Leadership & “BS”

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I’m currently reading the book “Leadership BS,” by Jeffrey Pfeffer. Interesting title, right (I joke with my best friend that when in a bookstore, she’ll go straight to the celebrity magazines, and I’ll go straight to the business leadership sections)!

Chapter 3 is titled: Authenticity: Misunderstood and Overrated. I laughed when I saw this chapter, because someone had asked me just the other day what I believed was the most critical leadership quality, and I had said Authenticity. Naturally, I had to find out what this Pfeffer dude was contradicting me for. Some notes I highlighted are paraphrased:

  • In fact, being authentic is pretty much the opposite of what leaders must do. Leaders do not need to be true to themselves. Rather, leaders need to be true to what the situation and what those around them want and need from them.
  • Being enthusiastic and confident is an essential quality for entrepreneurs
  • Late comedian George Burns: “Sincerity- if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
  • What the writing and speaking about authentic leadership does not do is attempt to empirically estimate base rates- how frequent or pervasive authentic leadership is. It is important to estimate base rates to assess whether authentic leadership is rare or widespread, and if it is rate, why that might be so.
  • By the way, one can, in the medical domain, find incidence rates for virtually all diseases and medical conditions, because in medicine, people seem to believe that it might be important to understand the scope, ecology, and geographic incidence of a phenomenon, none of which seems to be of concern to the leadership industry. (side note- this sounds like a challenge to me)
  • A scholarly definition of authenticity “Individuals who are ‘in-tune’ with their basic nature and clearly and accurately see themselves and their lives.”
  • But if you are both senior executives in an organization in a relationship…entails a high degree of interdependence, you cannot afford to not “like” the other person.
  • …In many respects you become the role you have been doing.
  • Sheryl Sandberg believes that women are often not quite pushy enough, does this imply that women need to become less “authentic?”
  • People make and remake themselves all the time and adjust their behaviors to the situations they face.
  • One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to act like a leader.
  • Act powerful and you become powerful.
  • People develop leadership qualities by practicing them, by acting them out and rehearsing them until they become natural and part of the individual.

My high-level reaction to this chapter is “Of course leaders have to put on a happy face sometimes, when they don’t feel like it. Of course leaders will continually change and grow (that’s in part what makes them leaders). Part of authenticity is integration- putting all the pieces of you together over time into a whole “that you love and understand” (thank you Lynyrd Skynyrd for that Simple Kind of Man song). I’m going to sleep on these notes, and consider which I agree with and disagree with. Thanks Pfeffer, for giving me some BS to seriously consider.

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