The Aspiring Manager's Survival Guide By Mike Johnson Butterworth Heinemann; Pounds 14.99
If you have ever sent off for one of those correspondence courses that promise to teach you a foreign language in 10 days or have been tempted by a cure for baldness in the small ads, then this is the book for you. Sub-titled 'How to Achieve Success and Career Fulfilment in a Changing Workplace', it promises to transform you from an apologetic wimp, greeting the world with a limp handshake and an empty Rolodex into a buccanering free spiritin nine easy self-evaluationchecklists.
You can tell a lot about a book by its choice of cliches and this certainly has some choice ones. Try writing a sentence like "the end result was disasterville with a capital D" without any trace of irony, and you'll get a feeling for the kind of world it inhabits. It's written in a language that can only be described as Transatlantic, an ageing relative of estuary English, in which chapter headings grip you firmly by the hand before flashing their business card; "So You Want to Go It Alone?", "What's out There job-wise?", "Where Are You on the Ladder of life?".
Even the page design is hyperactive. It's as if the book has been written for people who can't face a whole page of unbroken text without getting the fidgets. As a result, it is littered with gimmicks like "globe icons" to highlight key points, sub-headings that do little other than emphasise the rather inconsequential nature of the argument and boxed case studies that leave you wondering whether you are meant to read them now or later.
Somewhere, however, concealed inside all of the lurid wrappings, is a serious argument struggling to get out about the impact on people of modern management theory. How does it feel to work in an organisation that is "lean, mean and flat", or to be "downsized"? What are you missing out on if you haven't been "empowered"?
Mike Johnson's evidence comes mainly from interviews with a range of international management consultants and business pundits. Even if the style does invite scepticism, the book provides some interesting insights into what it calls "the new world of work". Here he is on companies that have become more efficient by reducing staff: "Many are worn out, broke and fresh out of new ideas, much of the energy of the last few years having gone into how and who to fire." His observations about the new service ethic also strike a few chords: "Let's face it, there is no way that a demoralised, recently downsized group of people - all doing the work of two others - can possibly give better service. "
But because it isn't that kind of book, observations of this kind aren't ever pursued at any length. Indeed, they are only there at all in order to provide a few signposts for the aspirant manager. What matters is how you respond to it all. The answer to that comes across loud and clear - look after number one. Whether you have a job or are looking for one, be entrepeneurial, play to your strengths, sell yourself ruthlessly, and don't forget that handshake. If it is "weak soft and damp ... practice (sic) a firm, confident clasp of the hands on friends". That should make all the difference.
* Patrick Scott is deputy educationofficer for Redcar and Cleveland