I Will Teach My Daughter Not to Be Afraid

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

About a month ago, my wife and I became parents for the very first time. We are truly blessed to have a healthy baby girl. She is truly a miracle. I joke with my coworkers that my daughter has very strong lungs.

People say that when you become a parent, your perspective changes and, in fact, so does your whole world. They say that you’ll start to see things in terms of what is best for your child (or children). They’re so right.

My wife and I have made a promise to one another that we will teach our daughter to always respect others, to embrace life with open arms, and to live life to the fullest and not be afraid of following her heart.

One thing I have seen often and continue to see is how people live in fear. I’m not talking about fear of bodily harm or other serious fears. I am talking about the self-inflicted state of fear that holds us prisoners and in a state of limbo.

“If you make the wrong decision, you make the wrong decision. That’s all there is to it. There are few guarantees in life. One of them is that you will make lots of mistakes. The worst thing you can do is wimp out and spend your life in suspended animation, refusing to make a choice because it may not be a perfect one.” ~ Nicholas Lore (author of the book “The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success”)

I know of people who talk about owning their own business or moving abroad to live and work or publish an article or write a book. I believe there are many people like this in the world — I was one of these individuals.

When I look at my life and the decisions that I’ve made I realize that life has presented and continues to present me with many choices which I either took or ignored.

I had a choice to attend Baylor University or other colleges. I chose Baylor. During my sophomore year at Baylor, I wanted to become a professor after watching the movie, “Dead Poets Society.” Instead, I chose to remain with pre-med.

I had a choice to study and do well in my pre-med classes. I chose to be lazy and naturally did poorly. When I reached the end of my pre-med classes (almost completing the pre-med program and just months away from taking the MCAT, medical school entrance exam), I had a choice to keep on the same track of medicine or getting off that train. Despite the pain and anguish it caused me, I got off that train because it was the right choice.

I had a choice to attend law school or say no. I chose law school (but I chose out of fear and attended by default because I didn’t know what else to do with my life). I had a choice to study and do well in my law classes. I chose to be lazy and did poorly.

When life showed me all the signs and signals in the world that I was unhappy in my current path in life, I chose to ignore them all and chugged aimlessly along the train tracks of life.

After years of regrets, self-sabotage, and self-doubt, I finally began to listen to my heart and started to choose (even when I was scared) instead of having things chosen for me.

My life changed in December 1996 when I made the conscious decision to go back to school to get a graduate degree in psychology. But it wasn’t until December 2003 (after getting my graduate degree), when I made the conscious decision to apply for a job over 7,000 miles away on a tropical island, that my life truly changed.

In late January 2004, after a 20+ hour flight and traveling almost halfway around the world, I landed on a tiny island in the North Pacific Ocean . . . and for the next few years experienced some amazing adventures, did some pretty exciting things, and got to see and do something very different.

In 3½ years on Saipan I played beach volleyball with professional players, saw guys husk coconuts with their teeth, flew on airplanes not much bigger than a Hummer, learned Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) from an MMA fighter, created my first website, trained over 800 teachers and professionals on Crisis Intervention and Classroom Management, was invited to offer testimony to the CNMI Legislators on Assisted Outpatient Treatment, helped research and edit the CNMI Assisted Outpatient Treatment Act, produced a “School Crisis Response Handbook,” and had my School Crisis Response Training presentation videotaped. Oh, I also met a wonderful woman who, despite my shortcomings, agreed to become my wife.

Life gives you choices. It’s up to each one of us to consciously choose (even when we are afraid). If we don’t, the choices may sometimes be chosen for us or years will go by and we’ll look back with regret because we had missed out on a great opportunity.

When I tell people that I left Texas to live on an island in the Pacific Ocean because I wanted adventure, excitement, and something different, I typically get three reactions: (1) People are amazed and praise me for taking action to follow my heart, (2) People are confused as to why I would ever want to leave where I was living (Dallas, Texas), and (3) People think that I went through some sort of mid-life crisis.

Taking that job in Saipan was, without a doubt, one of the BEST decisions in my life. For years, I talked and lamented about how I had always lived my life vicariously through others. I was a true dreamer but not a doer. I guess my heart simply got tired of my mind’s wanderlust and had a heart-mind talk. In the end, the heart won out and I could no longer ignore those yearnings.

It’s hard to describe how fulfilled I felt when I came to Saipan. Within the first week or so, I knew that I had made the right decision for my life. No one told me that I had made the right choice. No self-help or personal development book answered my deep longings. Rather, it was simply a feeling I felt in my heart. It just felt right.

While in Saipan, I met people who talked about wanting to start this or that, but for whatever reason never did. When I proposed my idea for a crisis management training course many of my colleagues dismissed it. I heard many reasons why it would not work. Good thing I love to prove people wrong. So when someone says something will not work and I think it will, I will do everything in my power to make it work (you can read more about how I did that in this article, “Less Talk, More Action—The PAR Technique.”).

“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” ~ Steve Jobs

So I will teach my daughter, when she’s old enough to understand, to not be afraid. I want her to live her life and fail and get dirty, and then get back up and try again. I want her to always try her best and give her all, no matter what people say. I want her to choose, instead of having things chosen for her. And most of all, I want my daughter to never be afraid to fail — because her daddy failed (and will fail again) and got back up.

*This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Steve Nguyen, Ph.D., is an organizational consultant and trainer. He works with organizations to train and develop employees, and promote a healthy and productive work environment. You can find him at http://workplacepsychology.net/.

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10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training from Admiral William H. McRaven

For those unable to watch the video on my blog, you can watch it directly on YouTube (University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address – Admiral William H. McRaven), http://youtu.be/yaQZFhrW0fU.

This is an inspiring and powerful 20-minute commencement speech by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University-wide Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.

Admiral McRaven’s commencement speech is perhaps one of the best commencement speeches I have ever heard. It is on point and offers some fantastic life and business lessons.

Below are excerpts from his amazing speech.

