Most people think the biggest fears in life are of dying or of public speaking. I’ve never been able to equate the two. But maybe that’s because I’ve never been asked to give a speech to an audience of armed snipers. Besides, I’ve pretty well resigned myself to the fact that I’m not getting out of here alive. And since I’m a garrulous Irish ham, I’ll talk to any people, in any numbers, at any time. My biggest fear, in fact, is that I’ll become a curmudgeon.

In case you hadn’t gotten this sense from some of my previous posts, one of the things that makes me most fearful of becoming a curmudgeon is Harvard Business Review (HBR). Part of this is my own fault, of course. I presume anything coming from Harvard should possess at least modicums of intelligence and coherence. Maybe all I need to do is get over that presumption. 

Here’s What I Mean

This headline — To Sound Like a Leader, Think About What You Say, and How and When You Say It” — led me to believe the piece to which it was glued would give some meaningful information about conversational styles conducive to or appropriate for people in leadership positions. So did this; although, it added context to the mix:

What you say, how you say it, when you say it, to whom you say it, and whether you say it in the proper context are critical components for tapping into your full strategic leadership potential … Your executive voice is less about your performance; it relates more to your strategic instincts, understanding of context, and awareness of the signals you send in your daily interactions and communications.

If the piece had started and ended there, it would have been all right. But it didn’t. So, it wasn’t. To see why, click the hyperlink to the piece, which I’ve embedded above. When the piece opens, read the first three paragraphs. Now ask yourself, at the very least, these 20 questions: 

  1. Is Nancy a leader?
  2. Does she aspire to be?
  3. What was her role and responsibility in the meeting?
  4. If the executive team was Nancy’s and Jack is a co-chair, was Nancy the other one?
  5. What was the context in which Nancy was presenting?
  6. What was the agenda to which Jack referred?
  7. What were the objectives to which Jack referred?
  8. What was the precise genus and species of the bug Jack had up his ass?
  9. If we don’t know the agenda or the objectives, should we assume Nancy did?
  10. How did Nancy fail to think strategically?
  11. How are we supposed to know that she failed to think strategically?
  12. What was wrong with her presentation?
  13. What should she have said that she didn’t?
  14. How should she have said it?
  15. How or why was the situation career-damaging?
  16. Why didn’t the author of the piece tell us any of these things?
  17. Where were the editors?
  18. Did they get paid?
  19. Either way, why didn’t they think of any of these questions?
  20. Did the author of the piece self-publish it? 

I Can’t Be the Only One

All the questions above invite a number of philosophical questions, of course: What’s the difference between a curmudgeon and a critical thinker? What’s the difference between gullibility and curiosity? What’s the difference between a realist and a cynic? What’s the difference between Harvard Business Review and the National Enquirer? Damned if I know.

But I do know HBR could use a few more IQ points. And I’m pretty sure I’m not (ready to be) a curmudgeon.

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