Bartleby, the Scrivener is a sad tale that chronicles the dismal working relationship between a Wall Street property contracts lawyer and his newest hire, the inscrutable copyist Bartleby. An experienced Wall Street contracts lawyer with a small office and burgeoning business hires a new copyist, Bartleby, who starts off well by completing projects with care and efficiency. One day, when asked to do a normal task, Bartleby replies, “I would prefer not to,” and this becomes Bartleby’s constant refrain. The lawyer, fancying himself an adept leader, tries every which way to reach Bartleby, but ultimately fails.
This case asks students to consider what leadership means when there is, finally, no right answer. The exchanges between Bartleby and the lawyer serve as a study in managerial relations, leadership strategies, emotional intelligence, and approaches to motivation. It is particularly relevant for management and leadership students seeking to grapple with the complexities of interpersonal professional relationships and is especially applicable for students who currently hold managerial or leadership positions within organizations.