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.

Summary

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.

Donald Trump and Our Obsession With Narcissists

Posted November 2nd, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

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.

Dana Millbank, writing in the Washington Post, retrieved a number of Trump’s quotes from his campaign speech that could be illustrative of the criteria that Marsh cited: “I’m really proud of my success,” “I’ve done an amazing job.” Millbank also completed a content analysis of Trump’s campaign speech in which he was self-referenced 257 times.

The public in general and even management experts are hypocritical about what makes a good leader. On the one hand we exalt and praise leaders who are basically nasty and abusive (called a****les by some) because they are financially successful and on the other hand, research shows that humble leaders whose focus is to serve others are equally successful, but more importantly, capture the hearts and loyalty of others. Which do we value more?

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. This argument has been supported by Michael Maccoby in his book, The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership.

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.”

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 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 behaviour is contagious.

A University of Iowa study,  “Perpetuating Abusive Supervision: Third-Party Reactions to Abuse in the Workplace” found “when a supervisor’s performance outcomes are high, abusive behavior tends to be overlooked when they evaluate that supervisor’s effectiveness.” In other words, while people might not want to be friends with an abusive, overbearing bosses, they’ll tolerate their behavior as long as they are productive.

If you’re the kind of boss who fails to make genuine connections with your direct reports, take heed: 91% of employees say communication issues can drag executives down, according to results from our new Interact/Harris Poll,  which 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.

Recently there has been a flurry of articles which promote the idea that employees want to receive “constructive criticism,” or “negative feedback,” and that employees prefer “toughlove” by managers. Such claims are retrograde and ignore recent neuroscience andmotivation research that clearly show positive feedback and encouragement improve performance.

For example, a Harvard Business Review  blog article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman argues, based on survey data “giving negative feedback tends to the most avoided dimension” of feedback, based on the conclusion that “negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.” Such a conclusion is huge leap. In fact, there is no evidence to support the proposition that corrective or “constructive” feedback improves performance. And the proviso given by Zenger and Folkman—“if delivered appropriately,” leaves a hole in the argument as big as the Grand Canyon. Many research studies have shown that few managers know how to give appropriate positive feedback, let alone negative or “constructive feedback.”

In a similar vein, Laura Stack, writing in HR Insights , says, “Criticism can be difficult to hear, but pain helps us learn and improve ourselves, “ and “So listen and act on constructive criticism,” and suggests to her readers to just “calmly absorb the criticism graciously.” And Jacquelyn Smith, writing in Forbes , outlines “8 Ways Negative Feedback Can Lead To Greater Success At Work,” sings the same tune.

In an article in Management Issue , author Nic Paton contends “it is hard taskmasters who are not afraid to crack the whip to get the job done that are most valued by employees,” citing a study by the U.K. Institute of Leadership & Management of 1,500 managers. However, the conclusion was not reached based on how employees felt about that issue. Paton goes on to cite a University of Chicago study by Steven Kaplan which suggested that “hard-nosed” CEOs were preferred. However, when you examine the study carefully, it should be noted that the study is in reference to VC and “buyout” companies only, which presents a very different dynamic to the bulk of research which identifies positive interpersonal skills as a key trait of successful leaders.

So it seems that abusive, narcissistic bosses are alive and doing well in the business world (and politics), and even exalted by the media. This is in sharp contrast to the research showing that humble bosses actually perform better and are better for the organization.

Peter Smuelson, a psychologist at Fuller Theological Seminary along with psychologist Sam Handy at Brigham Young University published a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology  describes the need for humble leaders. They recruited 350 participants and gave them an open-ended questionnaire about real life problems. They found two clusters of traits people used to explain humility: The first from the social realm—sincerity, honesty, unselfishness, thoughtfulness. The second was learning—curiosity, logic, awareness, open-mindedness.

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.”

Owens and co-author David Hekman, assistant professor of management at the Lubar School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, asked 16 CEOs, 20 mid-level leaders and 19 front-line leaders to describe in detail how humble leaders operate in the workplace and how a humble leader behaves differently than a non-humble leader. Although the leaders were from vastly different organizations—military, manufacturing, health care, financial services, retailing and religious—they all agreed that the essence of leader humility involves modeling to followers how to grow.

“Growing and learning often involves failure and can be embarrassing,” says Owens. “But leaders who can overcome their fears and broadcast their feelings as they work through the messy internal growth process will be viewed more favorably by their followers. They also will legitimize their followers’ own growth journeys and will have higher-performing organizations.” The researchers found that such leaders model how to be effectively human rather than superhuman and legitimize “becoming” rather than “pretending.”

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 associated with Confucianism. Those traits include self-awareness, openness to feedback, and a focus on the greater good and others’ welfare, as opposed to dwelling on oneself. Ou, who is now an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, thought that China would be a good place to gather data, because of Confucianism’s influence. She also had a network of corporate contacts there and she teamed up with another Chinese colleague at the business school, Anne Tsui, who had connections in China.

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:

  • Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
    Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate;
  • Channels ambition into the company, not the self; sets up successors for even more greatness in the next generation;
  • Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck;
  • Looks 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 Harvard Business Review, (link is external) 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.

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.”

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.

In the Harvard Business Review,  Emma Seppala, the associate director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, details additional arguments for nice bosses.

Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy and her research partners have also shown that leaders who project warmth–even before establishing their competence–are more effective than those who lead with their toughness and skill. Why? One reason is trust. Employees feel greater trust with someone who is kind.

And an interesting study (link is external)shows that when leaders are fair to the members of their team, the team members display more citizenship behavior and are more productive, both individually and as a team. Jonathan Haidt at New York University Stern School of Business shows in his research that when leaders are self-sacrificing, their employees experience being moved and inspired.

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 companionate 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.

When are we going to stop idolizing business leaders, needing them to be bigger than life in a way reminiscent of celebrities and movie stars, and start appreciating the value of humble leaders, and accept the research evidence that will serve us better? When will we deny the media and public attention now accorded to narcissistic political and business leaders they so desparately desire?

