Leadership Literature

Leadership literature is rubbish. I know this because I’m friendly with many of those authors, and they approach the concept of leadership as an elusive, dichotomous quality: either you got it, or you don’t.

Paternal Persona

The first problem with the discussion around leadership is that it’s rooted in a masculine, fatherly framework. The best leaders don’t have to be dudes, but they have to be calm and commanding. They are smart and self-actualized. They help colleagues and peers overcome their inner weaknesses by generously teaching, leading and showing others the path to success.

I think that sounds awesome, but it also sounds like the dad from Growing Pains. The actor, Alan Thicke, is the real-life father of a coke addict who sang Blurred Lines and openly stole Marvin Gaye’s beat. So much for leadership!

The problem with creating a fatherly, god-like leader is that — while we are made in his image — we can never be him, and we can never satisfy him. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and forgiving to a fault. However, there is a gap between the leader and the flock because those of us who aren’t the leader can’t climb the ladder and become infallible.

You’re either born with this quality or you’re not.

Military Persona

The second fallacy of leadership literature is that a leader can help you weather a storm. No matter what the problem — from a downed power line in Paducah to a logistics issue in the Phillipenes — the leader of an organization can manage a crisis. He has a way of maneuvering through the battle with efficiency and ease.

Historically, many militaries have excluded women and members of the LGBTQ community. And, in almost all civilizations, the leadership of the military comes from one socioeconomic class (privileged, educated) while the do-ers come from another (workers). This leadership framework is so flawed that it discriminates before we begin to apply it to our modern workforce.

If you use the militaristic framework to describe leadership, you make careless assumptions about how the world of business operates. There’s a person in charge, there is a chain of command, and the rank-and-file members of the company are people who, through a boot-camp-like atmosphere, have had their egos stripped away and rebuilt to coalesce around a common cause: victory.

Does that sound like the real way business works? I don’t know anyone who works on the line for Taco Bell or Target who would fight and die for the singular cause of winning the war for Black Friday. Try leading your shift manager to victory with this leadership fallacy, and you will probably suffer 130% annual turnover.

Guru Persona

The final flawed leadership persona is the guru who has seen it all and wants to help you hack your way to personal success. Think about the guy with the broke-ass family story who now owns an empire. Consider the dude who hunkered down, hustled and is ready to tell you his secrets. And there’s the woman who weighed 300 pounds and wants to help you shred your waistline.

Those gurus are always nuts. We know this. But they tell us —

Hey, moron! You can’t be a better version of yourself unless you dig deeper. And while scientifically valid help that is covered under the mental health provision of your medical insurance plan is okay, it’s not enough. You need to hear it from someone’s who’s been there.

These gurus know that you are your worst enemy. They bank on it. Literally. From protein shakes to the power of positive psychology to bring you closer to your personal savior, they will show you the way.

And “the way” requires a debit or credit card.

You are a Leader

My leadership personae have one thing in common: an understanding that you are broken and need to be led to a greater version of yourself.

While all of us are flawed and broken, the baseline concept of leadership literature is that there are sixteen people in the world who qualify as leaders, and the rest of us are poseurs.

I just don’t think that’s true.

You manage to get up in the morning, brush your teeth and fight off the brutal and crushing assault of advertisers and marketers who want to separate you from your money. You pay your bills. You raise your kids to love animals and study for math quizzes. Despite what modern leadership literature tells you, you know it’s bad to exist on a slurry of sugar, fat, and salt. You are doing your best.

I see that. I know that.

The only person who can lead you to a better version of yourself is you. When you meet and connect with someone who has something helpful and useful to say, you’ll know it. The challenge is to open your eyes and your heart to your inner potential. Be ready to accept messages from the universe when signs or lessons present themselves in your path.

And stop buying into the concept that leadership looks like Hippe Jesus, General Patton or even A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. For every authority figure who promises you inner peace and confidence, another is trying to manipulate your free will for the greater good of shareholders and owners.


