Monday, June 09, 2008

What Men Don't Tell Women--And I'm Glad They Don't

Some of my favorite Success Literature titles come from the suggestions I find on the Downtown Women's Club website. Last month's newsletter from CEO Diane K. Danielson included a review of What Men Don't Tell Women About Business: Opening Up the Heavily Guarded Alpha Male Playbook by Christopher V. Flett.

Danielson's review begins with:

I just had to get my hot little hands on Christopher V. Flett’s book, What Men Don’t Tell Women About Business: Opening Up the Heavily Guarded Alpha Male Playbook, after it was labeled controversial and lumped in with Nina DiSesa’s Seducing the Boys Club (a previous Top Shelf “must read” pick - click here for my review). And, Flett was nice enough to send me one personally.

Now, here’s the thing. I liked the book. A lot. I’m just not sure what all the hoo-haa was about.

As promised, Flett gives us a view of business from the Alpha Male perspective. Having spent the first two-thirds of my career running with the Alpha Males, it’s dead-on. So I am a bit surprised that people find their behavior shocking.

Now, before the angry emails start, let me just say that like Flett, I’m not condoning this behavior or even endorsing it. It is simply a fact of doing business in today’s world where Alpha Males still run the show. Will they run the show forever? Hopefully not, as information and execution is usurping influence, and we’re warming up to the Obama style of leadership. But, in the meantime, Gordon Gecko’s “greed is good” is still the big biz mantra, and if you want to play with the big boys, and don’t get that, then you need to read this book (or at least rent Wall Street and The Godfather Trilogy).

Since I really enjoyed other picks by Danielson, most notably Girl's Guide to Kicking Your Career Into Gear, I thought this would be a neat tome on gender differences at work. It sat on my desk for a week or so, while I finished the biography on Isadora Duncan that I'd been reading. Nate picked it up first, skimmed it, and his response was, "Jeez, Kate, I know you read these things to learn how to get ahead, but please, don't act like the assholes in this book." Not long after, I read Yvonne DiVita's reaction on her super-savvy marketing blog, Lip Sticking. DiVita was particularly unnerved by the terminology Flett uses in the book, such as calling women who have children "Breeders."

I have to admit, I didn't finish the book. I made it though three chapters, and had to stop. I was glad it was a library book, and it could go back to the library instead of sitting in my house somewhere. I'm sure Flett would laugh if he knew about my reaction.

Part of what I really hated about the book was Flett's supercilious narrative persona. He introduced himself as a "reformed Alpha Male," but then described everything in the first person, talking down to the reader, making them realize how much better he was. I had a hard time thinking of his as reformed.

What also rankled me is the lack of responsibility shown by the Alpha Males idealized in the book. According to one scenario, an Alpha Male will "hunt down" office mates to do his work for him, leaving him free for the weekend--even lying to get out of work. Alpha Males are supposed to spend their time finding role models in older Alphas and delegating their own work to the office "losers."

Flett begins by saying that most women's career books advise women to stay away from Alphas, and that's a mistake, because Alphas are the ones who "pull the trigger" (make the deals), and staying away from them keeps them out of the success loop. Personally, if I worked with an Alpha Male, I'd probably be the one putting salt instead of sugar in his coffee, or ruining any work delegated to me by him. I'd be Lily Tomlin to her boss, Frank Hart, in 9 to 5. Really, I think Nate was right when he called the Alpha Male an asshole.

I think the real thing that struck me about this book, is that it captures the Neo-Con vision of the world brilliantly. In an overview of how business works, Flett began by describing the golden 1950s, when Alpha Males ruled the roost, and no one could get ahead without being one. And then, came the '70s, women in the workplace, the go-go '80s, and worst of all, the tech boom of the '90s. Women, techno-savvy Beta Males, and so forth all found a niche and the Alpha Male was put on the defensive. Flett spends a fair amount of time trying to convince the reader that the Alpha Male is coming back, and we had better be shaking in our boots, and preparing to pick up their lattes and create their presentations and otherwise kiss their asses.

All of this comes cloaked in the idea that he's trying to help women. Even though the business landscape has changed to favor the relationship-building and analytical, multitasking formulas that women excel at, even by Flett's own admission, Flett still insists that women must learn to act like and befriend Alpha Males. Mostly Fleet just likes to brag at how good he is at working with women clients. The whole book is one big ego stroke.

Really, I'm sorry I wasted my time on this. I'm sure Alpha Males succeed just fine on their own, but I have no desire to join their ranks. Like Nate pointed out, I'm not really longed for asshole-dom.

2 responses:

Rebecca said...

I own this book since my mom sent it to me after seeing it on Oprah, along with Cathie Black's Basic Black.

Basic Black is great, but I couldn't even get started on the reformed alpha male book. I don't know, the whole thing rubbed me the wrong me the wrong way. If someone wants it, I'll send it to them... ;)

Kate Hutchinson said...

Basic Black is on my list of things to read--I started it at the bookstore and loved the beginning.

I don't think you're missing much on Alpha Males.


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