In this week's review of great new business books: An indictment of the "leadership business" that is actually making leaders worse; and an exciting tool that, for the first time, quantifies leadership effectiveness. Also: one of the earliest-and best-books on mindfulness.
Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time
Jeffrey Pfeffer is fed up. In his decades studying businesses as a Stanford professor he has seen "too many leadership failures, too many career derailments, and too many toxic workplaces." Pfeffer lays much of the blame on conventional wisdom that is out of touch with reality: for example, that leaders should be modest, authentic, and invariably honest. Leadership BS (is the profane title a nod to Pfeffer's frequent collaborator, No Asshole Rule author Bob Sutton?) draws on both research and anecdotes to explain why behaviors like self-aggrandizement and prevarication are often desirable-even necessary-for leaders to succeed. Pfeffer takes aim at a leadership industry that gins up the myth mills to feed public hunger for heroism and inspiration. (Simply recognizing that a leadership industry exists may help readers cut through the bull.) Leaders, Pfeffer argues, should learn by studying evidence: established records of what others have done and what has worked. "But the leadership business is filled with fables," he writes. "In autobiographical or semiautobiographical works and speeches, in the cases and authorized biographies leaders help bring into existence, and, in their prescriptions for leadership, leaders describe what they want to believe about themselves and the world and, more importantly and strategically, what they would like others to believe about them." Pfeffer has what Ernest Hemingway once characterized as "a built-in, shock-proof crap detector." Get one while supplies last.
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The Leadership Capital Index: Realizing the Market Value of Leadership
Like Jeffrey Pfeffer, Dave Ulrich worries that our approach to leadership is too subjective. Investors know that the quality of leadership significantly affects a company's market value. But how do you put numbers on something so intangible? In this book, Ulrich, a business professor at the University of Michigan, proposes the creation of a leadership capital index-akin to financial confidence indexes such as Moody's or Standard & Poor's-that would "move beyond casual and piecemeal observations of leaders to more thorough assessment of leadership." Ulrich divides the index into two domains: the individual (personal traits and competencies of the CEO and key team members) and organizational (systems designed to manage leadership throughout the organization). As Ulrich works his way through everything from physical presence to management of information flows, he lays out what may be the most exhaustive analysis of the nuts and bolts of leadership every committed to print. The book's utility for investors is obvious. But leaders and those concerned with developing leaders will also find it invaluable.
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And From the Backlist
Ellen J. Langer
"Mindfulness" has joined the buzzword pantheon of late, chiefly in reaction to our tech-fueled state of constant distraction. But Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer was writing about it a quarter century ago, and her seminal book remains among the best on the subject. A tool to accelerate personal growth and professional development, "mindfulness" is now equated too often with meditation, writes Langer in a preface to the 25th anniversary edition, released last year by DeCapo/Perseus. She considers that definition too limiting. "Regardless of how we get there, either through meditation or more directly by paying attention to novelty and questioning assumptions, to be mindful is to be in the present, noticing all the wonders that we didn't realize were right in font of us," Langer writes.