Leaders: We Love Humble Leaders But Idolize Narcissists

Posted March 25th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The public in general and even management experts are hypocritical about what makes a good leader. On the one hand we exalt and praise leaders who are basically nasty and abusive (called a****les by some) because they are financially successful and on the other hand, research shows that humble leaders whose focus is to serve others are equally successful, but more importantly, capture the hearts and loyalty of others. Which do we value more?

When we think of egotistical, and even narcissistic and abusive leaders, the names of Steven Jobs, Donald Trump and Larry Ellison comes to mind. Not that their hubris doesn’t pay off according to a research study (link is external) 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. This argument has been supported by Michael Maccoby in his book, The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership. (link is external)

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 your financially successful. In may article in The Financial Post (link is external) 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.”

I’ve encountered many young men, aspiring to be leaders, espousing flawed thinking goes something like this: “If Steve Jobs was a jerk and he was one of the most successful leaders in one of the most successful companies in the world, if I act like him, maybe I’ll be successful too.”

Robert Sutton 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 (link is external). He points out that tech firms, particularly those in Silicon Valley where abusive leaders thrive. His article in the Harvard Business Review on the subject received an overwhelming response of affirmation.

A University of Iowa study, “Perpetuating Abusive Supervision: Third-Party Reactions to Abuse in the Workplace” (link is external), found “when a supervisor’s performance outcomes are high, abusive behavior tends to be overlooked when they evaluate that supervisor’s effectiveness.” In other words, while people might not want to be friends with an abusive, overbearing bosses, they’ll tolerate their behavior as long as they are productive.

So it seems that abusive, narcissistic bosses are alive and doing well in the business world (and politics), and even exalted by the media. This is in sharp contrast to the research showing that humble bosses actually perform better and are better for the organization.

Peter Smuelson, a psychologist at Fuller Theological Seminary along with psychologist Sam Handy at Brigham Young University published a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology (link is external) described the need for humble leaders. They recruited 350 participants and gave them an open-ended questionnaire about real life problems. They found two clusters of traits people used to explain humility: The first from the social realm—sincerity, honesty, unselfishness, thoughtfulness. The second was learning—curiosity, logic, awareness, open-mindedness.

Humble leaders are more effective and better liked, according to a study published in the Academy of Management Journal. (link is external)”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.”

Owens and co-author David Hekman, assistant professor of management at the Lubar School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, asked 16 CEOs, 20 mid-level leaders and 19 front-line leaders to describe in detail how humble leaders operate in the workplace and how a humble leader behaves differently than a non-humble leader.

Although the leaders were from vastly different organizations—military, manufacturing, health care, financial services, retailing and religious—they all agreed that the essence of leader humility involves modeling to followers how to grow.

“Growing and learning often involves failure and can be embarrassing,” says Owens. “But leaders who can overcome their fears and broadcast their feelings as they work through the messy internal growth process will be viewed more favorably by their followers. They also will legitimize their followers’ own growth journeys and will have higher-performing organizations.” The researchers found that such leaders model how to be effectively human rather than superhuman and legitimize “becoming” rather than “pretending.”

But some humble leaders were more effective than others, according to the study. Humble leaders who were young, nonwhite or female were reported as having to constantly prove their competence to followers, making their humble behaviors both more expected and less valued. However, humble leaders who were experienced white males were reported as reaping large benefits from humbly admitting mistakes, praising followers and trying to learn.

In contrast, female leaders often feel they are expected to show more humility than their male counterparts, but then they have their competence called into question when they do show humility.

“Our results suggest that female leaders often experience a ‘double bind,'” Owens says. “They are expected to be strong leaders and humble females at the same time.”Owens and Hekman offer straightforward advice to leaders. You can’t fake humility. You either genuinely want to grow and develop, or you don’t, and followers pick up on this.

Leaders who want to grow signal to followers that learning, growth, mistakes, uncertainty and false starts are normal and expected in the workplace, and this produces followers and entire organizations that constantly keep growing and improving. A follow-up study that is forthcoming in Organization Science using 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 employee turnover.

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 (link is external)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 along with a business consultant surveyed 269 employees in 25 different companies across 20 different states who work in positions that provide health care for challenging clients. Supervisors of the employees in the study then rated the job performance of each employee on 35 different job skills and described the kind of customer with whom the employee worked. The ratings were included in order to inform higher management how employees were performing and for the Baylor researchers to examine which personality variables were associated with job performance ratings.

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 (link is external) in which they suggested it would be interesting to look at some of the leadership traits associated with Confucianism. Those traits include self-awareness, openness to feedback, and a focus on the greater good and others’ welfare, as opposed to dwelling on oneself. Ou, who is now an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, thought that China would be a good place to gather data, because of Confucianism’s influence. She also had a network of corporate contacts there and she teamed up with another Chinese colleague at the business school, Anne Tsui, who had connections in China.

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 (link is external) 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:

  • Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
  • Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.
  • Channels ambition into the company, not the self; sets up successors for even more greatness in the next generation.
  • Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck.
  • Looks 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 Harvard Business Review (link is external), 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 (link is external) 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.

When are we going to stop idolizing business leaders, needing them to be bigger than life in a way reminiscent of celebrities and movie stars, and start appreciating the value of humble leaders, and accept the research evidence that will serve us better?

Why lonely leaders may be bad for business

Posted August 12th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

It’s common knowledge that the job of a leader–particularly CEOs– has never been more challenging, as well as under increasing scrutiny. Confidence in business and political leaders is at an all time low. What may not be as appreciated as much is how lonely the position is. While many not be inclined to sympathize with CEOs given their generous compensation and benefits, the negative impact this has on a CEO’s performance and the organization is often overlooked.

Today’s president or CEO faces more pressures than ever. Business leaders are dealing with rapidly changing markets, technologies and workforces, increased financial and legal scrutiny . . . and more. Yet, we most frequently hear of their generous compensation, perks and attention. And it is not my intention here to suggest effusing sympathy for CEOs. Rather, there should be concern about how their isolation and loneliness can have a detrimental impact on organizations.

