultures engages in different adventures and encounters different obstacles. But he amazingly makes the journey within the alloted time, even gaining an extra day in the process. he wins his bet  and suprises everyone not in the least the London public.

Phileas Fogg was able to make the journey in eighty days inspite of the obstacles  he encountered because he  was methodical about it. A good manager must be able to articulate his goals,  and set  for himself an exact time frame in which to achieve them. Planning,  both short term and long term is crucial for any enterprise that wants to get ahead of the competition. Proper planning helps the manager know how well the business is progressing and what methods need to be applied if the business is not moving as well as it should. Fogg was able able to win his bet because he  had a vision and he put a time frame on it.  nobody expects you  to drone out business plans and career objectives like a labour robot, but it helps establish you as a manager with a focus  if you set a target for yourself and discipline yourself and your teammates enough, to stick to it and achieve it. as the maxim goes  “ every wind is fair to the ship and does not know its destination.”




CHARACTER: Frodo Baggins

IN: JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

LESSON:  Determination and Endurance

Frodo baggins

Froddo baggins is an hobbit who gets saddled with  the difficult and arduous task of taking the “one ring” to Mount Doom and casting it into the volcano, the only place where it can be destroyed.  Together with his loyal friend Sam, they set out on their mission, but on their journey they run into many obstacles, Orcs, a man-eating spider, hunger and starvation, a stoor hobbit who is obssessed with the ring Frodo is carrying and would stop at nothing to get it from him, and even the ring itself, a piece of evil jewelry which sought to put everything that touches it under its control. But Frodo ultimately survives and and destroys the ring, ridding the world of evil.

In the fluid business world that we live in today it is fair to say that a business enterprise will confront some form of difficulty much of the time. Competition, a fluid economic and political situation,  getting consumers to appreciate your product or services, determining the right staff to recruit, motivating staff, and even the ocassional act of nature are part of the numerous problems that a would be successful manager must learn to navigate through day after day.  It takes determination to  keep morale up and keep going when everything looks bleak.  It is the duty of a good manager to not only motivate himself, but to also motivate his teammates in these kinds of situations. As Jesus Christ said, “nobody who puts his hand on the plough and looks back is worthy of a place in the kingdom of God.”  This also applies to managers as well. No manager who packs it in and quits because of difficulty is worthy of a place at the table of success.

Let me hasten to add here that determination does not mean you will not doubt yourself or get discouraged, it means like Frodo Baggins, you will find the strength to continue inspite of doubt and discouragement. Management is a marathon, not a sprint. It is only the managers with determination, stamina and endurance that will come out tops. 



IN:  J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

LESSON: Openmindedness

Smeagol or Gollum is a stoor  hobbit who finds the “one ring ”  in a river while fishing. He succumbs to its  mind control and becomes a mindless slave of the ring. When the ring is stolen from him, he embarks on an adventure to get it back, he has a run in with Frodo and Sam in the process. he tried all possible methods to get it back including trying to kill Frodo himself.  In the end he  falls to his death in the volcano of Mount Doom alongside the object that he craved most.

Gollum is a warning to every manager, that while determination is a must have attribute, it is important to not become a slave to an idea, so much that that idea destroys one’s flexibility. Gollum’s dependence on the ring made him a wretched cursed creature, that everybody hated and no one wanted to stay with. Even if an idea is working at present, a good manager must learn to make contingency plans to the inevitable changes that will happen later. Rigidity and obsession with an idea will not help the enterprise or organization rather, it risks alienating the manager from his team members.  Being open minded will do a lot of good for the manager who wants to take his business to the top. Like Gollum who died with the Ring in the volcano, a manager who holds on obssessively to an outdated business idea and refuses to change will be left behind by its competitors. As the age old saying goes  “ when a man stops growing, he starts to die.”

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