Baby Oil Bruhaha and Burnt Thighs – Why You Should Be Wary of the Latest Management Fad

When I was 15, it was the ‘in thing’ to slather Johnson’s baby oil all over our legs, line up along the school tennis court and bake ourselves to death during the school lunch break. This bizarre ritual was an indication of our fetish for tanned-brown legs. Brown legs pretty much meant instant access to the uber cool club that I was uber desperate to join. So desperate, in fact, that I’d blindingly endure blisters on my flank just to become one of its members.

Of course, we all know now that this pastime was inadvertently turning our adolescent legs into skillets hot enough to fry an egg on, but there you go.

People do stupid things when it’s de rigueur.

Even CEOs and clever people who head up companies aren’t immune to the frying your legs fever, it just turns up in a different guise. It’s usually the latest fad coined by some consulting firm with a name made out of letters or an “and co” on the end of it. The baby oil in this case is just some snappy acronym or catch phrase like BPR, Six Sigma, or MBO…

Lemming like, executive teams rush to adopt the latest trend that promises to deliver the corporate version of tanned legs.

During my baby oil days, my wise mother would look on, bemused, plop a hat on her head and suggest I do the same. I scoffed at her advice.

Ain’t hindsight a thing.

The best leadership lore is timeless. It’s the corporate version of “wear a hat in the sun instead of baby oil.”

So the next time the latest BIG THING crosses your desk, shouting loudly that it’s the panacea for all your organisation’s woes – stop and think.

Is this latest technique just baby oil and are you just slathering it all over your organisation in an attempt to join the cool club?

Look deeper.

Read more about it.

Do your research.

And remind yourself that more often than not, the best leadership doctrines are as relevant today as when you were a fresh-faced intern.

Epictetus had some sage advice for leaders and he died 1882 years ago.

He said,

Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak.


Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.


First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.

And finally

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

Now that’s no fad, baby.

That’s no baby oil bruhaha.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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