The success rate and longevity of top executives is vast different than a generation ago. In the past two decades, 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs have lasted less than 3 years. Top executive failure rates as high as 75% and rarely less than 30%. 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, argue that often powerful and successful leaders feel they don’t need advice from anyone.

A new study led by David F. Larcker the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business together with The Miles Group shows that CEOs do feel lonely and isolated. More than 200 CEOs, board directors and senior executives of North American public and private companies were polled in the 2013 Executive Coaching Survey which formed the basis of the study. The research looked at what kid of leadership advice CEOs and their top executives are—and aren’t—receiving. A key finding from the study was a shortage of advice at the top. Nearly 66% of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches, while 100% of them stated that they are receptive to making changes based on feedback.

According to a poll of 83 CEOs in the U.S. conducted by management consulting firm RHR International, being the boss brought with it feelings of isolation and job requirements that varied greatly from the original expectations. According to the survey, 50% of CEOs felt secluded in the position of this group, 61% felt that this seclusion was a hindrance to their performance. First time CEOs were more negatively affected by this loneliness, with 70% reporting that it hurt them in their ability to do their job.

So what is the solution to this isolation and it’s negative impact on the leader and the organization? Certainly one solution is the use of outside advisors in the form of executive coaches.

“Given how vitally important it is for the CEO to be getting the best possible counsel, independent of their board, in order to maintain the health of the corporation, it’s concerning that so many of them are ‘going it alone,’” says Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group, which was co-author of the Stanford study. “Even the best-of-the-best CEOs have their blind spots and can dramatically improve their performance with an outside perspective weighing in.”

According to several research studies, where CEOs do engage coaches, they typically focus on topics such as sharing leadership/delegation, conflict management, team building, and mentoring. One reason for leadership crisis we face today may be the gaps between how leaders see themselves and how others see them. Call it self-awareness. These blind spots can be career limiting. The wider the gap, the more resistance to change. It also makes it difficult to create a positive organizational culture where openness and honesty are encouraged.

What is interesting to note is that the “softer skills” and more demanding area of compassion/empathy, self-awareness and self-management of emotions tends to be avoided by CEOs and their coaches, perhaps in part to a lack of expertise by coaches to venture into those areas. Yet, in my two decades of coaching leaders I believe this is the most important and productive area to address. Partly, it’s because of deficiencies here that often result in leader failure or disappointment.

In summary, there’s clear evidence now that it’s lonely at the top and that loneliness can not only negatively affect the leader, but have possible detrimental effects on the organization. Smart leaders and their boards will recognize the value of turning to trusted advisors such as coaches to help navigate stormy waters and keep leaders mentally and emotionally grounded.

Toronto Argonauts head coach

How coaches can help leaders lead more balanced lives

Posted June 13th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Most leadership books and training programs focus on how leaders can achieve more—do more, better, faster, with spectacular results. We’ve become obsessed with continuous improvement at increasing speed, with resulting rising stress levels to leaders and their followers and deteriorating relationships. Mindfulness as both a leadership practice and workplace culture holds the promise to bring back balance and better health. Coaches, working with leaders, can be a great catalyst for increasing their self-awareness, self-management and help bring a leadership style of calmness to the workplace.

Most contemporary management and leadership literature is a predictive recasting of 19th and 20th century institutional thinking–multitasking, bigger, better, faster; planning, analysis and problem solving. In other words, work on steroids.

While it is true that the effectiveness of leaders is determined by the results they achieve, those results are an outcome of the impact the leaders have on others. Behavior is driven by thinking and emotions. Thinking and emotions can be a result of mindfulness or mindlessness.

Neuroscience research clearly established that we act, decide and choose as a result of inner forces, often unconscious, and the brain’s reactive and protective mechanisms often rule us. Research also points to the existence of emotions being contagious and viral in the workplaces, often initiated by the emotional states of leaders.

If leaders believe they don’t have the time to work through all aspects of a problem they are inclined to be narrow in perspective and take cognitive shortcuts, and become more impulsive and reactive. Their actions, in effect become “mindless” and automatic.

Daniel Siegel, a neuroscientist and author of The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being, contends that a corporate culture of cognitive shortcuts results in oversimplication, curtailed curiosity, reliance on ingrained beliefs and the development of perceptional blind spots. He argues that mindfulness practices enable individuals to jettison judgment and develop more flexible feelings toward what before may have been mental events they tried to avoid, or towards which they had intense averse reactions.

Michael Carroll, author of the Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindfulness Meditation applies the key principles of mindfulness and how they could apply to leaders of organizations. He argues that mindfulness in leaders and their organizations can heal toxic workplace cultures where anxiety and stress impede creativity and performance; cultivate courage and confidence in spite of workplace difficulties in economic downturns; and lead with wisdom and gentleness,  rather than only with ambition, relentless drive and power.

To become mindful leaders and tap into that power, they must:

  • Let go of their belief in themselves as technical and problem solving geniuses and embrace the notion of becoming mindful partners. This requires building an awareness of and becoming more open to nuance and subtlety;
  • Be open to the concept of an unknown future. What we plan for today may not work tomorrow. To succeed in an unknown future, leaders must acknowledge mistakes quickly when things are not turning out as they predicted; be flexible enough to make changes quickly without defending their territory or ego;
  • Become skilled at leading through intuitive reflection in addition to logical analysis;
  • Become more open and accepting of the world and others, and their differing points of view, rather than trying to reshape the world in the leader’s own image;
  • Become more mindful of what is going on in terms of their own thoughts, emotions and body and what is going in context. External mindfulness is being able to sense situations, being aware of the signals and cues in different contexts, and paying attention to them. Internal mindfulness is being aware of one’s body, emotions and thoughts and requires the ability and attitude to monitor one’s inner reality.

Our modern world has become unbalanced, with an excessive focus on doing and speed and multitasking, with little time for just “being” and reflection. Mindfulness can restore that balance for leaders and workplaces. Coaches who specialize in working with leaders in organizations, particularly senior leaders, can shape their coaching practice and methodologies to incorporate mindfulness successfully. The impact can be significant.

 

 

What are the most important things great leaders do?

