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“Liar’s Poker” by Lewis


The book Liar’s Poker describes the personal experience of the author and his cooperation with Solomon Brothers. The book consists of 11 chapters devoted to different problems and periods in life of Lewis. The book describes bond sales and trade operations on Wall Street, relations between partners and their practices towards stakeholders and other businesses. The author underlines that management and leadership are two crucial parts of modern companies. The modern economy depends upon and is influenced by effective management solutions and leadership strategies.

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Plot Overview

The main part of the book describes the environment and operations on Wall Street and the work of bond traders and financial advisors. Bond management is concerned with setting goals, establishing policies and programs, and implementing business action for the entire firm. Its major tasks are to translate consumer wants and needs, actual and potential, into profitable products and services that the company is capable of producing; to cultivate markets to support these products; and to program the distribution activities necessary to reach the markets. Many bond traders see investments and bonds as a limited specialized activity of the commerce, but rather a perspective for the entire management team. It does not function as a separate entity in the industry, nor is it more important than any other primary activity, such as manufacturing or economics, yet through actual and potential sales it does set up constraints within which the other activities must be performed1.

It reflects an integrated and coordinated method to the management of managerial activity, and the development of total systems of business achievement that recognize the marketplace as the focal point of business. Successful leaders have the gift for inspiring and motivating employees; they have vision and lift the spirit of employees to accomplish great ends. The release of human possibilities is a essential leadership goal. Still, It is significant to differentiate moral and just leadership from the character of despots who, by definition, are effective leaders if they accomplish their goals through persuasion. The second storyline describes personal life of the author and his professional growth, relations with people and communication patterns popular and accepted on Wall Street. Lewis admits poor communication and rude manners of managers and their wives2.

Discussion section

The strength of the book is that it describes real-life experiences and grievances faced by many young managers and financial specialists like Lewis. Using examples of negative attitudes and relations between people, bribery and lie, Lewis teaches readers that management, similar to leadership, is ethical. Managers mobilize and assign resources; they guarantee the continuing vitality of the staff; they generate and maintain appropriate procedures. They also manage, delegate, and coordinate resources, and they provide a system of incentives to encourage and support productive behavior. Managers and leaders establish reporting systems, perform evaluations, and allocate accountability3. Common to both managers and leaders is the focus on the outcomes they produce, which are based on the goals they pursue. Managers and leaders call for the kind of attempt, restraint, drive, and discipline that result in effective performance. The traditional definitions of management and leadership have concentrated on and described the management process. What a manager or leader does is vital, but descriptions do not address the function or purpose of management.

The principle of management is to produce positive outcomes. Leadership is more than leading employees. Indeed, it has many more components. Leadership is also routine administration, supervision, and knowledge of procedures, rules, and set of laws; for example, it requires cooperation techniques, cost control, and legal responsibilities. Financial management should be based on managerial principles and goals but it involves personality and charisma of a person. Leaders can work toward positive results. In this case, the role and responsibility of these managers are to develop moral and ethical; principles for the organization, while the task of managers is to introduce these principles into practice and control their fulfillment. Results are not the only thing, and the ends do- not justify all means. There are ethical limits. Criteria beyond effectiveness are needed. The strategic aims must be just, and there must be a moral responsibility to do what is right. Moral and ethical behavior patterns are a key element of positive results and success. Truthfulness suffers when managers and leaders demand or expect from their employees an exaggerated loyalty to mission4.

At Solomon Brothers, culture does not help employees interpret their experiences and guide their actions and can even be instrumental in eliciting commitment to the organization. Their interactions do not develop a certain set of characteristics. If organizational cultures exist as empirically verifiable entities, then one way to identify cultures, and cases where goal setting will or will not work, is to examine those financial cultures in terms of their power orientations, that is, by asking how power is exercised in various types of organizational cultures. In this way, clues will begin to unfold that tell about the appropriateness of goal setting. Many highly structured, antagonistic organizations are currently being challenged to adapt as a result of more rapid changes in their external environment. They have the potential to change and become more responsive to both their environment and their employees, but they often are ignorant of where to begin the transformation5.

The main weakness of the book is its structure and lack of supportive materials and articles on this topic. It is a personal narration of the author but it would be helpful to cite examples published in press of that time. At Solomon Brothers, where group interests will always be diverse and there will never be agreement, there should be no attempt at a cultural transformation toward goal setting. Goal setting is not appropriate, nor will it ever be an effective management tool in highly politicized organizations. At best, goal statements are a great marketing technique that the politician can use to demonstrate that he or she is truly up-to-date with the latest management fad. Many highly structured union-management organizations in Wall Street today are struggling to survive in a very competitive international economic environment. The old hierarchical form is not sufficiently responsive to rapid change. The top-down approach is not working, and the old union-management contracts are no longer efficient. High organizations are more clearly focused on goals to produce positive results. To the extent that organizations can agree on core values such as their purpose, goals, and objectives, political activity can be reduced6. Lewis uses the metaphor of Liar’s Poker to characterize real relations and business patterns of Wall Street gurus, like John Meriwether, Lewis Ramiere, John Gutfreund.

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Lewis underlines that easier access and better support will motivate employees and inspire them. It is expected that Solomon Brothers’ employees will invest in the latest sophisticated technology to improve lateral relations through the use of coordinators, task forces, and matrix designs, together with the use of rules and programs, hierarchy and goal setting; they have created a range of possibilities that can help to reduce uncertainties generated by the environment. Technology has changed the nature and style of organizations by changing how humans interface with each other.

In such circumstances, the organization itself increasingly rests in the information system. However, if improved information management is the goal, there must be a system to transmit it–the communication system. The central value system about which we have been talking is embedded in the strategic plan. The whole goal-setting process inherent in any strategic plan integrates the principle of the information-based structure. The case of Solomon Brothers shows that an excellent technique for managing information in teams is to have stand-up meetings of the team “every” morning before “prime time.” Primetime is the normal workday, when most managers are deep in the fray. It is the crisis time for which they plan. During the normal day there is little discretionary time available unless managers just close their door and cut off all communication, which is not possible7.


In sum, at Solomon Brothers change should begin by creating a new tomorrow. That means beginning with values as portrayed in the organization’s strategic plan: its purpose, philosophy, mission and goals. Financial institutions that need to change must first create a new vision. Lewis underlines that managers have to organize people toward these values and focus them on changing. Renewal itself must become a major goal. The tool for doing that is the entire goal-setting process. It includes organizational strategy, teamwork, and empowering individuals–and it must start at the top.


Lewis, M. Liar’s Poker. Penguin (Non-Classics). 1990.

Donaldson, T., et al. Ethical Issues in Business, 7th edn, Upper Saddle.

River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.


  1. Lewis, M. Liar’s Poker. (Penguin (Non-Classics). 1990), 43.
  2. Lewis, M. Liar’s Poker. (Penguin (Non-Classics). 1990), 83.
  3. Donaldson, T., et al. Ethical Issues in Business, (7th edn, Upper Saddle. River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002), 43.
  4. Lewis, M. Liar’s Poker.(Penguin (Non-Classics). 1990), 32, 37.
  5. Lewis, M. Liar’s Poker. (Penguin (Non-Classics). 1990), 233.
  6. Ibid., 197.
  7. Lewis, M. Liar’s Poker. (Penguin (Non-Classics). 1990), 101.

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