10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training

1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
“You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help— and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.”

3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
“SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.”

4. If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
“Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie*.”

*For failing the uniform inspection, the student [in Basic SEAL training] had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand.

The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day—cold, wet and sandy. There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill: You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.

5. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
“Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.”

6. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

7. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
“There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.”

8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
“At the darkest moment of the mission—is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.”

9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
“If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan—Malala—one person can change the world by giving people hope.”

10. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

“In SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit—is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

“Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often . . . [T]ake some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up.”

“It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status. Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.”

“Changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.”

Link

University of Texas at Austin – Adm. McRaven Urges Graduates to Find Courage to Change the World
http://www.utexas.edu/news/2014/05/16/admiral-mcraven-commencement-speech/

Introverts Are Excellent Just As They Are

For those unable to watch the video on my blog, you can watch it directly on the TED Talk website, Susan Cain: The power of introverts.

Here is a great 19-minute TED Talk by Susan Cain, author of the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Below are excerpts from her speech.

“I got the message that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily the right way to go, that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert. And I always sensed deep down that this was wrong and that introverts were pretty excellent just as they were.”

“When it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best. A third to a half of the population are introverts — a third to a half.”

“You need to understand what introversion is. It’s different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation.”

“Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments. Not all the time — these things aren’t absolute — but a lot of the time. So the key then to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.”

“When it comes to leadership, introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, even though introverts tend to be very careful, much less likely to take outsize risks — which is something we might all favor nowadays.”

“Research by Adam Grant at the Wharton School has found that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do, because when they are managing proactive employees, they’re much more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extrovert can, quite unwittingly, get so excited about things that they’re putting their own stamp on things, and other people’s ideas might not as easily then bubble up to the surface.”

“Culturally we need a much better balance. We need more of a yin and yang between these two types. This is especially important when it comes to creativity and to productivity, because when psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them.”

Three Calls for Action:

(1) “Stop the madness for constant group work . . . I deeply believe our offices should be encouraging casual, chatty cafe-style types of interactions — you know, the kind where people come together and serendipitously have an exchange of ideas . . . But we need much more privacy and much more freedom and much more autonomy at work.”

(2) “Go to the wilderness . . . I’m not saying that we all have to now go off and build our own cabins in the woods and never talk to each other again, but I am saying that we could all stand to unplug and get inside our own heads a little more often.”

(3) “Take a good look at what’s inside your own suitcase and why you put it there.”

Extroverts: Take things out of your suitcase “every chance you get and grace us with your energy and your joy.”

Introverts: “You probably have the impulse to guard very carefully what’s inside your own suitcase. And that’s okay. But occasionally . . . I hope you will open up your suitcases for other people to see, because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry.”

Link

TED Talk – Susan Cain: The power of introverts
http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts

Psychopathology, Assessments of Personality, and I-O Psychology


In the latest issue of Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, one of the focal articles talked about maladaptive personality at work. In the article, Nigel Guenole (2014) discussed the DSM-5’s newest changes to the personality disorder diagnosis. He presented a model of maladaptive trait, along with objections to inventories measuring maladaptive personality. Under the section titled “Important Considerations in the Assessment of Maladaptive Personality at Work,” Guenole listed five barriers to explain why I-O psychologists have been reluctant to examine maladaptive trait model and its corresponding changes in the newest DSM-5.

I will very briefly list the five barriers and then add one important concern I have that was not mentioned on the list.

  1. Legal Concerns – “concerns that use of maladaptive inventories might infringe rights protected by law” (p. 91).
  2. Social Responsibility Concerns – “concern of the social impact of the use of maladaptive personality as a prehire screen” (p. 93).
  3. Small Validities – “the new taxonomic model of personality pathology is redundant if measures of the Big Five are already used in assessment and would therefore have no incremental validity” (p. 91).
  4. Construct Redundancy and Lack of Incremental Validity – “personality tests show low validities generally and are not predictive of performance” (p. 91).
  5. Maladaptive Personality Inventories Are Easily Faked – there is a concern about faking on the maladaptive inventories.

Guenole (2014) ended the article by stating that “industrial psychologists need to be faster in their response to recent developments in clinical psychology to develop a full picture of personality at work” (p. 94)

While these five concerns may be valid, a major concern I have (as a former mental health counselor) and one that I did not see mention is potential violation of American Psychological Association Ethical Code, specifically APA Code 2.01 Boundaries of Competence.

The APA Code of Ethics states that psychologists should provide services in areas in which they are competent (based on education, training, experience, etc.) and if they do not possess such a level that they should seek out additional education, training, etc. to become competent or that they should refer these clients (individuals or businesses) to another professional who is more competent.

APA Code 2.01 Boundaries of Competence states that psychologists are to “provide services, teach, and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study, or professional experience” [(APA Ethical Code, 2002, 2.01(a)]. In addition, when called upon to provide services which are new or beyond their level of competence, they are to “undertake relevant education, training, supervised experience, consultation, or study” [(APA Ethical Code, 2002, 2.01(c)]

Here is an example of an ethical situation an I-O psychologist might find him/herself in:

Summary: An I-O psychologist (not trained to administer and interpret a personality test) hired a clinical psychologist (who is trained) to administer and interpret a personality test. However, due to some financial reasons, the services of the clinical psychologist was discontinued and the I-O psychologist continued testing and interpreting the personality assessments, beyond the boundaries of his training and competence.

Ethical Issue: Performing assessments (or services) to which one has not received training and which are beyond his/her level of professional competence.

APA Code: APA Code 2.01 Boundaries of Competence states that psychologists are to “provide services, teach, and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study, or professional experience” [(APA Ethical Code, 2002, 2.01(a)]. In addition, when called upon to provide services which are new or beyond their level of competence, they are to “undertake relevant education, training, supervised experience, consultation, or study” [(APA Ethical Code, 2002, 2.01(c)].

