Is Contemporary Leadership Advice Really Just B.S.?
Renowned Stanford Business Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer wrote a doozy of a book in 2015 entitled Leadership BS. It seems some titles create more noise years after publication, and that appears to be the case with Pfeffer’s book. It is getting some play once again in small and large organizations.
The chapters inside the book claim contemporary leadership advice gets it all wrong. Successful business leaders, Pfeffer attempts to prove through a series of research studies and anecdotal examples, do the opposite of what is generally thought to be effective.
A few supported claims:
Businesses perform exceptionally well when people don’t believe the leader is trustworthy.
Anti-social behavior, such as tirades and emotional outbursts, are often the norm with the best business leaders.
Effective business leaders display vastly different versions of themselves, thereby undercutting the view that great leaders are authentic.
The best business leaders fake the emotions they need to project in order to achieve the outcomes important to the business.
Very depressing stuff.
Pfeffer builds a strong case, but makes a common mistake. He presumes leadership and financial success are both cause and effect. Or should be.
Great leadership doesn’t guarantee business or financial success. Instead, it promises to create the individual and team performance essential for that possibility. Great leaders help to make organizations deserving of success. They create the conditions for tremendous outcomes. The rest is up to a multitude of factors beyond anyone’s control.
Some people and organizations succeed financially and socially despite poor leadership, while others fail in the same arenas despite great leadership.
For instance, a leader can galvanize the most superb business and organization with the highest talent and still have a competitor bring a superior product or service to market and destroy their long-term sustainability.
Leaders don’t determine financial or business success. Instead, they influence the environment where many forms of success, not only the financial ones, have the greatest chance of becoming a reality.
Winning the lottery doesn’t require great leadership. It just requires a ticket. Winning at life, on the other hand, depends heavily on quality leadership. Without the actions of great leaders, success becomes a unidimensional quality of mere dollars and cents.
Now that’s a load of BS.