The Rise of Toxic Leaders and Toxic Workplaces

Posted August 30th, 2016 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Books, articles, seminars and speeches abound espousing the virtues of great leaders, effusive in their description of men and women who are selfless, humble, empathetic, compassionate, emotionally intelligent and altruistic. Hordes of consultants, university professors, researchers and coaches make their living espousing the need for choosing these kinds of leaders.

The truth of the matter is that we are hypocrites, and we are witnessing the rise of toxic leaders and workplaces. We tend to choose or follow a very different kind of leader. We hire and promote the psychopaths, the narcissists, the bullies and the autocrats dedicated to self-interest, and whose long-term impact has and can damage and even destroy organizations (and even countries). In my two decades as an executive coach, I have encountered more of the leaders described in this paragraph than those described in the first paragraph. Many people easily forgive these toxic leaders and the harm they cause because they measure their success solely in financial terms or because they bring charismatic entertainment value to the organization.

A Leadership Crisis

Yet even today, despite the collective wisdom of centuries on this topic, confidence in our leaders is low and continues to decline. Those are among the key findings of a nation-wide poll, in 2012, the National Leadership Index(NLI), released by the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School and Merriman River Group. The survey is the seventh annual measurement of public attitudes toward 13 different sectors of American life, ranging from business and non-profits to politics and religion. In only two sectors measured in the year’s report—military and medical—did the leaders receive above-average confidence scores. Ratings for the remaining eleven sectors fell into the below-average range or remained in the below-average range. Wall Street and Congress stood out as the sectors in which Americans have the least confidence—indeed, the confidence rating for these two was barely above “none at all.”

And the failure rate for our leaders is getting worse, not better. The Conference Board reported that CEO tenure has declined since 2000. Consulting firm Booz also reported higher CEO turnover rates among the 250 largest companies. The Center for Creative Leadership reports research that shows 50% of leaders and managers are “estimated to be ineffective, incompetent or a mishire.” A survey by 14,000 HR professionals found only 26% reported the quality of leadership in their company as excellent or very good.

In the past two decades, 30% of Fortune 500 chief executives have lasted less than three years. Top executive failure rates as high as 75% and rarely less than 30%. Chief executives now are lasting 7.6 years on a global average down from 9.5 years in 1995. According to the Center for Creative Leadership 38% new chief executives fail in their first 18 months on the job. And Donald Palmer at the University of California reported of the Fortune 100 firms in l999, 40% of them had engaged in misconduct.

It appears the major reasons for failure has nothing to do with competence, or knowledge, or experience. Sydney Finkelstein, author of Why Smart Executives Fail, and David Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo, authors of Why CEOs Fail: The 11 Behaviors That Can Derail Your Climb to the Top and How To Manage Them present cogent reasons why chief executives fail, most of which have to do with hubris, ego and a lack of emotional intelligence.

The Toxic Organization

In my book, Eye of Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces, I describe in detail the characteristics of toxic workplaces, and the part that dysfunctional leaders play in creating them.Toxic workplaces can be characterized as follows:

  • All sticks and no carrots. Management focuses solely on what employees are doing wrong or correcting problems, and rarely give positive feedback for what is going right. Or mostly carrots for the best performers, sticks for the the rest;
  • The creeping bureaucracy. There are too many levels of approval and management to get things done and a singular focus on micromanaging employees;
  • The gigantic bottom line. A singular focus on profits, beating the competition and cost cutting without consideration of other bottom lines;
  • Bullies rule the roost. Bullying of employees by management, or tolerated by management when it occurs among employees;
  • Losing the human touch. People are considered to be objects or expenses rather than assets, and there is little concern for their happiness and/or well-being;
  • High levels of stress, turnover, absenteeism and burnout;
  • Instituting internal competition among employees enforced by a performance assessment system that focuses on individual performance rather than team performance;
  • Little or no concern for work-life balance, where a personal or family life must be sacrificed for the job;
  • Overwork or workaholism, commonly evidenced by 50 hr+ workweeks, little or no vacation time and 24/7 availability for work communication;
  • Little evidence of leaders’ compassion and empathy for employees;
  • Little or no commitment to making contributions to the community, worthy causes or making the world a better place.

There has been a decline in civility in the workplace, including the growth of bullying. Christine Porath, Georgetown University business professor wrote a piece in The New York Times about the decline of civility in the workplace: “A quarter of those I surveyed in l998 reported that they were treated rudely at work at least once week…That figure rose to nearly half in 20005 , then to just over half in 2011.” In my article in Psychology Today, “The Rise of Incivility and Bullying in America,” “Repeated public opinion polls have voiced the concern of Americans over the erosion of civility in government, business, media and social media. The most recent poll by Weber Shandwick, reported that 65% of Americans say the lack of civility is a major problem that has worsened during the financial crisis and recession. What’s even more distressing is that nearly 50% of those surveyed said they were withdrawing from the basic tenants of democracy—government and politics—because of incivility and bullying.”

Research conducted in the past decade has shown that employee engagement has declined significantly in most industries, with some research citing as few as 29% of employees being actively engaged in their jobs.

Toxic Leadership

There’s a clear symbiotic relationship between toxic workplaces and the toxic leaders who inhabit them.

Theo Veldsman of the University of Johannesburg has recently published a study on the growth and impact of toxic leadership on organizations. He contends that “there is a growing incidence of toxic leadership in organizations across the world.” Veldsman says that anecdotal and research evidence shows that one out of every five leaders is toxic, and he argues according to his research, that is closer to three out of every ten leaders. Veldsman describes toxic leadership as “ongoing, deliberate intentional actions by a leader to undermine the sense of dignity, self-worth and efficacy of an individual. This results in exploitative, destructive, devaluing and demeaning work experiences.” He goes on to say that a toxic organization is one that “erodes, disable and destroys the physiological, psychosocial and spiritual well being of the people who work in it in permanent and deliberate way.