Resolution: To avoid this ethical dilemma, I-O psychologists should get training in the administration and interpretation of the personality assessment(s). A professional does not need to be a clinical psychologist to administer personality assessments. However, one does need to receive appropriate training to ensure that he/she is competent in administering and interpreting these assessments [(APA Ethical Code, 2002, 2.01(c)]. Examples of training might include: taking a graduate-level assessment course or getting trained by a mentor who is competent and who regularly administer and interpret assessments.

One Final Comment: Even with the appropriate training to ensure competency in administering and interpreting personality assessments, when it comes to assessment of psychopathology and mental health issues, it might be wise for I-O psychologists to refer clients who need such services to counseling and clinical psychologists because psychologists in those areas of psychology are much better trained in mental illness and providing counseling and therapy. They have a firm grasp of the DSM-5, and they are generally much better trained and experienced in both assessing and addressing psychopathology and mental health.

I have shared this before in discussing coaching and mental illness, but it is certainly applicable here in our discussion about psychopathology, assessments of personality, and whether it makes sense for I-O psychologists to also jump in. I really like the following quote so I’ll leave the reader with this:

“Any diagnosis, treatment, ways to help or exploration of underlying issues is the province of mental health specialists and is best avoided” (Buckley, 2010, p. 395).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57, 1060-1073. Also available: http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx

Buckley, A. (2010). Coaching and Mental Health. In E. Cox, T. Bachkirova, & D. Clutterbuck (Eds.), The complete handbook of coaching (pp.394-404). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Guenole, N. (2014). Maladaptive personality at work: Exploring the darkness. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 7(1), 85-97.

Ethical dilemma: An overseas distributor sanctioned over corruption

Direction

Photo Credit: Flickr

I was recently quoted in a BBC Capital’s work ethic article titled “Treading a fine line: A case of corruption?” by Chana Schoenberger. However, some rather important details were omitted from my response to a reader’s ethical dilemma involving one company’s business relationship with an overseas distributor that was recently sanctioned over a corruption issue with another company’s products.

Offered in a Q and A format, here (in its entirety) is what I wrote:

Question:

Our company has a contract with an overseas distributor that has recently been sanctioned for some corruption-related dealings involving another company’s products that they also distribute. We are wary of doing business with them now, although we have no reason to believe that there is anything improper about the way they are selling our products. With a large outstanding order that is material to our worldwide sales results, we don’t want to dump them altogether. What can we do?

Answer:

This is indeed a conundrum. I can certainly understand why this issue is a difficult one to tackle. On the one hand, the “large outstanding order” indicates that the business this overseas distributor brings in is a significant contribution to your company’s overall worldwide sales. Financial gain is not something that can be quickly dismissed, especially since it plays an important part in a company’s financial health and, ultimately, its survival.

On the other hand, I got the distinct impression (based on the wording “we are wary of doing business with them”) that while financial profit is important, that there is more at stake for you and your organization.

There are two related points which you may want to consider. The first point is the possible–but very real–damage to your own company’s reputation if and/or when it is revealed that your company “has a contract with an overseas distributor that has recently been sanctioned for some corruption-related dealings involving another company’s products that they also distribute.” Your organization would then be guilty by association. In other words, just being associated with this overseas distributor might cause your company to also look guilty, even if there is absolutely no evidence to support this.

Apple Inc. serves as an example of what one company decided to do once it discovered that one of its supplier was involved in unethical behaviors. Apple decided to cut ties with one supplier after it discovered that the supplier was involved in using underage workers (Blagdon, 2013). And, to ensure greater transparency, Apple also posted information about supplier responsibility and how Apple would hold itself and its supplier accountable (Apple.com).

The second point is about being an ethical leader and what ethical leadership means. Let’s not forget that there is such a thing as ethical leadership and that ethical behaviors and decisions by leaders influence the ethical behaviors of employees and permeate throughout an organization. Ethical leaders can promote and model ethical behaviors in the workplace and the organization. In addition, and perhaps most relevant to your particular situation, ethical leaders can also discourage unethical behaviors by “refus[ing] to share in the benefits provided by unethical activities” (Yukl, 2010, p. 430).

Alas, I cannot make this difficult choice for you. Ultimately, the final decision is up to you and the decision-makers at your company. In the book Leadership in Organizations, professor Gary Yukl explained that there are three criteria people consider when judging whether a decision or act is ethical: (a) purpose (ends), (b) how much behavior is consistent with moral standards (means), and finally (c) what the results or consequences will be for self and others (outcomes).

I have found that rather than giving answers, sometimes it helps to ask more probing questions to get people to look deep within and come up with a decision that they can live with. My hope is that the two points I have raised and the three criteria for judging the ethics of a decision will help guide you and your company in your decision-making process. Good luck.

Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Consultant & Trainer
workplacepsychology.net

References

Apple – Supplier Responsibility at Apple
http://www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/accountability.html

Apple – We believe in accountability — for our suppliers and for ourselves
http://www.apple.com/supplier-responsibility/accountability/

Blagdon, J. (2013, Jan 25). Apple cuts ties with supplier after audit reveals 74 cases of underage labor. Retrieved from http://www.theverge.com/2013/1/25/3914252/apple-severs-ties-with-supplier-after-audit-reveals-74-cases-of

Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Locus of Control and The Zorro Circle

zorro

Photo Credit: Flickr

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor talks about how by first limiting our focus on small, manageable goals, we can then expand our sphere of power from there. Achor used the movie “The Mask of Zorro” (starring Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins) as an example and describes what he calls The Zorro Circle. For those who have not seen it, there is a scene where young Alejandro (Zorro) is taught how to master the sword and other skills by first training in a small circle. Only after mastering control of that small circle was he then allowed by his master Don Diego to try other larger feats (e.g., swinging from ropes and fighting against his own master in a sword fight).

