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Spark - choking on Leadership/t

Fad - an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived; a craze.
— Definition

Spark has taken a massive bite one of leadership's latest fads and is now choking very publicly. As Stuff reported – they are demanding that staff either sign up to a prescriptive set of work place practices or consider themselves redundant.

Putting aside the legal perspective (where Spark argue they can do what they like and employment experts are questioning this), what are they trying to achieve? If it is to alienate staff through threats, devalue managers and management by mindlessly embracing the latest fad and shoot themselves in the foot culturally – well done. It is, however, hard to work out how this fits with Spark’s stated focus of “Cultivating an inclusive workplace of diverse and engaged staff.”

Let’s be very clear, the leadership industry does not exist to further the human condition, it exists to make money. And they have done exceedingly well. Organisations have devoured the material they have put out for decades even though the techniques sold vary from commonsense to brainless. Over the past decades they have helped us morph from management and people to leaders and followers. The result - a generation of managers (with exceptions) who have no idea how to manage or relate to people and believe themselves to be leaders biting staff to turn them into zombie-like followers.


Leadership is sold, and devoured, as a cure all. It is the snake oil, if not the management religion, of the 21st century. Through the decades where the selling of leadership has thrived we have seen stock market crashes, accounting scandals headed by Enron, the dot com bubble burst and the great financial crisis. Agile, scrum managers and lean six sigma black belts (the latest product offerings) are simply techniques for running projects in a technology and software environment. They have been repackaged and sold as latest “one true way”.

Like all industries, if you want to know what is going on – follow the money. A two-day introductory course in Agile costs around $1,500 per person. Spark embracing agile means that money will be flowing to training organisations in vast quantities. But importantly, the training organisations have to, in turn, pay to be ICAgile accredited which, for the international accreditation agency is a licence to print money. Pop on to their web site and your bullshit detector will soon be sounding.

We collaborate with worldwide agile thought leaders to develop learning programs that lead people to agile mastery.
ICAgile-accredited courses meet the highest level of standards developed by worldwide agile thought leaders

If there is one phrase that should alert you to the fact you are being ripped off or, if you use it, have been brainwashed, is thought-leader. The Auckland DHB clearly had a sense of humour when they advertised for a thought leader for a third-tier management role. Let’s reserve thought-leader for Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs.

Back to Spark. It seems, admittedly from the outside, that they are trying to introduce management by prescription, by recipe. This simply is not possible as management is an art. An art that, when performed well, creates a positive, thriving environment that encourages and nurtures people and results in positive, thriving organisations. Managers gain experience by managing and relating to people. There is no short cut, there is no easy way and there certainly is no training course or methodology.

Spark has a wide range of people on its Board and on its “leadership team” and I hope that they are able to wake up in time. Their published, dubious “leadership” rhetoric that they are “up front and front up” and “own and sort out things that need fixing” is being put to the test.