By now, it is firmly established in the conventional wisdom that good leadership today is all about honesty, transparency, and even radical candor. Millennials value open and honest relationships with their bosses, so the thinking goes, and being an up-front and straightforward manager will make you more trustworthy, more respected, and ultimately more effective.
But Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer still believes “that the ability to lie convincingly may be the single most important management skill.” Writing at Fortune, Pfeffer argues that the virtues of deception are not to be discounted. Pointing to decades of research into the power of high expectations to improve performance, he stresses that leadership sometimes means convincing people that you have more faith in their abilities than you really do:
In many cases, for positive expectations to improve performance, leaders or teachers must deliver false or bogus information to the targets. If poor performers are going to improve because they are told they are expected to do great, leaders may have to say things they may not believe. …
For businesses to succeed, they need the support of investors, the purchases of customers, and the talent and energy of employees. But none of these parties will want to be associated with a company that is going to fail. So, one of the most important tasks of a leader is to convince others that the organization can and will be successful and that it deserves their support. Leaders who convincingly display confidence can attract the support that makes the confident posture become true, as the company becomes successful because others believe it will be and act on that basis.
Sometimes, as Intel co-founder and former CEO Andy Grove once told a Harvard Business School conference in the San Francisco Bay Area, this requires leaders to display confidence that they may not feel and to act as if they know what they are doing even if they don’t.