Dirty Rotten Bloggers and Thought Leechership

Last week I had the opportunity to go and see F.W. De Klerk speak about the end of apartheid and the importance of leadership – something that Kate Griffiths-Lambeth covers in wonderful detail here. I then went to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the weekend. 

De Klerk spoke at some length about how the requirement of leadership is to stand for something, – not to just play back to the people what they want to hear in order to get yourself elected. It is an important distinction and a complicated one – is it arrogant to suggest that sometimes the leader will be in the best position to see what is best for the people? Is the essence of democracy enshrining of choice – or the enshrining of the choice of a leader? Since principles seem to shift over time how do you stand up for them?

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was great fun and one of the songs elaborated on what it took to be a great con man

“Give them want they want. Smooth and easy.”

So much of the content that we read is so similar to other content that it is hard to pick out

  • who is trying to make a point
  • who thinks in the same way as other people
  • who is just trying to sound ‘on message’ and give the people what they want

I’m pretty sure someone who has never worked in HR could read a few blogs/’thought leadership’ pieces and cobble them together into something that would get a good reception.

Top topics seem to be

  • Isn’t the recruitment experience a bit pants?
  • Aren’t performance reviews a bit pants?
  • Isn’t HR a bit pants?
  • Isn’t classroom training a bit pants?
  • Don’t we have too much policy?
  • Shouldn’t we have more diversity? 
  • Is x dead? (where x = engagement/thought leadership/ROI as required)
  • Shouldn’t we all use technology more?
  • Remote working is a good thing isn’t it?
  • Isn’t command and control a bit too commanding and controlling?
  • Isn’t Big Data an opportunity/a pathway to a dystopian future?

Maybe writing those is giving the people what they want? Maybe some of us are unwitting con artists and some of us are intentional con artists. Plenty of us will say we don’t write for the stats – but I bet not many of us would write if nobody read or responded. 

Maybe being unpopular is a sign of genuine leadership. Maybe the best thought leadership out there is so unpalatable or progressive that it doesn’t register, as it doesn’t fit into one of the categories above.

I’ve written posts on most of the topics above, so this is a reflection rather than a pop at other people. What would leadership in this space look like? Or is ‘social’, by its nature, more about collaboration than genuine creation? 

How can you tell someone exploring a topic from a stats hungry Dirty Rotten Blogger? How can you tell a thought leader from a thought leecher? 

Would it make any difference if you could? 


I don’t know who’ll want this post, but thanks to Mervyn Dinnen for the nudge



11 thoughts on “Dirty Rotten Bloggers and Thought Leechership

  1. I love this… and you are making me think.

    I put out a plea for a discussion on Leadership is Dead on the FB blog & I was half worried I’d look like I had no opinion and was just syphoning knowledge from others to regurgitate….
    I have a strong sense this is a trap I could fall into. Thought leecher, perhaps?

    I also had a strong sense, as I was trying to pull together a presentation/ session on Leadership that I was at the risk of spouting nonsense – cliche after cliche, not grounded in much more than my opinion and a few “thought leader-y” people.. and it felt.. flat… lifeless…rote… a bit bollocks to be honest.

    what has been joyful from the participation and commenting ( both on and off the blog) is that there have been themes (some of which I’d challenge, some of which resonate deeply) and points made that I believe help me to pull a more rounded, grounded session together – not just me spouting, but something weaved from collective wisdom…

    What I question and get curious about is much of the comment is very polite and conciliatory – and I wonder what more spiked, jagged and provocative comments or thoughts exist and are not being said there….and how useful they would be.. and how much of my learning and new insight comes when I feel provoked.

