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Into battle, behind wizards and warriors

From time to time, we've all worked for wizards, warriors, or combinations of the two. Good managers, ideally, can seamlessly switch between the roles when appropriate. The inspirational and charismatic boss who can motivate her charges to work endless hours in pursuit of that unattainable account should also be able to roll up her sleeves and get down with the troops and do whatever it takes to get the job done.

As important as having (or being) a manager who works wonders and fights the good fight, is having a plan to win the battles that must be won. Two recent books examine both vital components.

''The Wizard and the Warrior: Leading with Passion and Power," by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 256 pages, $28. Bolman and Deal mix tales from history with events from modern times to amplify their points in this entertaining book: ''The wizard and the warrior inhabit two distinct but overlapping worlds. The warrior's world is a place of combat, of allies and antagonists, courage and cowardice, honor and betrayal, strength and weakness. The wizard inhabits a world of possibility, magic, and mystery. The wizard's strength lies not in arms or physical courage, but in wisdom, foresight, the ability to see below and beyond appearance. The wizard brings unshakable faith that something new and better is really out there. An enterprise without wizards is sterile and often toxic."

The lives and achievements of a number of historic personages are evoked and scrutinized, and many of the examples are apt and illuminating. Where they drop the ball for me is when they talk about current political figures like President Bush and his own personal wizard, Karl Rove.

Perhaps their current misadventures are too recent for accurate and dispassionate analysis, but the authors' assessments seem, at best, superficial and, at worst, political, and needlessly undercut the credibility of their work. Regardless, the anecdotes are amusing and the stories are mostly on point, so Bolman and Deal's book might provide a different way of assessing leadership without undue suspension of disbelief.

''Must-Win Battles: How to Win Them, Again and Again," by Peter Killing and Thomas Malnight with Tracey Keys, Wharton School Publishing, 288 pages, $28.

If you or your organization has a problem, it's usually very specific. An off-the-shelf remedy is rarely of any value. The authors here provide methods to assess each dilemma; by evaluating them by their criteria, the appropriate structure that will effect the solution can be employed. So too, with battles that determine the survival of the organization.

Some of their methods seem like idealized intellectual exercises rather than real-world strategies and tactics. And the rather mundane language does little to inspire the passion required to buy into their somewhat cerebral manifesto.

But if you can get past the blandness, you may be rewarded with a new way to look at your company's challenges and pick the right ones to fight and win.

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