Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Political incorrectness is so very refreshing.

Bill Nicol, a leading Australian consultant on leadership and management, works here in Indonesia. We see a bit of each other. Both of us have a strong distrust and dislike for business gurus.

Bill wrote to me yesterday.

"It is mid Monday morning. My brain atrophied long ago although gets the occasional ray of sunlight it needs to prevent it stopping altogether. Thank you for including the Garry Stager commentary. I loved reading it.

Personally, I loathe reading business and leadership books. I flick through them in bookshops and buy an occasional one that takes my transitory fancy. I can say from personal experience that none helped me run my own business other than into the ground. Like you, I would prefer to read a good story like that of murder in Fiji and a gentle poem or two than a book written by a guru whose entire experience is limited to motivating minor minds rather than building ball-busting businesses."

Gary S Stager Ph.D. writes "What business gurus like Don Tapscott, Daniel Pink,(the cover of his book above) Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins have in common is that none of them actually ever ran a business prior to hitting the bestseller list offering business advice to others. Most of them have never been the night manager of a Seven-Eleven let alone launched or managed an innovative business venture.

They are fancy talkers.

That is their skill. Several are evangelicals. Faith or pseudoscience, along with a dose of prosperity theology, is used to advance their arguments.

Their audience is adults who dream of being rich or increase their personal productivity. Neither goal is analogous to the education of children.

There’s trouble right here in River City

I’ve observed that the fancy talkers tend to have three or four good stories, perhaps as many as seven, they use to captivate their readers. If you see the author on Charlie Rose, you hear the three stories. Google an interview and you’ll read the three stories. Read the book and the three stories will appear verbatim. There is a polish to their schtick that often masquerades a lack of depth or thoughtfulness.

Many of these authors are linguistic jugglers. They can turn a phrase (or at least a handful of rehearsed ones) brilliantly. I compared Thomas Friedman to Nipsey Russell in my review of Friedman’s book due to his penchant for reducing complex ideas to puns.

Ultimately the success of these books is based on the authors’ ability to reduce complex concepts to simplistic binary dichotomies or playground rhymes. Such books are filled with numbered rule-based advice with little room for nuance. Issues are either black or white. The principles apply to any situation.

Obviously, lots of people buy these books. Some even read them. Many of the readers are hooked on this genre of business book and purchase lots of them. Ironically, the people who don’t read these books are successful business leaders. The New York Times article, C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success, tells us that most successful business leaders, the people self-help book readers wish to emulate, do not read business books. They read poetry and novels and great non-fiction written by experts. In short, CEO libraries are tributes to a great liberal arts education. Now that is a lesson school leaders should learn.

It is the great insecurity of wannabes that drives the sales of popular business books. I am of the opinion that educators with limited time should not squander it studying to be CEOs. This is especially true when these books are written by charlatans and touted by educational gurus who themselves are fancy talkers.

Education should be about doing, not talking. Education leaders should be well versed in the literature (past and present) of their chosen profession."

To me the only book worth its salt is Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith, 'Learning to Lead.' It is simple, but profound book written by humble people.

The most enlightening part of the book is the Chart of Distinctions between Manager and Leader:

The manager administers; the leader innovates.

The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.

The manager maintains; the leader develops.

The manager accepts reality; the leader investigates it.

The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.

The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.

The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.

The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.

The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader
has his or her eye on the horizon.

The manager imitates; the leader originates.

The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.

The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.

The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

Use this as a check list and you will soon find out is you are a leader, a manager or neither.

Bob McKerrow



Marja said...

Love your post. I had no Idea that these guru's were not in business.
I read a book of Steven Covey and it was mostly commen sense and sure had not much to do with business. I love psychology and sociology books I guess I am a wannabe people knower.
I have met many managers though but only very few leaders.
In scouting we had a very good 5 day leadership course with lot of.........psychology.
On trade school I only learned marketing and management.
But indeed theory and practise is very different, although theory does help I find.
In my work with children I am a better leader than a manager.

