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An alternative look on the rotten mentality of business leaders

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Leadership BS
Jeffrey Pfeffer
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An alternative look on the rotten mentality of business leaders.



Leadership BS is a book that challenges the other leadership books and tells the story of actual business leader’s mannerism, behavior and selfishness. Leadership BS stays true to its name and doesn’t hold back when it crushes the myths set by books and teachers.

It claims that the writers of business books are incorrect and made to look flawless in a pursuit to make the subject of writing as good as possible. Jeffrey claims, that this is what keeps the “Business gurus” employed. The book takes an alternative look on modern leadership and challenges the misconceptions and myths that we see every day.


In the book its, described that people writing leadership literature tend to romanticize heroic leaders and are willing to share their secrets in exchange for your money. The story of former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch is a great example of this misleading writing that the author is talking about. Jack Welch is portrayed as a man who valued every employee, injecting confidence in his employees on a daily basis and made long term strategies for his company. The writers don’t talk about GE-jerks. GE-jerk is a term that former employees of General Electric used to describe its workers.


Welch used a strategy called “rank and yank”, where every year 10% of their bottom managers were fired, no questions asked. Their former accomplishments or years long careers were irrelevant in this method, this resulted in managers, who became ruthlessly number oriented in pursuits if keeping their jobs.


According Pfeffer (2015), other things tend to be left out from the writing as well, such as price fixing schemes, numerous frauds he was involved in his career etc. These kinds of flawless biographies are really harmful and discouraging for people trying to learn and reach the positions of these leaders. They are portrayed as perfect and it seems unachievable, since everyone has flaws and they commit errors in their careers. Many people tend not to even try to achieve a lot of things their idols have because of false portrayals.


One example, the book provides on good biographies, is Michael Dyson’s biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. In his biography Michael openly talks about King’s flaws and even about his adultery. This made King more relatable and human. Author decided not to mythologize the historically influential man and tried to make him more influential and inspirational man and he succeeded.





Self-confidence and narcissism.


The book explains how self-confidence and even narcissism is a common factor in business leaders. For example, Donald Trump is known for not being modest. The man has his name on everything, Trump-tower, Trump-casino etc. This was all achieved because he knew how to do self-promotion (and a small loan of 1 million dollars). Self-promotion has made him 417th richest man in the world and his net worth is estimated to be 4 billion dollars.

Effective self-promotion tends to draw attention towards positive aspects of a person and their business and helps to climb the corporate ladder. Research has shown, that when looking for a job, people who are willing to self-promote, tend to get the job easier than others, since it’s a form of self-confidence. According to the Pfeffer (2015), this quality rubs off on other people and makes them feel better about themselves.


Narcissistic people are more able to cope with crisis because they are willing to take bigger risks to save themselves and their companies. These characteristics benefit people in power, and they receive usually better feedback than their non-narcissistic counterparts.



Authenticity is not important.


The book advices to worry less about authenticity and more about displaying confidence, even its not real. Athletes play through the pain, and leaders are expected to do the same. Successful leaders are putting on a show. They rehearse a quality until it becomes natural and part of their personality. In this case, the quality is not authentic. Andy Grove, former CEO of intel, used to out his workers through “wolf school” in this exercise, the people were exposed to situations where yelling and being cocky was accepted and even encouraged and this training was to jumpstart their confidence. Even they were not confident in something, they were taught in a way that they acted as if they were confident. Fake it until you believe it. Same sort of principle in 1979 sociological study, where subjects were to display positive emotions in every situation. This exercise proved to be challenging for the people attending but made great results but also that it’s great for business.


Lies in business.


Successful leaders use lies to make their business thrive and make their employees happy. In 2014 a study showed that people in position of power, lie more than others and tend to do it more easily. When talking about Steve Jobs, an Apple employee used the phrase “reality distortion field” to describe how Jobs used to invent his own reality about his company to reach his goals.


Other reason for lying for leaders, is to make difficult situations seem easier and not that serious and diminish contradicting interests. For example, another study in 2014 looked at various talent-management companies and found that the best policy in them was to mislead their employees and have them believe that they are on the verge of promotion. These kept workers motivated and were more friendly with each other in hopes of a fake promotion. “Since people tend to see themselves as above average, this method takes advantage of a person’s natural predisposition for wishful thinking”- Pfeffer Jeffery, 2015, Leadership BS.



Trust is an unessential trait in leadership.


