An extract from – ‘Dr Albert Ellis: Executive Leadership: a rational approach’

albertellisexecutiveleadershipbookI thought you’d enjoy this Introduction penned by Dr Albert Ellis, one of the founding fathers of CBT, for his 1978 book ‘Executive Leadership: a rational approach‘. Written in his own inimitable style, his points about business leaders needing to work on emotional stability and rational thinking, as a matter of course, are still valid today. And he closes with a mini-lesson on ‘having a problem about your problem’. Enjoy!


What the hell am I doing writing a book for executives? I have been, for almost thirty years now, one of the world’s busiest psychotherapists and marriage and family counselors. I have written, during the last two decades, some thirty books and more than three hundred and fifty articles on various aspects of psychology and on sex and love relations. I am a well known lecturer and panelist, have given hundreds of talks and workshops and have appeared on scores of radio and TV programs in many parts of the United States and a number of foreign countries as well. Then why the devil don’t I stick to my own last and let the executives of the world suffer with their ulcers?

Albert Ellis with a patient, circa 1940's.

Albert Ellis, circa 1940’s, when he was practicing psychoanalysis – which he later determined to be ‘inefficient’..

Good points. But I have several sound reasons for writing this book. First of all, I am an executive. Not a businessman, to be sure; nor a labor union type of executive, nor even a civil service manager. No. But I do run two nonprofit Institutes: one, the Institute for Rational Living, Inc., an adult-education organization which helps people learn and apply the principles of rational living to themselves, their families, and the people with whom they socialize and work; and two, the Institute for Advanced Study in Rational Psychotherapy, which trains therapists and counselors, which operates a moderate-cost consultation center, and which also operates The Living School, a unique private school where normal children not only learn the regular academic subjects, but also are steadily taught the elements of emotional education – or how to handle their personal and social problems. So between these two Institutes, I have quite an operation going – one that serves thousands of people and, in the process, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. And, as the executive Director of this scientific and eduational combine, I really execute quite a number of projects each year.

Secondly, I esteem efficiency. In fact, that has probably always been, and still is, my main goal as a therapist and as a developer of one of the leading psychotherapeutic theories. I think it is incredibly inefficient for human beings to give themselves needless pain by making themselves anxious, depressed, guilty or hostile; and I spend a great deal of my life fighting this kind of inefficiency. I also think it is incredibly inefficient for human therapists to let their clients give themselves gratuitous grief for such long (and expensive!) periods of time, instead of finding much faster and more elegant ways of helping them. And I therefore spend many hours experimenting with and developing more effective therapy procedures.

Since executives, in particular, are supposed to be concerned with efficiency, since they are usually amazingly inefficient in the handling of their basic emotional hangups, and since they are often the kind of individuals who like rational and effective solutions to problems, I feel particularly drawn to teaching them how to be at least as powerful at handling themselves as they frequently are about handling organizational affairs. To this end, I joined with one of my oldest friends and close psychological associates, Dr Milton L Blum, several years ago to do a series of seminars and workshops for executives. We used with them the same kinds of methods that I had been employing for years in rational-emotive psychotherapy and that he had been using in his university teaching, in his outstanding textbooks on industrial psychology, and in his years of firsthand work with executives. Out of this pioneering work which Dr Blum and I started, has developed a long series of other presentations for executives, which he and I have done separately and together, and which we have sometimes done with other of our associates.

A third reason for my writing a book for executives and would-be executives is the large amount of work I do with leaders of business, industry and government in my psychotherapeutic practice. For people do not merely come to see a therapist because they re upset about their relations with friends or family. Frequently, they have deep seated and longstanding vocational or business problems; and I am only too willing to work with them in these areas. When I practiced psychoanalysis a good many years ago, I found the psychoanalytic approach pretty useless in helping people solve their job difficulties. But I have found rational-emotive behavioral therapy – which I developed as a therapeutic procedure almost twenty years ago – to be applicable to both the two major areas which Sigmund Freud himself saw as the main fields of human disturbance: namely, work and love. And I enjoy showing a man how he can get along much better with his partner, boss, or employee just as much as I enjoy showing him how he can improve his sex-love relationship.