INSEAD business school Professors Gianpiero Petriglieri and Jennifer Petriglieri, authors of “Can Business Schools Humanize Leadership?” have coined the term “leadership industrial complex,” which they say promotes a view of leadership that is depersonalized and sanitized: “Over one decade of corporate scandals, financial meltdowns and growing inequality has consolidated a disconnect with business and political leaders, as it is in the protests in the streets and squares around the globe.” Leaders now are no longer seen as being role models or stewards of the common good, but rather as predatory plutocrats who profit disproportionately at the expense of the majority of the population. G. Petriglieri and J. Petriglieri argue that we have experienced a “dehumanization of leadership” in which leadership is reduced from a cultural enterprise to a strict intellectual or commercial one, and in which leadership “distances aspiring leaders from their followers and institutions, resulting in a disconnect their inner and outer worlds.”

Robert Sutton was one of the first leadership experts to draw attention to the prevalence of abusive bosses and how organizations should screen them out, as detailed in his book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. He points out that tech firms, particularly those in Silicon Valley are where abusive leaders thrive. His article in the Harvard Business Review on the subject received an overwhelming response of affirmation. He says in business and sports it is assumed if you are a big winner, you can get away with being a jerk. Sutton argues such bosses and cultures drive good people out and claims bad bosses affect the bottom line through increased turnover, absenteeism, decreased commitment and performance. He says the time spent counselling or appeasing these people, consoling victimized employees, reorganizing departments or teams and arranging transfers produce significant hidden costs for the company. And he warns organizations this behavior is contagious. Research suggests not only that some bosses are jerks but that many of them are bosses because they are jerks.

Paul Babiak’s book Snakes in Suits profiles how some functional psychopaths can fake it untill they make it up the corporate ladder through charm and guile, pointing out how statistically significant evidence shows psychopaths are overrepresented in Corporate America.

An Interact/Harris Poll was conducted online with roughly 1,000 U.S. workers. In the survey, employees called out the kind of management offenses that point to a striking lack of emotional intelligence among business leaders, including micromanaging, bullying, narcissism, indecisiveness, and more.

Incivility also hijacks workplace focus. According to a survey of more than 4,500 doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel, 71 percent tied disruptive behavior, such as abusive, condescending or insulting personal conduct, to medical errors, and 27 percent tied such behavior to patient deaths.

Swedish researchers, led by Anna Nyberg at the Stress Institute in Stockholm, have published a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine on the issue of leaders’ behavior and employee health. They studied more than 3,100 men over a 10 year period in typical work settings. They found that employees who had managers who were incompetent, inconsiderate, secretive and uncommunicative, the employees were 60% more likely to suffered a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition. By contrast, employees who worked with “good” leaders were 40% less likely to suffer heart problems.

According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 35% of the American workforce (or 53.5 million people) has directly experienced bullying–or “repeated mistreatment by one or more employees that takes the form of verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, humiliation or sabotage of work performance”–while an additional 15% said they have witnessed bullying at work. Approximately 72% of those bullies are bosses.

Jean Lipman-Blumen, in her book, The Allure of Toxic Leaders, describes how toxic leaders create “serious and enduring harm” on their followers, employees and their organizations. Recent polls of the American public shows some of the lowest trust results in decades for elected members of Congress and business leaders. She identifies toxic leaders’ behaviors as follows:

Leaving their followers worse off than when they found them by deliberately undermining, demeaning, seducing, marginalizing, intimidating, demoralizing, terrorizing them;
Consciously feeding their followers illusions that enhance the leader’s power and impair the followers’ capacity to act independently
Playing to the basest fears and needs of the followers;
Threatening or punishing those who fail to comply with the leader or question the leader’s actions;
Misleading followers through deliberate lies;
Blaming others for their mistakes or failures.
Lipman-Blumen contends that even the media has difficulty resisting the seductive appeal of toxic leaders, citing examples from leading publications such as Time, BusinessWeek, Forbes and Fortune extolling the virtues of a number of failed narcissistic and toxic leaders such as Dennis Kozlowski, Kenneth Lay and Al Dunlap.

Narcissistic Leaders

Americans are obsessed with narcissistic leaders, or at least they have an ambivalence between the ones they like and the ones they promote. A case in point is Real Estate baron and presidential candidate Donald Trump. Not that he is alone. At various times, similar attention and popularity have been heaped by the public and especially by the media for leaders such as Steve Jobs, Lee Iacocca and Larry Ellison. Some observers have openly called Trump a narcissist in terms of a classical definition. Stephanie Marsh used the Narcissistic Personality Disorder description contained in the psychologists/psychiatrists Bible, the DSM-V as an assessment for Trump, concluding there was a match with the following traits:

A grandiose sense of self-importance;
A preoccupation with unlimited fantasies of success, power and brilliance;
Believes that he is “so special;”
Requires excessive admiration;
Has a sense of entitlement;
Takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends;
Lacks empathy for others;
Is super-sensitive to criticism.
Not that their hubris doesn’t pay off. According to a research study completed by Charles A. O’Reilly III at Stanford’s business school. O’Reilly and his colleagues surveyed employees in 32 large, publicly traded tech companies. He contends that bosses who exhibits narcissistic traits like dominance, self-confidence, a sense of entitlement, grandiosity and low empathy, tend to make more money than their less self-centered counterparts, even if the lower-paid CEOs exhibit plenty of confidence. O’Reilly says of the narcissists, “they don’t really care what other people think and depending on the nature of the narcissist, they are impulsive and manipulative.” O’Reilly goes on to argue the longer narcissistic leaders are at the helm, the higher their compensation in comparison with the rest of the leadership team, or in some cases the narcissistic bosses fire anyone who dares to question or challenge them. There is a dark downside to this appearance of success however, O’Reilly contends. Company morale often declines, and employees leave the company. And while the narcissistic or abusive leaders may bring in the bigger paychecks, O’Reilly says there is compelling evidence that they don’t perform any better than lower-paid, less narcissistic counterparts.

