LEADERSHIP B.S.:  Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time

By Jeffrey Pfeffer

Graduate School of Business Stanford University

ASSESSING THE PERFORMANCE OF THE LEADERSHIP “INDUSTRY”

Workplace measures—e.g., engagement, job satisfaction—because we know leaders affect the workplace

Leaders’ career success & survival in their jobs

The availability of leadership talent to fuel organizational growth & fill vacancies

Organizational/senior management’s self-assessment of their leadership development efforts

ASSESSING THE PERFORMANCE OF THE LEADERSHIP “INDUSTRY”

The bad news:  on all of these measures, performance is horrendous and not getting any better

The good news:  “the problem is fixable—if the people in this room and their colleagues actually want to do something about it.” Jeffrey Pfeffer

Paul Schell from Adventis met with Jeffrey February 1st prior to his lecture this year at the 75th year HRPA conference and trade show held at the Metro Toronto convention centre from February 1st to 3rd. Jeffrey’s talk was very thought provoking and insightful with his insights on the research he has done exposing leadership in corporations, workplaces are horrible, high levels of workplace bullying and abuse, and leaders losing their jobs. Consulting firm Booz reported that in 2011, 14% of the CEOs of the largest 2,500 companies in the world were replaced—with turnover being highest in the 250 largest companies.  Leaders are failing and leadership development is failing.  After an enjoyable discussion with Jeff he agreed to provide me with his speech to put on our blog. Two of Jeff’s recommendations stood out for me. 1. Companies need to be more precise and scientific in their approach and 2. Seek expertise.  After over a decade of providing high level recruiting and staffing Adventis.ca has evolved into Adventis Solutions with the latest technology in driving unlimited traffic and cutting edge scientific assessments of all applicants to the companies hiring managers fingertips.

FIRST FACT:  A HUGE ENTERPRISE

More than 3.5 million entries on Google Scholar

More than 777 million results from a Google search using the term “leadership”

221,000 entries on Amazon.com

Estimates of between $14 billion and $50 billion spent annually on leadership training just in the U.S.

Virtually every business school and many other universities and professional schools have “developing” or “educating” leaders as part of their mission statements

WORKPLACES ARE HORRIBLE

Low levels of employee engagement

Gallup 142 country study reported only 13% of employees were engaged at work, with 24% actively disengaged

Gallup U.S. study found 30% engagement, 20% active disengagement

Steadily declining levels of job satisfaction

Conference Board data show a decline from 61.1% in 1987 to 47.2% 25 years later

Right Management survey of U.S. and Canada reported only 19% reported being satisfied with their job

Mercer survey of 30,000 employees worldwide reported that between 28% and 56% of employees wanted to quit

High levels of workplace bullying and abuse

10% of U.S. employees witness workplace incivility daily; 20% said they were targets once a week

Study of 1,000 employees in the U.K. National Health Service reported that 38% of employees had experienced one or more incidents of workplace bullying in the past year

A study of nurses in the U.K. National Health Service found that 44 %of the nurses had experienced bullying in the previous 12 months

No wonder that in a Parade survey conducted in 2012, 35% of U.S. employees said they would willingly forego a substantial pay raise if their direct supervisor got fired.

LEADERS LOSE THEIR JOBS

Conference Board in 2012 documented a decline in CEO tenure since 2000

Consulting firm Booz reported that in 2011, 14% of the CEOs of the largest 2,500 companies in the world were replaced—with turnover being highest in the 250 largest companies

Career “derailments” are reasonably common—and costly to both the individuals and the companies

E.g., one group of Stanford business school graduates reported that 60% had suffered a career setback at some point in their careers

An inability to master “organizational dynamics” is a frequent reason for derailment—but few if any companies incorporate training in organizational power and influence into their activities (because they don’t like the content)

LEADERS ARE FAILING

2012 survey by Harvard’s Kennedy School reported that 69% of Americans believed there was a leadership crisis

A DDI survey of 1,300 people around the world found that 1/3 did not consider their own manager to be effective

DDI’s 2011 Global Leadership Forecast noted that, “by their own admission,” leaders are falling short, with leaders consistently giving low marks to the quality of leadership in their own organizations

William Gentry, of the Center for Creative Leadership, in a summary of numerous research studies, noted that one-half of all leaders and managers are ineffective in their current role

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IS FAILING

Only 7% of senior managers polled by a UK business school thought their firms effectively developed global leaders

