This little volume is not a Machiavellian manual for would-be corporate princes of the '80s. It isn't a master plan for out-competing the Japanese or the West Germans, either. It has little to do with superiority or power, both of which terms we tend to associate with leadership. And that, in fact, is the heart of the matter. For Maccoby, in this important and thoughtful exercise, argues that our next generation of successful managers must learn how to set creative limits on its use of power in order to succeed, which is not always the same as to win.

Maccoby carries the jawbreaking titles of director of the Project on Technology, Work and Character (in Washington) and director of the Program on Technology, Public Policy and Human Development for Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is a psychoanalyst, exploring the fascinating terrain of how machine-age humanity behaves on the job. An earlier book, "The Gamesman," defined a new kind of executive--cool, pragmatic, flexible, fascinated by challenges and above all eager to win, and willing to be manipulative for that purpose. The gamesman was a creation of the adventurous business climate of the '60s, and took his place alongside other managerial types--the craftsman, the jungle fighter, the company man--who emerged at earlier stages of economic development.

"The Leader" argues that a new style of direction will have to emerge in the 1980s. The current social ethic is more individualistic and resistant to authority than it once was; what's more, the men and women of the workplace are less willing to commit themselves totally to their jobs. In an economy of diminishing expectations, ambition may have lost some of its bite. To bring out the best in such people--which, for Maccoby, is the true function and art of leadership--tomorrow's managers will have to be flexible, humane, involved and caring; "less charismatic and narcissistic than past leaders," as he says, and recognizing that it is "logical and necessary . . . to share the functions of leadership."

He offers six examples of what he means, of how it might look, through sketches of five men and one woman in leadership positions. One is the black foreman of an auto parts factory in rural Tennessee; one a New York congressman, formerly the mayor of a small town; one a Scottish plant manager, and one--the woman--an administrator in the Department of Commerce under Carter. We also meet a retired vice president of the United Auto Workers, Irving Bluestone, and Pehr Gyllenhammar, the chief executive of the Volvo Corporation. Maccoby gives fragments of their personal histories, excerpts from interviews with them, and--apparently unable to resist--the results of Rorschach tests to which he subjected them, an addition of somewhat marginal value for nonpsychoanalyst readers.

They all come off as likable, sensitive and self-examining people, who have worked actively in their communities, instigated projects for letting subordinates share in important decision-making, confronted setbacks and limitations maturely and been marked by "unwillingness to sacrifice people for power." Maccoby wraps up his presentation with a plea, certain to cheer teachers of the humanities, for an educational system that exposes future front-runners to more "religion, ethical philosophy, depth psychology, and history."

Naturally, one wants to applaud. It is all so upbeat, end even in accord with the current wisdom that holds that productivity must be increased, not by squeezing workers harder, but by motivating them through greater participation in their companies' planning. It's good to believe that a high degree of industrial democracy is also profitable. But hard questions linger. Is the new, less driven "social character" described by Maccoby shared by more than a lucky sliver of the population? Would it survive a prolonged and bitter economic slump? Does it have any meaning for the millions here and abroad who are still struggling for a place at the table, and not yet concerned about whether overeating is good for them? It just may be that the very slimness and economy of this volume permits it to trip lightly by some dark and tangled places on the road to its sunny conclusion.

All the same, it makes an important point. Managers are human after all. They have, like Shylock, "hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions." It's a fallacy to believe, either with classical economists or technocrats, that businesses thrive or sink because of bloodless choices made to accord with rationality or "economic laws." That is why, properly told (as by, for example, a John Brooks) business history is full of creativity, adventure and theatrical struggle behind its numerical facades. All the deadly sins, and a few lively virtues, are at work and play there. Maccoby is suggesting that it's time to acknowledge the secret. His book will probably come to be required reading in progressive schools of business administration. It deserves that, and a wider audience as well.