    Having said that, I don’t believe being so unpalatable that you are unheard is terribly useful. I equally don’t believe that being insipid and agreeable is either. but I do believe that people should write or say what is true for them, what resonates and interests….

    ah.. those Dirty Rotten Bloggers….. x


    1. I think there is definitely something in the ‘collective wisdom’ point that you make, I regularly get prompts that make me think harder about things but…or possibly ‘and’.. there is also plenty that doesn’t feel like it is anything but repeating other material. The pushing the boundaries bit seems a bit lacking, but that might be the nature of what is quite a progressive community (compared to standard HR practice). The truth isn’t palatable sometimes – I’m wondering how often we welcome what is palatable as opposed to what is different. It’s a toughy. Maybe I’m looking for the boundaries of the boundaries to be pushed…


  2. Hmmm. I have no idea what ‘a bit pants’ means, but I have been pondering similar thoughts as those expressed here recently. In fact, I’ve been stuck down a blogger rabbit hole for several weeks now. Every time I write something I think “this has been said before” or “everyone knows that, boring” and hit delete, or “this sounds like everything else you’ve written, which is basically ‘I think this mainstream HR idea is bunch of crap'”. Presumably this non-blogging indicates that I am unquestionably NOT a Dirty Rotten Blogger, but maybe I should become one to get ‘unstuck’. Look for “HR Should Get a Seat at the Table!”, “Why Employee Engagement is Your Best Strategy”, “Whatever Zappos is Doing? Do That.” and “Why Culture is STILL Eating Strategy for Breakfast” (typing that last one made me throw up in my mouth a little bit)…


    1. I can’t believe I missed those additions. I always enjoy your writing so I hope you unblock. At least we have ‘what would Zappos do’ to take some of the pressure off Google


  3. Thank you DDS. Interesting as ever.

    Some of it hits the intellectual solar plexis as I too have blogged on stuff that is “…pants”. We all have. And will continue to do so.

    I’ve said it before: we arrive at different times. Therefore we have to accept others are behind us and we are behind others in “enlightenment”. Let’s not pass judgement too readily on people. For if they are beginning on the path to something better I don’t think we help keep them forge greater strength to the “better” (we espouse) by saying “I knew this last year, come on, say somethiny new…”. We should say “thanks for expressing your thoughts on (e.g.) nu radical HR, you might also like this…”

    On the subject of thought leaders per se I devour a lot of content from so called TLs. I like/believe/use a lot of content; stories and research from TLs.

    There is also charlatan shite out there.

    We are all guilty in the rise of TLs. There is much in TLs that is necessary.

    To give us bravery, belief and boost our desires to be different. To not worry about standing out from drab conventional norms.

    Yes there are leeches, and rotten bloggers yet I have faith that collectively, we ensure the good rises to the top and gets the most attention.

    But please let’s not have too many more blogs about blogs about bloggers.

    We could all disappear up our social media arses else.

    Enjoyed this piece – thanks again.


    1. Just to add my 2 cents worth to this. Nothing overly original I’m afraid, but along the same lines as Perry’s comments. I interact regularly with HR professionals who are just starting out in their careers so conversations about parts of HR being a bit pants is new and enlightening for them.

      I think, once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to spot the rubbish stuff. It still hacks me off though when I see people posing as thought leaders on topics when they have no experience in that area though.


      1. My favourite one? People saying ‘why do you keep doing annual reviews?’ at organisations that are still doing annual reviews.

        I never object to new angles on old topics, but you see some clear examples of folk just essentially rehashing the work of other people. I’d rather they shared other people’s work rather than copying it…


    2. I love new voices and I love people exploring their thoughts about the profession. I like to hear people working/thinking out loud. I’m not cynical about thought leadership in the way some others are, I actually think it is a reasonable badge to apply to folk at the real frontiers of exploring concepts. I’m not sure I’m even asking for original content – but if people can’t bring a voice to it in such a way as to make it new and fresh (which can be done to even well trodden topics) then it feels a bit vapid. Then it feels like they are just playing things back to be crowd pleasers. And playing to the crowd isn’t leadership. Last blog about blogging for a while on my part 🙂


      1. Yep that’s a really good add on here David. You have made a good point with this piece anyway so agree, it isn’t about playing to the crowd; more jamming with them perhaps? Cheers bud.


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