Achor suggests that the first goal to regaining our internal locus of control (when we don’t feel in control) is to to become more self-aware. When you’re in a high stress situation or feel a high level of stress, identify how you’re feeling and put those feelings into words. Try writing down your feelings in a journal or share with a close friend or trusted colleague. “[V]erbalizing the stress and helplessness you are feeling is the first step toward regaining control” (Achor, 2010, p. 137).

“Brain scans show verbal information almost immediately diminishes the power of these negative emotions, improving well-being and enhancing decision-making skills” (Achor, 2010, p. 136).

After you’ve mastered the self-awareness circle, the next step is to identify which part of the situation that you do have control over and which ones you do not. The basic idea here is to see that there are things that are out of your hands that you simply have no control over; but also that there are things that you do have real control over and to focus your energy on those areas.

“By tackling one small challenge at a time—a narrow circle that slowly expands outward—we can relearn that our actions do have a direct effect on our outcomes, that we are largely the masters of our own fates. With an increasingly internal locus of control and a greater confidence in our abilities, we can then expand our efforts outward” (Achor, 2010, p. 137).

The lesson is this: If you focus on and master the small, manageable goals first (the small circle), you can then expand your sphere of power to larger goals. Tackle one small challenge at a time and clearly see and let go of things that you do not have control over and focus your energy and efforts on things over which you do have control.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Reference

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

To Spread Excellence You Need Excellence To Spread

eye

Photo Credit: Flickr

In the book Scaling Up Excellence (which I recently reviewed), Stanford professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao said this:

“To spread excellence, you need to have some excellence to spread” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 181).

This sentence captures something that is actually quite simple: if you don’t have some excellence, don’t try to spread something you do not have. As Sutton and Rao explained in the book, if you can’t deliver on your most basic promises, then it is pointless to try to scale up excellence. Just think about how hypocritical that is.

There’s a lesson in the Bible in which Jesus tells people to not worry about a speck in someone else’s eye, but to first take it out of your own eye. Although the lesson is about not judging others, it can also apply to not being a hypocrite and deceiving yourself.

“How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.” (CEB, Matthew 7:4-5)

How many times have you been in an organization, on a team, or part of a group that was already struggling to meet just the basic expectations, but yet was attempting to start spreading excellence (e.g., initiating a training program, delivering professional development workshops, etc.)?

I was once in a meeting where an executive talked about the qualities necessary to be an effective team member. What was so ridiculous was that the executive did not possess many of these qualities and employees in the department knew that this executive was struggling to meet even the most basic ones on that list. Every person in that meeting knew it, except the executive.

Shortly after the meeting ended, employees sat around discussing the absurdity of the list and the apparent contradiction between the executive extolling those same virtues that she lacked.

What bothered them most was that the executive expected everyone to live up to these values, but that she herself struggled to attain even the simplest ones. The hypocrisy of demanding excellence of others when she herself did not have some of that same excellence was what angered the staff most.

Rather than uniting the team, the hypocritical behaviors of this executive revealed itself when the executive tried to spread something that she did not possess.

Sutton and Rao said that prior to attempting to spread excellence, “the first order of business should be to drive out bad behavior” (2014, p. 239). Here’s the lesson: Don’t broadcast that you are spreading and expecting excellence when you, your team, and/or your organization is not even adequate. Be excellent first, then you’ll have something to spread.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Reference

Sutton, R. I., & Rao, H. (2014). Scaling up excellence: Getting to more without settling for less. New York: Crown Business.

Book Review: Scaling Up Excellence

scaling-up-excellence-book-cover

As owner of the WorkplacePsychology.Net website, which continues to get a high number of visitors daily, I am frequently asked to review books. In fact, publicists and sometimes even authors will ask me to review their books. I rarely need or want to reach out to authors. Robert I. Sutton is one of those authors for whom I make an exception. Back in December 2013, I reached out to him for an advance copy of his new book to review.

A few years earlier, I had reviewed professor Sutton’s Good Boss, Bad Boss book and have been wondering about the type of book he would write after it. While there were a few examples borrowed from Good Boss, Bad Boss, the latest book, Scaling Up Excellence (written with Huggy Rao, also a Stanford professor) is completely different.

Simply stated, scaling is about finding pockets of excellence and building and spreading those pockets of excellence throughout an organization and beyond.

The stories and examples Sutton and Rao shared in Scaling Up Excellence were outstanding and nicely dovetailed (as Sutton is so fond of writing) with the many research studies in support of the various scaling lessons.

Among the things I found interesting and helpful were the following:

1. Scaling starts and ends with individuals—success depends on the will and skill of people at every level of an organization. (p. xv)

2. Scaling is not about more, it’s about more and better (p. xiii). Sometimes better means subtraction (p. 27, 110), and subtraction can even mean addition [like adding a load buster to direct employees' attention to what matters most when mental demands are high and priorities collide and when it's easy to lose or miss important information]. (p. 119-121)

3. Scaling is a ground war, not just an air war. It’s about “moving a thousand people forward a foot at a time, rather than moving one person forward by a thousand feet” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 5).

4. Watch out for the clusterfug – The terrible trio of illusion, impatience, and incompetence. Read about the story about Stanford University’s own failed IT systems upgrade in 2003. (pp. 24-26)

5. The best scaling teams know how to balance between replication and customization (what Sutton and Rao referred to in the book as the difference between Catholicism and Buddhism*).

*I personally found it really annoying and hated the use of the terms “Catholicism and Buddhism” because there was a connotation about religion, although that was not their intention.

6. Scaling is about understanding when to inject enough hierarchy, structure, and process. It’s about knowing when to add more complexity, when it’s just right, and when you need to wait a bit longer. (p. 133)

7. “To spread excellence, you need to have some excellence to spread” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 181). If you can’t even deliver on your most basic vanilla promises to customers, then don’t even attempt scaling. Remember, adequacy before excellence. (p. 239)

8. Finally, you need to ask yourself whether scaling is a good idea. Is it feasible? Is it worth the cost to your own and your team’s mental and physical well-being? And, would you be happy “about the destination you will have reached”? (p. 271) Would you be happy in that world that you have built?