While Steve Jobs was a charismatic visionary, and brilliant innovator, Walter Issacson’s biography showed him to be rude, controlling and mean-spirited, never hesitating to humiliate Apple employees and take credit for others’ work. Since his death, there has been a flood of articles and books and seminars extoling Job’s leadership style, many of which argue that it’s okay to be an “asshole” as long as you are financially successful. In my article in The Financial Post I make the point: “The concern I have, and that it is reflected by other leadership experts, is the faulty cause and effect, and “ends justifies the means” arguments that hold up Jobs as a leader to be emulated. It goes something like this: It doesn’t matter what kind of boss you are like (meaning abusive), as long as you get results (financial); and any methods to get there are okay, including abusing people.”

While narcissists may look like good leaders, according to a new study by a group of psychology researchers from the University of Amsterdam, they’re actually really bad at leading. The study is in the journal Psychological Science. Here’s the abstract: “Although they are generally perceived as arrogant and overly dominant, narcissistic individuals are particularly skilled at radiating an image of a prototypically effective leader. As a result, they tend to emerge as leaders in group settings. Despite people’s positive perceptions of narcissists as leaders, it was thus far unknown if and how leaders’ narcissism is related to the actual performance of those they lead. We proposed and found that although narcissistic leaders are perceived as effective due to their displays of authority, leaders’ narcissism actually inhibits information exchange between group members and thereby negatively affects group performance.”

Writing in the Harvard Business Review Michael Maccoby identified the weaknesses of a narcissistic leader, including this: “Despite the warm feelings their charisma can evoke, narcissists are typically not comfortable with their own emotions. They listen only for the kind of information they seek. They don’t learn easily from others. They don’t like to teach but prefer to indoctrinate and make speeches. They dominate meetings with subordinates. The result for the organization is greater internal competitiveness at a time when everyone is already under as much pressure as they can possibly stand. Perhaps the main problem is that the narcissist’s faults tend to become even more pronounced as he becomes more successful.”

Tomas Chamorrow-Premuzic has pondered the question of “Why We Love Narcissists.” He argues when narcissists, however productive some may be, “have parasitic effects on society. When in charge of companies they commit fraud, demoralize employees and devalue stock. When in charge of countries they increase poverty, violence and death rates.” Chamorrow-Premuzic analyzed decades of research on narcissistic leaders and concluded these key findings:

Narcissists are masterful impression makers, largely due to their intense self-obsession and self-adulation.
Narcissists take credit for successes and blame others for failures “through a mix of shameless self-promotion and guilt-free, Machiavellian agenda.”
Narcissists fit our conventional stereotype of what a good leader should look like. Perhaps this is the most relevant factor. Chamarrow-Premuzic says in sports, business, education and politics, we value above all else confidence, charisma and egotism rather than humble confidence and altruism and integrity. Today’s business world values rewards, and arrogant self-important people, and our media thrives on covering and promoting narcissists.
Lord David Owen identified hubris—overconfidence and exaggerated pride along with a shaming and contempt for others) as another term to describe narcissistic leaders. He says that, among other character traits, they have a strong belief that any action they take, even if illegal, will be vindicated in legal courts or that of public opinion. He says the “hubris syndrome is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.”

Emma SEPPÄLÄ provides us with hard data on the value of being a “nice boss.” She argues that research shows that “tough managers” often mistakenly think that putting pressure on employees will increase performance, but when it does is increase stress, which has many negative effects. She cites a study that also shows that when leaders are fair to the members of their team, the team members display more citizenship behavior and and are more productive.

Fred Kiel, founder of KRW International, and author of The Return on Character, says there is a widely accepted belief in the business world and business schools that a good leader is a “hard-nosed driver.” Kiel argues the opposite. He contends that jerks who exhibit poor character cost a company money, based on his study of 84 CEOs. Kiel used 25 positive character traits such as telling the truth, keeping promises, admitting mistakes, and forgiving others who make mistakes and measured CEOs against these criteria. He found that “high character leaders and their teams brought in nearly five times the return on assets to the bottom line as did low-character or self-focused CEOs.”

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that the firms with narcissistic CEOs did not perform any better than the firms with non-narcissistic CEOs.

Morgan McCall, of the University of Southern California’s business school, in his book, “ High Flyers: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders, says of narcissistic leaders that eventually their flaws catch up with them, particularly when they get in trouble.

What Research Says About Good Leaders

Christina Boedker of the Australian School of Business conducted a research study on the link between leadership and organizational performance and collected data from more than 5600 people in 77 organizations. She concluded that the ability of leaders to spend more time and effort developing and recognizing people, welcoming feedback, and fostering co-operation among staff were critical to success. Moreover, out of all the various elements in a business, the ability of a leader to be compassionate, “to understand people’s motivators, hopes and difficulties and to create the right support mechanism to allow people to be as good as they can be,” had the greatest correlation with profitability and productivity, Boedker concluded.

William Baker and Michael O’Malley, authors of Leading With Kindness, argue that the practice of kindness in corporations has a positive impact on bottom line business results. They argue that a management style, which could be called transformational, that has these traits—compassion, integrity, gratitude, authenticity, humility and humor—improves employee performance and employee retention.

Humble leaders are more effective and better liked, according to a study published in the Academy of Management Journal “Leaders of all ranks view admitting mistakes, spotlighting follower strengths and modeling teachability as being at the core of humble leadership,” says Bradley Owens, assistant professor of organization and human resources at the University at Buffalo School of Management. “And they view these three behaviors as being powerful predictors of their own as well as the organization’s growth.”

The more honesty and humility an employee may have, the higher their job performance, as rated by the employees’ supervisor. That’s the new finding from a Baylor University study published in in the journal Personality and Individual Differences that found the honesty-humility personality trait was a unique predictor of job performance.

“Researchers already know that integrity can predict job performance and what we are saying here is that humility and honesty are also major components in that,” said Dr. Wade Rowatt, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, who helped lead the study. “This study shows that those who possess the combination of honesty and humility have better job performance. In fact, we found that humility and honesty not only correspond with job performance, but it predicted job performance above and beyond any of the other five personality traits like agreeableness and conscientiousness.”

