Two things are likely to be true of people searching for leadership advice: they have not made it, and they would like a shortcut to success. These readers do not want to hear that the route to the top is a Darwinian struggle that takes place over many years and that demands highly unusual attributes. They are after something that can be bought on Amazon and delivered the next day. They definitely do not want to be told that, by definition, only a few can succeed. If you are working on a book called “Loser: Why You Are Doomed to Disappointment”, stop. (Actually, don’t.)
The job of the wannabe guru is to make their readers think that unimaginable success is within their reach. If only they believed in themselves a bit more or picked up a few new habits—waking up stupidly early, say, or keeping a journal—wealth will surely follow.
The second bit of advice for a would-be leadership writer is to find uncontested ground. In the battle for attention, it can help to focus on something wholly unconnected to business and to argue that the subject has something to teach managers. That approach gives the aspiring guru a chance to write about a topic or person that will attract a wider readership. It also builds their reputation as someone who can connect dots even (perhaps especially) when there are no dots to join.
Some of these sources of leadership lessons are familiar: sports coaches and military commanders, Shackleton and Shakespeare, Trappist monks and Stoic philosophers. But authors limit themselves unnecessarily by narrowing the horizon to humans. An entire subgenre of internet posts offers leadership lessons from animals, for example. Keen to know how a giraffe would perform as ceo?
- market trends (and, occasionally, history)
- emerging technologies and deep tech
- startups and venture capital
- corporate strategy and business dynamics
- product development and marketing
- finance and (mainly behavioral) economics
- cognitive psychology and neuroscience
- the future of work and career
I occasionally add a personal note to them.
The whole collection is available here.