Hip Hip Hooray for Lies and Deceit?

Accountability Authenticity Organizational leadership


Key Point: Jeffrey Pfeffer is a well-known Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. His new book is Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time. Unless I’m missing something, Pfeffer is apparently suggesting we could all be better off accepting a little more lying, inauthenticity, arrogance and deceit. After all, that’s the real world I guess? 

According to a Sept. 9, Stanford blog by Eilene Zimmerman, in Leadership BS, Pfeffer argues that one reason the leadership industry has not been successful is that its recommendations are based on an “ideal world,” rather than the real world. “Among the prescriptions for better leadership is that leaders need to be truthful, when in reality, the ability to lie can be very useful for getting ahead. Pfeffer emphasizes manipulation skills are a foundation of social power. In fact, he says there is a reciprocal relationship between power and lying: The powerful deceive more often, and the ability to deceive effectively creates social power.

In the end, Pfeffer suggests we would all be better off accepting that our leaders are generally not truthful, authentic, modest, or trustworthy. Instead, they’re largely the opposite of the message we get from popular motivational leadership stories we hear. ‘All those stories and the inspiration we get from them change nothing,’  he says. ‘The fundamental problem with this industry is the disconnect between what we say we want from our leaders and how they actually manage organizations.'”

So I guess Stanford should add “Effective Lying and Manipulation 101” to their elevated curriculum? Why? That’s the “real” world? I must admit that that I have not read Pfeffer’s entire book, so maybe the summaries I’m reading miss some key context. However, I do agree with one thing he says: There is too much of a disconnection between what we say we want from our leaders and how they actually manage organizations. Still, I strongly feel the answer is MORE authenticity, modesty, truthfulness and trustworthiness: NOT less! I am part of a profitable 77-year-old company with leadership that absolutely believes and behaves that way. And we make lots of money for our shareholders too. We’re not perfect, but people who intentionally lie, manipulate, act arrogantly or breed mistrust, will not succeed in our workplace; regardless if Pfeffer thinks that’s the real world.

On a related note, Pope Francis, who is in the spotlight as he visits the U.S. this week, is the leader of a large institution and community. Authenticity and transparency has been his personal theme and one that has not always been the way of his predecessors. His personal behavior from the very moment of taking on that role is consistent with that theme, and he’s definitely driving spiritual and even social change among his constituents. I’d be deeply disappointed if in his private life he dined nightly while sipping Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru, etc. I just believe he’s the real deal, whether I agree with his religious tenants or not. He’s proving to be a very effective leader to date. I hope I’m missing something in appreciating your work, Dr. Pfeffer, but let’s not give up on authenticity, truthfulness, openness, and humility because you think it’s not real. Let’s just all get better at leading that way. We need more leaders demonstrating that we can achieve extraordinary results without having to compromise ourselves.

Character Moves: 

  1. Authentically stand for values that are genuinely meaningful to you. Accept that you are human and will occasionally lapse. Forgive yourself, and get back on track. If you think someone “gets ahead” because they’re better liars, more manipulative, skilled actors and arrogant, well…?
  1. You and I deserve to work for an organization with top leadership that declares in detail what it stands for and acts that way most if not all the time. This does not mean hollow plaques and words on the inside of an annual report. 

Truth in The Triangle, 


One Millennial View: You know when you watch network news and they’re desperately trying to fill their 24/7 media agenda with stories or polls that are clearly just ridiculous time fillers or devil’s advocacies? This research seems similar. Millennials like myself may not always be in the “know” with the inner workings of upper management, and can be quick to be cynical and distrust the information that is trickled down to us. Being uninformed why a deal didn’t go through, or why some new project disintegrated can be fuel for this, but we don’t HAVE to assume it’s because we’re being manipulated or lied to. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis