Jeffrey Pfeffer is fed up. In his decades studying businesses as a Stanford professor he has seen “too many leadership failures, too many career derailments, and too many toxic workplaces.” Pfeffer lays much of the blame on conventional wisdom that is out of touch with reality: for example, that leaders should be modest, authentic, and invariably honest. Leadership BS (is the profane title a nod to Pfeffer’s frequent collaborator, No Asshole Rule author Bob Sutton?) draws on both research and anecdotes to explain why behaviors like self-aggrandizement and prevarication are often desirable-even necessary-for leaders to succeed.
Pfeffer takes aim at a leadership industry that gins up the myth mills to feed public hunger for heroism and inspiration. (Simply recognizing that a leadership industry exists may help readers cut through the bull.) Leaders, Pfeffer argues, should learn by studying evidence: established records of what others have done and what has worked. “But the leadership business is filled with fables,” he writes. “In autobiographical or semi-autobiographical works and speeches, in the cases and authorized biographies leaders help bring into existence, and, in their prescriptions for leadership, leaders describe what they want to believe about themselves and the world and, more importantly and strategically, what they would like others to believe about them.” Pfeffer has what Ernest Hemingway once characterized as “a built-in, shock-proof crap detector.” Get one while supplies last.
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.