An Accenture survey found that only 8% of executives felt their company was effective in developing leaders

A survey of 1,367 executives by the Institute for Corporate Productivity reported that even among the best, highest performing companies, 66 % reported that they were ineffective at developing leaders and were getting worse

NONE OF THIS IS NEW, OR CHANGING

If we don’t change what we do, nothing will change

Not facing the “unpleasant” realities—hiding our eyes—will remedy nothing

RECOMMENDATION:  FIX THE MEASURES

No, or even worse, misleading and misguided measures of program, book, and talk effectiveness

Sales, revenues, bookings—under the assumption that the market is efficient in discerning useful content

Happy sheets (“smiley-faced” forms) to evaluate people’s experience/enjoyment of events

If you reward entertainment, you get entertainment

Few companies assess interventions using measures that assess effects of leadership development activities on workplaces or leaders

We know, from 4 decades of research, that the correlation between objective measures of student learning and student ratings of instructors is approximately 0.

We know, from studies of the overprescribing of opiates & antibiotics that seeking “customer” happiness is not always a smart policy

Bad/inaccurate measures are worse than no measures at all, because they produce bad decisions and choices.

RECOMMENDATION:  STOP CHASING “INSPIRATION”

Vlerick Business School’s (Belgium) website asks, “Looking for an inspiring management course?”

Australian Graduate School of Management’s website notes that the school creates “inspirational learning opportunities”

INSPIRATION IS A POOR WAY TO ACCOMPLISH CHANGE

Inspiration raises motivation, but only for a short time

Inspiration creates unrealistic expectations—for ourselves and others

We know how to accomplish change—measurement, priming, reminders, incentives

LEADERSHIP “STORIES”

Leadership stories are mostly not true—because they almost can’t be

Leaders are motivated to tell positive stories about themselves (self-enhancement)

Even when people try to tell the truth (e.g., providing eyewitness accounts of crimes or accidents), they are incredibly unreliable

Self-deception has been found by psychologists and anthropologists to be an adaptive trait (makes lying more successful)

After telling a story often enough, it becomes impossible to distinguish truth from fiction

RECOMMENDATION:  BE MORE PRECISE & SCIENTIFIC

Conceptual imprecision about leadership concepts and ideas makes it impossible to learn what works and why

Example:  charismatic leadership

Example:  authentic leadership

RECOMMENDATION:  SEEK EXPERTISE

No professional/scientific expertise or experience is currently required to be a “leadership expert.”  For instance….

Of an Inc. magazine list of the top leadership experts published in 2014, of the top 20,

4 (20%) had a Ph.D. in a relevant field

1 had no degree at all

2 had degrees in divinity or religious studies (“the leadership industry as lay preaching”)

5 did not have degrees in business

The “experts” (self-reported) expertise is, from their own websites and biographies, their ability to “speak”

RECOMMENDATION:  FACE THE TRADE-OFFS OF ENDS V. MEANS

“Are Americans bad at playacting?  And if so, should they try to get better?…gamesmanship and embellishment…are part of high-level soccer.  Players exaggerate contact….They turn niggling knocks into something closer to grim death.”

“Where Dishonesty is Best Policy, U.S. Soccer Falls Short,” The New York Times, June 15, 2014

RECOMMENDATION:  FACE THE REALITY OF EFFECTIVE LEADER BEHAVIOURS

Many of the most celebrated leaders engaged in behaviors and used strategies I am willing to bet are completely outside of what most leadership programs espouse or teach—no wonder such programs fail!

Abraham Lincoln

Nelson Mandela

Martin Luther King

Margaret Thatcher

LEADERSHIP REALITY

“Set aside what you would like to imagine…Machiavelli writes, and instead go straight to the truth of how things really work….Machiavelli teaches that in a world where so many are not good, you must learn to be able to not be good….The proper aim of a leader is to maintain his state (and not incidentally, his job)…there are never easy choices, and prudence consists of knowing how to recognize the qualities of  the hard decisions you face and choosing the less bad as what is the most good.”

