Leadership BS | Jeffrey Pfeffer

Summary of: Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time
By: Jeffrey Pfeffer


Let’s dive into the world of leadership and debunk some myths. In ‘Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time,’ Jeffrey Pfeffer unveils the illusory strategies that many leadership gurus gloss over. From the misconceptions around the importance of self-promotion, authenticity to trustworthiness, Pfeffer discusses the paradoxes that business leaders often face. The book summary also elaborates on various themes like strategies for survival in the corporate world and understanding that great leaders can also be flawed. Join us as we uncover the reality of today’s business leadership landscape and learn what it truly takes to prosper in the competitive world of work.

The Myth of Heroic Business Leaders

Business leaders are often portrayed as heroes by business gurus, who craft appealing images and legacies of the individuals they glorify. However, these depictions usually lack realism and fail to present a complete picture. For instance, the story of Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, tends to omit his leadership style as well as issues of pollution, price-fixing, and fraud that occurred during his reign. By creating nothing but flawless biographies of leaders, we make it seem impossible to follow in their footsteps, resulting in the persistence of problems and the business gurus remaining in business. To inspire and bring about change, it is essential to recognize that our heroes have flaws and imperfections. Acknowledging these traits makes them more relatable and human, emphasizing that great accomplishments can indeed be attained by imperfect human beings.

The Power of Self-Promotion

Donald Trump’s success in business leadership stems from his effective self-promotion. Self-promotion is a way to highlight positive qualities, which can get you hired and move you up the corporate ladder. Research shows that interviewers rate job applicants higher when they show self-promotion skills, as it reflects self-confidence that rubs off on others. Additionally, confidence and overconfidence, including narcissistic tendencies, lead to higher social status and influence within groups. These characteristics benefit CEOs, especially narcissistic ones, who have a stronger desire for risk-taking and action. A study during the 2007 financial crisis shows that while companies led by narcissistic CEOs suffered initially, their personality led to increased chances of survival. Fearless dominance, a mixture of narcissism, glibness, and guiltlessness, benefits US presidents in terms of overall persuasiveness and the ability to manage crises.

Leaders Should Act

Leadership is not just about being authentic; it’s also about putting on a show and displaying different versions of oneself. According to Helen Rubin, leaders gain success by rehearsing the desirable quality until it comes naturally; it may not look “authentic,” but it is effective. Successful leaders teach themselves to act confidently, even when feeling unsure. It can be psychologically demanding and stressful to display positive emotions irrespective of one’s feelings, but it is necessary for good business. Companies expect CEOs to appear strong and smart in their interactions, and entrepreneurs must become confident and trustworthy leaders to attract talented employees, customers, and investors.

The Power of Lies

Lying is often associated with negative connotations, but in the business world, it can be an essential tool for those in power. Studies have shown that people in positions of power lie more frequently and easily because they are less likely to face the consequences of dishonesty. Leaders like Steve Jobs are known for manipulating reality to achieve their goals, and companies use deceitful tactics to establish friendly relationships with their employees. Using lies can help leaders smooth over difficult situations and take advantage of people’s natural predisposition for wishful thinking. Therefore, as Mark Twain once said, truth is a precious commodity that should be used sparingly.

Trust in Leadership

Being trustworthy is considered an important aspect of leadership, but research shows that many employees do not trust their leaders. Even with a lack of trust, organizations can still perform well. CEOs often need to change their minds and plans to react to changing circumstances, and it’s common for companies to break alliances and form new partnerships. However, when individuals breach contracts, it’s viewed as negative, but when organizations do it, it’s deemed a regular part of doing business.

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