Leadership BS by Jeffrey Pfeffer – My Six Lessons and Takeaways

Leadership BSLast Friday, I presented my synopsis of Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time by Jeffrey Pfeffer. It is a good, disturbing, challenging book.

In my handout for my book synopses, I always being with this section: “Why is this book worth our time?” Here are my reasons why Leadership BS is worth our time:

#1 – We have this fantasy view of finding a wonderful workplace. Reality says that’s not going to happen.
#2 – Everyone agrees there is a serious shortage of good leaders and good leadership. We assume that “leadership training” will produce better leaders; many better leaders. That is not happening!
#3 – If what we have been doing has not worked and is not working, what do we do? It starts with measuring and fixing – start with baseline measuring, and then measure outcomes.

Consider these thoughts from the author:

But in a world with too many disengaged, dissatisfied, disaffected employees, and workplaces with too many leaders and aspiring leaders losing their jobs, I feel compelled to make the best case I can for what’s wrong with leadership and what might be done to change things for the better. By calling BS on so much of what goes on, this book gives people a closer, more scientific look at many dimensions of leadership behavior. Most important, it encourages everyone to finally stop accepting sugar-laced but toxic potions as cures. 

Leaders fail their people, their organizations, the larger society, and even themselves with unacceptable frequency.
Leaders fail themselves:

Leaders fail their customers:
Leaders fail their stockholders:
Most perniciously, leaders fail their employees.

Here are some observations and conclusions I drew:

My attempt at simple phrasing. The “Leadership Industry” is not working, i.e., is not producing better leaders. What to make of this?

#1 — The illusion of value

  • The illusion of the value of Motivational Speaking
  • The illusion of the value of Leadership Training efforts (conferences; 
  • The illusion of the value of participant evaluations (they produce/reinforce 
the desire for “entertain me,” they do not actually “help me change”).

#2 – The “good idea, doesn’t work” appeal of: Servant Leadership; Authentic 

#3 – Most (nearly all) participants in leadership training do not do what they are taught to do (and plenty of “big name” leaders do not actually do what they themselves claim to do).

#4 – Statistics confirm: leaders are unhappy and insecure; employees don’t like their leaders, don’t like their workplace, and worry about their future.

• “Sermons” and lay preaching and pep talks will not produce change… So, what will?

#1 – Measurement, and measurement-prompted initiatives, will produce change. And, maybe, genuine realism will lead to change.

#2 — We are not being realistic about what actually works:

  • Inauthenticity works
  • Aggressiveness/assertiveness work
  • Acting and playing a role work (“immodesty” works)
  • The right amount of dishonesty works
  • And, apparently, leaders (and employees) self-centeredness work

• And here is a very important excerpt from the book about the “disconnections” between what is and what should be:

The problem with leadership is at its core a story of disconnections:

the disconnect between what leaders say and what they do;

the disconnect between the leadership industry’s prescriptions and the reality of many leaders’ behaviors and traits;

the disconnect between the multidimensional nature of leadership performance and the simple, noncontingent answers so many people seek;

the disconnect between how the leadership industry is evaluated (happy sheets that tap inspiration and satisfaction) and the actual consequences of leader failures (miserable workplaces and career derailments);

the disconnect between leader performance and behavior and the consequences those leaders face;
the disconnect between what most people seem to want (good news, nice stories, emotional uplift) and what they need (the truth);

the disconnect between what would make workplaces better and organizations more effective, and the base rate with which such prescriptions get implemented.

And I concluded with my six lesson and takeaways:

#1. It isn’t working; Leadership Training and Development isn’t working. We really should try something different!
#2. (“Buyer beware”). “Employee beware; Worker beware; Leader beware.” Everyone has to do what it takes to look our for self. Because, no one else will. Companies do not exist to nurture and care for people. And, if you get lucky and work for one that does, it may not do so (it likely will not do so) tomorrow (when it is bought out, or the leader changes).
#3. It turns out the good and noble thing to do may be the exact wrong thing to do. For example: Whistle-blowers are not liked, accepted, rewarded. In fact, they are (practically universally) punished.
#4. Whatever else you learn, learn this; provide value through your work for today and tomorrow. Your value from yesterday is no.longer.valuable to your company. And you will no longer be rewarded for the value you provided yesterday; you will only be rewarded for the value you can still provide.
#5. And, yes, I do not “like” much of what this book says. But, that does not matter much, does it?
#6. A quick thought about “stasis” and persuasion and change. This book is almost pure “stasis.” (This book brings us to a “standstill,” a “stopping point” — forcing us to stop, and think).


15minbb150My synopsis of Leadership BS, with my multi-page, comprehensive handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation, will be available soon at our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com (along with my synopses of many other useful business books).


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