Books: The Benefits of Doing What You're Not Supposed To Do

book Associations Now January/February 2016 By: Kristin Clarke, CAE

Three books make the case for doing the opposite of what you've been told, dealing best with impossible people, and breaking free from conventional cultures and constraints.

Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time

By Jeffrey Pfeffer

Renowned Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer has never been afraid to cut to the chase about leadership and business. Thus, anyone who found truth and (in)justice in his 2010 bestseller, Power, should be thick-skinned enough to take the heat in his latest no-BS lecture on the "enormous disconnect between decades of leadership writing, development, speaking, blogging, etc. and the sorry state of workplaces and leadership."

In Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time, a major lament is a lack of data to ground the science of leadership. Of particular concern to Pfeffer is that it is impossible to prove scientifically that five characteristics commonly credited to top leaders—modesty, authenticity, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and the well-being of followers—are actually essential to good leadership.

Instead, he lays thought-provoking cases for doing the opposite of what the "leadership industry" touts—acting in self-interest, boasting, lying "with good reason," and so forth.

Take the Mother Teresa of beliefs: Authentic leadership is good. "How would one know if authentic leadership development … was doing any good if there were no comparisons between the initial state of the world and what happened as a consequence of these activities?" Pfeffer writes.

More specific barbs go to practices such as closing conferences with inspirational keynoters ("What [leaders] need are facts, evidence, and ideas.") and overemphasizing the presumed success of your leadership training based on attendees' self-reported satisfaction.

Resist knee-jerk denials as this contrarian turns leadership on its head, and you'll find valuable fresh thinking to start your new year.

[HarperBusiness; 272 pages; $29.99]

Talking to Crazy: How to Deal With the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life

By Mark Goulston

Psychiatrist and power-blogger Mark Goulston presents the gift of his latest book to anyone who has ever dealt with bullies, whiners, manipulators, or screamers. Oh, wait, that's all of us.

Using practical and practiceable language, as well as a six-step "Sanity Cycle" and 14 communication techniques, Goulston teaches us how to quell our own gut reactions and instead "lean in" with new communication tactics to diffuse irrational people and shift to more stable ground. Anecdote-heavy chapters tell how to take on different types of toughies, such as moving martyrs to accept help, reining in a know-it-all, and handling work "frenemies."

Goulston takes seriously the possibility that some "everyday crazy" is the result of actual mental health conditions. You can't take those on, but his explanation of who can may help.

Thumbs up for keeping the topic from being a downer.

[Amacom; 272 pages; $24.95]

The Positive Organization: Breaking Free from Conventional Cultures, Constraints, and Beliefs

By Robert Quinn

as chair of the University of Michigan's Department of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, Robert Quinn is used to teaching leaders, so channel your inner student and scribble along with the many exercises in this short workbook.

You'll be exploring five "levers," such as "creating a sense of purpose" and "nurturing authentic conversations," that can upgrade your association's hierarchical "mental map" to a more meaningful, personally networked culture.

And after you roughly assess your organization's strengths and weaknesses, followed by some vision-building questions and to-do's, you'll have fun cherry-picking and customizing the best of 100 cool and positive practices of FedEx, Chipotle, and others.

Access the online Positive Organization Generator tool for easier use by a group.

[Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 168 pages; $24.95]

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Upside-Down Leadership."]

Kristin Clarke, CAE

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is a contributor and books editor for Associations Now.