Posted April 2nd, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

As a CEO coach I’m often asked by new leaders recently promoted how they should spend their time. While you’d think they would already know the answer, there are different views among management experts and leaders themselves. A clear picture does emerge however, that many leaders are spending time focusing on the wrong things.

Many senior leaders report that they spend the majority of their time in meetings with direct reports, dealing with employee performance problems and analyzing the organization’s performance data, particularly financial data. And they are often behind closed doors, with limited accessabililty.

Most new senior leaders adopt a leadership style based either on watching and imitating a role model or repeating the behaviors that may have served them well in previous, lower-level management positions. The problem is, as renowned CEO coach and management expert Martin Goldsmith has argued in his book, “what got here, won’t get you there.”

John P. Kotter, a foremost management guru, conducted research into the daily work life of effective leaders. He concluded that the most effectives leaders did not spend the majority of time in long scheduled meetings, but rather in many brief and opportunistic spontaneous meetings , often informal in nature, to continually gauge the “temperature” and feeling of what was happening. Kotter also found that highly successful senior leaders rely on indirect influence with employees, compared to middle managers, who rely more on the authority of their position to effect control and change.

What about recruiting and selecting eaders? Kotter found that organizations would be better at developing their own leaders rather than spending money on executive recruiters. The track record of leaders developed from within the organization is much better than those hired from without. There is conventional wisdom that organizations should hire the “best and brightest” from the market place. Yet, as Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his article in The New Yorker, “The Talent Myth, Are Smart People Overrated?” this practice is questionable at best.

Peter Senge, writing in the Leader To Leader Journal, argues the best leaders spend their time building learning organizations and distributed leadership: “Executive leaders can change their own ways of thinking and interacting, and thereby become a persuasive role mode. They can and must develop strategies for creating an environment in which people are open to new ideas, response to change, and eage to develop new skills and capabilities.”

Several studies have shown, and it has been validated by my experience that highly successful and inspirational leaders spend  a majority (up to 75%) of their time developing their organizational culture. So what would they be doing? Here’s a summary of the most important behaviors. They spend a lot of time and energy:

  • In direct conversations with their employees (and their customers) and not just their direct reports (usually other executives), so they can get a present-time and unfiltered view of what is happening inside and outside of the organization;
  • Developing talent in their organizations, particularly their leadership team. This includes coaching others and providing support and resources and celebrating successes rather than criticizing and judging;
  • Attend other team meetings as an observer of team functioning and the leadership behaviors of others;
  • Developing and reinforcing the organization’s cultural values, purposes and long-term strategies (as opposed to short-term wins);
  • Observing, listening and reflecting, rather than talking, convincing and needing to be in the spotlight.

The role of senior leaders is critical to organizational success. How those leaders spend their time is one measure to predict their success and ultimately that of their organizations.

Are women better leaders?

Posted December 18th, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The issue of the glass ceiling has been with us for sometime now, yet relatively little progress is being made in North America, when it comes to senior executive positions and boards of directors, compared to other countries, where significant progress is being made in gender diversity. At the same time, there is increasing evidence that women actually make better leaders, and are more suited to the style of leadership needed today in organizations.

In an article I wrote in the Financial Post in May, 2010, entitled “What’s Happened to the Glass Ceiling,” I said, “Call it a glass ceiling, glass wall or a glass floor—there is still a barrier blocking senior women leaders in organizations. High-powered executive and professional women are increasingly opting out of, being bypassed, or otherwise disappearing from the professional workforce. While this exists, true diversity in organizations will not happen.”

The World Economic Forum’s 2012 report called the Global Gender Gap Index, which has been used since 2006 as a tool to capture gender-based disparities, by measuring national gender gaps in economic, political, health and educational metrics on the best countries for women in economic equality terms, place the Scandinavian countries and New Zealand in the top 8, with Canada rated at 21st and the U.S. at 22nd. Countries such as Latvia, Cuba, South Africa and the Philippines are ranked higher.

A 2011 Grant Thornton International Business Report found that women now hold 20% of senior management positions globally, which is actually down from 24% in 2009 and only up 1% since 2004. The report also showed that G7 countries lag behind the global average with only 16% of women holding senior executive positions, compared to 27% in the Asia-Pacific region. More women have risen to top positions in countries such as Thailand, Hong Kong and countries in Africa, than in North America. Thailand, in contrast, leads the way with 30% of companies employing female CEO’s, followed by China (19%), Taiwan (18%) and Vietnam (16%), compared to only 3.6% of the Fortune 500 companies. As of 2011, there are only 98 female CEOs among the 3,049 publicly trade companies in the U.S., a 3.2% increase over 2010 and 2.9% increase over 2009.

The U.S. in particular is taking steps backwards with respect to gender equality. In the field of law, women are more than 50% of the law students, but less than 25% of law firm partners, federal judges, and law school deans. In 2012, women are expected to earn 63% of master’s degrees and 54% of doctoral and professional degrees, but comprise only 20% of full university professors and only 25% of college presidents. Women comprise only 17% of the U.S. House of Representatives, 16% of the U.S. Senate, 16% of state governors and 24% of all state legislators. Internationally, the U.S. ranks 85th in the world in its share of women in national legislative bodies. Of the largest 100 cities in the U.S., only 9% have female mayors. A recent Catalyst Corporation report showed that women held only 16% of Board of Directors seats at large companies, and more than 25% of Fortune 500 companies had no female executive officers.

Even in the movie industry the picture is the same. In 2011, men directed 95% of the top-grossing films, an increase since 1998. Only 4 women have been nominated for Oscars as best director and only one has won. Eighty-four percent of the 2011 Oscar nominations for screenwriting went to men. Seventy percent of movies starred men, not women. And finally 77% of all Oscars went to men.

In the U.S., the recent divisive and acrimonious political campaigns have unearthed attempts to actually move women’s rights and diversity backwards. A record number of state legislative attempts and several in Congress to roll back women’s reproductive rights have been evident. So too, has the proposed pay equity legislation been held up in Congress.  ABC News/Washington Post reported recently that one in four American women have been sexually harassed on the job, yet only 64% of Americans see harassment as a serious workplace problem, down from 88% in 1992. Yet pay equity would produce a significant stimulus to the consumer-based economy, according to Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, who estimates that pay equity would grow the U.S. economy 3-4%, compared to the 1.5% produced by the $800 billion stimulus legislation.

