Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time

Author: Jeffrey Pfeffer

Reviewer: Bob Moore, CMC

leadershipIn Leadership BS, Jeffrey Pfeffer exposes how leadership really works and why so many leadership development efforts fail.  Pfeffer takes the position that much of the famously recited wisdom about leadership is based more on hope than reality, on wishes rather than data, on beliefs instead of science.

Using research findings from social psychology, sociology, and sociobiology, Leadership BS encourages readers to finally stop accepting sugar-coated but toxic potions as cures and to understand the realities of organizations and human behavior.

Pfeffer’s stated objective is to get readers to rethink leadership by focusing on the root causes of failures in business leadership. In calling BS on so much conventional wisdom, Leadership BS offers both a provocative, scientific examination of how leadership actually works — and how it doesn’t — and a prescription for leaders of the future and the present.

To make real change in leadership behavior, Pfeffer argues, we must get beyond the half-truths and self-serving stories that have resulted in what he calls the mythology of leadership. However, I found it a bit difficult to dig out the “fixes” referred to in the subtitle.

Disclaimer: I am concerned that the book had some great notable reviews by highly respected, best-selling authors and it was a finalist for the 2015 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year, yet 16% of the reviews were rated only one star. 

One reviewer stated that you should not read this book if you value the work of Bill George on Authentic Leadershipor Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf.  My conclusion is that this book will provoke conflicting feelings about leadership development.

You may begin to reach that conclusion from the following Table of Contents:

Introduction:  Things Are Bad—Here’s Why

Pfeffer bashes the billion dollar leadership industry by claiming that they only use half-truths and anecdotes to teach leadership.

Chapter 1. Why Inspiration and Fables Cause Problems and Fix Nothing

Chapter 2. Modesty: Why Leaders Aren’t

Chapter 3. Authenticity: Misunderstood and Overrated

Chapter 4. Should Leaders Tell the Truth—Do They?

Chapter 5. Trust: Where Did It Go, and Why?

Chapter 6. Why Leaders “Eat” First

Chapter 7. Take Care of Yourself

Chapter 8. Fixing Leadership Failures: You Can Handle the Truth


Before giving up at Chapter 4, here is one reviewer’s summation of the following chapters:

Chapter 1 – Your job is soulless and hopeless, but don’t expect me to help you.

Chapter 2 – Don’t be modest; be narcissistic.

Chapter 3 – Don’t be authentic; be fake to everyone.


I personally found Leadership BS a difficult read but continued to wade through the negative comments and was beginning to feel a bit depressed.  Then, I came across Pfeffer’s answer to a participant’s comment about finding the information he had presented.

Pfeffer responded, “I find it depressing that after decades of books, lectures, leadership-development programs, and all the other components of the large leadership industry, virtually every shred of evidence shows most workplaces filled with distrustful, disengaged, dissatisfied, despairing employees.”

I will also add that Pfeffer uses many extremely long sentences which appear to be the result of transcribing an oral presention.

Finally, on page 218 of 220 pages, I found the concept of Connections and Disconnections somewhat useful. Pfeffer states that the problem with leadership at is core is a story of disconnections.  A few examples include the disconnect between. . .

What leaders say and what they do;

The leadership [development] industry’s prescription and the reality of many leaders’ behavior and traits;

What would make workplaces better and organizations more effective, and the base rate with which such prescriptions get implemented.


Surely there is value in what Pfeffer, a distinguished scholar, has said in Leadership BS.  It just may be a difficult to find it and to be able to apply it.


The Talent Management Institute provides a variety of leadership development resources which have been well researched and I believe are free of the BS that Pfeffer desribes in his book.  Click here to learn more.


About the Author

jeffreyJeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he has taught since 1979. Prior to Stanford, Pfeffer taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois.

He has been a visiting professor at Harvard Business School, London Business School, Singapore Management University, and IESE in Barcelona. He has given talks in 39 countries around the world and received an honorary doctorate from Tilburg University in The Netherlands.

Pfeffer currently writes a twice-monthly column for Fortune.com, and in the past has written for Business 2.0, the CEIBS Business Review (China), Capital Magazine (Turkey), and for numerous other blogs in the U.S.  At Stanford he teaches a popular second-year MBA elective, The Paths to Power.

He currently serves on the board of Berlin Packaging and a nonprofit, Quantum Leap Healthcare.

Click here to order from Amazon: Current price is at $16.84 (272 pages Hardcover)

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