Don't Fall for This Insanely Bad Business Advice

Why the Best Leaders Want Their Superstar Employees to Leave.” When I first saw the headline of this Wall Street Journal op-ed, I thought corporate America had finally flipped its collective lid. But after reading it, it looks a lot more like a sensational headline to get people to click. If so, it worked: The post was among the Journal’s most popular.

Turns out, nobody wants their top performers to quit. But when you hire the best of the best, you know that many are on a fast-track to the top. Since they’re not going to stick around forever, you may as well accept that and make the best of it, says business school prof Sydney Finkelstein, who wrote the piece.

CEOs who understand this new reality – that star employees call the shots – turn out hordes of executives who end up running other companies. That fuels their reputation as star-makers, which in turn attracts more talent. And a growing network of alumni is always an excellent asset for business development.

That sort of virtuous cycle might have been novel in the 60s, but today, it’s par for the course. Companies like GE, Procter & Gamble, IBM, McKinsey, Honeywell, American Express and Intel have been doing exactly that for decades. Which explains the need to amp-up the headline.

Business advice is not what it used to be. There’s so much content out there that writers and publishers have to come up with sensational headlines just to get over the noise. Sometimes the underlying advice is sound (a little aged, maybe, but sound) and readers don’t feel too badly about being duped. Other times, not so much.

Last week, venture capitalist John Greathouse wrote “Why Women in Tech Might Consider Just Using Their Initials Online.” After reading the headline, I thought for sure it was clickbait. Unfortunately, it was not. The writer really was advising female entrepreneurs to avoid investor bias by hiding their gender online.

I’m sure you can imagine the backlash that ensued. The Twitterverse had a field day:

I have no idea if conscious or subconscious gender bias exists in venture funding. I’ve heard a few accounts, but I’m not going to wade into the mud on this one. But I am certain that Greathouse had good intentions. The article even makes sense … right up to the point where he makes that spectacularly dumb suggestion. He did issue an apology, by the way.

There must have been a full moon last week. I also saw a syndicated “Ask Amy” advice column where the ever-helpful Amy Dickinson suggests that “men can bear children.” I kid you not; it’s right there in black and white in the Washington Post.

One of my top picks in the category of insanely bad advice belongs to author James Altucher, who got more than one million hits on his LinkedIn Pulse post 10 Reasons You Have to Quit Your Job In 2014, written in support of his bestselling book, Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Money, Live the Dream.

Ironically featured in the “best advice” category, Altucher makes an astounding number of sensational claims, including that “the middle class is dead,” employees are all “toilet paper now,” retirement plans are “for s**t,” you can’t “achieve abundance” working for a real company, and, if you don’t quit your job soon, “you will have no roof” over your head. Take it from me, none of that is true.

Altucher has also written that young people shouldn’t bother with college. Never mind that he has a computer science degree from Cornell and had several real jobs as an IT person for HBO, writing for and as a hedge fund trader. He always seems to forget the role his education and experience played in his subsequent entrepreneurial endeavors. The ultimate in “don’t do as I do, do as I say” hypocrisy.

If you want to go back a little further, there’s always former Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk’s infamous advice that young career-minded women should get plastic surgery because good-looking people “earn more money,” “have more opportunities for mentoring” and “have a wider choice of men.”

I seriously doubt if anyone will ever mistake today’s business pundits for Peter Drucker or Warren Bennis.