It’s the final day of our weeklong journey into “culture.”

We have talked about creativity, collaboration and curation. Our final destination is continuity.

Do you work for a company that drinks its own champagne? I’ve advised those companies, yo. My industry is thick with founder’s syndrome. Everything is great when you have a founder and a CEO who’s in the fishbowl conference room and inviting employees out for drinks. That man is visionary. That dude is sick. That bro-leader is amazing.

But what happens when he exits with a truckload of cash?

Plenty of organizations can survive a founder’s exit. Ask yourselves — who founded T-Mobile? Who founded Dollar General? Who founded Chick-fil-A?

I say — Who gives a shit? Those companies exist. They survive. Names don’t matter,

(Even beyond the grave!)

If you want to create an amazing company culture, think about how you can make succession planning come to life. Look at your leadership pipeline and ask them to forge a real and authentic connection with those kids — the slack-jawed poseurs in hoodies — who drive creativity and collaboration within your organization.

(Suddenly, succession planning isn’t an exercise in a dark room. It’s like an exciting, realistic Autodesk® Fusion 360™ drawing on steroids and hormones!)

If your company can’t move forward without its founder, you barely have a company — let alone a culture.


A few years ago, I read an interesting book by Dr. Grant McCracken. It’s called Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation.

Have you read it? It’s good.

The author believes that companies need specialized workers, supervisors and leaders who understand cultural anthropology. Those new workers could create a culture that has a competitive advantage. And those employees could minimize organizational risk, too.

That’s an interesting and groundbreaking perspective. Probably never going to happen. Most CEOs and leaders believe that they are cultural ambassadors — “chief experience officers,” if you will — not you. They think it’s their singular job to instill a set of values into their organization, not yours.

When your CEO thinks he’s your dad and your boss, there’s a problem with culture right there.

There are a few companies who have been influenced by Dr. Grant McCracken and have hired chief culture officers and cultural anthropologists. By “a few,” I mean six.

So, who speaks truth to power? Who advocates on behalf of good ideas? Who tells CEOs when there’s a horrible idea or product that will hurt a company’s culture?

(Probably nobody. Or maybe the CEO’s panel of advisors, who are just glorified sycophants.)

And that’s okay. Most companies operate that way. But culture — the big movement you brag about, which is more than just beer and ping pong tables — relies on curation. Your chief curation officer, which is a new job that I just invented, systematically dismantles bullshit and advocates for the good stuff.

But without a dedicated team to develop and curate amazing ideas in a creative and collaborative environment, you don’t have a culture. You just have a normal workplace.

I wouldn’t brag about that.


Collaboration is the second component of a great company culture. It’s about having a vision but also compromising for the greater good.

My imaginary boyfriend, Jon Stewart, once described collaboration by saying, “…you go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go.”

And we are all better for it.

But nobody collaborates at work when employees fight for a 3.8% merit increase. And nobody works with human resources professionals if we lie to our workers about a “fair and impartial performance review system” and act as if we’re doing them a favor by barely keeping their wages above inflation.

If you want to create a great culture, start with the basics. Try collaboration, which is rooted in trust. How do you get your workers to believe you? Well, as HR professionals, we could all start doing our jobs a little better.

What’s our job? Work isn’t a democracy. Employees are rarely shareholders with voting rights. We are the first line of defense against unchecked hegemonic corporate power run amok.

We are the descendants of the modern civil rights movement. Our jobs are cool. Our jobs are noble. We do important things like protect workers and end discrimination. We make history without making up fake stuff about culture.

But okay — you want to talk culture instead of trust and collaboration? I would ask: How many women serve on your board? How many LGBT leaders do you have? How many workplace accidents have you had? What does your HR data say about fair pay and equal opportunity in your company?

I could play this game all day, by the way. How many veterans have you hired? Do you hire burn victims and amputees? Do you have an outreach program to employ people with traumatic brain injuries? What are you doing to improve disabled and long-term unemployment in America?

