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Flawed Advice and the Management Trap

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Flawed Advice and the Management Trap

How Managers Can Know When They're Getting Good Advice and When They're Not

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Irony: A professor says that consultants aren't always operating in the real world.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Chris Argyris says that management advice – the content of countless seminars by management consultants and human resource professionals – rests upon a discrepancy. The goal of a more democratic workplace with empowered, internally-driven workers contradicts the actual actions executives take to produce this result. Argyris contends that much leadership, decision making, corporate change and management advice lacks critical thinking. He urges executives to seek specific, testable, actionable advice. Role-playing and numerous examples show how advice givers may fail to understand the nature of the problems they’re addressing. This book is valuable in helping managers identify flawed advice and understand why so many management initiatives fail. However, the author’s own recommendations suffer from the same lack of testability. It just may not be possible to test for the effects of specific advice in complex situations. Still, this is an important book because it urges executives to think critically about the guidance they receive. getAbstract recommends this book to managers and to those who advise them.


The Major Reasons Management Advice is Often Flawed

Most management advice is flawed because it is "not actionable." It cannot be carried out or, even if it is put into action correctly, it may produce results that are contrary to what those giving the advice intended.

The reason so much advice is flawed is because people often have one theory about how their actions are supposed to lead to results, while they hold a second theory they actually use. Their deeply-believed, first theory is their "framework or design for action." Commonly, because people hold it so strongly, they are willing to "take risks to protect it." This happens even though they are really acting in accordance with their other theory, or "theory-in-use," those theories that "produce real, concrete actions."

Most of the theories that lead to action - called Model I theories - are based on a command-control model. The four key values of this model are:

  1. You should be "in unilateral control."
  2. You should win and not lose.
  3. You should hold back or suppress any negative feelings.
  4. You should act as rationally as you can.

About the Author

Chris Argyris is a professor at Harvard University's Graduate Schools of Business Administration and Education. He has written thirty-one books on organizations and the people in them. He has spent his professional lifetime studying organizations. His work includes designing new organizational structures and policies to help people become more integrated into their organizations, to reach their full potential, and to make the organizations more effective.

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