The Baylor researchers found that those who self-reported more honesty and humility were scored significantly higher by their supervisors for their job performance. The researchers defined honesty and humility as those who exhibit high levels of fairness, greed-avoidance, sincerity and modesty.

“This study has implications for hiring personnel in that we suggest more attention should be paid to honesty and humility in applicants and employees, particularly those in care-giving roles,” said Megan Johnson, a Baylor doctoral candidate who conducted the study. “Honest and humble people could be a good fit for occupations and organizations that require special attention and care for products or clients. Narcissists, on the other hand, who generally lack humility and are exploitative and selfish, would probably be better at jobs that require self-promotion.”

Amy Y. Ou and her colleagues at Arizona State University published a study in Administrative Science Quarterly in which they suggested it would be interesting to look at some of the leadership traits that include self-awareness, openness to feedback, and a focus on the greater good and others’ welfare, as opposed to dwelling on oneself have more positive impact on employees and the organization. Together with three other colleagues in the U.S. and China, the researchers wound up interviewing the CEOs of 63 private Chinese companies. They also gave surveys to 1,000 top- and mid-level managers who worked with the CEOs. The surveys and interviews aimed to determine how a humble leadership style would affect not so much the bottom line as the top and mid-level managers who worked under the CEOs. Did managers feel empowered by CEOs’ humility, did they feel as though they were invited into company decision-making, and did that lead to a higher level of activity and engagement? The study’s conclusion: The more humble the CEO, the more top- and mid-level managers reported positive reactions. Top-level managers said they felt their jobs were more meaningful, they wanted to participate more in decision-making, they felt more confident about doing their work and they had a greater sense of autonomy. They also were more motivated to collaborate, to make decisions jointly and to share information. Likewise middle managers felt more engaged and committed to their jobs when the top boss was more humble. “There is a negative stereotype that humble people are weak and indecisive,” Angelo Kinicki, one of the co-authors of the report, “That’s just not the case.”

In an article in The Harvard Business Review entitled “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve,” leadership expert Jim Collins argues Level 5 leaders, the best leaders exhibit the following characteristics:

Demonstrate a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
Act with quiet, calm determination; relie principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate;
Channel ambition into the company, not the self; set up successors for even more greatness in the next generation;
Look in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck;
Look out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and good luck.
Rob Nielsen, author of Leading with Humility, argues that some narcissistic business leaders are treated like rock stars but who leaders who are humble and admit mistakes outshine them all. There’s a difference between being a humble leader and being wishy-washy or overly solicitous of others’ opinions, says Arron Grow, associate program director of the School of Applied Leadership at the City University of Seattle and author of How to Not Suck as a Manager. He says being humble doesn’t mean being a chump and describes 6 ways in which leaders can be more effective by being more humble. Elizabeth Salib takes up on this theme in her article in The Harvard Business Review, contending the best leaders are humble leaders. She cites Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, who says humility is one of the traits he’s looking for in new hires.

A recent Catalyst study backs this up, showing that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. In a survey of more than 1500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the U.S., Catalyst found that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers—a style characterized by acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes, they were more positive and committed to their work teams.

Fred Kiel, head of the executive development firm KRW international, recently studied 84 CEOs and more than 8,000 of their employees over the course of seven years. The results, written up in the Kiel’s recent book Return on Character found that people worked harder and more happily when they felt valued and respected. So-called “character-driven” CEOs who possess four virtues—integrity, compassion, forgiveness, and accountability—lead companies whose returns on assets are five times larger than those of executives who are more self-centered, he found.

Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the George Mason University School of Business examined what they call a “culture of companionate love,” which involves feelings of affection, compassion, caring, and tenderness among co-workers at long-term care facilities. Though less intense than romantic love, the strong emotions involved still help create bonds between people. 16 months later the researchers checked in with each group. It turned out that a strong culture of compassionate love predicted benefits all around: less burnout, fewer unplanned absences, more teamwork, and higher work satisfaction for employees; fewer emergency room trips and higher mood, satisfaction, and quality of life for patients; and more satisfaction with the facility and willingness to recommend it for families. Research suggests that compassionate workplaces increase employee satisfaction and loyalty. A worker who feels cared for at work is more likely to experience positive emotion, which in turn helps to foster positive work relationships, increased cooperation, and better customer relations. Compassion training in individuals can reduce stress, and may even impact longevity. All of these point to a need for increasing compassion’s role in business and organizational life.

According to a study by Bradley Owens, of the University at Buffalo School of Management, humble leaders are more effective and better liked. A follow up study that is forthcoming based on data from more than 700 employees and 218 leaders confirmed that leader humility is associated with more learning-oriented teams, more engaged employees and lower voluntary turnover.

David Rand at Yale University argues that employees in all industries increasingly desire leaders who are more like Ghandi and less like the Wolf of Wall Street. The PR firm Ketchum conducted a 2014 leadership survey, and concluded there’s a “seismic move away from an outdated, ‘macho’ model of solitary leadership—a command-and-control approach centered on one-way rhetoric, obsessively controlled messaging and solitary decision-making—and towards a new, more ‘feminine’ archetype.”

So Why Are We Such Hypocrites About Who We Want For Leaders?

Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Stanford University business professor, in his new book, Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time, describes how we’ve developed a mythology of leadership, arguing that most conventional wisdom about it “BS.” He says “Leaders fail their people, their organizations, the larger society and even themselves with unacceptable frequency.” He points to overwhelming evidence that shows dysfunctional workplaces filled with disengaged, dissatisfied employees who don’t trust their leaders and can’t wait to leave their jobs.

It seems, Pfeffer argues, that there is a clear divergence in the interests of corporate leaders and the groups that study leadership, and the average employee. He says: “Individuals maximize their own survival chances by acting selfishly to acquire at all costs the resources for survival. Group survival, however, depends on individuals sacrificing their own well-being for that of the group.” Perhaps this explains the never-ending increases in CEO compensation and corporate shareholder profits, while average worker salaries stagnate.

