As many of my regular readers are by now well aware, I have a problem with contradictory or paradoxical management advice.

I have, after all, devoted an entire series of posts to the topic, which you can link to by clicking here.

But contrary to what you may think, it’s not just that I find this phenomena to be annoying.

Or frustrating.

No – my intent in bringing this issue up again and again (and again) is because it’s the best way I can think of to demonstrate how very little—if anything—is known about good management, and its practice.

I mean, think of it. If physicists or astronomers contradicted themselves as much as management “experts” do, how much stock would we put in those sciences? (For instance, imagine an astronomer insisting that “the sun revolves around the earth,” and then immediately offering evidence that the earth revolves around the sun?)

And yet not only do management scholars and “scientists” engage in this sort of contradiction all the time – they seem to be either completely unaware that they are doing so, or simply don’t care.

So before I get to this week’s paradox – I’d like to offer you the following thought to keep in mind:

Maybe managing is still a relatively “new”—and therefore unexplored—science. Maybe some core management principle (or principles) have yet to be discovered and/or described.

That would certainly explain why no one can seem to get their story straight when it comes to how best to manage a group of people. It would also account for all of the contradiction and paradox I’ve found in the management advice literature over the years.

It might even explain why good managers are so hard to find.

Alright, so much for the preamble. For this week’s installment, an example from Adam Grant’s 2013 bestseller Give and Take


Give and Take

Admittedly, Mr. Grant’s book isn’t about managing or management specifically. Instead, it’s part of a growing body of self-help literature focused on achieving personal success in one’s career, and in life.[1] Or, as the book’s jacket describes it, Give and Take is about “the secret to getting ahead.”

(Presumably, though, managers would like to “get ahead” just as much as anyone else does.)

So with this in mind, I offer the following for consideration:

  • In his text, Grant makes a strong case for being what he calls a “giver,” as opposed to a “matcher” or “taker.” The data suggests, he insists, that those at the top of the “success ladder” are generous people (p. 7).
  • But givers don’t get to the top if they’re giving just to be “nice,” or “altruistic,” Grant adds (p. 10). Those who put others before themselves fair no better (and often end up worse off) than the matchers and takers. Instead, givers who succeed “are every bit as ambitious [my emphasis] as takers and matchers.” (p. 10).
  • Nevertheless, on page 26 Grant contradicts himself. Any giving you might do that is motivated by ambition or the desire to succeed, he now asserts, will likely backfire:

But if you do it [become a giver] only to succeed, it probably won’t work.


See you next Friday.



[1] “’Self-help’ books set to fill publishers coffers in 2014” by Viv Groskop, The Guardian (online), Dec. 28, 2013. Retrieved June 15, 2017.