Your job is to ensure that every employee — or applicant — is treated with respect and dignity. Not just the CEOs but the chief toilet scrubbers and the chief parking attendants, too. So praise good work across the board. Embrace organizational strengths. But be honest and transparent about your weaknesses — all of them — from hiring to promoting to paying people.

And stop trying to make culture a thing before you make collaboration a normal behavior in your workplace.


Yesterday, I told you that I’m going to cover the four components of a great company culture. Those components are creativity, collaboration, curation and continuity.

First up? Creativity.

I’m not talking about the kind of creativity energy that emanates from a bunch of knowledge workers — under the age of 30 — sitting in a room and talking about video games.

(Those workers are imaginary, by the way. They wouldn’t be in a room talking about video games. They would be wearing headphones and playing those games.)

I’m talking about creativity that hits you in the face and expects you to apologize for being in the way.

Great cultures are driven by artists who are on a relentless search for truth and beauty. The best artists are both selfish and selfless, seeking to satisfy an internal desire for excellence while simultaneously believing that their quest will benefit all of humanity.

And, by the way, those artists come in all shapes, sizes and ages. They’re not just Gen Z interns, born after 1995, with poor posture and acne.

Creativity is subversive, coarse and shocking. Creativity is enmeshed with contradictions and complications. Creativity is authentic and abrasive. Creative people can be reasonable and charming; however, bold and original thinking often starts from a place of discomfort and despair.

You don’t have time for creativity.

You don’t even want your employees to make eye contact. You want them to communicate on Slack so you can document it.

Creativity eats up organizational time and patience. Creativity kills systems required to sustain capitalism. Your company is up against release dates and timetables. You have to ship widgets and chunks of products. I don’t know any CEO or HR leader who has time for artistic or imaginative thinking beyond his ego.

What you call creativity is activated laziness. It’s nothing more than a slavish pursuit of modern trends meant to outgun your competitors. And that’s okay. Activated laziness is often enough to win your vertical. But truly creative people who work for excellent cultures don’t have time for your imitative and uninspired hunt for what’s next.

So please stop bragging about your company’s awesome culture unless you have a commitment to embracing the brash and fearless creativity required to sustain the backbone of an intrepid culture.

And, let’s be real, you don’t.


I’m all over the internet talking about culture because you want to lie to me, and I’m sick of it.

* The Culture Myth
* Company Culture is a Myth
* What Defines Culture?
Cult or Culture? It Takes More than a Makeover to Make Your Company Great

(There’s more. So much more. You can google it.)

You want to tell me that your company has a culture. I say that culture is bigger than work. It’s the manifestation of intellectual and human accomplishment. It’s the pursuit of truth and beauty. And it’s bigger than beer in the fridge.

This week, I will cover the four components of company culture: creativity, collaboration, curation and continuity. Those four elements are only possible to discuss once you do the basics: pay people well, treat them with dignity and protect their civil rights.

Are you ready for candid “HR talk” on my blog?

(I’m not.)

To kick things off, I have a post up on The Hiring Site where I ask my fellow talent advisors to weigh in on culture and then I make fun of them. I’m also doing a webinar with The Conference Board of Canada where I’m talking about social media and culture in the workplace.

(You can email them and ask for a 50% off discount.)

Stay tuned for more. I hope you enjoy the posts. I want you to challenge the status quo, even when the status quo tries to tell you that it’s edgy and disruptive.

(It’s not. You are being duped into forgetting about what’s important — equal opportunity, diversity, inclusion — and being sold on forced fun and ping pong tables in the office.

I don’t blog to read my words. (I could just be a graffiti artist like Banksy.) I blog about the fake allure of culture with the hope that you stop lying to yourselves and your workers about company culture.

People keep asking me if I’m going to LinkedIn Talent Connect.

It’s complicated.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about a LinkedIn hackathon that very few people actually read. I was like, “Is today the day that I woke up looking stupid?”