What is the evidence to support the contention that women are better leaders?

Kellie A. McElhaney and Sanaz Mobasseri of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkley, produced a report, “Women Create a Sustainable Future.” Among the conclusions in their research and published in the report, was “companies that explicitly place value on gender diversity perform better in general, and perform better than their peers on the multiple dimensions of corporate sustainability.”

A 2012 Dow Jones study shows that business startups are more likely to succeed if they have women on their executive team. And according to the Center for Women’s Business Research, although women own about 40% of the private businesses in the U.S., women make up less than 10% of venture-backed start-ups.

A 2005 Report on Women and Entrepreneurship, the percentage of entrepreneurs who expect growth for the businesses is higher for female entrepreneurs than male entrepreneurs. And according to a separate study by Babson College and the London School of Economics, women-led start-ups experienced fewer failures in moving from early to growth –stage companies than men.

Catalyst, the U.S. non-profit company, found that in 2011 a 26% difference in return on invested capital (ROIC) between the top-quartile companies with 19-44% women board representation and the bottom quartile companies with zero women directors. When the McKinsey team asked business executives globally what they believe the most important leadership attributes are for success today, each of the top four—intellectual stimulation, inspiration, participatory decision-making and setting expectations/rewards—were more commonly found among women leaders. McKinsey reported in its Organizational Health Index (OHI) companies with three or more women in tip positions scored higher than their peers.

A Pew Center Global Attitudes Project found that 75% of respondents in the U.S. and 80% in Canada believe that women make equally good political leaders, and the numbers were much higher and Europe, Asia and parts of South America. Another Pew Center study, Social and Demographic Survey found women leaders possessed more leadership traits of honesty, intelligence, compassion and creativity than men, whereas men scored higher only in decisiveness.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, authors of The Inspiring Leader: Unlocking the Secrets of How Extraordinary Leaders Activate, writing in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, argue that in today’s complex demanding world of organizations, women may possess superior leadership capabilities compared to men.

Zenger and Folkman make that contention based on 30 years of research on what constitutes overall leadership effectiveness that comes from 360 evaluations of a leader’s peers, bosses and direct reports and a 2011 survey of over 7,000 leaders from some of the most successful and progressive organizations. They concluded “at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts—and the higher the level, the wider the gap grows.” Specifically, the authors note, “at all levels, women were rated higher in fully 12 or the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree—taking initiative and driving for results—have long been thought of as particularly male strengths.”  Men outscored women significantly on only one management competency—the ability to develop a strategic perspective.

Thomas Malone, a management professor at MIT and his colleagues completed research which tried to determine what made a team smarter. He created teams of people aged 18 to 60, had them take IQ tests and then gave them a series of problems to solve. He found that those with the highest IQs did not perform the best, but the teams with the most women did. He reported in the Harvard Business Review, “the standard argument is that diversity is good and you should have both men and women in a group…But so far, the data show, the more women, the better.”

Tony Schwartz, writing in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network describes what women know about leadership than men don’t, arguing “An effective modern leader requires a blend of intellectual qualities—the ability to think analytically, strategically and creatively—and emotional ones, including self-awareness, empathy and humility…I meet far more women with tis blend of qualities than I do men.”  He goes on to say “The vast majority of CEOs and senior executives I’ve met over the past decade are men [who] resist introspection, feel more comfortable measuring outcomes than they do managing emotions, and under-appreciate the powerful connection between how people feel and how they perform…For the most part, women, more than men, bring to leadership a more complete range of the qualities modern leaders need, including self-awareness, emotional attunement and authenticity.” Schwartz contends that men overvalue their strengths from an early age, while women tend to undervalue theirs, and that men are often victims of their own egos, and their need to win and use power.

So what action needs to be taken?

According to the Catalyst research organization, since 2008, at least 9 countries, including France, Norway, Italy and Spain, have passed legislation requiring some kind of quota requirements for diversity on corporate boards. Other countries, including the U.S., Britain, Australia and Germany have adopted regulations requiring organizations to review board diversity at their annual meetings. Canada at this point lags far behind in these initiatives, with no legislative actions or regulations. In October, 2012, the European Commission proposed a new law that would enforce quotes of 40% for women’s representation on European corporate boards by 2020.

Joanna Barsh and Lareina Yee,  of McKinsey & Company, and authors of a special report for The Wall Street Journal Executive Task Force for Women in the Economy, argue “As the U.S. struggles to sustain historic GDP growth rates, it is critically important to bring more women into the workforce and fully deploy high-skill women to drive productivity improvement.” The authors reviewed over 100 exiting research papers, surveyed 2,500 men and women and interviewed 30 chief diversity officers and experts to determine why there were such low numbers of women leaders in organizations, particularly at the upper levels. Of all the factors that were examined, the authors identified entrenched beliefs as one of the most significant—the prevailing belief that women were not as capable as men to be leaders. Barsh and Yee of McKinsey contend “if companies could raise the number of middle management women who make it to the next level by 25%, it would significantly alter the shape of the leadership talent pipeline.”

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, writing in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, commenting on changing corporate culture, “leaders need to tell the majority of men in corporate life that they also need to change, and allow new and different styles of leadership to move in—and up.”

Two things seem more certain today. First, the glass ceiling has not been broken in any substantial way at the senior executive and board level in North America, and second, research points to women possessing the kind of leadership style we need today.

 

Why We Need Kind and Compassionate Leaders

Posted August 31st, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Leaders in business schools, organizations and in politics are taught to lead with their heads and not with their hearts. Leaders are expected to be strategic, rational, tough, bottom-line business people who focus on results. Yet, recent research on successful leaders and the current turbulent economic and social times calls out for a different style of leader—one that exhibits kindness, compassion and empathy.

Driving, directive, coercive styles of leadership may move people and get results in the short-term, but the dissonance it creates is associated with toxic relationships and emotions such as anger, anxiety, and fear.