“Why Machiavelli Still Matters,” by John T. Scott and Robert Zaretsky, New York Times, December 9, 2013

RECOMMENDATION

Teach people the social psychology of interpersonal influence, including ideas about…

The importance of similarity

The operation of confirmation bias and the importance of first impressions

The power of escalating commitment

If you want help, just ask

The necessity of building “presence”—acting and speaking with power

The requirement to be pragmatic and flexible

The crucial qualities of persistence & resilience

LEADERSHIP “DISCONTINUITIES”

The qualities and behaviors we claim we want in leaders are a) not what are actually correlated with obtaining leadership positions or b) what makes leaders successful in getting things done

A big difference between the “shoulds” and the “is”—between the world as it is and the world we claim to seek—a discrepancy that remains largely unacknowledged

Two questions to ask about the oft-touted & recommended leadership attributes:  1) is there much if any evidence that most (or many, or any) leaders actually display the desired behaviors and traits (measure base rates)?  And 2) since for the most part they don’t, what is the logic that suggests doing the opposite of the common prescriptions can make more sense, at least for the leader and maybe even for organizational performance?

ONE EXAMPLE:  MODESTY

Jim Collins in Good to Great highlighted Level 5 leaders who were characterized as being exceptionally modest (which is one reason why few of them were well-known prior to the book)

Modesty is a virtue

Modest leaders share credit, which encourages their colleagues to contribute more effort and feel better about themselves and their help in producing success.

BUT….

The Productive Narcissist by Michael Maccoby—many of the most venerated business leaders exhibited high levels of narcissism

Steve Jobs

Jack Welch

Larry Ellison

Donald Trump

Michael Eisner

Many, many, many systematic studies, using both experimental and field methods, show that immodesty—narcissism, self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and unwarranted self-confidence—reliably helps people attain leadership positions in the first place, and then once in them, positively affects their ability to hold onto those positions, extract more resources (salary), and even helps in some (although not all) of the dimensions of job performance

ONE EXEMPLARY STUDY

O’Reilly, et al., “Narcissistic CEOs and Executive Compensation,” Leadership Quarterly, 2013

Study of 32 CEOs of prominent high technology firms

CEO narcissism (as reliably rated by employees) predicted total compensation and a larger discrepancy between their own (higher) compensation and the pay of others on their team

CEO narcissism was positively correlated with tenure in the position

Conclusion:  narcissism is associated with higher pay and longer job tenures

A SECOND EXAMPLE: AUTHENTICITY

The authentic leadership movement (e.g., True North)

The idea is that people should be true to their real, inner selves, in part because others can see through attempts at deception and in part because people prefer to relate to those who share their real feelings and thoughts.

BUT….

Great leaders are great actors (and the evidence on people’s ability to uncover deception is sobering—they can’t)

Authenticity may be impossible, as we are affected by the roles we are in and by the situation—plus people change all the time

Authenticity is about being true to your own inner self;  but leaders need to be true not to themselves, but to what others around them need them to be

Alison Davis-Blake

Gary Loveman

SHOULD LEADERS TELL THE TRUTH?

George Washington and the cherry tree—a wonderful myth

Leaders lie all the time—with few to no consequences

Politicians

Government officials

Business leaders, such as tobacco industry executives, financial industry executives, automobile company executives, and the list goes on

Even in high technology—”vaporware,” “reality distortion field”

TELLING UNTRUTHS IS COMMON

Done to smooth over relationships

Done to gain an advantage in negotiations

Done to burnish resumes (or online dating profiles)

Done to make companies look good to analysts

Done to make sales

Done to keep supporters even in the face of setbacks (e.g., entrepreneurs)

Is incredibly common—one study found that the average person lies twice a day

TELLING UNTRUTHS IS SELDOM SANCTIONED

If it were punished, it would not be as frequent

What happens when firms misrepresent financial results?

What happens when companies backdated stock options?

THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF STRATEGIC MISREPRESENTATION

Can forestall opposition

Can smooth over difficult situations (like people’s actual chances of getting promoted)

Produces the “cheater’s high”—positive affect and emotion

Can create the reality that was originally fabricated, and in so doing, the untruth becomes true

FINAL THOUGHTS

To get from point A to point B, it is fundamentally essential that you know where you are, where you want to go, and what obstacles/barriers stand in the way.  Wishing and pretending accomplishes nothing.

One fundamental difference between management and medicine, that helps explain the progress in one and the absence of progress in the other, is the willingness to accept, even embrace, evidence and science and eschew wishful thinking.

Click her to see the full profile of Jeffrey Pfeffer  This lecture was brought to by  Adventis.ca

For more information about the Adventis Solutions where your company can hire a better fit faster contact Paul Schell, M. Ed.

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