Here’s the summary: LinkedIn held a recruiting event, disguised as a non-technical hackathon, that perpetuated sexist and outdated myths about human resources — a function that’s actually doing okay. LinkedIn came across as elitist and ageist. They also used marketing language for the event that insults their current buyers — those HR people and recruiters who are allegedly broken and old.

Then some dude at LinkedIn wrote an adorable and emotional response to my post, which probably wasn’t approved by his boss. His heart was in the right place; however, nobody read his post, either. Much of the comments are reactionary, uninformed and somewhat offensive.

Welcome to the internet in 2015.

Then my name showed up in forums and tweets. I received eerie messages via email and social media. It was tough to differentiate between the messages from weirdos and the messages from LinkedIn employees who were defending the company brand. (Sometimes it was one in the same.)

I’m busy, so I reached out to someone who works in LinkedIn’s HR department and asked if we could talk. Apparently, LinkedIn was going through an Outlook to Google email migration and my emails weren’t coming through. Or she didn’t want to speak to me. (Both could be true.) We finally connected on my third attempt to reach her.

We spoke on the phone, or rather, she took my call on speakerphone so she could take notes — probably with lawyers in the room, but maybe not. (That’s how I would have done it.) We also spoke in the afternoon, Pacific time, because no other time matters when you work in the tech industry. I postponed dinner to have this chat. That’s how much I wanted to resolve this weirdness.

No good deed goes unpunished. The HR lady at LinkedIn wanted to know what I wanted from her, which is a legitimate question. LinkedIn doesn’t control the internet. People write what they want to write. What’s the big deal?

I said, yeah, that’s true. But she ostensibly becomes my HR lady for a few minutes while I vent about how stupid this whole process feels.

Then I focused on solutions, something she can’t  do because she is a non-strategic HR lady (according to her hackathon).

I said — I have zero relationships with anybody at LinkedIn, unlike other large enterprise software companies. I could come to LinkedIn Talent Connect on my dime and reintroduce myself to her bosses and the leadership team. I said — we could start fresh, establish relationships and have a less combative relationship. Fantastic suggestion, right? Excellent olive branch, yes?

I haven’t heard from her since.

So my opinion of the LinkedIn business model is unchanged. LinkedIn is like the Ashley Madison of HR. The only reason you go there is to cheat on your current employer, and your data gets hacked.

And I’m probably not going to LinkedIn Talent Connect.

I’ve been feeling a little tired and worn out, as you know, so I’m trying to choose a better attitude. A friend suggested that I approach my toughest challenges as a student.

Go slowly, be curious, and get ready to fail.

Part of me was like — screw that. It sucks to be a beginner. And then part of me was like — students have it so easy. All you have to do is pass the final. Nobody remembers the grade.

So here’s me being a student:

I slowed down on running. I’m trying not to reinjure my pelvis. I’m learning more about my anatomy, which, as I type this, seems weird. I AM 40 YEARS OLD AND LEARNING ABOUT THE ANATOMY OF MY PELVIS. But it’s true. There you go.

I spent the summer talking to HR nerds and reading some books on talent and recruiting. It’s a pretty boring endeavor, but I can’t claim to be an expert if I don’t know stuff. (That would make me like the rest of the HR blogging industry — talking about myself with no endgame.) Thus, HR shit. Look for my stuff in an upcoming webinar called, “HR Trends in 2016: Mama Needs Prime Oceanfront Property.”

Finally, I’m learning how to think before I respond. It’s my worst habit. Causes lots of problems. I’m quick on my feet, quick with a sarcastic quip, and killing my best relationships with a flippant remark. I have to watch my responses, too, because my cynicism is contagious. Just because I hate something doesn’t mean that everybody has to hate it. Hating things is my thing, dammit!

So I’m chilling out, trying to take it slow and watch things unfold before I respond. I give myself a C-, which isn’t quite the honor roll but counts as a passing grade.

I’m an older, non-traditional student. Better late than never.


Years ago, I dreamed of being a full-time career advice columnist. You can’t work around human resources professionals for twenty years without learning a thing or two about how to succeed without even trying.

