Taboos of Leadership: The 10 Secrets No One Will Tell You About Leaders and What They Really Think

Anthony F. Smith

Jossey-Bass,  April 2007

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Most experts on leadership would have us believe that successful leaders are superhuman beings who are humble servants, have hearts of gold, and are motivated by the needs of their employees and shareholders.

That's because no one's been telling the truth about leadership . . . 

Most leaders who make it to the top possess characteristics that are all too human: they have politically incorrect attitudes, are conflicted, and play politics to get their way. Written by leading management consultant Anthony F. Smith, The Taboos of Leadership reveals the rarely discussed realities of leadership -- the secrets that leaders just cannot admit publicly for fear of losing power, self-respect, or even their jobs. This revelatory book will help both leaders and followers achieve real understanding and co-create a two-way street culture of openness, trust, and improved performance in their organizations.

The Taboos of Leadership discloses ten guarded secrets that leaders can't discuss, even with their closest constituents, including: charisma shouldn't make a difference . . . but it does; women make better leaders . . . when that's what they really want to do; blatant self-interest is dangerous . . . in followers, not leaders; thou shalt not play favorites with friends and family . . . except when it makes a lot of sense; and more.

Using real, in-the-trenches stories from Fortune 500 companies, Smith shows that once leaders and followers acknowledge the existence of a taboo in the workplace, they can then consider its positives and negatives. Leaders can determine if an existing taboo is hurting the organization or if it serves a useful purpose. If the taboo serves a useful purpose, they can consider ways to preserve it. If not, it should be pruned back and weeded out, allowing an organization and its leaders and followers to grow in a new way. 

hardcover | ISBN: 9780787995829 | Publication Date: April 2007

"For those of us who have led big companies, we rarely find those on the 'outside' who understand the real challenges of leadership.Tony Smith is one of those rare individuals who has made it his life study to understand what it really takes to lead. This book is filled with insight, strategies, and compelling examples of the challenges we all face as leaders."
--Robert C. Nakasone, CEO, Toys "R" Us (retired)

"Dr. Tony Smith has a unique ability to take the theories and history of leadership and turn them into practical application. His in-depth knowledge and perspective enabled me to understand where my leadership skills were successful, and importantly where they were not. I was lucky to have Tony as a teacher for so many years. He gave me a deep understanding of what motivated people and how I could be most effective, and he has done the same here in this novel book."
--Joseph D. Gutman, former senior managing director, Goldman Sachs, and managing director, Grosvenor Capital Management

"Peter Drucker said, 'I observe what is visible, but not yet seen,' and that's what Tony Smith does in The Taboos of Leadership. In a world where leadership books all start to sound alike, this one stands out!"
--Marshall Goldsmith, author and editor of over twenty-two books including The Leader of the Future and What Got You Here Won't Get You There

"Tony Smith gives us a refreshing look at the reality, not the rhetoric of leadership. Great lessons for today's leaders and those who want to be leaders."
--Jerome C. Vascellero, partner, the Texas Pacific Group, and director emeriti, McKinsey and Company, Inc.

"My first reaction to this book was 'Oh no, another book by a leadership consultant.' By the time I was halfway through, I thought Tony's years of coaching others has provided him with keen insights into the many strategies needed to address the complex, ill-defined nature of the problems that leaders face. Those issues require adaptive thinking, and in challenging us with facing these taboos, I feel that Dr. Smith was reading my mind. I strongly encourage women leaders to read The Taboos if Leadership."
--Dr. Paula A. Cordeiro, dean, School of Leadership and Education Science, University of San Diego

"Those who write about leadership are sometimes hesitant to face the truth or acknowledge the messy stuff that fills up a leader's day . . . Tony hasn't shied away from any of that . . . this may be the first nonfiction book about leadership that I've encountered."
--From the Foreword, Steven M. Bornstein, CEO, NFL Media, and former president, ESPN and ABC Television

"In this insightful book, Tony Smith tackles head on tough, controversial issues that are seldom acknowledged and even more rarely discussed. His observations and experiences are very additive to leadership learning."
--Suzanne Nora Johnson, former vice chairman, The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.

"I have had the privilege of listening and learning from a number of 'leadership experts' in my career, and I think Tony Smith is one of the best. This is why I have brought him into every organization that I have led. His provocative insights, counsel, and unvarnished feedback that I have valued over the years are reflected in The Taboos of Leadership. A must-read for anyone who is truly interested in the field of leadership."
--Chuck Griffith, executive director, Arcapita Inc., and former CEO of Ingersoll Dresser

"Leadership is a much-discussed but little-understood concept. Tony Smith calls on a lifetime of research and experience in the field to take the discussion in a refreshing new direction. By focusing on the importance of two-way communication and understanding, Tony delivers a deeper, richer picture of leadership and a road map for improving the performance of any organization."
--Paul Tagliabue, commissioner, National Football League (retired)

"By examining the role of leadership as a psychoanalyst would a troubled patient, Dr. Anthony Smith not only uncovers the root causes of rampant disorders in the postmodern corporate world, he also prescribes a series of groundbreaking changes that are at once brilliant and startling. Nothing is sacred in this book. Myths are exploded, taboos are broken, and the result is a revelation of common sense long barred from the boardroom."
--Mark Shapiro, president and CEO, Six Flags, Inc.

"Tony Smith is a keen observer who gets to the heart of leadership challenges and approaches. I especially appreciate that someone with his insight also has the courage to reveal the truth of leadership in this refreshing book."
--George Bodenhiemer, president, ESPN and ABC Sports; co-chairman, Disney Media Networks

"This may be the most realistic book on leadership to date,"
--Larry Probst III, CEO, Electronic Arts

"Having worked with Tony for nearly 20 years, I can tell you that his research, teaching, and insights into leadership have had a remarkable impact on me and our leadership. It has been a pleasure working with him, and you will find it a pleasure reading this very rare and insightful book on this very important subject."
--J. Mclean Stewart, senior director (retired), McKinsey and Company