No sooner had I mailed off last fortnight’s column about clients’ obsessions with ‘new and fresh thinking’ (What do you mean, you never read it?  than a book catalogue appeared through my door full of new and fresh perspectives on business and personal development.  What must I have inadvertently ordered online to deserve such a catalogue, full of books with subtitles like ‘How to heal your life and make miracles happen’ and ‘how to change your brain’s response to anger’?  By way of variety, every four or five pages came a large advert for NLP training programmes (‘Spend seven days in an empty aircraft hanger with a bunch of flaky, dysfunctional people and receive a certificate saying you’re a qualified hypnotherapist and black hole shapeshifter’ – well, that was the gist of it anyway). 

(While I’m off on this tangent, why is it that NLP trainers feel obliged to grin so energetically in adverts for their services?  I’m obviously delighted for them that their practice enables them to access so much positive energy; and I take it their intention is to put me, and my wallet, in a receptive state.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I find looking at a picture of a guy in a suit baring his teeth like the eponymous hero of Alien just before it dispenses with its victim plays havoc with my kinaesthetic channel.)

Anyway, back to the plot.  One page further on from ‘Naked in the Boardroom: A CEO bares her secrets’ (presumably their best selling publication – and I’m sure that wasn’t on their mind when they thought of the title) I came across a full page advert for a new book called ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock ‘n’ Roll: Leadership lessons from the Academy of Rock’.  Now, I have not read the book; but like a Church of England cleric, this will not stop me from commenting on its content (anyway, the book is endorsed by Tom Peters, so nothing can save it). 

According to the blurb, the book’s author Peter Cook is not only a ‘business academic and thought leader’ but also ‘performs music in rock bands’.  To demonstrate this set of Renaissance Man credentials, he appears in two pictures: one in a suit, looking like the kind of person you could take to tea at the Institute of Directors; the other in a Sex Pistols T-shirt, holding a guitar and grimacing at the camera like an NLP trainer who read the manual upside down.

I have to search my soul on this one just in case I’m secretly jealous I didn’t think of it first.  After all, I am a ‘barroom academic and thought follower’ who plays the drums in a 70s Glam Rock revival band (go on, you know you want to:  And the publishers have clearly caught the slipstream of the zeitgeist; you can’t move in musical instrument shops these days for besuited corporate finance executives spending their bonuses on vintage Gibson Les Pauls in order to rediscover their youthful vigour (it’s more expensive than Botox, but marginally more culturally valuable.) Such crowsfooted wannabees are clearly ready for a book which mixes ‘leading edge concepts with the wisdom of the street’. 

Unfortunately, the blurb does not enlighten us as to what exactly it is that business leaders can learn from rock musicians (though there are obvious similarities, such as surviving on a few hours’ sleep a night and overindulging in alcohol and narcotics).  But you never know.  Twelve years ago, I wrote a marketing document about what leaders can learn from actors.  At the time (in one of the proudest moments of my career) it was described by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times as “hair-raisingly pretentious”.  But now actors are a valued fixture in the training room.  Maybe in another twelve years I’ll be running workshops with a live backing band.

Meanwhile, I wish Mr Cook every success with his book.  The literary gene pool thrives on diversity, and every new analogy adds to the richness of management language – and, more importantly, creates more work opportunities for consultants.  My quarrel, to return to the theme of the previous issue, is with those who buy it.  What exactly are you looking for? Why are you making leadership so complicated?

As my colleague Ralph Lewis puts it very quotably, “Common sense isn’t all that common”.  Leaders at all levels in organisations eschew the simple things they could be getting right, such as giving clear messages and treating people as human beings, in favour of reading books and attending seminars which obfuscate the job of the leader with frameworks and acronyms. If your people don’t feel valued, and aren’t clear what you expect of them, I’m not sure coming into work with a Fender Stratocaster will convince them. Or am I missing something?


© Phil Lowe, 2006.  All rights reserved.