My career is dedicated to the passionate cultivation of leadership excellence. During my two-plus decades of study, practice and innovation on the subject, I believe now more than ever the choice to lead is an imperative for our future success—individually and collectively. When a colleague passed along a recent blog about Stanford Professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer’s new book Leadership BS (http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/
Pfeffer’s book argues that much of the leadership taught today is rooted in an ideal rather than real world. He believes that authenticity isn’t useful, that people should change depending on the situation, that lying is the norm and gets people ahead and that manipulation is the foundation of social power. Without a doubt, many people operate this way; is this the world in which you want to live? Are we in a race to the bottom or do we believe in transforming what is into what we want it to be?
Consider these stunning facts:
- A Harris Poll tells us only one in three Americans are happy
- A Conference Board Survey tells us more than half of the American workforce is unhappy with their jobs—a number that has been steadily climbing during the last three decades
- The American Psychological Association reported in 2010 that chronic stress in America is becoming a public health crisis with more than 44 percent of Americans stating that stress is a pervasive problem in their life and it is causing their children, family and other societal relationships to suffer along with rampant neglect of self-care
If we are doomed to endure workplaces where lying, manipulation and situational leadership is assumed to be the norm is there any hope for our personal or economic future?
Fortunately, American workers are telling us what they truly desire—and it isn’t deceitful leadership. According to a recent Boston Consulting Group Survey, employees most want to be appreciated for their work, to have good relationships with colleagues and superiors and a healthy work/life balance. An attractive fixed salary was ranked 8th out of ten factors. Nowhere did nefarious leaders appear on the list.
What people want are vibrant relationships in the workplace; money, title and position all rank lower than the satisfaction, ease and success that come from working with authentic, clear and productive individuals. How we create that environment should be the singular focus for leadership development.
Which brings up the one point on which Mr. Pfeffer and I agree—many in the leadership consulting industry have failed to deliver on their promises. Although we differ on the reasons why, his belief is that leadership development doesn’t work because ultimately we don’t reward “effective” leaders; I believe the issue is in the misalignment of the consultants and coaches themselves. One cannot be a part of the problem and attempt to solve it.
In order to secure business, leadership companies have promised external results and then tried to get there by using inner work. In other words, if an organization is motivated to pursue leadership development only because they want bottom-line results then focusing on authentic leadership skills doesn’t match. To get bottom-line results organizations have to value quality relationships and the individuals who comprise them by fostering leadership for its own sake. Only then will they achieve worldly success from this approach.
This contradiction in the leadership development industry is why I’ve stood outside the current wave of leadership hysteria. Before it was popular, I understood that leadership development doesn’t work until each individual is willing to honestly engage with it. Without becoming clear about one’s true motivations, aligning who you are and what you have to contribute with the organization’s mission and goals—it is impossible for an individual or organization to achieve the results both desire. And when individuals harness their leadership within organizations, success is not only ensured, it is fun, easy and exactly what everyone wants.
That’s why you will find me working with organizations that understand we are in a relationship economy—that their greatest assets are their employees. Rarely do organizations focus on cultivating an individual’s ability to engage in or be a participant in healthy relationships—if more did, the leader Mr. Pfeffer believes is real would soon discover deception and misrepresentation a fatally flawed approach.
The leadership industry needs to change and so do we. Our world isn’t working when we put external outcomes ahead of what truly matters—being at our best, inspiring it in others and reaching goals collectively. There is a way to get there—it is what I’ve spent 25 years and counting perfecting.
You can change the organizations in which you work and live. And it will only happen when individuals choose to lead—leading by being your best, being happy and fulfilled and knowing that this is the only sure way to the money, power and impact we all desire.