What’s the solution to this leadership crisis, and make no mistake we are in the midst of one?

Pfeffer would argue the answer lies in measuring outcomes. He says the current measurement of leadership improvement activities is pathetic. We measure leadership development based on whether the participants “liked” their experience (in University or corporate training programs) versus whether the activities actually made any difference in the workplace.

All too often, the experience of the average worker, or the average citizen is to hear a bunch of platitudinous “inspirational” sound bites from leaders intended—like the football coaches locker room speech—to motivate the troops, with little concrete follow-up or substance. So people become cynical and distrustful of their leaders.

Pfeffer concludes that the leadership training industry itself has failed to produce good leaders. He cites the supporting work of other experts such as Barbara Kellerman at Harvard University.

Herein lies the irony, Pfeffer argues. Despite all the substantial research on what is supposed to constitute good leadership in the past three decades, we still are experiencing “an enormous psychological and even physical toll exacted on employees from bullying, abusive bosses.”

Pfeffer proposes an answer to why this has occurred. He argues that too much leadership development efforts have been more like preaching—“telling people inspiring stories about heroic leaders and exceptional organizations,” while not much has actually changed in workplaces. He provides another sobering conclusion: “the qualities we actually select for and reward in most workplaces are precisely the ones that are unlikely to produce leaders who are good for employees, or for that matter, long-term organizational performance.”

Perhaps the most interesting way of looking at this contradiction is from an evolutionary perspective. Frans de Waal is author of The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons For A Kinder Society. De Waal is a biologist, professor of psychology and director of the Living Link Center at Emory University. In 2007, Time magazine selected him as one of the world’s most influential people. The distinguished scientist says it is long overdue that we jettisoned our beliefs about human nature—proposed by economists and politicians—that human society is modeled on the perpetual struggle for survival that exists in nature. De Waal says this is mere projection on our part. Nature is replete with examples of cooperation and empathy. Given all we know about empathy in other animal species, why do we persist in seeing human existence, particularly in business, as a fight for survival, with winners and losers? De Waal calls this the “macho origin myth” which insists that the human species has been waging war on itself as millennia as a reflection of our true nature. What has been ignored is the fact that empathy has been evident during that entire time. De Waal points to a mass of examples of sacrifice, empathy, co-operation and fairness in humans and other animals’ species.


Several things are clear. First, we are in a leadership crisis when it comes to confidence in our political and business leaders. Second, we say we want empowering, humble, and kind leaders—bolstered by research evidence—but we often choose authoritarian, controlling, narcissistic and toxic leaders. Perhaps it’s time for the general public, recruiters, and leadership development experts to end the contradiction and do what’s best for our organizations and society.

What Will We Do When Robots Take Our Jobs?

Posted August 30th, 2016 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We are in the midst of a revolution, occasioned by the disappearance of a massive number of jobs as we know them. We are experiencing the end of work as we know it.

What do we mean by the expression “the end of work?” It means technology, as defined as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and “robotization,” exerting a slow but continuous degradation on the value and availability of work—in the form of wages and the number of adult workers with full-time jobs. The widespread disappearance of jobs would usher in a social transformation unlike we’ve ever experience or imagined. The issue won’t be saving jobs, it will be saving or recasting the concept of work, which has become a religion in its own right.

Some aspects of the future world of work are already present. In my Psychology Today article, “The End of Jobs As We Have Known Them,” I argue that the jobless future is already here. Futurist Jeremy Rifkin contends we are entirely a new phase in history, one characterized by a steady and inevitable decline of jobs. He says the world of work is being polarized into two forces: One, an information elite that controls the global economy; and the other, a growing number of displaced workers.

Organizational structural changes have altered the nature of careers and jobs . Organizations have become “flatter” with fewer management levels as more work has become knowledge work. Project work and teamwork have also changed the nature of jobs.

Careers that once were viewed as progressions “up” a ladder are now often multidirectional and lateral. Robert DeFillippi and Michael Arthur define these changes as the creation of the “boundaryless career,” where the career path is defined by the individual’s soft and hard skills, not by their formal education or experience.

PWC’s report, “The Future of Work: A Journey to 2022,” a study of 10,000 people in China, India, Germany, the UK and the US, gave their views of the future of work, concluded that increasingly large corporations are turning into mini-countries and will take a more prominent role in social issues, the most important of which be the environmental; the development of more sophisticated measures of human productivity that include psychological and social components, and the disappearance of the boundary between work and personal life.

Economic growth is increasingly not driven by human labor but by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots.

In 2013, Oxford University researchers In a published paper titled: “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization” C.B. Frey and M.A. Osborne, researchers at Oxford University, created a model that calculates the probability of substituting a worker in a given sector. Frey and Osborne conclude machines may replace 47% of active workers in the future. Of 1,896 prominent scientists, analysts, and engineers questioned in a recent Pew survey on the future of jobs, 48% of them said the AI revolution will be a permanent job killer on a vast scale.The Bank of England has warned that within the coming decades as many as 80 million jobs in the U.S. could be replaced by robots.

We are already witnessing chronic unemployment or significant underemployment for adult men and youth. The share in the economy of men in jobs and wages aged 25-54 has continuously declined through good and bad times since the 1970’s. And real wages and employment opportunities for college and university graduates have substantially declined since the year 2000. Only 68 % of men between 30 and 45 who have a high school diploma were working full time in 2013, according to a recent report by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based public-policy group.