Seven Lessons for Scaling Up Without Screwing Up

Lesson #1: Start Where You Are, Not Where You Hope to Go

Start your scaling journey where you are and do the best with what you got regardless of whether you have a little (or none) or a big budget, staff, and resources at your disposal.

Lesson #2: Scale, Don’t Just Swarm

It is fine to have a kick-off event and infuse some energy and excitement into an initiative, but make sure that you are serious about enabling and encouraging people in your organization to live the scaling mindset, or else it will not spread.

Lesson #3: Use Your Mindset as a Guide, Not as the Answer

“[M]indsets are double-edged swords. You need them, but never stop asking whether the time is ripe to cast them aside” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 277).

Lesson #4: Use Constraints as Guardrails that Channel, Rather than Derail, Ingenuity and Effort

There are always constraints, but people with the will and the skill will find ways to work around these constraints and turn them into virtues.

Sutton and Rao (2014) shared a great story about how Michelangelo finished the famous statue of David by working within the constraints imposed (must finish within 2 years; how it should look; and working with a piece of marble that a previous sculptor, Agostino di Duccio, had started but never completed).

Lesson #5: Use Hierarchy to Squelch Unnecessary Friction, Instead of Creating and Spreading Hierarchy

Leaders ought to do everything they can to get rid of friction and complexity and “not burden employees with ‘rules, tools, and fools’ that make it tougher to do their jobs and waste money and talent” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 282).

Lesson #6: Work with People You Respect, Not Your Friends

“[H]ire people whom you respect and who bring new thinking to the organization; whether you like them should be secondary. . . . Diversity of style, thought, and culture can sometimes generate friction. But if it is productive friction, and if your team frames it that way, it can help build resilience . . . like allergy shots for your organization” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 285).

Lesson #7: Make Sure that Accountability Prevails and Free Riding and Other Bad Behaviors Fail

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is a fantastic example of scaling up and especially about accountability. During the terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel (in Mumbai, India) on November 26, 2008, employees of the hotel risked their own lives and safety to help hundreds of guests escape. While their actions were heroic, it was impressed upon them—from the initial 18-month training to the daily reinforcement at the Taj Hotel—to look out for their guests.

Sutton and Rao shared another incredible story of sawmill workers who were stealing for the thrill of it. Management, with the help of a consultant, devised a simple but brilliant library system whereby any worker could check out any equipment at any time and this idea worked! The stealing stopped because it was no longer exciting to steal and brag about it to others because the items could now be checked out for free.

Summary: Unlike, my previous experience with Good Boss, Bad Boss, reading and completing the Scaling Up Excellence book left me feeling unsettled. This is certainly not a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it reflects the complexities and the uncertainties that scaling entails. Indeed, one of the major lessons about scaling discussed in the book is that it is messy, unpredictable, and unpleasant; but the best scaling people are able to manage and even delight in it.

Reading Scaling Up Excellence is akin to the experience of enjoying a fine steak. It is wonderful, full of flavor, but also heavy. You cannot, nor should you, devour it. Instead, you savor it, making sure that your take your time to enjoy it.

When I read a book, I typically jot down a few notes here and there. However, with Scaling Up Excellence, I found that my notes added up to a total of 20 pages! There were simply too many amazing stories and examples that I felt compelled to write many of them down. In fact, I had tried to stop taking notes and just read, but upon revisiting the 85 pages where I wasn’t taking notes, I ended up “jotting down” 5 more pages of notes!

It is very clear the amount of work that went into researching and writing the Scaling Up Excellence book. Sutton and Rao have done a superb and impressive job of distilling the complex subject of scaling into mouthwatering, easily digestible morsels of goodness. Sutton’s excellent story-telling and writing style made reading Scaling Up Excellence almost like listening to him and Rao tell these stories in person. Scaling Up Excellence earns my highest recommendation. Just one warning: Do not read this book without taking notes!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Reference

Sutton, R. I., & Rao, H. (2014). Scaling up excellence: Getting to more without settling for less. New York: Crown Business.

The Truth About Leadership: “You Make a Difference and You Can’t Do It Alone”

Here is a fantastic 13-minute TEDx Talk by Barry Posner, co-author (with James Kouzes) of the book, The Leadership Challenge, and Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University.

Below are excerpts from his excellent speech.

There are two truths about leadership: You make a difference and you can’t do it alone.

Leadership does not have to be complex. It can be simple: You make a difference and you can’t do it alone.

(1) You make a difference – Believe in yourself, understand who you are and what you’re about and what you care about. You make a difference and it’s easier when you know who you are.

The first person who has to follow you is you! The first person who must believe in you is you. The first voice of self-doubt that you must address is that little voice inside yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself and if you are not willing to follow yourself then you will have a hard time getting someone else to be willing to follow you.

(2) You can’t do it alone – “Being with you, working with you [and] being in this organization will make me better than it would be if I were someplace else.”

The essence of leadership is that a leader has followers. You cannot be a leader without a follower.

“It’s hard to imagine that you can be a leader without a follower. . . . If you find yourself walking forward and you turn around and there’s nobody there, then . . . you’re just out for a walk.” -Barry Posner

“Leadership is a relationship. It’s a relationship between those who would lead and those who would choose to follow.”

Leaders need to turn their followers into leaders. “If you’re going to be a leader, you have to be a leader that makes it possible for other people to lead.”

“Leadership’s not a solo act. It’s not a monologue. It’s a dialogue. It’s a conversation.”

“It’s about wanting to be in a relationship in which people have our best interests at heart and they think that we’re great and those are the people we wanna be with and we want to work with, and we want to do great things with.”

