Today in Kickstart: Second thoughts about “servant leadership”

Managers who say they have no authority aren’t helping anyone. PLUS: Social media follower fraud is rampant

This is Kickstart—the daily morning management briefing on innovation, leadership, technology and the economy from the editors of Canadian BusinessSign up to get it directly to your inbox each weekday at 6 AM Eastern.

Good morning! Here’s what’s on our radar at the moment:

When bosses refuse to lead

One of the current trends in management theory and practice is the idea that managers aren’t there to command and control the workforce; they exist to serve employees—clearing obstacles, enabling growth, procuring resources and so on. This role-reversal can be a useful thought experiment for the whole team—but it can also muddle and complicate an important relationship and flatten a hierarchy that exists for good reason. In this helpful gut-check blog post, Jonathan Nightingale urges us to consider how “servant leadership” really works, and when it doesn’t:

Look, I don’t want you to abandon the idea of service. Focusing on the growth and well-being of your people is a rich and wonderful thing for a leader to do. When your teams understand that you’re there for them, that you are dedicated to their success, they will trust more, push more, and grow more. What I’m saying is that it can’t be the only tool in your kit. Own the authority of your role. If that authority is uncomfortable and you’re worried about wielding it poorly, then get educated. You can be a better boss than the ones you’ve had. Figure out when your duty of service is to the individuals on your team, and when it’s to the organization at large. Figure out how you want to act in the rare but real cases where those are in conflict.

Link: The Co-Pour

What to watch for this week

Coming up in the next few days of #cdnbiz:

  • Monday: The sixth round of NAFTA renegotiation talks ends today in Montreal. U.S. trade representatives indicated a slight thaw on topics including dispute resolution mechanisms and content requirements in auto manufacturing.
  • Wednesday: Statistics Canada releases the GDP figures for November 2017. October showed no change in economic output.

Earnings reports today

Canadian publicly traded companies of note scheduled to report quarterly earnings today:

CanniMed Therapeutics (CMED)

Coming later this week:

Tuesday: Metro Inc. (MRU); Wednesday: Open Text Corp. (OTEX); Thursday: Satputo Inc. (SAP); Friday: Imperial Oil (IMO)

“Follower fraud” is shockingly common

In the attention economy—where “influencers” charge real money to brands to talk them up on social media—having a big following is the key to success. So it’s no surprise that people have every incentive to artificially inflate the size of their audiences. This exhaustive dive into the business of buying and selling social media bots shows just how deep the rot goes:

These accounts are counterfeit coins in the booming economy of online influence, reaching into virtually any industry where a mass audience — or the illusion of it — can be monetized. Fake accounts, deployed by governments, criminals and entrepreneurs, now infest social media networks. By some calculations, as many as 48 million of Twitter’s reported active users — nearly 15 percent — are automated accounts designed to simulate real people, though the company claims that number is far lower. In November, Facebook disclosed to investors that it had at least twice as many fake users as it previously estimated, indicating that up to 60 million automated accounts may roam the world’s largest social media platform

Link: The New York Times

The white-collar future of unions

Organized labour started with blue collar workforces, but changes in the modern economy are shifting that decades-old convention: now it’s white-collar knowledge workers who are forming unions, while manufacturing workforces turn away. While the examples in this Atlantic piece are American, it’s not hard to see similar trends at work in Canada:

The number of people employed in professional and technical occupations who are members of unions grew by almost 90,000 last year, according to numbers released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The fields of law, arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media all saw substantial gains in the share of workers who are in unions, ticking up from around 4 percent in 2010 to around 7 in 2017. But these gains for unions are in stark contrast to the many high-profile failed efforts to organize less-educated workers in other parts of the country, usually outside cities. In 2017, after years of organizing, the United Auto Workers lost a bid to form a union at a Nissan plant in Mississippi. They failed to organize a Chinese-owned auto-glass plant in Ohio in November. The UAW similarly lost a bid to organize a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee in 2014.

Link: The Atlantic


  • The Trump White House has reportedly considered an out-there schemethat would nationalize a huge part of the U.S.’s next generation of mobile data networks, in an effort to block Chinese companies and China’s government for security reasons. Seems very unlikely, but an interesting peek behind the curtain. (Axios)
  • Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of flat-pack furniture giant Ikea, died yesterday at age 91(Bloomberg)
  • Cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck suffered the largest theft yet of digital currency—more than US$400 million. (Coindesk)
  • An ex-Googler explains why he left: “Google just isn’t a very inspiring place to work anymore.” Pompous and long-winded even by the standard of Medium essays, but makes four interesting arguments off the top. (Medium)
  • Streaming music services are going to have to give more of their fees to musicians. Revenue-share will increase from 10.5% to 15.1% over the next five years after a ruling by the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board. (Reuters)

Thanks for reading! Have a truly excellent day.