An unhealthy obsession

Feb 09 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Wayne Turmel's latest column here on Management-Issues lets rip against the current obsession corporations have with leadership training, arguing that much of it is hokum that stems from either corporate schizophrenia, hypocrisy, or outright lies.

What's more, he writes, after the tech boom of the 90's, most of the "real leaders" vowed never to return to traditional corporate life - and they haven't.

That just leave the risk averse and the just-plain-tired who went back into corporate jobs, Wayne says - not exactly the group you would look to in order to find tomorrow's leaders today.

OK, perhaps a little harsh, but you know what he's driving at . . . .

And things might be even more difficult for the traditional American corporation, he adds, but for one thing:

Studies show over half of managers dream of quitting in the next four years and working for themselves. 50 years ago that number was less than one in 10. Benefits and perks are the major compelling reason talented people stay in big companies. So what are companies doing? Slashing benefits and perks.

In fact I suspect that if affordable, transferable, health insurance did exist in America, the number of folks running for the doors would be much higher.

So is the lack of affordable health insurance acting as a break on entrepreneurial activity? Are traditional corporations full of legions of individuals too scared of losing their health insurance packages to dare strike out of their own?

It's an interesting thought and statistics suggest that at the very least, health insurance is playing a part in the emergence of a new breed of entrepreneur who is a long way from the middle-aged male ex-corporate drone of old.

A report from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that Americans between 55 to 64 are setting up small businesses at a rate 28 per cent higher than the adult average, the highest of any age group. The reasons cited for this? Diminished job security and a lack of pensions and health benefits.

In other words, as companies cut back on benefits, older workers feel they have nothing left to lose and plenty to gain by setting up on their own.

The same is true for Generation Y, who never fell for the corporate line in the first place and don't want to fall into the trap their parents did. Ditto many women or "mompreneurs", who are looking for better career options and, in particular, better work-life balance than corporate America seems able or willing to offer.

So while we're not quite at the stage of saying "will the last one to leave corporate America please turn out the lights", traditional organisations are going to have to change their mindsets pretty rapidly if they're going to avoid those lights flickering a few times in the years to come.