Google Google on the Wall… Who’s the Guru-est of them all?

An irritating email today invites me to pay $1300 for a day with ”#2 leadership guru in the world” Robin Sharma. If you don’t know who he is (I didn’t), think a younger Ben Kingsley’s face writ large on lots of books with colourful BIG titles like “Discover Your Destiny” “The Greatness Guide” “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” (say what?). He’s come a long way since the book “Mega Living!” (1995). So this is gurudom… huge convention halls filled with evangelical fervour at $1300 a pop, for a day of feel-good stories. I guess it works for some.

But I was irritated enough to check out that suspicious ”#2 in the Leadership Gurus Survey”... here are their “criteria”:

“Our research came from e-mails sent to 22,000 business people, consultants, academics and MBA’s around the world for nominations and our public opinion poll. We shortlist 60 names then did a Google search for ranking. The criteria for judging the TOP 30 focused on: Originality of ideas, practicality of ideas, presentation style, international outlook, impact of ideas, quality of publications and writings, dispersion of publications and writings, public opinion, guru factor.”

So it seems in principle that leadership guru-dom can be easily achieved through relentless self-promotion and a gift for entertaining large business audiences at $1300 a pop. My cynicism unabated, I scanned the list of the lucky winners.. out of the top 30, only two are women. So being male helps, which kind of confirms my fledgling theory of the “strutting” requirement for becoming a guru.

So far I’m learning more about guru-dom than leadership. None of this looks like leadership to me, this feels much more like ego-centric theatre. So I browse a little deeper into the “sub-gurus” who didn’t make the top 30. There among them is Sir John Harvey-Jones, former Chairman of ICI (and now deceased). Now here are leadership credentials: “A former chairman of ICI and one of Britain’s best-known industrialists. Under his leadership ICI was transformed into one of the world’s top companies, losses of £200 million a year being turned into a profit of more than £1,000 million in three years.”

Now isn’t that the ICI that doesn’t exist any more, having recently being mopped up by Akzo Nobel after twenty years circling the drain? Sir John certainly got results in the short term, but seems to have started a culture of obsessive corporate bulimia as ICI systematically divested its most important businesses throughout the 1990s. Is leadership really all about a futureless now?

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