top of page

Snake Oil - Why Leadership Development is a Ruse

In 1917, federal investigators seized a shipment of Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment. Prior to this, medicines derived from Chinese water snakes had actually proven to be quite effective in treating joint pain, due to their richness in omega-3 acids. So people were very receptive to snake oil as a treatment for all sorts of ailments. Jumping on the trend, less than scrupulous opportunists began bottling and selling oils processed from American rattlesnakes. But these oils were very low in omega-3 and provided no benefit whatsoever.

Clark Stanley, known as the Rattlesnake King, built an empire with his particular brand. With a flair for showmanship, a marginal credential (Stanley said he learned about the healing power of snake oil from Hopi medicine men), and claims that his liniment was the “strongest and best known for the cure of all pain and lameness,” Stanley amassed a fortune.

But there were two problems: first, was the issue of rattlesnake oil lacking any medicinal value; and second, posing an even bigger problem for Clark Stanley, was that his brand contained no snake oil at all. After the feds seized his product, they tested it and found it to be a concoction of mineral oil mixed with a bit of beef fat, red pepper and turpentine. The jig was up. Clark Stanley was exposed as a charlatan and the entire snake oil industry as fraudulent.

A very similar thing is happening today. Self-proclaimed consultants, many of whom are polished showmen, are on the road hawking leadership development seminars and workshops, promising to deliver the strongest cure for all your pain. But their snake oil has very little to no value. It may look, smell and even feel like good medicine, but it ultimately produces no lasting results beyond an occasional placebo effect. Businesses don’t need snake oil. There are no magic liniments you simply pour from a bottle labeled “five quick tips” and apply once in a while.

It seems the entire leadership development industry is shilling quick-fix-sugar-pills. People read books, invest in DVD programs and attend seminars, which feel like motivation, but actually just produce a sugar buzz. Nothing changes. There is no lasting transformation.

InitiativeOne is in the do-the-hard-work business, the go-to-the-gym-and-eat-right industry. Rather than focusing on the superficial, we help leaders look inside and align the heart and mind, helping them discover and develop the best possible version of themselves. Improved performance and effectiveness will resonate not from trite external behavior modifications, but rather from higher confidence, lower stress, and inner focus. It takes more effort and a lot more commitment. But the transformation will be real and the results will have substance. Leaders and their organizations end up stronger, healthier, and happier.



bottom of page