Succeed Without Being Well-Liked? Maybe Jeffrey Pfeffer Should Read His Own Book.


I have waited eagerly for Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer's latest Business 2.0 column to be available online. After reading his argument that success isn't linked to popularity, I came away thinking it read like a half-truth. Pfeffer should know better because he is, after all, the co-author of Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense.

Pfeffer's article starts out well. He points out that to be successful you may have to make some people mad along the way. It makes sense. No one will agree with you 100% of the time, and if you stand up for something, there will usually be a few people that hate you for it. He makes some good points, such as this one:

Ferrazzi makes no attempt to hide his ambitions, and advises others to be equally forthright. When I invited him to speak to my class, he audaciously asked that I make his new book required reading. (He now denies doing this.) Then, in a talk sprinkled with expletives, he encouraged students to sort the people they knew into A, B, and C lists based on relevance to their career goals–and to spend more time with the A's.

It is common sense that you should spend time with people that are moving in the direction you want to go, but it's a half truth. You don't want to become a sycophant.

Pfeffer continues with more good advice from Ferrazzi.

With regard to their future jobs, Ferrazzi advised them to focus on activities they do well and stop worrying about being so well-rounded.

But then the article begins to break down as Pfeffer appears to justify the fact that Ferrazzi behaves like an ass.

Although he had promised to stay for two classes, he left halfway through the second to have lunch with a client.

My students are usually put off by Ferrazzi at first, but they eventually see how an overwhelming drive not to offend can hamper a career.

I suspect Pfeffer was trying to present a balanced view of this topic, but in my opinion he failed because he did not make a critical distinction. There is a huge difference between being worried about offending everyone and being an egomaniac. Pfeffer presents it as a binary choice.

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I think that there is a middle ground. People deserve to be treated with a basic level of respect even if you are looking out for your own interests. Commitments to meetings and such should be honored to the best of your ability. But at the same time, don't be afraid to apply for a new position just because you will be up against a friend. Don't be afraid to tell people the truth just because they don't want to hear it.

If you practice honesty and accountability, you will make some enemies because you don't let people slide. But if you practice aggressive elitism, you will make many more enemies and your *friends* will be of the fair-weather type. Pfeffer is too smart not have made the distinction.