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Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, and Turn Excuses into Results Hardcover – September 21, 2010

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Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, and Turn Excuses into Results + The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: Know What Boosts Your Value, Kills Your Chances, and Will Make You Happier + Reality-Based Leadership Self Assessment
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (September 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470613505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470613504
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Recent polls show that 71% of workers think about quitting their jobs every day. That number would be shocking-if people actually were quitting. Worse, they go to work, punching time clocks and collecting pay checks, while completely checked out emotionally. In Reality-Based Leadership, expert Fast Company blogger Cy Wakeman reveals how to be the kind of leader who changes the way people think about and perceive their circumstances-one who deals with the facts, clarifies roles, gives clear and direct feedback, and insists that everyone do the same-without drama or defensiveness. Filled with dynamic examples, innovative tools, and diagnostic tests, this book shows you how to become a Reality-Based Leader, revealing how to:

  • Uncover destructive thought patterns with yourself and others
  • Diffuse drama and lead the person in front of you
  • Stop managing and start leading, empowering others to focus on facts and think for themselves

Equipped with a facts-based, confident approach, you will free yourself from the frustrations you face at work and transform yourself into a Reality-Based Leader, with the ability to liberate and inspire others.

Amazon Exclusive: Q&A with Author Cy Wakeman

Why did you write this book?
I wanted to give leaders a huge reality check! Having worked with leaders and HR executives for more than twenty years, I found that the traditional philosophies, tools, and techniques leaders relied on were simply not working. We had led leaders to believe that their jobs were to create “perfect” work environments and basically coddle their employees, when in fact, the organizations that have thrived in challenging times focused not as much on creating stress-free, nirvana-like environments, but on “bullet-proofing” their people so that they are able to succeed regardless of the circumstances they face.

As I travelled the country speaking and consulting, I heard over and over again that the reason businesses were struggling was because they were faced with incredibly difficult circumstances. I just could not buy into this philosophy of helplessness. It seemed like a huge excuse for lack of great leadership. Don’t get me wrong; we are certainly in challenging times. But we have been in challenging times in the past and let me make a prediction—we will be faced with challenging times again at some point in the future. Here’s the reality check—the fact that times are challenging is not the source of our pain. The source of our pain is the absence of great leadership based in reality. If current leadership is not creating the results or the quality of life that we would like, then these times call for a new type of leader. We need leaders who are willing and able to recreate mindsets in order to change circumstances and lead in a new and revolutionary way.

What is the biggest change that employees are facing today?
Actually, it is not what you might expect. The biggest change for leaders and their employees to adjust to is the fact that most of us have been replaced by Google. Our opinions just don’t add the value they used to, and yet we insist on having input, giving our two cents, and shaping decisions when the real value we add is using our expertise to make the decisions work. Most people have simply refused to make this transition.How did we get into this mess? Well, human resources gospel has always been to make employees feel as if their opinions counted. After all, this is America, and democracy is a good thing, right? Not always. We know the value of democracy in a representative government, but in reality, what value does an opinion contribute to an organization? Most of the time, a single person’s opinion adds zero value and actually drains resources. Non–decision makers offering their opinions usually derails the team into a search for consensus, rather than driving all efforts going toward implementing with excellence.

For 90% of people in any organization at any given time, their role is simply to be informed—not to make or comment on a decision. If you subscribe to the idea that everyone’s opinion has to count, in effect you are handing out veto power to the majority while only a minority has the power to say “yes.” This sets up a paradigm in which it’s very difficult to take positive action. You also create a situation in which people feel buy-in is optional. This leads to resistance that can stall or even sabotage your plans. Reality-Based Leaders are clear that the highest value the talent can offer is to implement with excellence. They value action over opinion.

What recommendation do you make in the book and in your consulting that “shocks” leaders the most?
Readers are definitely most shocked and quite honestly very relieved when they hear me encourage them to play favorites in order to get great results. Somehow, in our quest as leaders to be respectful of legitimate differences in employees, it appears that we have become a very careful, hesitant group. A great number of “leaders” have begun to pretend that all employees are created equal and are delivering equal results and value to the organization—when the reality is actually quite different.

A number of leaders are colluding with their own employees—protecting them from the consequences of their own actions and mindsets. Many leaders allow employees to decide for themselves what mindsets they will adopt and what behaviors and actions the organization will compensate. Some leaders are the victims of emotional blackmail, falling prey to the many invalid conditions and objections placed on them by their own teams. These objections used by employees have worked well to keep their leaders from insisting on greatness, continuous improvement, adaptability, and all the attributes that contribute to an employee’s success in today’s changing times. These “conditions” have induced some leaders into a type of coma where they depend solely on a few great employees who they don’t reward, because they’re afraid that other employees will come to the realization that life’s not fair.

