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I sometimes think that management thinking, management speak and management education (that includes ‘research’) makes everything possible to avoid critical thinking. The same Die-Hard Managers who love the certainty of a spreadsheet and believe in the magic effect of a revenue forecast, who declare themselves rational, critical and good thinkers, are the ones willing to put up with Harvard Business Review  ‘research’ with the solidity of a cream cake.

(Sorry HRB, there is nothing personal here, it’s just that when something is on your pages, it reaches Biblical validation. In fact, you’ve gone a long way from unreadable to pleasant to read)

Here is a text copied form somewhere. Forgive me for self-censoring of  names but be reassured I have not invented anything.

Based on an in-depth analysis of over 2,600 leaders drawn from a database of more than 17,000 CEOs and C-suite executives, as well 13,000 hours of interviews, and two decades of experience advising CEOs and executive boards, X and Y  overturn the myths about what it takes to get to the top and succeed.

Their ground-breaking research was the featured cover story in an issue of Harvard Business Review. It reveals the common attributes and counterintuitive choices that set apart successful CEOs—lessons that we can apply to our own careers.

What those who reach the top do share are four key behaviours that anyone can master: they are decisive; they are reliable, delivering what they promised when they promise it, without exception; they adapt boldly, and they engage with stakeholders without shying away from conflict.

Please note, that is ‘ground-breaking stuff’ and that it comes with big numbers attached: 2600 leaders, 17000 CEOs and C-suite. Big, solid research.

Once we have congratulated the authors for having managed ‘in depth analyses’ of 2600 CEOs (I’d love to have a publication about those depths), we will be confronted with the characteristics of not-less-than-world-class leaders (title of the piece). These are, let me repeat, decisiveness, reliability, delivering on promises, adaptive and not avoiders of conflict.

Having had my own in depth research, I can confirm that I have also found these characteristics amongst my own sample population: my barber, the florist in the corner, my postman, my daughter’s piano teacher (particularly that one)  and the head of my travel agency. More ground-breaking, I have also found commonalities between my sample and the authors sample. Almost without exception, all have two legs, went to school, sleep at night and follow sports. As for the latter category, they are sub classified into those following rugby, those following cricket ( I live in the UK, guys) and those following none of the above.

I can also confirm that, without any doubt, I have also found lots of very decisive people, who punctually delivered on their promises, were incredibly adaptive, never, ever avoided conflict, and are today unemployed, chronic middle managers, bad parents and owners of businesses falling apart. And also piano teachers.

Sorry, don’t mean to be harsh. But it is exasperating the amount of real estate dedicated to crap arguments and a collection of cognitive bias. If you are not too exhausted,  read this entry in Wikipedia:

The Texas sharpshooter fallacy is an informal fallacy which is committed when differences in data are ignored, but similarities are stressed. From this reasoning, a false conclusion is inferred. It is related to the clustering illusion, which refers to the tendency in human cognition to interpret patterns where none actually exist.The name comes from a joke about a Texan who fires some gunshots at the side of a barn, then paints a target centered on the tightest cluster of hits and claims to be a sharpshooter.

Management research breeds sharpshooters. Trouble is they also publish.

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