Out of this work, which I have done with scores of executives in personal counseling sessions, have merged a good many general ideas and principles. These can be applied by virtually any organized leader, even (and maybe especially) when he has no serious emotional difficulties but merely wants to conduct his work and get along with his associates more effectively. So this book, in a sense, is one of the most fascinating by-products of my many years of rational-emotive therapeutic experience. Just as rational-emotive psychology can be applied to normal youngsters and their problems, in the course of their regular classroom activities, so can it be applied to normal executives and their problems.

Finally, although I am no great reader of books on the care and feeding of executives, I must say that the few I have read have been in many ways excellent – but have left me absolutely cold. For they generally tell you all the wise, winning, and wonderful things an up-and-coming leader could and should do – if he were really capable of doing them. And they completely forget that he practically never is; and that, if he were, he probably wouldn’t have much use for these books.

For most executives, these days, are pretty bright and sophisticated. They tend to have good educations, to have had some amount of excellent on the job training, to be energetic and ambitious, and to know fairly well exactly where they would like to go. But still they screw up like crazy – even when they ‘succeed’. For you know and I know that Jones has made the presidency of XYX Company at the astounding early age of thirty; that Smith built the PDQ Company’s sales from next to nothing to fifteen and a half sqidillion dollars a year; and that Jonson started to work at ABC Company twelve years ago as a machinist, and now he’s Chairman of the Board and the proud possessor of one wife, two mistresses, and a three hundred yard long swimming pool. But what we often do not realize is that they made innumerable needless asinine errors as they were climbing the success pinnacle; that practically everyone they know hates their guts; and that they are now working on their second ulcer and third nervous breakdown, with the end of that road hardly even in sight.

Why? Because people, including executive people, invariably have screwy traits. They know what they would like to do, what they’d better do, and what they have to do if they are to keep out of serious trouble; and then, as often as not, they don’t do it. Evidence? Well, how about their giving up smoking, losing weight, cutting down on alcohol, being reasonably polite to their mothers-in-law, refraining from telling the head of the firm that he’s one of the biggest dunces they’ve ever met? And what about their being on time to work, returning the book the vice president lent them three months ago, seeing that the budgets for their departments are made up promptly, getting sufficient data to present in the big report to the board of directors? Sure they know that these are the things to do. Sure they know how to do them. Sure they know the severe penalties for doing them sloppily, late, or not at all. Sure they give a damn. But that’s all they give.

So most of the books on how to climb the executive ladder are quite good, in their way. Some of them are even excellent. Burger’s ‘Survival in the Executive Jungle’. Drucker’s ‘Managing for Results’. McGregor’s ‘The Human Side of Enterprise’. Carr’s ‘Business as a Game’. Townsend’s ‘Up the Organization’. Great books. Down to earth. Highly readable. No crap. Really worthwhile reading.

But they all have one notable flaw: Who can really USE them? An angel, yes. A paragon of all virtues, sure. A thoroughly therapized human, perhaps. But a common garden variety businessman? An ordinary screwed-up college graduate? A  up-from-the-lower-classes civil service director? Hell, no! These books – and the hundreds of courses, seminars, lectures, and workshops for executives that abound in the business educational fields – are beautifully designed for the undisturbed, the un-upsettable, and the emotionally un-destroyed. And where, oh where, are they?

Am I saying, then, that the average citizen of the Western world is ineffably nutty and that therefore he has about as much chance of benefiting from wise words on how to get along with his fellows in industry and commerce (not to mention education and civil service) as he has of flying to Mars on a broomstick? I am.

Am I saying that the bright, often educated, up and coming young executive is just as crazy, and in some ways more so, than the average neurotic of modern times? I am.

Am I saying that to be a truly outstanding leader of men you not only would better know what to do and how to do it but also how to permit yourself, what with your normal insanity, to do it? I jolly well am.

