A couple of years ago, I had an idea for a new business magazine. I even wrote a detailed proposal and tried to pitch it to a publisher.
The publication, Handler, would be designed to serve all the people who work behind the scenes to manage today’s leaders.
My target audience would include vice presidents, senior PR advisors, talent agents, speechwriters, political operatives, executive assistants and, of course, employee communications specialists.
The tone would be edgy and somewhat dark; Waylon Smithers would be the mag’s unofficial mascot. The goal of Handler would be to provide sympathy, advice and a healthy dose of black humor to those who have the thankless job of making difficult bosses look good.
There would be lots of interesting departments.
A regular advice column, “Ask the Puppetmaster,” written under a pen name by an ex-Ronald Reagan aide, would respond to questions from handlers who need help getting out of touchy situations. “Dear Puppetmaster. My CEO has the worst fitting toupee I’ve ever seen, but no one is brave enough to tell him how stupid he looks. How can a broach the subject without being fired? Signed Sheepish in Seattle.” Or, “Dear Puppetmaster. I work for the president-for-life of my country and there are ten thousand people camped outside of the palace chanting for his head. I need an exit strategy. Any advice would be deeply appreciated! Signed Cayman Islands or Bust. ” And so on.
In each issue we’d also have a regular feature called “How the Mighty Fall,” in which we would showcase horror stories from handlers whose leaders couldn’t or wouldn’t take advice, leading to tragic results. For example, “I Told Jack Welch Not to Accept That Interview Request from the Harvard Business Review" or “In Imelda’s Shoes: Memories of Managing the Marcos’.” The writers, of course, would be granted anonymity if it were needed.
Handler would have a practical bent, with tips, tricks and techniques for improving your leader’s image and preserving your own sanity. “Ten Ways to Say No to your Leader While Leading Him to Believe You’re Saying Yes,” “What to Think About While You’re Getting Yelled At” and “When 60 Minutes Calls: A Handler’s Guide” would be reader favorites.
Every year Handler would publish the equivalent of Mr. Blackwell’s worst dressed list. The Adolph Awards, nicknamed The Little Hitlers, would list the world’s ten worst leaders, with special categories like “Best Dressed Despot,” “Sociopath of the Year” and the “Syphilitic Idiot Lifetime Achievement Award.” In the same special issue there would also, of course, be the “Dreamboat Awards,” recognizing the top five leaders (if we can find enough of them to fill out the list) who are easy to deal with, gratefully take advice, demonstrate humility and charm and always do the right thing.
The publisher thought my idea had merit, but it wasn’t quite their style. And so the proposal sits buried in my office somewhere, waiting for the day when I have the time and money to publish Handler myself. In the meantime, I'm building a file. Any horror stories or useful advice you'd like to share?