“The research is quite clear about this: If you ask the question, “Why do some managers get ahead in an organization and some don’t?” It all has to do with the quality of the relationships with the people that they have in an organization.” -Barry Posner

“You make a difference and you can’t do it alone. I make a difference, but I can’t do it alone.” -Barry Posner

Link

TEDxTalks University of Nevada – I make a difference, but I can’t do it alone
youtube.com/watch?v=3cpLFFZsbWY

Big Data – More Headache Than Elixir

data

Photo Credit: Flickr

In the past two years, I have ended the year writing about different charities. In 2011, I wrote about charity: water, and in 2012, I talked about Room to Read. This year, I want to do something different. I’m going to share a few brief observations I’ve made about one topic that came up in 2013.

Big Data

One thing I heard often throughout 2013 was “big data,” which was often heralded as a viable solution to what seems like everything. However, I rarely hear people talking about how fruitless having data is if there is no way to decipher and translate that massive amount of information into coherent, intelligible, and useful actions.

Having big data is equivalent to conducting a literature review for a PhD dissertation. There is (usually) so much information out there that a doctoral student must sift through and make sense of it all. It is painstakingly laborious, intensive, slow and very easy to be led astray and chase rabbit trails because there is so much data and everything seems interesting, although not necessarily relevant, to your own topic.

To me, big data is not a panacea. It never was. Big data is information on a large scale. Nothing more. If you collect massive amounts of information but do not know what to do with it or how to use it, then it is useless. One other observation is that data is tricky and can be “interpreted” in different manners depending on the method(s) used and the viewpoint of the individual(s) doing the interpretation. This may come as a shock to some and not others, but if a researcher is not careful, s/he will let bias creep in and arrive at the results that s/he originally sought, even if the results really did not reveal this.

The lesson is this: You can arrive at all sorts of conclusions from big data, but be careful. While some or many of these conclusions may make sense numerically, they may not make any sense contextually. In other words, just because you arrived at some numerical values from your analysis of big data, it may, in fact, not be pertinent to your original query.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Values-Based Leadership

businesswoman-looking-up

Photo Credit: Flickr

Values-Based Leadership

Professor Harry M. Jansen Kraemer, Jr. of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management says a values-based leader aims to motivate and inspire others to pursue the greater good – “the positive change that can be effected within a team, department, division, or organization, or even on a global level” (Kraemer, 2011a, p. 3).

In a Forbes article, professor Kraemer states, “becoming the best kind of leader isn’t about emulating a role model or a historic figure. Rather, your leadership must be rooted in who you are and what matters most to you. When you truly know yourself and what you stand for, it is much easier to know what to do in any situation. It always comes down to doing the right thing and doing the best you can” (Kraemer, 2011b).

Our values are “internalized attitudes about what’s right and wrong, ethical and unethical, moral and immoral” (Yukl, 2010, 191). Some examples of values in a leader include fairness, honesty, equality, humanitarianism, loyalty, progress, pragmatism, excellence, and cooperation.

In his book From Values to Action, Kraemer describes four principles of values-based leadership:

  1. Self-Reflection – Take time to step back and see the big picture. Reflect on what’s important to you and the reason why it’s important.
  2. Balance – Be able to consider and understand all sides of an issue. Look at things in a holistic manner.
  3. True Self-Confidence – Recognize what you know as well as what you do not know. Be OK with yourself, accept your strengths and weaknesses and strive to improve.
  4. Genuine Humility – Never forget where you came from and how you got to where you’re at now. Understand that “you are neither better nor worse than anyone else [and] that you ought to respect everyone equally and not treat anyone differently just because of a job title” (Kraemer, 2011a, p. 6).

Martin Luther King, Jr. – A Values-Based Leader

Martin Luther King, Jr. was not only a transformational leader, he was also a values-based leader. Dr. King taught his followers to rise above the daily mistreatments, discriminations, and hardships that people faced and to work toward a greater good. He was an example of equality, humanitarianism, progress, pragmatism, excellence, and cooperation. Dr. King personified the qualities of a transformational leader: (1) He inspired others by his ability to frame his messages in meaningful ways, (2) He connected his vision of equality and justice with his followers’ personal struggles, (3) He showed people that he cared about them and that he valued them, and (4) He emphasized high moral and ethical values while displaying personal commitment and self-sacrifice (McGuire & Hutchings, 2007). Above all, through his firmly grounded values-based leadership — of using nonviolent demonstrations to protest racial inequality — he became the symbol for the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Should Business School Teach Values-Based Leadership?

As a result of the general public’s growing distrust of business leaders and what it perceives as a lack of values and principles in the business world (revealed through corporate scandals and corruptions), there has been an interest in revamping how business leaders are educated. In a June 2009 article in the Harvard Business Review, Podolny (2009b) asserts that business schools need to reinvent themselves to regain the trust of the public. He argues that the way to do this is by teaching and emphasizing values in business schools. He contends that a focus on values-based leadership and ethics has not been central in the education of MBAs and that even when business schools teach leadership, they tend to emphasize that CEOs should focus on the big picture and not “sweat the details (because that’s their subordinates’ job)” (p. 64).

Podolny (2009b) said that business schools need to stop competing for students by advertising the school’s ranking because this reinforces the idea that the only goal is to teach them how to make a lot of money. He insists that business schools need to create codes of conduct for MBAs and should withdraw degrees from those who break them.

“Business schools teach leadership as a soft, big picture–oriented course, distinct from the details on which hard, quantitative courses focus. Leadership, they imply, is about setting the vision and framing an agenda, but it isn’t about focusing on details. Because of this distinction, students are convinced that nitty-gritty work can be done without consciously considering factors such as values and ethics.” – Joel M. Podolny (2009a)

“In order to reduce people’s distrust, business schools need to show that they value what society values. They need to teach that principles, ethics, and attention to detail are essential components of leadership, and they need to place a greater emphasis on leadership’s responsibilities – not just its rewards.” – Joel M. Podolny (2009b)

“Today there is widespread lack of confidence in leadership, in business, government, education and elsewhere. Every leader needs to regain and maintain trust. Values-based leadership may not be a cure for everything that ails us, but it’s definitely a good place to start.” -Harry M. Jansen Kraemer, Jr.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Kraemer Jr., H. M. (2011a). From values to action: The four principles of values-based leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kraemer Jr., H. M. (2011b, April 26). The Only True Leadership Is Values-Based Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/2011/04/26/values-based-leadership.html

McGuire, D. & Hutchings, K. (2007). Portrait of a transformational leader: The legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 28(2), 154-166.