Furthermore, I am saying that those other books, in spite of their wisdom, essentially evade the issue. For they don’t tell you what you really would better know how to do to get along beautifully in your executive endeavors. And they pretend that you have all the prerequisites for leadership success, when you are almost certainly lacking the main one: the full acceptance of yourself and clear perception of the crummy reality in which you inevitably reside. Without giving you this kind of knowledge, these books are woefully misleading.

This is not to say that people with the screwiest kind of behavior and frowziest traits do not succeed in the organizational world. Obviously, many of them do! Nor is it to say that graduates of Harvard School of Business are not provided with a decent amount  of salt and ketchup to help them chew up and digest their competitors for top positions in the corporate hierarchy. Often, they clearly are. Knowledge still can be power, and the nuttier you are the more knowledge you’d probably better get. So by all means, if you want to get ahead in the Establishment, go take some know-how courses and seminars in executive management – including the ones conducted by our own Institute for Rational Living in New York and other parts of the country. And go read some of the better books on how to succeed in business by really trying.

But that’s not exactly what you’ll find in this book. Oh, yes: I’ll briefly review the main goals you’d better have, and things you’d best do to make those above and below you in the organizational scale see you in a good light and go along with much of what you’d like them to do. As a psychologist, human goals and how to achieve them are one of my main provinces. But as a psychotherapist, I have a still rarer, and in many ways more important, realm: namely, how to help you solve your problem about having a problem. And that will be the main – and I think in many ways unique – emphasis of this book.

“You say that I probably have a problem about solving a problem? What kind of drivel is that? What really bothers me is that my associate is great at doing certain things but in many ways is a thoroughgoing horse’s ass. Now what can I do about that? That’s a problem!”

Sure it is. But let’s be honest. You’re bright. You’re competent. You’re knowledgeable. You’ve solved tons of other business problems, including relationship problems. Now why are you making such an issue out of this difficulty?

And the answer is, almost invariably, that you do have a problem about your problem. You think that it’s awful for your boss or associate to be such a horse’s ass. That he shouldn’t be acting the asinine way he is. That you can’t stand his being that way. That it will be catastrophic if he continues to block progress, by acting like a nag’s backside, indefinitely.

Let’s agree that you’re right about him. Let’s admit that he’s idiotically sabotaging your company’s machinery. Let’s acknowledge that your life would be much more of a joy if he were not the way he is. You still, as long as you are in any way anxious, depressed, angry, or upset about his behavior, are foolishly creating an additional and needless problem for yourself: your own upsettness. And whatever you can do about him and his nonsense – and sometimes you can for the time being do very little about it – you most assuredly can do something about your nonsense about his nonsense. That is what this book, above all other books in the field, is designed to help you do: unloose, change, eliminate your own emotional disturbance. For without your doing something effective about you, it’s unlikely that you will be able to martial your brains, talents, and knowledge, to do something really effective about him.

So let’s get down to you. In many ways you can, and in many you presently cannot, deal adequately with the inanities and insanities of the organizational world. Well, why can’t you? What blocks you? What are you doing to sabotage your potential effectiveness? Read on!

A final word of acknowledgment. As noted above, I have worked with executives for years on an individual basis, and have helped maquotemarks1ny of them to live happier and more productive lives. And, in seminars and workshops, I have applied my psychological knowledge to groups of executives in general and to specific groups working within an existing organizational framework. The idea for writing this book, however, came from Dr Milton L Blum, one of my main co-workers in this field, and a top executive consultant, and professor of industrial psychology in his own right…..


An intro to REBT/CBT by Albert Ellis from the book A Guide to Personal Happiness.

Apply the Albert Ellis 12 Irrational Beliefs and Disputing Statements.


The Albert Ellis Institute Website

The Prince of Reason (an interview with Albert Ellis by Psychology Today)

CBT and Feeling Good Ireland (my website with more info on what I do and how you can benefit)

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