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Sunday, 23 March 2008

Do these phrases drive you mad, too?

There are a couple of expressions that drive me to fury. Actually, that’s a lie: there are dozens.

They include “activist” which means a busybody, often bogus, who gets someone else – usually us taxpayers - to subsidise various witless, useless and often deleterious activities, and “iconic” – often meaning slightly better than average.

Because activists have big mouths they often end up running things, usually into the ground. Robert Mugabe was a typical activist, by the way, before he graduated to mass murder. One sure sign was that he wore a uniform, though he never fought.

Hitler and Stalin were archetypal activists. Che Guevara was an iconic activist, but I haven’t got time to go into him now.

Another phrase that gets my goat is “opinion-former” meaning someone who talks or writes shit fluently and has thereby found a way to get paid for doing so. Opinion formers on both left and right in politics, you may recall, spent years telling us Gordon Brown was a financial genius when idiots like me kept saying the numbers showed he was a mendacious bully who couldn’t run a sweetshop.

Yet another phrase that infuriates me is “management consultant”. They are used by people who can’t manage. Simple as that. Do you think Rupert Murdoch, Richard Branson or Warren Buffet use them? Of course not.

And who do you suppose are the worst managers of all? Politicians. 15 months ago the National Audit Office (NAO) spent a fortune of our money finding out that these smooth-talking reptiles are 100% bloody useless although the Bliar and now Gordon and his pals squander £3 billion of public (that means our) money on them –and rising.

The report didn’t suggest management consultants were sometimes useful. It said they are a total waste of space. The best example was when the Inland Revenue “outsourced” – another stupid word which usually means abdicate responsibility for - the need to save £105 million in labour costs. They gave the job to consultants who charged them £106 million.

I found those snippets in Rod Liddle’s Spectator column, which rarely fails to make me laugh.

Now that we no longer put our faith in God, there’s no end of substitutes coming up. Also in The Spectator I read a commercial masquerading as an interview (conducted by a fledgling opinion-former, I fear) with a couple of “leadership coaches”.

I was irresistibly reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s remark that “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches. He actually adapted this smart-arse remark from a wiser one by Aristotle: “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.”

What most of these people know is how to sell, which is best achieved by two means: flattery and large promises. “Don’t know how to lead, pal? No problem: give us lots of money and we’ll teach you. And how very wise and brave of you to admit to your shortcomings.”

As Mike Cook, an organisational psychologist who has, it seems, coached scores of executives at Whitehead Mann, the "leadership consultancy" put it: “So many businessmen or women fail because they lack the humility to admit they got things wrong."

Another smoothie, Philippe Truffert, who runs the Carpe Diem coaching business, echoed him. It seems people come to him because they want to learn to be better - a pretty profound observation. "The fact they are here shows they have humility, which is a great starting point …All the people I talk to are aware of their flaws. They are eager to learn to work and think in more constructive ways.”

Actually I think leaders work things out for themselves. These people’s clients are humble because they realise they haven’t got a clue, but too idle to work things out for themselves, and they can usually get the business to pay the bill.

A bit like the government, really, except the business in question is us – but thank God they don’t ask “activists”.

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