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Leadership for dummies

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY I really get a kick out of some of the leadership advice I read these days. When I say "get a kick out of," I really mean get "get annoyed by." And when I say "leadership advice," I really mean "dumb ideas by people who've never managed anyone or anything in their lives."

Just when I think I've seen it all, there's another headline that's even loonier than all the others. "20 things successful people do in their sleep," "Leadership lessons from Lindsay Lohan," "The 5-minute workweek," "How Warren Buffet brushes his teeth."

I mean, what are the qualifications to give leadership advice these days? A degree in journalism? The ability to read someone else's article and encapsulate their key points in a few bullets? A good memory for famous quotes and pollyannish parables? Giving yourself a CEO title of a one-person company? A life-coach certification? Calling yourself a leadership expert or guru?

Yes, I'm aware I'm supposed to be a leadership blogger myself, but that's just a label, and one I'm not entirely fond of. You see, all I set out to do is share my experience and observations from the real business world in a unique way that helps people improve their management skills and get ahead. And while I do hear from the occasional Fortune 500 CEO, my readers are actually a pretty broad cross-section of the working world.

The truth is that, in many ways, leadership advice is to the blogosphere what self-help books are to and Barnes and Nobles. And if you follow my blog, you know how I feel about the whole self-help genre. That's right, about the same way I feel about a lot of so-called leadership gurus. Annoyed, occasionally to the point of nausea.

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Now I'm sitting here thinking about how to turn a rant into something that's actually useful. I at least owe you that. So here it is. I guarantee this will be extremely useful. Not only that, it's simple. Really simple. Simple and useful; two of my favorite things.

Over the decades, I've found very few sources for good advice. And there's one thing every single one of them had in common. They did what they talked about. They didn't just walk the talk. They walked -- a lot. Then, and only then, they talked. They didn't call themselves experts. But at least they had the experience from which to draw certain insights that were informative and helpful.

They were my bosses and my boss's bosses. They were the CEOs and board members of companies where I worked. They were former top executives of successful corporations like Intel and Microsoft. They were people like Mark McCormack, who wrote "What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School," and Machiavelli.

Often, I find interesting parallels between the business world and other areas where I've been known to dabble, such as technology, psychology, politics, sports, food or just everyday life. I do that because that's how I've always solved tough problems at work. By applying common sense ideas and analogous situations in creative ways.

Still, without that real business world experience, I'd have no real insights to offer you no matter how much I dabble, how engaging my writing is and how much my examples resonate. And that's the truth.

Look, I know everyone needs inspiration and motivation. We all need a helping hand sometimes. Just keep one thing in mind. We now live in a world where anyone, and I mean anyone, with a PC and a Web address can market a product or service and appear to be the real deal. That goes for leadership advice, too.

So who's actually qualified to give leadership advice? That's easy. Someone with leadership experience, and lots of it.

Image courtesy of Flickr user dullhunk

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