In my work as an executive coach and leadership trainer, I am seeing increasing prevalence of leaders who engage in trash-talking, or “smack-talking,” about their opponents or competitors and under the stress for results, revert back to an authoritarian, directive style of leadership. Further these kinds of leaders often see their job as a form of warfare, or athletic competition complete with appropriate jargon to go with it. We need only look at political leaders engaged in election cycles to see the descent into character assassination and bottom-of-the barrel personal attacks.

Brad Stone and Aaron Ricadela, writing in Bloomsberg Business Week, commented on smack-talking Oracle co-founder and CEO Larry Ellison calling the HP board “idiots” for firing Mark Hurd, and ridiculing SAP co-founder Hass Plattner’s “wild Einstein hair” in an email to the Wall Street Journal or even dissing Bill Gates as not being so smart.

In my article in Psychology Today, “Why Steve Jobs Was Not A Leader,” I said, “Jobs’ leadership style could be characterized as the old school ‘carrot and stick’ approach, using praise and flattery, but mostly the stick of fear and criticism. When Fortune magazine profiled America’s toughest bosses, it said of Jobs, his ‘inhuman drive for perfection can burn out even the most motivated worker.’ Fortune writer, Leander Kahney claimed Jobs’ verbal assaults on staff, replete with anger and foul language, were terrifying to staff. Fortune dubbed Jobs as ‘one of Silicon Valley’s leading egomaniacs.’”

Ronald Riggio, writing in Psychology Today argues that although Jobs was a visionary leader, a master marketer and presenter, he “could also be a tyrant. He was obsessively controlling, and given to fits of rage, throwing tantrums…took credit for others’ ideas…and fell short of the qualities possessed by the very best leaders.” Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography of Jobs is a very revealing picture of both sides of Jobs’ character—the brilliant, charismatic visionary, and the impulsive, crude, and mean-spirited man. He thought nothing of parking in handicapped parking spaces, and denied the paternity of his first daughter so that she and her mother had to live on welfare. Jobs, like Bill Gates, was a very wealthy man, yet according to public records, made no substantial commitments to charities or worthy causes.

Robert Sutton, a management professor at Stanford University, examined the behavior of abusive bosses, published in his book, The No-Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. In his research he ran across many examples of Silicon Valley and high-tech leaders who extolled the virtues of Jobs abusive behavior as being necessary to build a successful company. Sutton contended, “it is troubling that there’s this notion in our culture that if you’re a winner, it’s okay to be an asshole.”

Sutton argues that despite Jobs’ and Apple’s success, his research shows that abusive bosses are bad for the bottom line, and there are far more successful companies—such as Google, Virgin Atlantic, Procter & Gamble and Southwest Airlines, for example—that are not led by abusive bosses.

According to Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, bad boss behavior seems to be pandemic and now, a new survey reveals that self-oriented bosses are more prevalent than ever. In a survey Taylor commissioned of 1,002 adults, 86% of Americans felt that too often, bad boss behaviors fly under the radar until it’s too late, affecting too many people. According to an earlier study, 70% of workers said they believed employees must be careful when managing up with bosses, or they could lose their jobs. A five-year, national study compared bad, childish traits, including stubbornness, self-oriented, overly demanding, impulsiveness, interrupting and tantrum-throwing in bosses between 2004 to 2009, and found “self-oriented” spiked by 50% to the top spot in that period. In the same study conducted by a global research firm, seven in 10 Americans said “bosses and toddlers with too much power act alike.”

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, 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.  Nyberg said, “for all those who work under managers who they perceive behave strangely, or in any way they don’t understand, and they feel stressed, the study confirms this develops into a health risk.”

A study of 6,000 British office workers found employees who felt that their supervisors treated them fairly had a 30% lower risk of heart disease. A 2008 meta-analysis of the connection between health and leadership by Jana Kuoppala and associates concluded that good leadership was associated with a 27% reduction in sick leave and a 46% reduction in disability pensions. The same study concluded that employees with good leaders were 40% more likely to report the highest levels of psychological well-being including lower levels of anxiety and depression.

In an article by Richard Williams, Wallace Higgins and Harvey Greenberg, published in the Boston Globe, they cited numerous research studies regarding leadership style and the health of employees. They concluded “your boss can cause you stress, induce depression and anxiety or even trigger the onset of serious illnesses. It is not just bad managers who can negatively affect employee health, but it is also the lackadaisical and mediocre who put employees on the sick list.And the cost is huge in terms of lost productivity, healthcare costs and employee turnover. The authors argue that a whole new field of litigation in the U.S. is developing-“lawsuits against ‘bad bosses’ and the organizations that negligently allow them to supervise.”

The workplace is increasingly characterized by incidents of incivility and bullying and this may be part of a general societal trend, exacerbated by tough economic times.

A startling 37% of American workers—roughly 54 million people—have been bullied at work according to a 2007 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute. The consequences of such bullying have spread to families, and other institutions and cost organizations reduced creativity, low morale and increased turnover. According to the Institute, 40% of the targets of bulling never told their employers, and of those that did, 62% reported that they were ignored. According to a 2007 survey by Zogby International, almost 50% of the U.S. workers report they have experience or witnessed some kind of bullying—verbal abuse, insults, threats, screaming, sarcasm or ostracism. One study by John Medina showed that workers stressed by bullying performed 50% worse on cognitive tests. Other studies estimate the financial costs of bullying at more than $200 billion per year.

The recent economic downturn, with layoffs and financial pressures on managers to perform may have exacerbated the bullying problem. Research conducted by Wayne Hochwarter and Samantha Englehardt at Florida State University concluded that “employer-employee relations are at one of the lowest points in history,” with a significant decline in basic civility.

Pier M. Forni, author of The Civility Solution: What To Do When People Are Rude and director of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University says, “In today’s American, incivility is on prominent display: in the schools, where bullying is pervasive; in the workplace, where an increasing number are more stressed out by coworkers than their jobs; on the roads, where road rage mains and kills; in politics where strident intolerance takes the place of earnest dialogue; and on the web, where man check their inhibitions at the digital door.” Gary Namie, a psychologist and co-founder of The Workplace Bullying Institute contends, “how in the world can we stop bullying in schools, in the workplace, in politics, when it is so close to our national character right now?”

