Why You Should Beware of Soundbite Leadership Lessons

Reflecting our ever-shortening attention span, publications are increasingly doling out leadership lessons in the form of soundbites. A recent Fast Company article distilled 32 such lessons from 32 business leaders, founders, and artists (artists?) in response to the question, “How do you lead during this time of rapid change?”
The so-called lessons ranged from the obvious:

Keep the Faith

… to the contradictory:

Be Passionate – “We have huge arguments about how to move forward. We had a blowout fight the other day.”

Play Nice

… to the completely unhelpful:

Turn Success into More Success – “The easiest way to keep a culture positive is to keep winning”

… to the, well, surreal:

Get a Groove On – “We play cool music (in our office).”

Is it just me or does it feel like something’s missing?
Don’t get me wrong. Concise phrases can be helpful if – and that’s a big if – they capture universal principles. Principles that apply across contexts, across situations. Principles that aren’t a given and aren’t trivial – applying them versus not applying them should lead to very different outcomes. Principles such as:
Strive to anticipate your customers’ needs
Continually evolve your business
Role model the behaviors you wish to see in others
Keep in mind that a single principle is rarely sufficient to help you navigate a complex situation. That’s why I’m interested in the set of principles that guide a leader. Not 32 single lessons from 32 individual leaders.
Beware of soundbite leadership lessons. Now that’s a principle you should adopt.
Make it happen.
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