Marja said...

oh and I love the title of that book you show. I am sure it is true.
Most people with learning disabilites are right brained. they are visual thinkers. They are also innovative and creative. There are several dyslexic entrepreneurs.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
Cheers for another great post. I never could stand that Clutch Cargo Jaw on Tony Robbins! People like to grasp at straws I guess, anyway to find the gravy train as quickly as possible.
I never did get that, which is funny as I work in sales. One day when I grow up I will find my calling. I have seen many managers, but outside of a few coaches in my athletic days, few leaders.
As I was reading the list of distinctions between manager and leader, it occured to me one might also apply the same criteria in a way to being a father and a parent.
Kia ora Bob.
Noho ora mai ra,

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Marja

Good to read your comments and to learn of your love of working with children. Sociology is a great discipline or tool to understand behaviour and how societies interact.

Pleased that you are a leader. We need more leaders with a vision, commitment and high integrity to lead the world out of our current mess. Thanks

Kia Ora Robb

Always good to get your pithy comments. We are all growing and I see from your blog you have huge potential as a leader as you are honest, a calculated risk taker combined with being a nurturer. These qualities are the foundation and vision and creativity come generally with age.

Take care. I am currently in Kuala Lumpur for meetings and off to Bangkok tomorrow.

ka kite ano


Unknown said...

Hey Bob,

Hope thing are good. The name Bill Nicols rang some bells in my head and I tracked back through my notes to find


Now I'm too naive and unlearned to really understand or make anything of this, but having recently finished ploughing through Robert Fisks Great War on Civilisation I have a renewed and invigorated scepticism about just about everything and everyone with some kind of power, influence and contacts.

The pervasiveness and influence of financial decisions in too many domains of our society is starting to make me despair. Everything is an "industry". Be that humanitarianism, religion or outdoor events (my current occupation) and anything in between.

Industries self perpetuate, protect themselves and often raise the cost of what they provide. A classic example that you would be quite familiar with is the evolution of the NZ outdoors scene, from a co-op to a situation where everyone is trying to make a buck. Its not only cellphones and gaming that is contributing to the cleansing of our young people from the hills.

If 1200 pages of Fisk has started radicalising this apathetic centrist to the extent that I find myself writing letters to the paper, then I am excited to think what another spell in the developing world might do. Looking forward to experiencing Indonesia!

Take care Bob.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Jamie

You're reading a lot and getting pretty deeply into how it all fits together or how people divide and rule.

I thought your comments were spot on: "I have a renewed and invigorated scepticism about just about everything and everyone with some kind of power, influence and contacts."

Thank God there are a few exceptions and that is why I really like Bill Nicol, because he is an inconclast. Go to the web and look at his book on 'McBride', a corrupt doctor he put behind bars. Then his other one on East Timor, He has got "balls."

Martin Luther said something like this: "If you believe in something you should be prepared to fight for it, go to jail for it and even die for it." James K. Baxter's father Archibald did almost that. What a man !

Jamie, let's have a beer or two when you come this way and let's see if we can put the world bacj together .

Safe travels my fellow wayfarere.


Paterika Hengreaves said...

Touche! Well said. However, I must add that theoretical concepts marketed in dead-leaf or e-books alone are not enough. It is essential to back-up theory with facts gained vicariously or by hands-on experience in order to bring authenticity to the written words. Authenticity is at the core of it. Without authenticity on the platform, it is merely a 'pie in the sky' and what is its worth...only a dream...waiting to morph into practicality. All of this "fancy talk" or lecturing does very little in promoting intellectual growth among individuals. There is too much of this in contemporary society. John Dewey must be rolling over in his grave.

If someone elucidates only on leadership theory in Management Studies without the benefit of practical exposure on the topic the approach is seriously flawed. A leader is MADE not born. Managers become the leader's essential peripheral.

Thank you Bob for sharing such an interesting post.


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