Even the professions are not spared by the impact of economic restructuring that we’ve experienced.The number of hours logged by first-year and mid-level legal associates fell 12 percent from 2007 at some of New York’s largest law firms, says Jeff Grossman, national managing director of Wells Fargo Private Bank’s Legal Specialty. Architecture graduates ages 25 to 29 had the highest unemployment of the 57 degree programs surveyed by the Education Department in 2009. What about the medical profession? CABG rates are continuing to fall, says cardiologist Jack Tu, co-author of the ICES report and team leader of the Canadian Cardiovascular Outcomes Research Team (CCORT). “Anecdotally, a lot of surgeons are concerned they don’t have the [procedure] volume to meet their targets government funding [as a cardiac centre],” says Tu, a senior scientist at ICES and Canada Research Chair in HealthServices Research. Volumes will definitely continue to fall, resulting, eventually, in a surplus of cardiac surgeons, says Tu. “We need to stop training so many. They’re not going to have a lot of work.”

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, authors of The Second Machine Age, argue computer technology is evolving so rapidly that predicting their capabilities and applications in a decade is almost impossible. Remember it was only 2007 when the first Iphone was released. Look at the capabilities of smartphones now.

Job creation is very different today than it has been in the past. The newest industries being created are mostly related to computer software, telecommunications and like applications, are the most labor efficient and don’t require many people. Economic historian Robert Skidelsky, author of Keynes: Return of the Master, argues, “sooner or later, we will run out of jobs.” If Skidelsky is right, it raises the question of what will our society look like without universal work or even close to it?

The application of AI, robotics and computer software kills a wide variety of skilled jobs.

The replacement of human labor with AI and robotics has expanded from jobs that produce material products to a wide range of services, including the professions such as law, accounting, and health and even psychological therapy. The recession of 2007–2009 may have sped up the destruction of many relatively well-paid jobs requiring repetitive tasks that can be automated. These so-called routine jobs “fell off a cliff in the recession,” says Henry Siu, an economist at the University of British Columbia, “and there’s been no large rebound.” This type of work, which includes white-collar jobs in sales and administration as well as blue-collar jobs in assembly work and machine operation, makes up about 50 percent of employment in the United States.

Siu’s research also shows that the disappearance of these jobs has most harshly affected people in their 20s, many of whom seem to have simply stopped looking for work. Middle-income jobs are disappearing for a wide range of jobs. For example, the number of financial counselors and loan officers ages 25 to 34 has dropped 40 percent since 2007, outpacing the 30 percent drop in total jobs for the profession, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the investment business we are seeing the replacement of financial analysts with quantitative analytic systems, and floor traders with trading algorithms. Mutual funds and traditional portfolio managers now compete against ETFs (exchange-traded funds), many of which offer completely automated strategies.

The expansion of contingency work for large numbers of people, and continuing development of the “gig” economy.

One in three U.S. workers—53 million people—are now “contingent,” already contending with the changed structure of work, perhaps juggling multiple jobs and serving as temporary, “gig,” or self-employed workers. An increasing number of corporations, government institutions and even colleges and universities have replaced full-time workers with part-time and contract or piecemeal workers, any without any security or benefits. During the recent recession, large numbers of Americans who lost their jobs scrambled to make a living. Simultaneously, Internet commerce was expanding providing the most specialized consumer wants to be met with great efficiency and speed. This provided some enterprising individuals the unprecedented ability to capitalize on their own hands, minds, things, and hours.

Thus, says Jacob Morgan, author of Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders and Create a Competitive Organization, the gig economy was born: Americans were able to use a craft expertise to an Etsy side job, or a car into a job for Sidecar, Lyft, and Uber for a little extra money. Benefit-less, contractor jobs that fill the gig economy include low barriers to entry and flexibility of schedule.

Sara Horowitz, founder and CEO of Freelancers Union, argues that the jobless future is here. Many people are already combining part-time work just to get by, she notes. In an article in the magazine Atlantic, Horowitz writes that as of 2005, 30% of the workforce has participated in this “freelance economy,” and entrepreneurial activity has reached an all time high in 2010.

In the past decade cloud computing has radically altered the way we work. But it’s the growth of the “human cloud”—a vast global pool of freelancers who are available to work on demand from remote locations, that will shake up the world of work. More and more employers (“requesters”) are inviting freelancers (“taskers”) to bid for each task. Two of the biggest Internet sites are Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which lays claim to 500,000 “turkers” from 190 countries and Upwork, which estimates that it has 10 million freelancers from 180 countries. They compete for more than 3 million tasks or projects each year, which can range from tagging photos to writing code.

Management consultants McKinsey & Co. estimate that by 2025 some 540 million workers will have used one of these platforms to find work. The benefits to companies is obvious—instant access to a pool of cheap, willing talent without having to go through the lengthy recruitment process, and costly benefits. For the taskers, the benefits are not so good. However, the champions of crowdsourcing argue that it provides a powerful force for the redistribution of wealth by providing a fresh stream of income into the economy. In balance, it’s more likely to increase income inequality and depress wages. The big challenge for governments will be how to codify, and provide ethical, legal standards for this kind of work, to prevent abuses by employers.

What Happens to Education?

The disappearance of work for many people will have a dramatic impact on the nature of post-secondary education. For some time now, the purpose for, and offerings in colleges and universities in North America, have become increasingly skewed towards the preparation for jobs. If that purpose becomes questionable or even redundant, post-secondary institutions will either shrink or possibly repurpose themselves back to classical views of education, emphasizing the enlightenment of democratic citizens. According to Bethany Moreton of Dartmouth College, the 10 fastest growing job categories require less than a college degree. Over 40% of the college graduates are now working in low-wage jobs.

In policy debates, technology is presented as an uncontrollable force for which societies and workers must prepare. While education can allow individuals to improve their well-being by moving to a more lucrative profession, the overwhelming majority of jobs—in developed and developing countries alike —will not improve through more education. Of the current top 10 occupations in the U.S., only one is a highly skilled—a registered nurse. Retail salespersons and cashiers, fast-food workers, general office clerks, customer service representatives, waiters and waitresses, laborers, and janitors are the other top occupations, accounting for more than one of every five jobs in the U.S. in 2014, and not predicted to disappear anytime soon. The average annual earnings in most of these jobs in the U.S. is just under $20,000. More education may help a fast-food worker to leave the sector, but it will do little for the person remaining in that job. In Denmark and France, countries which embrace socialism, retail and fast-food workers are protected by collective agreements, these jobs provide living wages and other social benefits including paid annual and sick leave.

