BBC Capital

Syd Weighs In

Management mistakes — and opportunities

About the author

Sydney is a professor of strategy and leadership, and Dean for Executive Education,  at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and the author of 16 books, including Why Smart Executives Fail. Follow him on twitter: @sydfinkelstein

  • When management goes wrong, what does it mean?

    Business school professor and expert on executive failures, Sydney Finkelstein weighs in every-other-week on management and leadership issues.

    Among the topics he’s covered for BBC Capital in 2013: How managers waste time and sacrifice success by committing “meeting malpractice”, why micromanagement might not be so bad after all, how Apple as we know it could be history, why managers must guard against big data drowning out genius, and more.

    Click to see all Syd Weighs In columns. Scroll through the images above to see Capital editor’s picks for the best of 2013.


  • The end of Apple as we know it?

    When Apple introduced a lower-priced iPhone, many investors, managers, competitors and observers were focused on how this would boost Apple’s market share, especially in emerging markets.

    Perhaps of even greater interest, however, are what it meant for Apple as a company, and more generally, whether corporate cultures are fluid enough to accommodate abrupt shifts in strategy.

    Apple has been a modern marvel. Starting with the revolutionary iPod, the company’s former chief executive officer Steve Jobs spearheaded an attack on the established order in consumer electronic devices. A company that breaks the rules, changes the world, and does it all with panache and coolness is a tough act to beat. That is, until it starts cutting prices.

    It’s that new strategy that may signal not just a different way of doing business that changes Apple at its core, but also a culture shift at the company.

    (Getty Images)

  • Rescuing victims of meeting malpractice

    Are endless, pointless meetings a cruel fate all office dwellers must endure?

    The answer is, perhaps surprisingly, no! So many people are subject to “meeting malpractice” that it’s a wonder the trial lawyers haven’t caught onto this one yet. The good news is that somewhere out there there are some savvy managers who refuse to play along, instead holding on to the quaint belief that meetings are opportunities for smart people to learn, debate and discuss — and for accountability to be assigned for actions and results.

    So what is meeting malpractice? And what can managers and leaders do about it?


  • In praise of the much-maligned micromanager

    Many leadership experts have listed micromanagement as Public Enemy No 1 when it comes to running a successful company. But, when strategically applied, it can be a powerful tool not only to get things done, but to develop talent as well.

    Builders of giant brands, from Apple to J Crew, to Amazon were not only wildly successful, but Steve Jobs, Mickey Drexler, and Jeff Bezos all have something else in common, and it is directly related to their success — each is (or was) an unmitigated, unapologetic, micromanager!

    So when, exactly, does micromanagement serve a company and a leader well? When a leader has a vision for what the business should look like and is prepared to back up that vision with action.

    Not convinced? See what Syd Finkelstein has to say about why some micromanagers deserve our praise — not our scorn.

    (Getty Images)

  • Five chief executives who didn't make the grade

    The end of the year is a time to take stock of what has happened, what we learned and what we shouldn’t forget. One way Finkelstein does this: a compilation of the worst CEOs of 2013.

    To compile the ranking, questions are considered that eliminate the weight of big failures that were mostly beyond the control of the CEO, or bad performance that was due to industry-wide factors.

    So who made the list in 2013? You might be surprised by at least one name — from the outgoing CEO at a computer software giant to a hedge fund guru whose retail prowess leaves a lot to be desired, Sydney Finkelstein’s Worst CEOs of 2013.


  • Our fatal flaw in choosing the right leaders

    Why is it that we — from boards of directors to hiring managers to nominating committees to voters and more — don’t seem to get it right when it comes to choosing the right leaders? After all, the person at the top can make all the difference in the world, for better or for worse.

    Maybe it’s not as simple as the mistakes we know we often make, from preferring people who look and act like us to believing that we can size someone up from an interview. The single biggest problem — the fatal flaw in choosing presidents, school board leaders, or sports team coaches — might be that we believe we can predict the future rather than looking for a leader who can quickly adapt to whatever the unpredictable future holds.

    So, what are the best practices we could use for choosing our leaders? More importantly, what should we really be considering in order to get it right?

    (Getty Images)

  • Don't let big data drown out the genius of ideas

    The power of big data goes far beyond figuring out what we might want to know. Big data helps pharmaceutical companies identify the attributes of their best sales people, so they can hire, and train, more effectively. Big data can also help predict what songs are likely to be hits, which wine vintages will taste better and whether chubby baseball pitchers have the right stuff.

    But big data should not be confused with big ideas. It is in those ideas — the ones that make us conjure up the image of Albert Einstein — that lead to breakthroughs.

    Companies, like civilisations, advance by leaps and bounds when genius is let loose, not when genius is locked away and deemed too out of the mainstream of data-driven knowledge. That’s why it’s important for leaders to find a balance between numbers and thinking — to keep data from drowning out genius.

    (Getty Images)