I welcome the advice I just don't understand it

M*A*S*H famously lasted longer than the Korean War that it was set in. In the final episode Captain Hawkeye has collapsed mentally under the pressure of war. A top army psychiatrist encourages him to recall an incident in which he and a group of refugees are hiding from an enemy patrol but a woman had a chicken that kept squawking and he told her to keep it quiet and she killed it. The psychiatrist skilfully pulls back the layers to discover it was not a chicken. It was a baby that was making the noise and the mother smothered it to save the group. Having got to the truth the psychiatrist departs with the line “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice, pull down your pants and slid on the ice”.  No one knew what it meant.

Just because you are good at your job does not mean you are good at explaining what you do. Just because top managers share certain habits does not mean if you adopt these habits you will become a top manager. Successful organisations may have in common certain ways of doing things but it does not follow that if your organisation copies them it will become successful.

Success whether personal or organisational is not that simple otherwise there would be more of it around. The trick of leadership is to know when to follow the advice and when not to. Successful organisations do learn from others but don’t succeed by uncritically adopting what works elsewhere.  

In Search of Excellence was a bestselling management book for a while. It identified what the ten most successful companies had in common but a few years after publication these world class companies had fallen out of the top ten! The message was clear if you simply tried to copy them, and many did, you would probably end up copying the reasons why they slipped out of top ten rather than how they got there.

Despite what management gurus would have you believe there is no formula for success unless you count dream big, work hard, get lucky.

Blair McPherson author of UnLearning management and Equipping managers for an uncertain future both published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk


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