Podolny, J.M. (2009a). Are Business Schools to Blame? Harvard Business Review, 87(6), 107.

Podolny, J.M. (2009b). The buck stops (and starts) at business school. Harvard Business Review, 87(6), 62-67.

Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Developing Your Leadership Presence – The Role of Physical Movement

Businessmen

Photo Credit: Businessmen

We hear a great deal about leadership and the qualities of being a leader. One thing I have personally noticed and practiced is something called command presence. It’s the ability to “own the room” or command the attention of others. The beauty is that it doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short, or big or small. Size is not as important as the ability to command a room — to show confidence and authority.

For training and development, in terms of having a physical leadership presence, there’s a book called Own the Room (Booth, Shames, & Desberg, 2010). Although much of it is about business presentations, it also touches on what the authors call command presence (having an air of authority and physical movement; displaying confidence and authority). They also describe something they call “physical grammar” (akin to using commas, periods, and pauses when speaking). The idea is that you attract attention as you move, and when done purposefully, it can be very effective.

Another thing regarding physical movement (particularly when presenting to an audience) is that it enlarges a speaker’s presence because it allows him/her to control the space rather than being confined by it (like being behind a podium). I have seen very capable professionals fail to “own the room” because they did not understand the importance of having a command presence.

I have personally experienced the dramatic difference between owning and not owning the room when presenting. When I’m free to move about a room or space, I not only develop my own command presence but I’m also more effective in engaging the audience due to my physical movement (the physical grammar I mentioned earlier). However, when I’m confined to a very tight space/room and my physical movements are limited or restricted, I notice that I often fail to capture the audience’s attention.

For leaders and CEOs who are small in stature, developing a leadership presence is crucial. This excerpt from a 2007 USA Today article illustrates how having a command presence helped one short CEO remain in control:

Maigread Eichten, the 5-foot-4 former CEO of beverage company New Sun Nutrition, recalled a confrontation with a 6-foot, 200-pound-plus senior executive.

“He spoke loudly and in quite colorful language. I couldn’t get a word in between his four-letter words. Imagine his surprise when this small blonde marched up, stared him down, commanded his attention, spoke clearly and loudly and ended with a smile. He was sold and charmed,” Eichten said.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Booth, D., Shames, D., & Desberg, P. (2010). Own the room: Business presentations that persuade, engage, and get results. New York: McGraw-Hill.

USA Today – Does height equal power? Some CEOs say yes. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2007-07-17-ceo-dominant-behavior_N.htm

Can Apple Remain Innovative Without Their Visionary Leader?

steve-jobs-apple-all-star

Photo Credit: Flickr

In January 2009, Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times wrote:

“No American CEO is more intimately identified with his company’s success. Jobs is deeply involved in every facet of Apple development and design, and he’s justly admired for his instinct for the human-factor engineering of Apple products.”

There has been much talk about Apple and its struggle to continue to be innovative after Steve Jobs’ untimely death in October 2011. For instance, after the most recent Apple event introducing the newest iPhone models (iPhone 5S and 5C), analysts and pundits were unimpressed. “Underwhelmed” wrote CNN.

A Wired article said the “much-hyped iPhone announcements from the tech giant did little to stop its year-long descent into stagnation. . . . Though the faster, sleeker, more powerful phone is unarguably cool, the steps forward are still incremental. And incremental isn’t what the world expects from Apple. Steve Jobs’ death wasn’t an event of worldwide significance because he could craft better spec sheets. Apple’s brand is synonymous with vision, a corporate identity that was once its greatest asset. Now that asset has become a liability.”

In November 2010, I wrote a blog post titled, “The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders.” One of the points I made was that the dependence on a charismatic leader, like Steve Jobs, inhibited development of competent successors. Indeed, as Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison said Jobs was a visionary and his creativity far exceeded his executives.

Steve Jobs was a larger-than-life CEO at Apple. Setting aside his temper and authoritarian style of management, he had two qualities that will be very difficult for Apple to replicate: an uncanny ability to sense consumer demands (relying on his intuition, without doing any market research) and the ability to passionately and unequivocally sell his vision (and in the process reinvented entire industries).

Yukl (2010) said charisma is temporary when it is dependent on a leader who is viewed as extraordinary. When that charismatic leader leaves or dies, it can create a succession crisis. Although the crisis in leadership succession did not occur at Apple, what seemed to have occurred is a crisis in creativity and innovation. There are three things charismatic leaders can do to leave their mark on the company.

One approach is to transfer charisma to a successor. That certainly did not happen because the personalities of Steve Jobs (an extrovert) and Tim Cook (an introvert) are very different. A second approach is to develop a structure that will continue to carry out the leader’s vision. The problem is that the enthusiasm is sometimes greatly diminished when a charismatic leader is no longer around, thus reducing the effectiveness of the overall organization. The third approach to continue the leader’s vision is to “embed it in the culture of the organization by influencing followers to internalize it and empowering them to implement it” (Yukl, 2010, p. 271).

Can Apple Still Innovate Without Jobs?

NO: Hartmut Esslinger, a designer who began collaborating with Steve Jobs in 1982 “to carry Apple’s products to international prominence” says the Apple today is very different and not the innovative company he experienced during his time working with Jobs. Esslinger has a unique insight since he personally worked with Steve Jobs to create a “design language” that was used on the Macintosh line of computers for over a decade. According to Esslinger, a design language is “about forming a visual brand DNA that expresses a company’s true potential, as well as the founders’ unique values and (hopefully) visionary goals.” Esslinger believes that the Apple of today is more like the Sony of the 1980s — the visionary founder is replaced by leaders who do not think about innovating, only about refining the product line and increasing profits.