In the book, I teach you how to be a great leader who plays favorites, rewarding actual results.

In the book, you challenge quite a few traditional HR practices such as the annual employee satisfaction survey. What can the harm be in asking employees what would make their workplace better?
Most leaders have jumped blindly on the “empowerment” bandwagon, working hard to give their employees the power to direct their own workflow. Great in theory; who would not want to be self-directing and free? Unfortunately, those adopting this philosophy dangerously assume that those being empowered are also highly personally accountable. In fact, empowerment without accountability is chaos. Empowerment and accountability must go hand in hand—when we fund one without insisting on the other, resources are wasted and dysfunction reigns.

To make matters worse, leaders have blindly bought into the concept that engagement and happiness come from lack of stress or issues at work. Actually, engagement and happiness come from the level of personal accountability one exhibits in his or her own life. So instead of spending resources on surveys to find out how to change the circumstances of your employees, spend your time and energy on teaching your employees how to succeed in spite of their circumstances. Work to “bullet-proof” the people instead of attempting to make their world a cozier place. Once your people are resilient, learning-agile, and personally accountable, they are immune to the random “shocks” that come their way. Their engagement actually increases with this approach as they gain the confidence that they can succeed in spite of the facts, not from you softening their world.


“One of the rare few outstanding business books…I loved it”
—From the Foreword by Larry Winget, author, It’s Called Work for a Reason!

“Cy Wakeman deftly shows how Reality-Based Leaders embrace personal accountability—and empower others to do the same. This is a dynamic, winning book that all leaders and managers looking to make their organizations outstanding should read!”
—John G. Miller, author, QBQ! The Question Behind the Question and Outstanding!

“I haven’t been so moved by a business thinker and visionary in years. Cy Wakeman’s message has been heard before – that to truly succeed and grow, we have to check our egos at the door.  But never has this counter-intuitive insight been so compellingly argued as in this terrific book.”
—Doug Smith, CEO, Ervin and Smith Advertising and Public Relations

“Cy Wakeman’s approach to Reality-Based Leadership is practical, relevant and exactly what today’s leaders really need. This is definitely a must-read for every success-oriented leader and manager.”
—Jeff A. Hurt, CEO, Southwest Credit

“Cy Wakeman is a brilliant story-teller and coach. She has a profound ability to tell a story that makes you laugh while at the same time cutting through your defenses to help you recognize your need to change. I have worked with Cy for years, and the lessons in this book have helped me create better organizations and a better me.”
—Jason Lauritsen, vice president, Human Resources, Union Bank and Trust Company

“You can’t afford to lead your organization without this book in hand! Cy Wakeman writes with candor, humor and unconventional wisdom about how we can be wildly successful.”
—Amy Dorn Kopelan, president, Bedlam Entertainment Inc, and coauthor, I Didn’t See It Coming!

“Cy Wakeman’s book delivers a powerful message. The bottom line- this is required reading for all leaders!”
—Russ Olson, President and CEO, Liberty Bank

More About the Author

Cy Wakeman is a dynamic national keynote speaker, business consultant, New York Times bestselling author, and trainer with over 20 years experience cultivating a revolutionary approach to leadership. Grounded in reality, Wakeman's philosophy teaches people how to turn excuses into results and transform unhappy employees into accountable, successful members of the workforce. Through her prolific work with companies such as Bayer, New York Presbyterian, National Institutes of Health, Hallmark, Verizon Wireless, TD Ameritrade, Wells Fargo, Gilead Sciences, Hospira, Inc., Medtronic, Inc., Cintas, Kroger, and E*Trade. Wakeman has helped eliminate tired, impersonal management techniques in favor of a reality-based revolution.

Wakeman's professional journey began when she was promoted to her first management position in the late 1980's. Rather than forcing ineffective, traditional management practices into her workplace, Wakeman began developing and teaching her employees a reality-based mindset. What she found was inspiring - her employees were not only motivated to succeed, but they were also driven to deliver results, adapt to change, and emanate happiness on the job. Inspired to help others transform their company and their work, Wakeman began consulting and training. Today, she visits more than 200 companies each year, empowering employees and executives alike to take control of and invest in their work.

Wakeman's acclaimed new book, The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace, shows employees how to calculate their true value to their organization. With an original formula for measuring current performance, future potential, and "emotional expensiveness" - the toll an individual's actions and attitudes take on the people around them, Wakeman shows employees how to become invaluable team members and learn to love their jobs again.

Named one of the "Top 100 Leadership Experts to Follow" on twitter two years in a row, Wakeman's influence continues to build. Participants consistently rank her programs as the single most impactful training they have ever received.

