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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.

On Being "Path Dependent"

The best leaders weave their personal stories into their influence attempts. Personal sagas work for several, partly interrelated reasons.

In the first place, telling a personal story can help make a leader accessible and human. As we learn more about others, we automatically feel emotionally closer and more attached because and to the extent that they have shared something personal about themselves.

Second, as we learn more about leaders and their journeys, we understand them better--where they are coming from and why they think the way they do. This also creates more closeness and also helps resolve the uncertainty of, "Why are they saying that?" We know why they are saying what they do, because we understand better how they think.

Third, telling a personal story is more effective in influencing others than the alternative. Stories are more persuasive than abstractions or data. And personal stories are and appear to be more authentic and "real" than stories about others, such as the "welfare queens" demonized by Ronald Reagan or stories about random citizens.

There is a mistaken belief that people, or for that matter organizations, can be "context free" and objective in their choices and judgments. But we and the places where we work are very much products of our history and past decisions--we are, in a phrase, "path dependent"--a consequence of the particular path traversed to get to where we are.

Good leaders both understand and admit this fact, and moreover, use their own personal journeys to motivate and inspire others, to build a sense of interpersonal closeness, and to provide a more vivid account that helps influence others to follow them.

By Jeffrey Pfeffer

 |  June 9, 2009; 6:33 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The idea that we can be perfectly rational, dispassionate, and objective is one of those insidious artifacts of a management culture based on engineering models. It leads us to over-value inside-the-head tasks like planning and reasoning and undervalue communication and emotion.

Posted by: wallybock | June 9, 2009 7:53 AM
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