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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Half-Truths of Leadership

"We are obsessed with leadership. Thousands of studies and books are devoted to it, and we still want more. So much is written about leaders because we believe that our fate, and the fate of our organizations, is in their hands and ought to be."

In fact, leaders have far less control over organizations than people believe, but they can be more effective if they understand leadership myths and use them to their organizations’ advantage. This recent article on the "The Half-Truths of Leadership" from the Stanford Business Magazine spells it out.

What Should Good Leaders Do?

  1. "Everyone expects leaders to matter a lot, even as they have limited actual impact. Leaders need to act as if they are in control, project confidence, and talk about the future, even while recognizing and acknowledging the organizational realities and their own limitations.
  2. Because leaders succumb to the same self-enhancement tendencies as everyone else, magnified by the adulation they receive, they have a tendency to lose their behavioral inhibitions and behave in destructive ways. They need to avoid this trap and maintain an attitude of wisdom and a healthy dose of modesty.
  3. Because the desirability of exercising total control is itself a half-truth, effective leaders must learn when and how to get out of the way and let others make contributions. Sometimes the best leadership is no leadership at all.
  4. Leaders often have the most positive impact when they help build systems where the actions of a few powerful and magnificently skilled people matter least. 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."

(Excerpted by permission of Harvard Business School Press. Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management, by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton. Copyright 2006 Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton. All rights reserved.)

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