What can we learn about management from the Greek myths?

Written by Jill Towner, Professional Academy Contract's Manager.

I was watching a film last weekend which, in true Hollywood style, was based very loosely on a Greek myth! It reminded me of an article I read some time ago linking some of the Greek gods to organizational structures. I suppose you can’t really criticize a contrived connection between a film script and Greek gods and then happily accept a connection between organizational structure and management…  however, as a learning tool it worked, as a long time later I can still recall the differences.

Charles Handy wrote Gods of Management: The Changing Work of Organisations, published in January 2009. In it he uses the gods Apollo, Athena, Dionysus and Zeus to explain four cultures that an organization may adopt. 

Zeus: the leader

Zeus is the king and father of the gods and rules the weather as well as law, order and justice. In Greek mythology, the most powerful and strong god. The organizational culture relating to Zeus has a strong, dynamic leader with an entrepreneurial spirit. All lines of communication come from and going to them. This leader makes all the decisions and usually makes them quickly, which can be a strength in a fast-moving business environment. However, beware a potential weakness as success of such ‘one-man-bands’ relies on the caliber of the leader. This is also known as ‘club culture’.

Apollo: role culture

‘Role culture’, by comparison, is represented by Apollo. Apollo is a more aesthetic and embraces order and rules, as well as arts, knowledge and healing. In this type of organization it is assumed that people are rational and roles are clear-cut and discharged with clearly defined procedures.  Staff are defined by their job descriptions rather than their personality. This creates an atmosphere of stability and certainty, and a strength is its continuity. However, once again, there is a weakness – the ability to adapt quickly or generate change.

Athena: task culture

As the goddess of intelligence and wisdom, Athena represents a ‘task culture’. In this type of organization, management is concerned with solving a series of problems. It draws on all its resources from across all departments to meet current needs. It often creates working parties, sub-committees, task forces and study groups on an ad hoc basis and has a particular advantage when flexibility is required. The organization recognizes and maximizes the benefits of expertise held by its staff.

Dionysus: existential culture

The fourth and last god, Dionysus, is the god of wine, parties and festivals. In this organization, adopting what is known as an ‘existential culture’, the organization exists to serve the individual rather than the other way round. These are often groups of professionals (lawyers, consultants etc.) working together often with no clearly identified leader. It requires a high level of coordination to function, and often a small core of staff contract out work to professionals and specialists, using them only as and when their special skills are required. This type of organization has become increasingly common, but it should be recognized that there may be little allegiance to the organization or project leader.

Now, although this is a light-hearted and fun exercise, matching your organization against these gods or ‘cultures’, the core message is an important one for managers. To be a successful manager or leader you need to be aware of your organizational culture, recognizing strengths and weaknesses, in order to create the most productive workplace.

If you would be interested in developing your organizational structure skills why not look into the CMI Management & Leadership qualifications available through Professional Academy. For more information please feel free to download our latest CMI Management & Leadership Qualifications Prospectus or contact us through your preferred medium today.