While it’s difficult to argue with the necessity of leaders who produce results, it’s how those results are achieved that matter. And essential qualities of character and positive relationships are a fundamental component.

The touching story of Brandon Cook of New Hampshire and his cancer-stricken grandmother has gone viral on the Internet. When she was unable to eat the hospital soup, Cook tired to get her favorite clam chowder from Panera Bread on the day the store didn’t make it. As a result of a plea from Cook, Panera made the soup especially for Cook’s grandmother including a box of cookies as a gift from the staff.

Why did this and other stories like it strike such a chord with people?

 

Bill Taylor, writing in the Harvard Business Review blog network believes it is because of “the hunger among customers, employees and all of us to engage with companies on more than just dollars-and-cents terms. In a world that is being shaped by the relentless advance of technology what stand out are acts of compassion and connection that reminds us what it means to be human.” It reminded Taylor of a story that Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos told at a Princeton University convocation in which his grandmother chastised him by reminding him, “it’s harder to be kind than clever.”  Our business world focuses so much on being clever.

Annie McKee, and Richard Boyatzis, in their book, Resonant Leadership, argue “Research shows that positive emotions such as compassion have a decidedly constructive effect on neurological functioning, psychological well-being, physical health and personal relationships.”

In his book, It Worked For Me, Colin Powell, the former U.S. Joint Military Chief of Staff and Secretary of State, writes about an experience he had as a child in which his church welcomed an elderly priest in distress to become part of the community, and the experience of kindness that stayed with him. He says that kindness is not just about being nice, it is about recognizing another human being who deserves care and respect. Powell once told a senior staff meeting, “You can never err by treating everyone in the building with respect, thoughtfulness and a kind word.”  Powell says that being kind doesn’t mean being soft or a pushover.

As Peter Frost writes in this book, Toxic Emotions at Work, “all leaders create pain. It goes with the territory…leadership is about pushing the limits…Really good leaders take steps to mitigate, minimize or mop up the pain they create.”

In my article “Why Kindness Should Be A Required Leadership Characteristic,” in the National Post, I said, “so-called “soft-skills” or traits, such as kindness and compassion in leaders have often been seen as weaknesses.” In reality they are strengths.

Kindness is not the same as likeability. Rather, kindness implies an interpersonal closeness that comes with responsibility, vulnerability and an absence of self-interest. There is more than adequate evidence now that leaders who practice kindness, and where kindness is valued at work, create workplaces that people want to work in and are also very productive.

Daniel Goleman, in is book Destructive Emotions: A Dialogue With The Dalai Lama, writes that we are influenced by the Western view that we are essentially self, but rationally have to be nice to others to get what we want and that under stress, threat or scarcity we drop compassion. This contrasts to the Buddhist view, which says we are essentially compassionate by nature.

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. A surprising finding in Boedker’s research is the finding that out of the four levels of leadership from the CEO through middle management to frontline managers, it’s the lowest level of leaders that drives a company’s profitability. Boards may want to consider that when pegging the CEOs compensation level.

Boedker’s research was consistent with that of Geoff Aigner, Director of Social Leadership Australia and on the faculty of the Australian School of Business. In his book, Leadership Beyond Good Intentions: What It Takes To Really Make a Difference, he contends that good management is ultimately an act of compassion

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.

Stimulated by a series of meetings between the Dalai Lama and western neuroscientists and psychologists such as Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, deep brain scans were conducted on the brains of Buddhist meditators using fMRIs and EEG machines. The results showed that a “loving-kindness” meditation that focused on empathetic and compassionate feelings about oneself and others “lights up” the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with feelings of joy happiness, enthusiasm and resilience. Davidson’s research suggests that regular meditation with a focus on empathy and compassion can actually “rewire” the brain.

I came across a great post by Bill Taylor in the Harvard Business Review, in which he argues that the best recipe for our current negative times is to do something beautiful. Boston’s legendary Dan-Farber Cancer Institute, where sick kids get some of the best care in the world, is building a big new facility. The Boston Globe reported that every morning, in bitter temperatures during the winter, ironworkers showed up for work to complete the building. This amidst doom and gloom reports of the economy and layoffs and unemployment. It has become a beloved ritual at Dana-Farber: Every day, children who came to the clinic wrote their names on sheets of paper and taped them to the windows of the walkway for iron workers to see. And, every day, the iron workers painted the names onto I-beams and hoisted them into place as they added floors to the new 14-story Yawkey Center for Cancer Care. The building’s steel skeleton is now a brightly colored, seven-story monument to scores of children receiving treatment at the clinic. For the young cancer patients, who press their noses to the glass to watch new names added every day, the steel and spray-paint tribute has given them a few moments of joy and a towering symbol of hope.

Bill Taylor asks “why can’t each of us, in our daily work lives, take a small cue from those big-hearted iron workers?” They didn’t need a tax cut strategy or spending plan to give those children some hope, some optimism about the future. Taylor cites the example of Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, and the fast-growing, billion-dollar Internet retailer, who with his colleagues pride themselves on customer service. One of Zappos’ customers had tried to locate shoes for her hard to fit husband; ordered them, but before they arrived, he died. Zappos’ customer service personnel, aware of situation, sent flowers to the widow on behalf of the company A small gesture, yes, but meaningful to the widow? You bet.

Dachel Keltner, a University of California psychologist and author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, and a number of his fellow colleagues are building the case that humans are the successful dominant species because of our compassionate, kind, altruistic and nurturing traits. One of these studies has shown that many people are genetically predisposed to be empathetic.

“The new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin’s observations nearly 130 years ago that compassion is our strongest instinct,” argues Keltner. Jonathan Haidt, author of Righteous Mind, reflects the view of Edward O. Wilson, David Sloan Wilson and others who argue that when groups of animals compete, it’s the cohesive, cooperative, internally altruistic groups that win and pass on their genes.

Frans de Waal 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.

