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Business Leadership BS
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2023  |  

If today’s leaders aim to transform the world amidst the abundance of leadership failures, frequent career setbacks, and workplaces poisoned by disengaged and mistrusting employees, they’ll need to start considering the cold, hard facts of reality and transcend the dangerous half-truths and self-serving narratives that dominate the leadership mythos.  Many of the commonly espoused conventional ideas about leadership are founded more on optimism than empirical evidence, on desires rather than factual information, and on convictions rather than scientific rigor.  It is not only impera-

tive to challenge much of this conventional wisdom but also to conduct a scientific inquiry into the functioning of leadership—both its strengths and shortcomings—and provide leaders, both current and future, with evidence-based guidelines.


People frequently embrace the feel-good narratives surrounding leadership without critical examination, which hinders their grasp of reality and their ability to effect positive change.  The counsel that leaders/managers receive from the extensive and ever-expanding pool of business leadership literature, articles, experts, and consultants is remarkably inconsistent.  Consider the following contradictory recommendations extracted directly from popular business books: Select a charismatic CEO / Opt for a humble CEO.  Embrace complexity theory / Aim for simplicity.  Transition into a strategy-focused organization / Minimize the time invested in strategic planning due to its limited value.  In fact, the more one digs into this, the more perplexing and confounding it all becomes.


For instance, Simon Sinek’s most promoted claims, such as his “Golden Circle” concept, which centers around the idea of “Starting with Why,” have been popular in the realm of leadership and motivational speaking.  However, the extent of empirical evidence supporting his claims can vary, and it’s essential to consider that his work is more conceptual and based on observations rather than empirical scientific research.  While Sinek’s ideas have resonated with many people and organizations and have been applied in practical settings, they are not necessarily grounded in rigorous scientific research.  His concepts are more anecdotal and provide a framework for thinking about leadership, motivation, and communication.


It’s important to acknowledge that the field of leadership and motivation is vast, with various theories and models, and there isn’t one universally accepted approach.  Therefore, the value of Sinek’s claims depends on how well they resonate with your personal or organizational values and goals.  But, if you’re looking for empirical evidence in the field of leadership and motivation, you may want to explore academic research, studies, and theories that have been subject to more rigorous scientific scrutiny.  While Sinek’s ideas can be inspiring and thought-provoking, they may not always have the same level of empirical support as theories developed through formal research. 

Marketplace of Business Ideas

The wonderful thing about the marketplace of business ideas is that it’s full of ideas.  The problem with the marketplace of business ideas is that it’s full of ideas based on very shaky evidence, if any evidence at all.  How do business leaders know how to evaluate these ideas, how to know which are correct and which will work for them, and how to know which ones to really invest in?  Seriously, whom should we believe with so many clashing ideas that are all pitched as the only management solutions we’ll ever need?  Here are just a few of the ever-increasing number of books on business leadership development:


What They Teach You at Harvard Business School: My Two Years Inside the Cauldron of Capitalism
What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School: Notes from a Street-smart Executive


Grow Global: Using International Protocol to Expand Your Business


Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less


Never Ever, Ever Give Up: An Inspiring True Story about Leadership, Commitment, Resiliency,

Happiness and Making Your Dreams Come True


Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away


Charisma: Seven Keys to Developing the Magnetism That Leads to Success


Leading Quietly: An Unorthodox Guide to Doing the Right Thing


Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life


Managing for the Short Term: The New Rules for Running a Business in a Day-to-Day World


Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends


Business Is Combat: A Fighter Pilot’s Guide to Winning in Modern Business Warfare


The Peaceable Kingdom: Building a Company Without Factionalism, Fiefdoms, Fear and Other Staples of Modern Business


Capitalizing on Conflict: Strategies and Practices for Turning Conflict to Synergy in Organizations


Managing by Measuring: How to Improve Your Organization’s Performance Through Effective Benchmarking


Managing with Passion: Making the Most of Your Job and Your Life


The Quest for Authentic Power: Getting Past Manipulation, Control, and Self-Limiting Beliefs


What Would Machiavelli Do? The Ends Justify the Meanness


Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies


Corporate Failure by Design: Why Organizations Are Built to Fail


In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies


The Myth of Excellence: Why Great Companies Never Try to Be the Best at Everything


Out of the Box: Strategies for Achieving Profits Today and Growth Tomorrow through Web Services


Thinking Inside the Box: The 12 Timeless Rules for Managing a Successful Business


Seriously—there is a business leadership book with the title “Thinking Inside the Box”?  What might our 3rd grade art teacher think about this?