One of the many positive things in being in a powerful position seems to be the ability to have the ability to not following through your commitments whenever you feel like it. People who work with the schedules of a powerful person, know that how volatile and uncertain their schedule can be. This is very contradicting to the books about leadership, where its told that trust is a key factor in any business that thrives and is an essential trait of the CEO. Truth is that, many businesses do exceptionally well, even when their employees have a terrible opinion on their supervisor’s trustworthiness.


According to various studies, people don’t trust their superiors and have the opinion that any deal can be broken rather easily with very little justification. When people in powerful positions, like leaders change their minds on a deal or something else, it’s not necessarily because they want to do something malicious, and they will explain that situations change quickly, and good CEO’s have to adapt to the new situations. It’s not uncommon for businesses to break their deals with partners and make deals with their competitors. A smaller company’s CEO, Jason Calacanis (Weblogs) decided to sell his company to his own competitor AOL and refused to partner up with big businesses, like LinkedIn or Facebook. According to him, they’re more likely to steal the innovative idea, create their own version and not even thank the company they stole the idea from.


A recent management study looked into contract breaching and the difference in people’s opinion about it was quite shocking: When a person breached a contract, it seemed evil, selfish and malicious “How could anyone do this”, but when a company did the same thing, it was seen as “an unavoidable fact of doing business – no big deal”.





Shifting blame.


According Pfeffer (2015), a successful leader places more importance on staying in power and shifting the blame when needed.


Many books for business and leadership love to tell their readers, that leaders should and do care about their employees, but when the situation is bad, the leaders use the power to protect solely themselves and not the employees. If a person expects their leader to look after them, they’re being naïve according Pfeffer (2015) and it’s wiser to except that the leaders will use the employees as scapegoats to protect themselves and to stay self-assured and confident.


Lack of loyalty.


No need for workers and employers to feel loyal to one another.


There are a few ways for businesses to protect themselves, their prosperity and power. One of the most terrifying way is a one that directly affects their employees, a round of layoffs. There are also others that affect the employees, such as relocating to cheaper premises, cutting things from budget etc. According to the book there’s an important message to be learned for the employees: “Protect your neck”. The writer states, that its foolish to think that you have to work hard and stay loyal to a company, that does not care for you.

Usually there’s a moral obligation between two parties, to honor and repay the other, but this concept rarely exists in business and means very little in the workplace.


There is a huge difference in people’s mentality towards their friends and colleagues. A 2015 study had an in depth look at people’s differentiation between personal and professional relationships and subjects were asked to imagine a situation where they were being picked up from an airport, either by a coworker or a personal friend. People attending the study, felt that they had a far more obligation to pay back the friend than the coworker.




Leaders in action.


Playacting, a great tactic especially in football, but also in other sports like basketball etc., which basically is when a player falls dramatically to the ground and fakes an injury to have the other team penalized and to gain advantage to their own team. This is a strategic move, since it costs basically nothing and could get their team a penalty kick or some other advantage. They might risk a yellow card though.


People in positions of power, use playacting but in a different way. They don’t fall to the ground and ask for their competitors to receive a red card and people can pick up on a leader playacting by keeping an eye out on their performance, instead of what they are saying.


Aspiring managers and executives pay attention more towards behavior instead of what a company or a leader might be saying. A company might have branded themselves as religious or environmentally aware, but the reality can be quite the opposite. This shows that leaders and people in powerful positions are not afraid to lie and use unethical means to reach their goals.


By most accounts, Steve Jobs was generally considered as a bully or even a jerk, and it was not uncommon for him to yell and belittle his workers. His attitude towards business and employees can be seen as toxic and harmful, he made Apple the apex of technology.




In conclusion, the book cracked many myths about the real situation of current businesses. Usually business books perceive the leaders and successful companies in the light that is more appealing and relatable to people not in those positions. It helps the writers to stay in business and write similar guides about different topics, keeping the same romanticizing tone. On the other hand, some writers set the biography or a guide to be too flawless, which can be intimidating and unrealistic for anyone trying to pursue the position they are reading about. According to Pfeffer (2015), flawless writing about historical figures, or similar topics, prevents a real change from ever happening. This book was quite controversial and the myths that it took head on, were quite widely accepted to be the truth. The examples provided in them backed up the claims and the reader ifs left wandering, that is most of the stuff learnt in class and training sessions just dreaming of a better world or is that the only way to really make changes in the cut-throat business world.



All the quotes are taken from Leadership BS – Jeffrey Pfeiffer.

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