Empathy, de Waal explains, is the social glue that holds human society together. He argues that modern psychology and neuroscience research supports the concept that “empathy is an automated response over which we have limited control.” He points to the fact that many animals survive not by eliminating each other, or by keeping everything for themselves, but by cooperating and sharing.

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.

What does it take to be a kind, compassionate leader? Compassion and kindness comes from a place deep within us, and yet it seems there are too few opportunities to express it in the workplace and even fewer opportunities for leaders to demonstrate kindness and compassion.

Kind and compassionate leaders:

  1. Communicate openly and transparently with their employees and customers;
  2. Are flexible and adaptable, willing to set aside rules, regulations and traditions for the greater good;
  3. Express their emotions freely and openly;
  4. Lead by example, rather than by direction;
  5. Remove or decrease judgment and criticism of others as a motivational strategy.
  6. Manage their emotions productively and positively;
  7. Are mindful to the effect their words and actions have on others.

 

What does the practice of kindness and compassion do for organizations? It:

  • Increases people’s capacity for empathy and compassion;
  • Promotes positive relationships;
  • Decreases the prevalence of toxic viral negative emotions and behavior;
  • Increases optimism and hope;
  • Builds resilience and energy levels;
  • Counteracts the negative effects of judgment and bias.

 

Given all we know about the need for kind, compassionate and empathetic leaders, and the apparently increasing toxic workplace, isn’t it time to value and recruit leaders that embrace and exhibit kindness and compassion?

 

 

 

 

 

Comments Off on The brains of trash-talking leaders

The brains of trash-talking leaders

Posted October 11th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

In my work as an executive coach and leadership trainer, I have been somewhat surprised by the increasing prevalence of leaders who engage in trash-talking, or “smack-talking,” about their opponents or competitors. While we’re familiar with seeing that behavior in professional sports and politics, it is spreading. Did the trash-talkers’ brains “made them do it?”

Saj-nicole Joni, writing in Forbes.com, describes how high-flying executives such as Mark Hurd of HP, Tony Hayward of BP and Coleen Goggins of Johnson and Johnson, “fell Icarus-like to Earth.” She cites of the work of Dr. Helen Fisher, a Rutgers University biological anthropologist, who has examined neuroscience in relation to the risks of CEO’s bad judgment.

Fisher identifies certain personality types being associated with certain brain chemistry–the “explorer-dopamine, the director-testosterone, the builder-serotonin and the negotiator-oxytocin. Fisher argues, for example, that female leaders such as Carly Fiorina, Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton exhibit the director-explorer temperament in which testosterone plays a significant part. Fisher goes on to argue that when powerful CEOs “win,” testosterone is released and additional wins also triggers dopamine release, heightening risk-taking and novelty-seeking.

So, are egotistical, win-driven leaders a victim of their own brain chemistry? Is the smack-talking Oracle co-founder and CEO Larry Ellison calling the HP board “idiots” for firing Mark Hurd, and ridiculing SAP co-founder Hass Plattner’s “wild Einstein hair” in an email to the Wall Street Journal or even dissing Bill Gates as not being so smart, as reported by Brad Stone and Aaron Ricadela, writing in Bloomsberg BusinessWeek?

These kinds of behaviors seem to be antithetical the modern descriptions of transformational leaders, who exhibit the characteristics described by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis in their work on social intelligence and the biology of leadership, that identifies the capacity for compassion, empathy and self-knowledge as being essential for good leadership. And those behaviors stimulate very different areas of the brain and its associated chemistry.

Whether it’s political opponents railing against each other in the commonest terms, or professional athletes trash-talking on camera, attacking the character of opponents and competitors seems to be readily tolerated if not embraced by the general public, as long the initiators of such behaviors are seen to be “successful” in terms of wealth or celebrity status.

Is this the kind of leadership we need in our organizations and our society?

Comments Off on Why do some leaders succeed in tough economic times and others fail?

Why do some leaders succeed in tough economic times and others fail?

Posted October 7th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Tough economic times seems to bring out the best and worst of leaders. Why the difference? The answer may lie in the style of leadership. Powerful leaders distinguish themselves by their capacity to inspire people to action and enroll them as change agents in organizations.

Powerful leaders could also be called transformational leaders, and they are very different than authoritarian or transactional leaders who rely on control, dominance, and reward and punishment to get employees to perform.

Jim Collins describes the powerful leader as a Level 5 Leader, which is based on the idea that respect for people, selflessness and a strong commitment to achieve results, bring out the best in subordinates. Level 5 leaders are a paradoxical blend of fierce will and personal humility. They are ambitious for their organizations, but rarely allow their ego to be an obstacle for the success of their organization.

In an excellent scholarly article by Dr. Stephen Long in the Business Leadership Review in July, 2009, he points out that growing a business during a recession is the ultimate test of leadership, citing companies such as Proctor and Gamble, G.E., Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft as depression or recession start-ups.

Long proposes that the essential component for leadship success is a leadership style that is powerful but not authoritarian, arguing that the way leaders manage their people has a direct impact on how their team performs. Powerful or transformational leaders create the “will to work effectively and collaboratively–not because employees are coerced, but because they are committed,” Long suggests.

Powerful leaders are creative and systemic thinkers, whereas authoritarian leaders rely primarily on logic and linear thinking, “which leads to reasons not to do.” Long describes the behavior of powerful leaders as being able to successfully manage the paradox of change and stability, and being able to construct a mental reality for followers that may not yet exist.

The psychological state of people during tough economic times can be driven by fear and anxiety. These emotions often prevent authoritarian leaders from seeing reality or taking advantage of new opportunities. Authoritarian leaders can be victims of their own emotional roller-coaster of cycles of good and bad times which spreads to followers, whereas powerful leaders have much higher levels of emotional intelligence and display a calm evenness in their behavior.

Powerful leaders recognize that authoritarian control will not get followers to commit to any initiative during tough economic times, Long argues. People resist being controlled and want to accomplish something meaningful through collaboration.

Finally, it’s not enough that the CEO exhibit a powerful leadership style. It means that this style of leadership needs to be developed throughout the organization so the organization can not just survive, but flourish.