What's even more troubling is that, due to the challenge of distinguishing sound advice from poor counsel, managers are consistently lured into adopting flawed business methodologies. This is exacerbated by the fact that consultants and other purveyors of ideas and techniques are primarily incentivized to secure business, occasionally acknowledged for delivering quality services, and rarely assessed on whether their advice genuinely improves performance. The incentive structure can even be more counterproductive, as a consulting firm may benefit from only partially resolving a client company's issues, which paves the way for additional engagements.


Despite the extensive literature, online content, blogging and public speaking on leadership, as well as the billions of dollars in financial investments poured into the leadership development advice industry every year, it is quite evident that these efforts have yielded minimal success in transforming workplaces or enhancing individuals’ career achievements.


On one side, we witness an ever-expanding leadership industry encompassing a vast array of resources such as books, articles, speeches, workshops, blogs, conferences, training programs, and corporate leadership development initiatives.  These resources have been in existence for many years, fostering a fairly consistent set of research-backed suggestions for enhancing group and organizational performance.  These recommendations include, among others, the importance of leaders inspiring trust, exhibiting authenticity, practicing honesty, prioritizing service to others, especially their colleagues, displaying humility and self-effacement, demonstrating empathetic understanding and emotional intelligence, and other similarly sensible guidelines.  However, on the flip side, there is a wealth of compelling evidence pointing to workplaces filled with disengaged and dissatisfied employees who lack trust in their leaders.  Their most commonly expressed desire is to seek alternative employment opportunities.  The consequence of this dichotomy is twofold: dysfunctional workplaces are prevalent, and leaders themselves face challenges, including shorter job tenures and an increasing likelihood of experiencing career setbacks and terminations.


The leadership development advice industry has failed.  Despite having good intentions, there is scant proof that any of the suggestions and recommendations of the loudest voices have yielded favorable outcomes.  And, I’m not the only one to see this.  Barbara Kellerman, a professor specializing in leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School and the creator of the Center for Public Leadership, concurs. She has recently stated that the field of leadership studies “has failed over its roughly forty-year history to in any major, meaningful, measurable way improve the human condition” and that “the rise of leadership as an object of our collective fascination has coincided precisely with the decline of leadership in our collective estimation.”


A significant issue arises from the fact that a substantial portion of leadership training and development has transformed into a kind of casual sermonizing.  It involves narrating inspiring tales of remarkable leaders and exceptional organizations, which, in turn, momentarily boost the spirits of the audience without causing substantial alterations in the typical workplace dynamics.  Empirical studies show that relying on inspiration as the primary basis for effecting substantial change is highly ineffective.  This also sheds light on why and how the leadership anecdotes we encounter, which frequently lack substantial validity, tend to exacerbate situations, potentially to a significant degree.  In fact, there is evidence indicating that, on occasion, it is reasonable for leaders aiming to progress in their careers to consider taking an opposing approach to conventional prescriptions.  


No Obstacles to Entering the Leadership Development Advice Industry

A major issue that contributes to the limited progress in workplaces and career development is the complete absence of any barriers to entry in the leadership sector.  No formal qualifications, rigorous research, comprehension of pertinent scientific data, or any other prerequisites are necessary to establish one’s credibility as a leadership authority.  It's open to all – anyone can author a book, engage as a leadership speaker or blogger, provide consulting and guidance, or establish a leadership development or consulting company.  On certain occasions, it appears that almost everyone ventures into this field.  Celebrity status and fame can also catapult one’s attempt to gain a share on the leadership development advice industry.


From what I can gather, there appears to be little correlation between possessing substantial knowledge about leadership and achieving success as a leadership expert.  To illustrate this point with just one of the many instances that come to mind, a group in search of a leadership speaker for a conference informed me that they selected a particular speaker because, as per an insider from the selection committee, she was charismatic and visually appealing.  Such common anecdotes align with the perspective that a significant portion of leadership education, whether in academic settings or within corporate environments and at the numerous conferences and conventions, prioritizes delivering entertainment, or “edutainment”, rather than truly aiding leaders or addressing workplace issues.


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