Monday, July 14, 2008

"Creative" Leadership Programs

I've run across some pretty creative, unusual, out-of-the-box, and downright wacky leadership programs. Throughout my career, I've gone though a series of judgemental phases when it comes to evaluating and considering these programs. When I was new, bright-eyed, and naive I'd try anything. I went from one fad to another, becoming an evangelist for the latest flavor of the month that a slick sales rep convinced me to buy.

Then, later on I became jaded and turned into a cynic. I was too quick to dismiss anything that wasn't tried and true and an established industry best practice.

I think my latest phase is about possibilities. I'm really trying to be more open-minded - to listen and consider the possibilities - before I evaluate and form an opinion.

How about you? Are you willing to consider some rather unusual approaches to leadership or leadership development? How open-minded are you? Or, how gullible are you?

I'm going to describe five programs. Three of them are for real. Two I've made up. See if you can tell which is which. Can you make a convincing case for how each of them could really be for real and effective? Perhaps you've tried one of them and can offer a real or made-up testimonial? Which ones would you never, ever, even consider?

I'll publish the answers in a couple days.

1. Space camp for leaders. You and your leadership team can go to a real space and rocket center and train like astronauts! Complete realistic space missions that require effective problem solving, communication, and teamwork - just like real astronauts! You can even bring your own company trainer to provide professional facilitation in order to reinforce the learning objectives on a more personal level. The sky is not the limit!

2. Scared Straight for Leaders. This is a program started by reformed executives from Enron, Tyco, and Worldcom. Crooked CFOs are brought to an actual white collar penitentiary in an attempt to make them end their criminal ways by introducing them to actual convicts. A group of inmates known as the "lifers" berate, scream at, and terrify the executives and attempt to "scare them straight" by showing an ugly, harsh presentation of the realities of prison life. By the end of the program, executives decide that they don't want to end up in jail and vow to follow all Sarbanes-Oxley standards.

3. Business Astrology. "The Absolutely Essential PERSONAL BUSINESS PROFILE, including a year's worth of important business dates! What does astrology say about your business personality? Where are you likely to shine? Where do you tend to add value to an organization? What are you really thinking about on the job? All that, plus a year's worth of advice regarding key business dates! The Personal Business Profile is an amazing document that will have you and your colleagues (if you let them in on it) buzzing. Also makes an excellent recon tool if you can pry birth info out of a boss or competitor!

4. The Leadership Gene. Scientists from the Human Genome Project (HGP) have isolated a gene that is responsible for the ability to inspire others to follow. This trait, one of the hardest if not impossible leadership characteristics to learn, has always been suspected as being more of an innate, or natural ability. By isolating the gene, scientists have been able to use gene therapy to inject the plasma of inspirational leaders into uninspiring managers with dramatic results. The gene has been patented by the University of Southern California.

5. Happiness Training. Scientists from the Positive Psychology Center have developed a series of e-learning programs that companies can purchase to make their employees happier. Happier employees mean more productive employees, which means better business results and and fat profits.

Come back in a couple days for the answers!!


Breanne said...

I'm terrified! There is only one that I can believe would be interesting (the Space Program). I would have bet the other 4 were made up. I can imagine a sales rep pitching the Happiness Training (much like the Fish Program). The rest are just plain scary!!!
I can't wait to see the results. Great blog post!!!

Anonymous said...

My guess is 1 and 2 are fake and the rest are real. If I'm right do I get a cookie?

Dan McCarthy said...

I guess I should come up with something for best answer... I'll work on that

Jim said...

Two part reason for this note…

1) I’ve been reading through your posts and am really enjoying your insights. Thanks for taking the time to keep up the blog!

2) Would you be interested in receiving a copy of “The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work,” a newly released book by Jon Gordon? I think you’d enjoy the premise of the book and some of the stats that Jon speaks to… such as how negativity costs companies $250-300 billion a year, according to Gallup. How various surveys say that 70-80% of people hate their jobs. And how more people die Monday morning at 9am than any other time. It’s really a book about developing positive solutions.

I work with Jon and since you are a thought leader whom I respect I’d love to get your feedback about dealing with negativity in the workplace and possibly introduce you and Jon to each other. You can check out more about the book and watch few short promo videos we’ve made by going to There’s a part in the first one where the boss head butts an employee for complaining. It’s hilarious!

Thanks and please let me know if you’d like to check out the book.


Dan McCarthy said...

Jim -
Thanks, glad you enjoy the blog.
Sure, I'm interested. Please send me your contact information:

Anonymous said...

Dan -
I think that number 1 is too far out to be fake. This sounds like the type of thing that I would enroll employees into.

On number 2, I am thinking that this one would be fake...who would want that amount of personal responsibility?

3 - This sounds for real. I actually tried something similar once at with a former employer. We got the results back, and we put little cards in the cubicles that related to some star. It was 3 months before I realized that mine was switched with someone else's results...turns out any description can be fitting.

4 is one that I totally buy. Again, it is crazy enough to be true.

5 is the other fake. Too nebulous. Too easy and straightforward to be true. Plus, happiness is fleeting. Keeping people engaged and fulfilled would trump happiness...but, that is just how Jeremy sees it.

Also, I appreciate that you have shared your personal journey when it comes to this stuff. I can understand and appreciate cynicism. If you get burned, it's tough to put your hand on the stove.

Great post...always enjoy your blog.

Ask a Manager said...

My guess is that #2 (scared straight) and #4 (leadership gene) are fake. I am strangely over-confident about this.

Lau Wah Yuen said...

I think 1,3 & 5 are for real.