But career advisors are a dime a dozen, and very few of them make money by writing. Some of them do coaching. Many of them are resume writers. And while most of them are right and offer solid advice, very little of what they publish resonates with the broader market.

That sucks. People won’t pay attention to (or pay for) common sense.

So here are ten truths about work that I have learned from my colleagues and mentors. You get them for free because they’ve been bubbling up in my brain.

  1. The bar is low. You only have to work 5% harder than the average employee to yield better results.
  2. Relationships move markets and careers.
  3. Be interested in solving problems. Fix jammed printers and talk to unhappy customers.
  4. Be candid. Forthrightness will always beat the buzzword du jour.
  5. Never ask a question you can answer yourself.
  6. People remember two things: if you are late for a meeting or if you smell like body odor.
  7. Your job is whatever your boss asks you to do, and it’s always bigger than your job description.
  8. There is no policy manual or handbook that can force you to act like an adult.
  9. Kindness is the best office currency.
  10. You only have your word. If you compromise your integrity, it’s over.

Some of these points are more challenging than others. As I read through them, I cringe at how many mistakes I’ve made during my lifetime. If you are in a career rut, or if you have some ongoing conflict at work, my single biggest piece of advice still stands: get some emotional distance between yourself and your job.

Struggling at work? Get a hobby, find a new job or spend more time with your kids. A wholly differentiated human being, with varied interests and skills, doesn’t have a meltdown about her job. She shrugs her shoulders, hugs the people who matter, and forgives those who cause trouble.

And if you’re really struggling, try starting a blog and offering career advice. It’s the single best way to get clarity on your own values and beliefs about work and life.


They say that HR and politics don’t mix. That might be true.

Before I took my hiatus, a friend offered unsolicited feedback. The Presidential elections are heating up in America. He told me that my pro-choice views might cause companies in the HR technology industry to think twice before working with me.

I was advised of the following.

  1. “Politics makes the HR audience uncomfortable. Drop it.”
  2. “Your pro-choice values are divisive, at best, and offensive to about half of your target market.”
  3. “Abortion has nothing to do with HR.”

He was pretty clear. It’s okay to make fun of Donald Trump without pushing too hard, but if I want to work as an advisor, I should think like a savvy marketer and portray myself differently.

“Things are going well for you, Laurie. Your name is everywhere. I’d stick to cats.”

Yeah, man. That’s a lot right there. So much rage, which is why a summer break from my industry was a good thing.

Now that I’m back, I guess I don’t like my career that much because I’m still tweeting about how I support abortion on demand and without apology.

Very simply, I trust women.

I trust women to run companies.
I trust women to run families.
I trust women with their bodies at all stages of pregnancy.

You either trust someone, or you don’t.

You may not agree with me, but — and I say this with as much sincerity as I can muster — I don’t care. I know abortion makes some people uncomfortable. It might make you uncomfortable as a reader, and I can see how you might believe that a blog or Twitter account that focuses on HR doesn’t really need to discuss abortion rights and reproductive freedom in America.

But if you don’t trust a woman to make educated decisions about her body, how can you trust her to make tough decisions under complex circumstances in your company? If you don’t trust her to think logically during intensely emotional times, how can she lead your company? And if she doesn’t have a shot at leading your company, how can you say that you believe in equal opportunity?

More importantly, if I wanted to be bossed around by people with dissenting opinions, I’d still have a traditional job in human resources. And while I might be boxing myself out of some assignments by expressing my beliefs, I’m okay with that. I gave up a good career in HR (well, debatable) to be the boss of my own fate.

I also know that I work with plenty of people who hold opposing viewpoints on everything from abortion to taxes who are reasonable and thoughtful human beings. So I’m not too worried.

And, now that I’m back from hiatus, I’m even less inclined to accept unsolicited advice. You can’t tell me anything, dear colleagues, especially when it comes to a woman’s right to choose. Most opinions don’t change on this topic, so don’t even try.

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