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Getting Beyond the BS of Leadership Literature

Every person who would seek to improve their leadership skills through a good book should be applauded. However, there are some things that a person can simply not learn from reading, and unfortunately, leadership might be one of them. In an article for McKinsey & Company, Jeffrey Pfeffer explores how to move past the simple leadership literature and develop tangible management skills.

From Theory to Practice

There is a wide array of leadership failures in every aspect of the world. From people not trusting their leaders to companies rating their own leadership low, this is a widespread problem. All of this concern has inspired some new literature to come about; however, this literature does a poor job of conveying the reality of management. The only evidence needed to support this is the fact that leaders continue to make mistakes after reading these books.

Not all the literature is ineffective, and some has done an excellent job of conveying how to be a better leader. The first problem though is that literature cannot be summed up into a few words and be applied to every person in any scenario. There is a huge disconnect in what people believe is true and what the reality of the affair actually is. The second problem is that leadership is often oversimplified. Real leaders are faced with dilemmas and problems that they need to experience in order to know how to best handle them. The final issue is that there is a tendency to categorize a leader as either good or bad. Leaders are complex and cannot be simply put into a box and categorized; there are too many facets to consider.

Leadership and the study of it should focus on the behaviors that are most useful to a leader, rather than trying to categorize personality types. The following are some lessons that Pfeffer has learned from reading different leadership books:

  1. Be relentless in building your power foundation (learned from Master of the Senate).
  2. Embrace ambiguity (learned from The Power Broker).
  3. Everything is not a popularity contest (learned from Steve Jobs, with caveats).
  4. Do not be afraid to adapt when the situation asks for it (learned from Team of Rivals).
  5. Master the power of influence (learned from Influence: Science and Practice).

As Pfeffer sees it, the best leadership examples are the ones where the reader can see the evolution of a person’s leadership style, because these best illustrate that leadership is a skill that gets developed like any other. It takes more than reading a few books. But–of course–reading still makes for a terrific start. You can view the original article here: http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/leadership/getting-beyond-the-bs-of-leadership-literature

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