On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Jeffrey Pfeffer

Jeffrey Pfeffer

Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, and author of the Sept. 2010 book, POWER: Why Some People Have it and Others Don’t.

Optimism, Persistence and Loyalty

President Bush has many failings as a leader but he has also shown three qualities which are important for success in any public or private sector leadership role:

First, he showed optimism and confidence. Against all odds, and much advice, Bush persisted with Iraq War, with deregulation, and in short, with his agenda. Although in this particular case the results were less than stellar, in many other instances the ability to project optimism and confidence, even when confronted by difficulties, is precisely what is required for success.

Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, has been described as someone able to create a "reality distortion field" in which people come to believe things are seemingly not true. At almost every stage of Apple's existence--an existence that always depends on the belief on the part of software developers and customers that the company will endure--Jobs has been able to convince people of Apple's rosy future. After the Lisa failed, the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, complete with the now-famous television advertisement and the associated hype, kick-started Apple's next stage of success. When the world had given up on the company's computers and operating system, Jobs was able to convince a developer community that there was a future--and now the company is gaining market share from Microsoft and the Windows platform. No one will expend effort if they expect to fail. Great leaders are able to convince themselves and others that success is possible. Steve Jobs is only one example of this trait, which George W. Bush shares.

Second, he showed persistence. Some might call it stubbornness, but little is accomplished without the ability to overcome setbacks. Many of the most successful products, including the Sony Walkman, were failures at first, or, like Viagra, were technologies that had to be "repurposed" from their original use. No one who has led a major organizational change effort will tell you that it is easy and giving up guarantees failure. Bush's persistence is an important quality on the part of leaders. The difficulty is knowing when you are being persistent and when you are being foolish. Here, taking the advice and listening to others is often useful, and something that Bush has done too little.

Third, he showed loyalty to subordinates. Many leaders, particularly political leaders, cast aside aides and subordinates at the first sign of trouble. Many corporate leaders scapegoat others for their mistakes, or engage in ritualistic firings to regain external legitimacy. The problem is that if subordinates don't think you will stand by them, they probably won't stand by you, or your organization, either. Bush has demonstrated amazing loyalty to people, even in the case of clear evidence of performance failures. This loyalty and commitment to those who work for and with him is probably one reason that people are willing to do so.

Once again, of course, like every quality, taken to an extreme what is positive becomes a source of difficulty, as too much loyalty breeds an absence of accountability and an unwillingness to replace poor performers with those who can do the job more effectively. Nonetheless, at least in moderation, loyalty to those who work for you can generate reciprocal loyalty and helps make recruiting people into difficult jobs easier.

By Jeffrey Pfeffer

 |  January 6, 2009; 10:53 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Two Good Traits | Next: Unanswered Questions


Please report offensive comments below.

No I'm sorry black is in fact white.

You see the less than stellar consequence of these fine traits you speak of depends on one thing: first, you have to be right! But when you find the truth, know you were wrong at first and yet deliberately hide it, that's criminal. And when people die, that's sinful and those responsible need to be punished.

Optimism and confidence as well as persistence are fine traits for a criminal too. And we'll get to witness the loyalty you speak of in a few weeks when he pardons all these subordinates.

Shame on you. This is an embarrasing exercise in delusion and a sad exercise in trying to make the weaker argument appear the stronger.

Posted by: pushbush | January 6, 2009 5:40 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Sorry to inform you, but this piece is garbage. The sign of a good CE is making decisions based on intelligence from advisors giving positive results. When the results are bad you take a different road. No secret the war was going badly, yet the Feith, Cheney, Rumsfield, Wolfowitz, Bolton cabal still had his ear while Powell, Frank's and Fallon did not. Loyalty does overcome incompetence, and my way or the highway sends you down a tunnel that ends in this case a latrine.

Posted by: jameschirico | January 6, 2009 4:26 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company