There Are No Pink Unicorns

Below is my proposal/synopsis for a management book I am writing on leadership.  I look forward to any thoughts and ideas you’d be willing to share.

There Are No Pink Unicorns

If you are thinking, “Not another book on how to manage,” take a deep breath because that is exactly what this is, not another book on how to manage.  It is a book on how to fail, something with which we are much more familiar.

Those management books are written by smart people, funny people, kids who climb on rocks…They are written by people with PhDs from places like Harvard and MIT, and for the most part are only understood by people with PhDs.

Most management books are written with one objective—telling managers how to succeed, telling them how to lead.  They are self-help books, written mostly by people who have never run anything more than a lemonade stand.  Most of these books blur the line between Cosmo and The Economist, and what they are—companies run by great leaders—are as rare as Pink Unicorns.

It is difficult to describe something to someone neither of you have seen.  What were you doing the last time you saw a unicorn?  How about a pink unicorn?  When is the last time you met Genghis Kahn to swap leadership secrets, or spent time with your kindergarten teacher prepping for a board meeting?

The popular management books address leadership traits as “secrets.”  That may part of the reason there are so many failed, failing, and under-performing businesses.  Referring to leadership as a collection of secrets imbues leadership with a certain unimpeachable mystique, something available to a select few, and something akin to the search for the Holy Grail or Noah’s Ark.  If great leadership or even good leadership is so difficult to witness and to attain, there is almost an implicit excuse for leaders who require leadership help to fail.

That got me thinking; would there not be more benefit describing something familiar to everyone, something other than Pink Unicorns?  Employees do not sit around the break room saying things like, “I sure hope Mr. Pufferdink figures out the secrets to why this place is so screwed up.”  Instead they say, “This place is screwed up.”  “Pufferdink is killing us.”  “Our customers hate us.”  They say these things to anyone who will listen—their spouse, the dog, the person sitting next to them on the flight to hell.  They tell those people because if they told the people at work, one of two things will happen; nobody will listen and nothing will change, or they will be fired.

At one time or another we have each attended the identical happy hour meeting.  It is the meeting where you and your colleagues, after several shaken dirty Grey Goose martinis, start to re-engineer your company.  The remnants of the tortilla chips and salsa are pushed to the far corner of the bar table along with the salt and pepper shakers.  You scoop the crumbs to the floor, remove your Mont Blanc pen from the inner pocket of your jacket, unscrew the cap, and begin to write on the damp bar napkins which held your drinks.

You realize quickly that your scribbles are melting on the wet napkins much like the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz.  You wipe the vodka rings from the table, grab a fistful of dry napkins from a passing waiter, and wistfully order another round of drinks for the new management team.  Stay with me on this because I think this point is key—within two rounds of drinks you have probably outlined an accurate list of several of your firm’s major problems, have begun to outline ideas about how to fix them, and have defined barriers to the successful implementation of those solutions.

How to lead and manage are not secrets, nor should they be treated as such.  The required skills do not require special conjuring by the three witches in Macbeth.  They require observation, an ability to ask basic questions, a willingness to listen, and the courage to understand that you do not have all the answers.

There are no Pink Unicorns defines the questions, the pain points, and how to break the cycle of Pink Unicorns.  It does so using language, ideas, and pictures that do not require a PhD to understand them.

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