As you may have surmised from this post and myriad others, I’m no fan of Harvard Business Review (HBR). Maybe it isn’t fair to say I’m not a fan. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say I don’t see the point of publishing things that are patently apparent to sentient beings. And once you elevate publishing the blatantly evident to the level of editorial policy, you’re going to lose me as a member of your target audience, to say nothing of your subscriber base.

Case in point: HBR recently created an infomercial for one of the Harvard Business Review Press books it’s hawking — “The 6 Fundamental Skills Every Leader Should Practice” — in response to which I was initially compelled to take issue with its six (6) tenets. In case you’re interested (don’t you have some paint to watch dry or a beating to take?), here they are:

  • Shape a vision that is exciting and challenging for your team (or division/unit/organization).
  • Translate that vision into a clear strategy about what actions to take, and what not to do.
  • Recruit, develop, and reward a team of great people to carry out the strategy.
  • Focus on measurable results.
  • Foster innovation and learning to sustain your team (or organization) and grow new leaders.
  • Lead yourself — know yourself, improve yourself, and manage the appropriate balance in your own life.

But it occurred to me that taking those on would be less sporting than fishing in a barrel. So, I read some of the content and the comments preceding the how-to list. Oh, boy.

Look Closely

The deepest truths are best read between the lines, and, for the most part, refuse to be written. (Amos Bronson Alcott)

What follows are explications of five textual citations from the article, followed by unanswered questions invited by the article and/or pertinent comments inspired by the article:

Citation 1. Over the past year we have been writing the HBR Leader’s Handbook — a primer for aspiring leaders who want to take their careers to the next level.

What is the next level? What level are aspiring leaders on now? Are they all on the same level? If not, will the next level be the same for all of them? How long must aspiring leaders remain in the status of aspirants? Do they become actual leaders at the next level? If not, to how many next levels do they have to take their careers before they’re no longer aspirants?

Citation 2. Our research and experience have shown us that the best way to develop proficiency in leadership is not just through reading books and going to training courses.

Aside from the fact that every person who wants to get an MBA should read that citation before paying a penny of tuition, HBR might expect to be sued by the estate of Mark Twain, who expressed the same truth in slightly slightly different words: “A person who has a cat by the tail knows a whole lot more about cats than someone who has just read about them.”

Citation 3. By reflecting on your successes and failures at every step, and getting feedback from colleagues and mentors, you’ll keep making positive adjustments and find more opportunities to learn.

Unless, of course, your failures are public and costly enough to get you get shit-canned, in which case your positive adjustments and learning opportunities won’t come from colleagues and mentors. They’ll come from the folks at Unemployment — unless, of course, you’ve already taken your compensation and investments to the next level.

Citation 4. More and more people will want to sign up and work with you. Clients or customers will ask for you by name. You’ll be invited to represent the company at major industry conferences.

Are the folks at Harvard Business Review Press hoping the aspiring leaders it hopes will sucker … uh … buy its new book will read that citation first and be convinced to part with the cash? “Yeah, Baby! As soon as this book gets me to the next level, it’s Show Time!” What in the hell kind of childish bullshit is that?

Citation 5. Whether you use this momentum to guide a new initiative or to start your own company, you’ll have begun to truly deliver major impact.

You can also deliver truly major impact by driving drunk. But that’s nothing I’d recommend or endorse in writing.

A Shortcut

Instead of trying define the next level (or the current one for that matter), rather than reading books, going to training courses, hounding colleagues and mentors, waiting to be invited to conferences, or engaging in reckless driving to deliver major impact, try this: Get a job, keep your eyes and ears open, and pay your dues.

If you do that, you won’t need HBR. And you’ll likely have far fewer jobs than Homer.