Friday, August 21, 2009

Review: The Servant, by James C. Hunter

The company I work for recently featured a guest speaker named James C. Hunter, author of The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership. It was not-so-subtly hinted that it would be good for the masses to read his book, as well, and I was lucky enough to receive a signed copy for free.

The story is fairly straightforward--the manager of a factory of some kind is having problems at work and at home and it is recommended that he attend a leadership seminar at--I shit you not--a monastary where it just happens that a formerly-wildly successful CEO is now living. The majority of the book takes place in the classes and features the discussions between the former-CEO (now renamed Brother Simeon, whom the main character, John, respects because the name "Simeon" is a recurring motif in his life and dreams).

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried, people.

Anyway, there are two different reviews possible for the book, given below.

What Corporate Lindsay-with-an-A will tell her boss and co-workers:

"Wow, I really loved Hunter's people-centric business model! Oh, and his definition of humility is so inspiring! If only everyone followed Hunter's advice, I really think the world would be a better place! Final rating: kick ass!"

What Literary Lindsay-with-an-A will tell her faithful readers:
"Is this book written for children? It's so condescending and patronizing in how obvious his point is. My God, Siddhartha was ten times better than this book and gave essentially the same message--I should probably go back and up the rating I gave Mr. Hesse just out of disgust at this one.

"Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if Hunter hadn't insisted on telling everything instead of showing it. 'I did this, and and I thought this,' rather than giving examples of what he did and thought. This should be read by every Creative Writing student ever as an excellent example of what not to do.

"Oh, and since when do monastaries give classes on leadership? Why couldn't he have learned life lessons and then applied them to leadership? Does Hunter really think his audience is this stupid? And the CEO of Nestle was willing to put his name on the front cover extolling its virtues? I'm feeling faintly ill. Final rating: Blech."
As far as I see it, there are only two options. Either Hunter really functions at the level at which he was writing, which is no fault of his own and is instead a story of perseverance and success over obstacles. If he actually functions at a much higher level, however, and dumbed his book down this much, then it really pisses me off.

"You lose. You get nothing. Good day, sir!"


Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Oh, and by the way, Hunter leans SO heavily on the Bible that you might as well just READ THE BIBLE. Gah. (The thing is dedicated to the Glory of God. I'm not kidding.)

Homero said...

Tell us how you really feel Lindsay.

At my work, we have a lot of students who come from a variety of backgrounds, but generally speaking, most were not sucessful academically in their prior school experiences. In order to help students get around this, there is a course that is required of all new students called "College and Career Success," and it's exactly what it sounds like. It's essentially a self improvment course, but unlike most, it's actually pretty good when presented in the context of a larger setting. At a company meeting, the president had one of the "Career Success" guys give a presentation-- for the most part, it was flat, because it was overly condensed with odd verbage thrown around.

Interested in seeing what else was out there, I did a bit of research and found a whole industry that I compleatly underestimated. There are tons and tons of books out there on this subject, most of dubious quality.

I don't know what I'm rambling about, but that all came to mind when I was reading your post...

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

It really irritates me that I've had two or three people talk about how much this book has changed their lives. One of my co-workers is re-reading it (as though once weren't enough, ugh), and I had to smile and act happy for her.

I cannot BELIEVE that this is the stuff we're reading when there is so much out there. However, I have decided that my next "literary" endeavor should be a nonfiction self-improvement book to get some of this cash cow.

Anonymous said...

I find it dissappointing that you seem to "need" for the priciples leadership to be complicated. A book like this is supposed break it down to it's simplest from.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Lindsay. I just had to read this for a college course, and I thought the writing was so bad! With stilted dialog, stereotypical and flat characters, and extremely contrived situations on every page, the book felt like it was meant for a middle school audience. I couldn't believe how much my teacher seems to love it!

Will said...

Lindsay, Thanks for your accurate review. While some of the points that this author intended to share have some benefit, the oppressive preachy tone and phony setting make any messages aversive.

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