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Authentic Leadership

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership

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A Crowded Field:

I’m intrigued by the book titled “Leadership BS.” The premise is that much of the “stuff” we read in the leadership industry (and it is a vast industry) is bunk. Why? Because globally, leadership skills are horrible. If they weren’t, we’d have trustworthy companies, mostly engaged employees, happy constituents, and an amazingly advanced technological economy. I agree with the observation that something is wrong here.

At some point, I will likely provide a review of the book. For now, here are some thoughts on a specific topic that has me “stewing.” [UPDATE. I did, and you can find it here. And I hope you read this book, perhaps instead, but at least in addition to Pfeffer.]

Ethical Leadership

As I read through the book, I found that the author doesn’t (can’t?) see the root cause of the issue — instead, he provides much evidence that there is an issue. Further, I’m not sure where we are starting with what leadership is “supposed” to do? What’s the purpose of the organization their leadership is guiding? (More on that here.) I have many questions, and the book isn’t clearing things up for me. Instead, the author merely points out how much is we are spending on the industry. And leadership does not seem to be improving. But is it because people are not following the industry suggestions or because those suggestions are wrong?

Authentic Leadership

One particular segment of the leadership industry that is Pfeffer is taking to task is the so-called “Authentic Leadership” movement. Pfeffer believes that we all must engage in little white lies to smooth over our relationships with people and organizations. I don’t disagree, of course, and so if by authentic, we mean 100% always showing our feelings and emotions, then indeed no one is authentic. I don’t find that to be much of an argument against the goal of being an authentic person. That is especially true if, by being authentic, one includes the belief that one must be considerate of others as long as doing so will not violate a fundamental organizing principle in one’s life.

The Purpose of Business

There is no doubt in my mind that we struggle with the purpose of businesses and creating a work environment that allows for meaningful lives for employees. Yet authenticity isn’t one of the problems. Asking leaders to be authentic is not the problem. Being duplicitous, not living up to values, and not admitting that we are all flawed human beings would seem to be a problem. I’m hoping for some more discussion that isn’t so much an argument about definitions of words. That’s what the author promised. He still has a chance to deliver.

[Lightly edited on 9/2020 for our new website.]