Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Does Anyone Actually Read the Harvard Business Review?

For years I though it was just me thinking that the HBR was only used by high-buck consultant's to stroke CEO's egos, telling them how smart the CEO was to hire said HBR-spouting consultant.
From Felix Salmon at Reuters:
Leadership lessons from a Wall Street consultant
I’ve been spending much more time than usual on Facebook, over the past week — you’d think the company has been in the news, or something like that. And so I found myself this evening clicking on a classic clickbait headline — “Two Lists You Should Look at Every Morning” — which had been shared approvingly by my ex-boss, and which came with the somewhat respectable logo of the Harvard Business Review.

The article in question isn’t long, but it is pretty much everything you hate about the HBR. It’s written by some consultant who loves to talk about “leadership” a lot, and who loves to use phrases like “platform for talent”. What’s more, he’s ever so keen on focus, and eliminating distractions. Apparently, when you’ve got some dead time while standing in an elevator, the wrong thing to do is to use that time for something productive, like dashing off a quick email. Email, you see, is a distraction from more important things, like, um, working out who else might be in the elevator. Or, single-mindedly trying to win some pointless gong:
After the CEO busted me in the elevator, he told me about the meeting he had just come from. It was a gathering of all the finalists, of which he was one, for the title of Entrepreneur of the Year. This was an important meeting for him — as it was for everyone who aspired to the title (the judges were all in attendance) — and before he entered he had made two explicit decisions: 1. To focus on the meeting itself and 2. Not to check his BlackBerry.
What amazed him was that he was the only one not glued to a mobile device. Were all the other CEOs not interested in the title? Were their businesses so dependent on them that they couldn’t be away for one hour? Is either of those a smart thing to communicate to the judges?
There was only one thing that was most important in that hour and there was only one CEO whose behavior reflected that importance, who knew where to focus and what to ignore. Whether or not he eventually wins the title, he’s already winning the game.
This one story is reasonably impressive in that it inadvertently tells you everything you need to know about the leadership industry. For one thing, the people who are most successful, in this industry, tend to be obscene flatterers: whatever your client does, he does it better than any of his competitors, and he’s “winning the game”. When CEOs ask for advice, what they really want is flattery: they want to be told how brilliant their decisions are, and that the only thing which would make those decisions even more brilliant would be if they were made even more decisively....MUCH MORE, all good.