An expert blogger on and, Wakeman's ideas have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Post, and on She has written two books, Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, & Turn Excuses into Results (Jossey-Bass; 2010) and The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: Know What Boosts Your Value, Kills Your Chances, & Will Make You Happier (Jossey-Bass; 2013).

Wakeman is a highly sought-after conference headliner and holds a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation from the National Speaker's Association, placing her within the top 3% of speakers worldwide. In 2012, she received the "Outstanding Leadership Award" from the World HRD Congress in Mumbai.

Customer Reviews

It took me 4 days to read Cy's book.
Chad Nelson
A great book filled with many, many ah ha moments.
Theresa St Amant
This book is a great read for all managers.
KR Hood

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By D. Kanigan VINE VOICE on September 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wakeman explains that frustration in the workplace is at an all-time high because of "circumstances" and "people." Frustrating circumstances being the recession, the rapid pace of change, budget cuts, increased regulation, and everyone being asked to do more with fewer resources. Frustrating "people" being "BMW" - bitching, moaning and whining employees with a sense of entitlement where the motivation and accountability ought to be - - BMW employees who prefer creating drama to getting the job done. She goes on to say that as leaders, we are not helping. We judge and when we judge we no longer serve, learn or lead. We expect others to add value when we don't. We spend too much time with our worst performers and we don't reward our best. We over-manage and under-lead fostering a state of learned helplessness. A few key principles of her "Reality-Based Leadership" model" include:

* DO A REALITY CHECK. STOP BELIEVING YOUR 'STORIES.' A great deal of conflict is manufactured in our own minds. When faced with a conflict, we tend to create a mental story that paints ourselves as a victim and helpless while someone else is a villain. Get the facts - give others the benefit of the doubt when assigning motives - ask "what is the next right action I can take that would add the most value to the situation - direct your energy on that action - seek to be successful rather than right. Remember, always ask yourself 2 questions: (1) what are the facts? (2) How could I help? Make a list of what you can do right now to add value and get busy making that happen.

* MODEL THE ROLE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE OTHERS PLAY. Be the change you wish to see in the world. When you begin judging others, you stop adding value.
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36 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Greg Glidden on March 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read several leadership books and this is one of my least favorite. If you work in an office with people of very low emotional intelligence, then this may be a good book to start with. There are a few core leadership theories that would be picked up, but I really disagreed with a lot of the messages. I'll list a few points where I dissent.

Cy Wakeman's approach does not consider subordinates values and beliefs. Each employee and situation will be different and should be handled as such. By providing a canned response and changing topics, leaders will demotivate followers and hinder future open and honest communication.

Wakeman suggests that not everyone's opinion counts and leaders should instead get input from decision makers. But she fails to also include input from task experts. Her concept would exclude individuals with operational knowledge in exchange for decision power.

Wakeman's ROI limiting belief example is inane. AS a VP, I would hope that I have delegated valuable work to my subordinates so that I would not interrupt them to make me a few copies. If it was an important large scale outsourced print job, then I'd probably delegate it.

The Limiting Belief of "There is no such thing as a stupid question" is to put it bluntly, stupid. She believes that there are stupid questions and employees shouldn't waste time asking them. Having been a member of many agile decision making teams, sometimes you just need to provoke thought and at times the most obvious question can be overlooked. This limitation contradicts Wakeman's belief in value of action.

My advice, address issues head and set the cultural standard in the workplace for open, honest, and consistent communication. And buy another book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Chad Nelson on June 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It took me 4 days to read Cy's book. Not because I'm a slow reader or had limited time, but because I took 5 pages of notes! Because of the principles contained therein, my work environment looks totally different; starting with me! Those who know my history as a manager could testify to the severity of my own buy-in regarding these principles. It would be an understatement to say it's worth one's investment to put into practice the principles contained in Cy's book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Greedo Lebowski on February 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book spoke to me. As a relatively young leader in healthcare, I've been amazed at the inefficiency of drama, the power of personal accountability, and need for an overhaul in leadership practices. This book powerfully addresses those needs and I can't recommend it enough.

For anyone involved in any type of leadership role, whether it's at work, home, school, community, etc. this is an invaluable resource. Cy's clear-cut actionable information on ditching drama and restoring sanity to the workplace is a welcome addition to my leadership toolbox.

It seems that a lot of leadership material contains good ideas but very little actionable material. This book provides you with the toolset and mindset and gives a nudge to take those first steps forward. Not only was I able to employ Cy's strategies immediately in my work but I also began applying them at home. Which is another thing I love about this type of material, it's not just about being a better leader/worker, but it's about being a better person.

Not only is the book a great resource, but Cy also offers free webinars, blogs, and other online media support to help with discussing and implementing the ideas in the book. It's not just something you glance through; it's a philosophy that you can really dig into.
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