Deceptive Leadership

Deceptive Leadership

I have been an admiring reader of Jeffrey Pfeffer’s work on Leadership for many years.

All that went out the window this week when he published an article in Forbes magazine titled: “Why Deception is Probably the Single Most Important Leadership Skill.” (Forbes, June 2,2016)
Pfeffer described the world of truthfulness, candour and transparency as being illustrative of “the kumbaya nature of leadership advice.” Really??

He advocates that it is OK to:

  • create false expectations in order to influence a persons performance
  • deceive others by creating placebo effects to create self fulfilling prophecies whereby an “idea produces behaviours that make the idea, even if originally false, become true.”

He says that leaders should not display uncertainty and insecurity even if they do not have “a real understanding of where they are heading.”

Notwithstanding that, in Australia at least, such conduct may constitute the criminal offence of deceptive and misleading conduct under the CorporationsLaw, this is just plain morally and ethically wrong. Do not do lie to those who put their trust in you.

Pfeffer attempted to justify his position with references to great American business leaders who successfully adopted this approach as a means to the end of creating business success.
No wonder so much of the world of business is in diabolical trouble.

If you can:

  • level with your followers
  • tell the facts
  • affirm your determination to go forward, even in the face of difficulty
  • provide believable next steps that will allow others to step up
  • be honest about the possibilities of success,

you are a leader.

If you can’t, you should not be in a formal leadership position. No matter what your title says, you are not a leader. Get out of the way and let someone else with the fortitude to say what is so and provide realistic next steps, come forward.

In the world of ontological leadership, this is a great example of inauthenticity at work. Pfeffer’s advocacy of deception is a sad but powerful example of the inauthenticity of inauthenticity. Shame on you, Professor Pfeffer.

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