As Jaison Abel, senior economist at the New York Federal Reserve, argues, “A significant challenge is that a large swath of people will be displaced as technology continues to advance, and some kind of retraining will likely be required. And we really have very little understanding about the kinds of retraining programs that are beneficial and would potentially pass a cost-benefit test.”

John Seely Brown, former chief scientist at Xerox, argues that given this era of accelerating change, one in which the half-life of many skills can be as short as five years, corporate training centers no longer work; returning to community colleges every five years is not viable. He argues we must re-invent the workplace as a “learningscape.” He says we can create “Cities of Learning’’—a new movement in which employers, libraries, and museums are wired together to help kids find their interests outside school and pick up new skills—or networks of partners in the corporate world.

A powerful example of this kind of learning is the use of GitHub; another example is being developed by a conservative company, SAP, which has created an extended open source network that has a couple million participants who are learning with and from each other. Another example is Hacker DoJo, a community in Silicon Valley where people share digital technical skills, or the guild networks around massively multi-player online games where thousands of new ideas are created, shared, and tested each night. And the rapid development of MOOCs, and other sources of free education and training through the Internet may make brick-and-mortar educational institutions obsolete.

The traditional answer has been to invest in developing skills that machines can’t replicate—creativity, problem solving, ingenuity, and other higher-order functions. Interestingly, embracing these skills means taking a step back from the idea of the human being that emerged during the Industrial Revolution—cog in a machine, interchangeable, and reproducible—towards the older Renaissance humanism, more prone to seeing people as possessed with unique gifts to create and innovate.

The problem is that public education in the U.S. and much of the world is, in many ways, a by-product of the Industrial Revolution. Education came to be standardized just like production, with students lined up in neat rows of desks and taught a uniform curriculum. An emphasis on memorization and rote learning helped produce a uniform citizenry— literate, compliant, interchangeable—to fill standardized roles in industry, offices, and government.

None of that cuts it in an age when intelligent machines can do anything rote or repetitive far better than we can. Cultivating some of our last uniquely human abilities—namely creativity and social intelligence—requires reimagining education as a means not of reproducing uniformity but of nurturing exceptionalism–in other words, the ability to do things that can’t be codified or systematized.

The Disappearance of Jobs, Income Inequality and the Consumer Economy

Martin Ford in his book, The Rise of Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, asks the question: “What happens to the consumer economy when you take away the consumers who are not working?” And what will happen to much of the infrastructure that supports the world of work as we know it—from the building of suburban communities supported by a commuter working force to the endless rows of office buildings?

It also means, says Richard Freeman, a leading labor economist at Harvard University, that far more people need to “own the robots” inclusive of other kinds of automation and digital technologies in general. Some mechanisms already exist in profit-sharing programs and employee stock-ownership plans. Other practical investment programs can be envisioned, he says.

Whoever owns the capital will benefit as robots and AI inevitably replace many jobs. If the rewards of new technologies go largely to the very richest, as has been the trend in recent decades, then dystopian visions could become reality. But the machines are tools, and if their ownership is more widely shared, the majority of people could use them to boost their productivity and increase both their earnings and their leisure. If that happens, an increasingly wealthy society could restore the middle-class dream that has long driven technological ambition and economic growth.

The concept of a “living income” also allows us to keep the wheels of the economy and innovation turning. “A fundamental insight of economics is that an entrepreneur will only supply goods or services if there is a demand, and those who demand the good can pay,” writes the Center for Internet and Society expert Andew Rens.

Progress depends, in no small way, on people buying stuff, and that depends on them having an income. A living income isn’t completely without precedent. In the 1970s, a five-year basic income program in the Canadian province of Manitoba called Mincome showed promising results. Parents spent more time raising children. Students showed higher test scores and lower dropout rates. Hospital visits, mental illness, car accidents, and domestic abuse cases all declined. And in the end, total working hours only slipped by a few percentage points. In other words, having a basic income didn’t lead to sloth or indolence. It let people spend time on the things that mattered: family, education, health, personal fulfillment.

Whatever the reasons for the disconnect between productivity and wage growth, it’s a problem for everyone, not just workers. Rich people like their money, but who wants to live in a world where the haves hide in cloistered communities defended by private armies, while starving haves-not work for peanuts, if at all? To date, we have chosen to distribute society’s resources largely based on our ability and willingness to work. We appear to be rapidly evolving to a world where assets, not labor, are the primary driver of prosperity. So the question is: How can we move toward an economy that equitably distributes benefits in an asset-based economy?

Jerry Kaplan, author of Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, says the problem of the lack of connection between increased productivity and stagnant wage growth is a serious problem for the economy, a trend that feeds income inequality. Do we want to see our society as portrayed in the movie Solyent Green, in which the haves hide in clustered communities defended by private armies, while starving have-nots work for peanuts, if at all?

Will Government’s Role Become More Substantial?

New technologies created by AI and robotics will be fed with capital, so it can be assumed under the current free-market capital system the profits from these industries will accrue to the same wealthy individuals and corporations, and not find their way into the hands of the rest of the population. What then becomes the role of government, one purpose for, is to ensure the well being of all its citizens? One proposal to address this issue is for government to provide a guaranteed income to all adults (who are also consumers).

The concept of a universal income without universal work will be terrifying to many political conservatives. A modified solution could be for government to pay people to do something,–including education– rather than nothing, which again raises the fear of socialism in America. In both the U.S. and Canada, recent debate has raged about the minimum wage. But while the debate on whether or not workers should be paid a minimum wage, Finland is considering giving every citizen, regardless of income or employment status, around $850 a month. The idea behind the plan — called “basic income” — is that it would replace all other welfare and would serve as a replacement for all other government benefits.

