So you want to be a leader: Being Authentic
“Leadership BS- Fixing workplaces and careers one truth at a time” by Jeffrey Pfeffer
I picked up this book at the library surprised at my find as Prof Pfeffer’s books are usually snapped up. But I’ve not seen this book displayed on booksellers list. It was hard reading and after one week, I decided to give it another shot. Afterall I’d Daniel Pink, Shawn Archor competing for my attention.
As his reviewers have commented, he offers no “feel good solutions”, he forces us to “confront uncomfortable questions about ourselves and our culture” rather than “rely on cool stories”.
This is not a review of the book, but excerpts of what I appreciate in this book as all other Pfeffer books on power and network. This book is highly recommended for introverts and SF and NF. It helped me reconcile the conflicts I’ve read in Leadership books and the biographies of successful leaders as well as others I’ve come across in my professional life.
1. Learning and adapting never stops.
Former US President John F Kennedy is widely considered as an inspiring figure and great speaker/ charismatic leader. (When I was younger, my dad would speak with so much admiration of this leader even though he’s never stepped foot on US soil.)
Thurston Clarke points our Kennedy was “one of the most complicated and enigmatic men ever to occupy the White House”: a man who compartmentalised different aspects of his life and who frequently said and did contradictory things. His most essential quality, the literary critic Alfred Kazin is quoted as saying, was “that of the man who is always making and remaking himself”.
With that perspective, I’m better able to reconcile the Kennedy of the speeches and the Kennedy from History class.
Great leaders, cite Pfeffer, including Mandela and Gandhi make and remake themselves all the time and adjust their behaviors to the situations they face.
Mandela can be at times a black nationalist and a nonracialist, an opponent of armed struggle and an advocate of violence, a hothead and the calmest mam in the room, a consumer if Marxist tracts and a close partner of Communists and in his presidency, a close partner of South Africa’s powerful capitalists.
Does that make them inauthentic? Pfeffer says, if so, who cares?
2. One of the most important leadership skills is to act like a leader, to act in a way that inspires confidence and garners support. Even if the person doing the performance does not actually feel confident or powerful. Acting is essential to effective leadership.
Harriet Rubin, writer and editor who knows many of the famous and iconic leaders such as Andy Grove of Intel, Howard Shultz of Starbucks said of the Intel leadership school.
The message: Act powerful and you become powerful.
According to Rubin, when people enter into leadership roles, they might not see the qualities that reside within them. Instead, people develop leadership qualities by practicing them, by acting then out and rehearsing them until they become natural and part of the individual.
Authentic leadership may not be desirable
Former Congressman and New York Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who sent pictures of his private parts to various women he met online, was if nothing else authentic. But in this case, his followers would require him to be inauthentic and practice self -regulation. It’s a good reminder to me, that at times when the other person makes me mad. I must practice self regulation and self control.
Another example would be when one goes through a very difficult time personally, but the organisation would require you to be true to your role, and your obligations regardless of your wants and desires, doing what will make you successful in the environment in which you are working. “After all, what if your real self is an asshole? ” (Note to self: I love this line.)
What does it really mean to be true to yourself? No one is born a doctor, lawyer, nurse or Olympic swimmer. (Hurray for Joseph Schooling.) We learn not only skills but also values and the culture that surround our particular jobs and organisations.
What does it mean to tell the truth?
By presenting our organisations as more successful than it otherwise is. Leaders affect companies ability to survive difficult economic circumstances. If employees believe that an organisation is going to fail, the best ones will leave first. Believing in success, people will expend more effort and exhibit more confidence and by so doing, thereby create success.
Many commentators would agree that one of the most impressive accomplishments of Steve jobs was to convince talented people that their working at Apple was the most productive use of their working time. The company would be successful and they would have a hand in changing the world. What is now known as “reality distortion”.
Is this self -fulfilling prophecy or not telling the truth depends on your view of ethics and rationale for lying.