I think there is great value in reading books on business management. That is, there is great value in reading them with intent, considering their points, thinking through the details, doing some research, assimilating, and drawing your own conclusions.
But there is another approach I see taken far too often.
Management by MagazineManagers and leaders who flit from groundbreaking idea to company saving idea based on whatever book or article they most recently skimmed. For years, I did not have a name for this particular behavior pattern, but then Jon Kern helped me out. He calls it, "Management by Magazine" and now, so do I.
The impact of Management by MagazineAt first look, this behavior can seem relatively harmless. Those who report to these individuals quickly learn to recognize the behavior pattern and develop coping mechanisms. Often, they respond superficially to the new direction. They echo the new mantras and engage in whatever new activities are necessary, but ultimately they do not change their core behaviors. Behind the scenes, it's business as usual. Everybody knows that this will pass. In another month, there will be not another mention of Cross-Functional Self-Directed L-Teams as we dive head-first into Spontaneous Collaborative Innovation, just as we did Maturity Value Proposals, Orange Desert Tactics, and Strategic Value Structuring in prior rounds.
Albeit unfortunate, does this really have an impact on an organization?
"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." - John Fitzgerald Kennedy
These collective behavior patterns lead to a reinforcement of the manager's false notion that they are performing as an excellent leader. With little or no feedback, the manager fails to see flitting from idea to idea as a result of a misapplied shallow understanding. Instead they believe they've mastered each of these practices and deemed them inapplicable to their unique business needs.
"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" - Charles Darwin
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority. This false confidence closes us off to true learning. The ineffective application of the available explicit knowledge results in a lack of tacit knowledge and not only is the leader's learning limited, but the organization as a whole is adversely impacted.
Erodes ConfidenceAfter a few darts from one approach to another, employees begin to wonder if the leader has a plan. As some employees deeply study the theory-du-jour, they begin to see the gaps in what the leader says and their own understanding of the theory. These individuals lose confidence in their leader's competence. Inevitably, water cooler conversation confirms they are not alone in their doubts. Discussions about a lack of direction and the leader's shallow or even incorrect understanding of the theories ensues. Skepticism sweeps the organization.
Learn and AdaptAs I stated in the beginning, I think there is great value in reading books on business management. That is, there is great value in reading them with intent, considering their points, thinking through the details, doing some research, assimilating, and drawing your own conclusions.
When you're exposed to a new technique, concept, or philosophy, take a little time. Read more than one source. Think deeply about the ideas and lessons. Seek counter-perspectives. Don't use the new tools to attack your most significant challenges. Start small, develop tacit knowledge, and grow your application as you grow your understanding. Don't be afraid to adapt the tools to meet your specific needs.
And if you choose to rapidly test multiple approaches, be open and honest about what you're doing; with your people and with yourself.