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

4.5 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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


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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: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Gow on May 28, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
If you are a manager or leader, you will love Cy Wakeman's book for one reason. She takes all responsibility for your team being the way it is off your shoulders and squarely puts it on your employees. They are the reason for all the issues in the office, with their 'drama' and their 'complaining'. Scant attention is paid to whether it is the manager who might be in need of a dose of reality, and when it is, Wakeman shrugs it off with a 'don't to that' mentality.
I found this book to be utterly one-sided and overly simplistic. ("Here's the problem. Do this and *poof* magically it is fixed.") There seems to be no complexity in Wakeman's world. You have bad employees. Fix them or fire them. In my tenure as both a manager and one managed, I have seen it as a much more complex relationship where there are bad employees and too much drama. However, there are just as many bad managers who are the major contributors to the situations described in this book.
I am glad I was given this book to read for a study group, as I would have been very disappointed to have bought it only to find how utterly fawning it is. If you, as a manager, need that kind of reinforcement, buy this book. If you are looking for real answers that might include you being a bit introspective about your own style, look elsewhere.
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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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How Cy Wakeman makes a living preaching to others, I will never understand. Her assumption is that managers are managers because they are all leaders and great decision makers - is at it's core, flawed. Any attempt by the underlings is to be discarded, because "your opinions don't matter, your actions do." This is a quote from her. At least inasmuch as it applies to the poor people reporting to the managers she is busy fooling into paying for her seminar. I have had to sit through her seminar, and it is dumbfounding and infuriating. As a person that is a subject matter expert reporting to brand new managers that know nothing of the company - it is not my position to object to stupid decisions they make, even if we have tried them in the past and they have failed. The problem is ME, because I am not willing to go along with the new, uninformed managers. If I am not saying YES to every stupid decision then it is ME creating the drama and nor being helpful. Her priorities are to suck up to managers first, then pin all the failures on their underlings. Even HR had to come out with paperwork to attempt to "clarify" to the staff after the training that "if you thought we were saying we want you to be yes-men, then that is you telling yourself stories about our motivations that are not true." Meanwhile, the training is very explicit in its goals: yes men. Also - if you need to "clarify" what you are saying to everyone after the fact, then guess what? YOU ARE NOT COMMUNICATING WELL. Cy will somehow find a way to blame the workforce for her terrible communication anyway. That is her goal.
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I enjoyed this book a lot. It was very helpful in my first supervisory role. It gave me some great insight into my role as a supervisor and also helped me decide what role I wanted to take as a leader. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to be a leader
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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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