Leadership BS by Jeffrey Pfeffer – A Reflection

I’m just about finished with my preparation reading of Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time by Jefferey Pfeffer.Leadership BS (I am presenting my synopsis this Friday at the First Friday Book Synopsis).

This post is a simple reflection. It is not about the content of the book. I will post on that, with my lessons and takeaways, after Friday. This is more a “how did I feel reading this book” reflection.

The novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, William Goldman, once said,

“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

He was partly referring to the futility of accurately predicting what movies would be successful at the box office. (Have you seen the box office numbers for the new Steve Jobs movie? Not very good!).

And, many years ago, I attended a three-day retreat with the late, great, church observer/consultant Lyle Schaller. He said (paraphrased):

“If you want to know why a church is growing in number, don’t ask the Pastor. He does not have a clue. And, if you want to know why a church is declining in number, don’t ask the Pastor. He does not have a clue.”

In other words, “Nobody knows anything.”

So, as I read Mr. Pfeffer’s book, I am sensing again that nobody knows anything – or, at least, nobody knows very much.

Leaders should be humble and modest. Except, most successful leaders aren’t. Leaders should care about the company more than they care about themselves. Except, most leaders care more about themselves than they do the company; certainly more than they care about the people in the company.

OK – one quote from the book:

Much of the oft-repeated conventional wisdom about leadership is based more on hope than reality, on wishes rather than data, on beliefs instead of science.

I think that probably nails it. We want a certain type of leader to be successful, but in reality, sometimes that kind of person – that “ideal leader,” if he/she exists at all, is not all that successful.

Nobody knows anything – but, this is what I think I know. There are a whole lot of leadership “experts” out there who don’t know very much either.

Oh, many (most) are well-intentioned. It just isn’t quite working.

Years ago, I first read Professor John P. Kotter’s line: “Most U.S. corporations today are over-managed and under-led.” Yep. True then; true now. And, I’m not sure we know how to fix it.



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