"The Half-Truths of Leadership"As a follow-on to a post from April in which I discussed Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management, by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton of Stanford's business school and engineering school, respectively, I'd like to mention the availability of an excerpt from the book that provides much food for thought.
The excerpt addresses the proposition that "the idea that we are well served to have leaders in control of their organizations is a half-truth."
Pfeffer and Sutton argue, with ample supporting evidence, that "Managers often have far less influence over performance than most people think," and go on to suggest, "Perhaps the best way to view leadership is as the task of architecting organizational systems, teams, and cultures as establishing the conditions and preconditions for others to succeed."
Pfeffer and Sutton also caution that leaders, though limited in their ability to make good things happen, can "make things much worse by taking actions that increase employee turnover and diminish employee motivation, as well as encourage lying and stealing, and by causing numerous other organizational problems." Which "suggests that avoiding bad leaders may be a crucial goal, perhaps more important than getting great leaders."
Pfeffer and Sutton emphasize that
Part of a leader’s job ... is to behave in ways that cause others to believe in the possibility of success of both the organization and the leader. To maintain the impression that you, as a leader, are in control and to take some actual control as well you need to start and sustain what we call the "leadership control cycle." The cycle begins when leaders talk and act as if they are in control, persuading key players that they have a strong impact on the organization. When changes happen to the organization, these changes are attributed to the leaders. The leaders believe they actually helped shape these changes, which gives them added confidence to complete the cycle and talk and act even more persuasively. Confidence thus becomes self-fulfilling, setting in motion behaviors that in fact make things better, whereby the leaders’ confidence is justified.Pfeffer and Sutton summarize by offering this takeaway lesson: "[T]he best leaders are smart enough to act like they are in charge but wise enough not to let their power go to their heads or to take themselves too seriously."
What you have above are my favorite excerpts from the excerpt. Since the whole piece is only a bit over four pages, and is packed with compelling information, it is well worth reading in its entirety.