Governments will have to deal with the reality of the end of retirement. Forget quitting at age 65. As life expectancy lengthens, people will be expected to work longer. Governments are already struggling to afford pensions for longer living population and people find it harder to make their retirement savings stretch. It’s likely first that retirement will become gradual, and then extended to 67 or 70 within 20 years. This also presents challenges for employers in initiatives to ensure older workers are productive. And there is a myth that older workers are less capable or productive, which is not born out by research.

How Then Do We Define Work and Its Value?

Prior to the 20th century, in English the term “job” connoted fragmented, low-quality piece-work. But through time we elevated some of these to the status of “real jobs” and rewarding the minority who performed them as job-holders.

Peter Frase, author of Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, describes how automation will change North America, based on his argument that human labor will end, along with our belief and commitment to “work for work’s sake.” Many experts would argue that for some time now, jobs have not been motivating or rewarding for most people, as evidenced by studies that how as many as 70% of workers are not engaged in their jobs. The modern quest for meaningful work underpins a paradox—we are both disengaged from our jobs and terrified of losing them.

For decades, psychologists and other experts have demonstrated intrinsic factors—purpose, meaning, creativity, fulfillment and autonomy—are actually absent in the typical job today. Several studies have shown that North Americans place a higher value on work and work more hours than Europeans, and feel guilty when they are not productive. This emphasis will exacerbate the problem of the disappearance of jobs from the lives of many. Will the vacuum be replaced—as has often been forecasted—by leisure time? One such possibility would be the development of creative communities such as “maker spaces” or industrial shops of artisans in small communities.

One theory of work proposes that people see themselves in jobs, careers or callings. People who say their work is “just a job” emphasize that they are working for money rather than aligning themselves with any higher purpose. People who pursue a calling don’t do it for status or pay but for the intrinsic fulfillment of the work itself.

There was a time when work and home were distinct realms. The old industrial clock regulated our lives into discrete blocks of time, and a separation between public and private life. No longer. The constant connectivity of mobile, digital technologies erases the boundaries of the week and weekend, and their characteristic social relations. How will we maintain the line between “my time” and “employers’ time?”

In his Harvard Business Review article, “Create a Meaningful Life Through Meaningful Work,” author Umair Haque writes, “Maybe the real depression we’ve got to contend with isn’t merely one of how much economic output we’re generating – but what we’re putting out there and why. Call it a depression of human potential, a tale of human insignificance being willfully squandered.”

Recent studies from research at McKinsey conclude that providing meaningful work to employees was the most important contributing factor to a high level of engagement. In her book, The Progress Principle, author Teresa Amabile reports that of all the events that can deeply engage people in their work, the single most important factor was meaningful work. According to Amabile, “Beyond affecting the well-being of employees, research shows that the ‘inner work life’ affects the bottom line.”

A Dystopian or Utopian Future?

Concepts of utopia and dystopia represent imaginary societies in which people live their life either in a perfect environment, governed by the laws that provide happiness to everyone, or in an oppressive society that is ruled by repressive and controlled state. Origin of these concepts can be traced to the year of 380BC, when Greek philosopher Plato released his influential political dialogue called “Republic”. In it, he first postulated the main themes of utopian society and his visions of the perfect Greek city-state that provided stable life for all of its citizens.

The modern world “Utopia” came to life during early years of 16th century, in the work of the famous English philosopher Thomas Moore. His description of utopian society gave birth to enormous wave of utopian thought that influenced the life and works of many future philosophers and novelist, and helped in the creation of several important political movements (most notably socialism).

Utopias that were envisioned by the minds of those authors can most easily be divided in several distinct categories, all based on the means of their creation – Ecology utopia, Economic utopia, Political utopia, Religious utopia, Feminists utopia and Science and technological utopia. 19th century gave the birth of the largest wave of utopian thought the world has ever seen. Numerous novelist and philosophers focused their careers on the exploration of those themes, and result of their work influenced the audiences across the entire world. Most notable utopian novel from that period was without a doubt Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy.

Not all examples of utopian life were set in the theory. Some people tried to realize the dreams postulated in the work of several philosophers, and so the age of utopian societies came to life. During the 19th century, over a dozen utopian societies were established in the United States, and few of them managed to survive even to today.

End of 19th century brought the rise of Dystopian thought. Numerous philosophers and authors imagined the dark visions of the future where totalitarian rulers governed the life of ordinary citizens. Their works explored many themes of dystopian societies – repressive social control systems, government coercion of citizens, influence of technology on human mind, coping mechanisms, individuality, freedom of life and speech, censorship, sexual repression, class distinctions, artificial life and human interaction with the nature (and often the consequences of its destruction).

Some of the earliest and influential works of dystopian fiction can be contributed to the authors H.G. Wells (Time Machine), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four). Their works paved the way to the numerous other authors, who even today manage to envision some new aspect of life in dystopian societies. In addition to literature, dystopian themes found life in many other types of mediums, such as comic books (most notably V for Vendetta, Transmetropoliten, Y: The Last Man and Akira), music, video games (Fallout, Deus Ex and BioShock ) television series (The Prisoner, Dark Angel, Doctor Who and Twilight Zone) and movies (Metropolis, Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange and The Matrix).

It is difficult to predict with accuracy how technology will shape our future, to what extent it will be used in favor of the citizen and the public good. What has become clear is that it has fallen upon society to assume responsibility for the way technology is used—including to protect individual identity and privacy from governments and corporations.

Technology is not the solution to hunger, war and poverty, but merely a tool. Society can no longer meekly adopt it without thinking of the repercussions of particular advances. Rather, we must actively ensure that it enhances our quality of life the way we had hoped it would. If not, technology will keep advancing but society will lag behind.

Questions to Consider

“The central question of 2025,” insists GigaOM lead researcher Stowe Boyd, “ What are people going to do in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the robot-based economy?”
How do we keep the economy humming when jobs themselves have grown obsolete?
How do people support themselves?
What does it mean to be productive member of society in a post-job world?
How do we define work?