YES, but: Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff, who interned at Apple in 1984 and was mentored by Steve Jobs, had some interesting things to say about Apple’s current state (see the YouTube video below). At the TechCrunch Disrupt 2013 conference, Benioff said Apple’s executives need to find themselves and be who they are, not try to imitate Steve Jobs. He said they should respect the past, but project the future. Marc Benioff’s advice aligns nicely with the third approach (that followers internalize the leader’s vision and be empowered to implement that vision).

The challenge now for Apple (it’s been almost 2 years since Steve Jobs’ death) is how to retain their innovative DNA — keep Steve Jobs’ vision, but remain who they are without him. There’s no doubt that Jobs’ vision and creative genius far exceeded those of other executives at Apple. But one can argue that Apple still has enough talent and creativity on its leadership team to press onward.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Disrupt SF 2013 – Apple Needs To ‘Find Themselves’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbTuHpMy5CY

Esslinger, H. (Sept 2013). Snow White, Steve Jobs and Apple’s Awakening as a Global Design Leader. Retrieved from http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/snow-white-steve-jobs-and-apples-awakening-as-a-global-design-leader.html

Gross, D. (Sept 2013). Internet, Wall Street unimpressed by new iPhones. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/11/tech/innovation/apple-iphone-innovation-debate/index.html

Hall, B. (Sept 2013). Apple Has Fallen and It Can’t Get Up. Retrieved from http://www.thestreet.com/story/12033865/1/apple-has-fallen-and-it-cant-get-up.html

Hiltzik, M. (Jan 2009). Apple’s condition linked to Steve Jobs’ health. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/05/business/fi-hiltzik5

McCracken, H. (Oct 2011). Steve Jobs, 1955–2011: Mourning Technology’s Great Reinventor. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2096251,00.html

Mims, C. (Sept 2013). Apple is no longer an innovative company, says the man who helped Steve Jobs design the Mac. Retrieved from http://qz.com/123388/hartmut-esslinger-says-apple-no-longer-innovative-helped-steve-jobs-design-the-mac/

Mui, C. (Oct 2011). Five Dangerous Lessons to Learn From Steve Jobs. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/chunkamui/2011/10/17/five-dangerous-lessons-to-learn-from-steve-jobs/

Nguyen, S. (Nov 2010). The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders. Retrieved from http://workplacepsychology.net/2010/11/26/the-dangers-of-charismatic-leaders/

Salesforce.com CEO: Apple Execs Need To Stop Imitating Steve Jobs
http://readwrite.com/2013/09/10/salesforce-ceo-marc-benioff-steve-jobs

Wohlsen, M. (Sept 2013). Apple’s Reputation for Innovation Is Now Its Greatest Liability. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/business/2013/09/apple-annoucements/

Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Why Leadership Is Important and Why People Want to Be Followers

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Photo Credit: Flickr

I posted this recently in a leadership MOOC course. The question was, “Why do you think leadership is important?”

Here’s my response:

I believe leadership is important because if we examine history, no significant changes or advancement have occurred without some type of leadership. In the U.S., we can see how leaders have mobilized followers to accomplish amazing things.

George Washington → American Revolution
Martin Luther King, Jr. → Civil Rights Movement
Steve Jobs → Apple Computers (iPhone, iPad, iPod)

I like this definition of leadership as I believe it nicely explains WHY leadership is important:

“Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse, 2013, p. 5).

To me, there can be no leader if there are no followers, and people will not follow you if you lack the ability to influence them to work toward a goal.

That said, I also like and agree with what Bass (1990) said, that there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are individuals who have tried to define this concept.

One person in the MOOC class said that he did not believe people want to be led by others (i.e., they want to be leaders, not followers). I responded with this post:

I respectfully disagree with the notion that people do not want to be followers. I contend three things (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012):

  1. Almost everyone is a follower in some capacity (supervisors report to managers, managers report to VPs, even CEOs have to report to the board of directors),
  2. The role of followers is just as important as leaders (although it is often overlooked), and
  3. Being a follower has benefits (that is, the benefits to being a follower sometimes outweigh the benefits of trying to be the leader).

Social Change: In the U.S., the Civil Rights movement serves as a good example of what can happen when followers take action to change the status quo (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012).

Military: We talk about great military leaders but the real wars and battles are fought by the best soldiers and armies (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012).

Sports: Yes, the Chicago Bulls had a great coach (leader) in Phil Jackson (who led them to 6 titles), but they also had Michael Jordan (who was both follower and leader) and Jordan had great teammates (Scottie Pippen, etc.) who followed and helped him.

Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Bass, B. M. (1990). Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research & managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Would You Work If You Won the Lottery?


The question is simple: If you were to win the lottery (also known as the lottery question), would you continue to work? The answer might surprise you because most people say yes. In fact, a survey of lottery winners showed that even those who won the lottery continued to work!

The General Population

Responses from 7,871 men and 7,549 women to the General Social Surveys conducted by the NORC for 1980, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1987-1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 were analyzed by Scott Highhouse and his colleagues (2010).

Each person answered the following question: “If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?”

Over a 26-year period, the researchers found that, while there has been a decline in people who said they would keep working, most of the people responded they would keep on working. 72.8% (1980 –1993) and 68.1% (1994 –2006) of people responded that they would continue working (Highhouse et al., 2010).

Highhouse and colleagues said the responses to the lottery question seems linked to economic conditions. That is, when the economy is doing well, people are more inclined to give up work. However, during tough economic times the idea of giving up work might be seen as final (i.e., permanent, irreversible).

My unscientific poll seems to confirm this. Three years ago (in 2010), I posted a poll here on WorkplacePsychology.Net which asked people, “If you had enough money so that you never had to work again, would you continue to work or would you stop working?”
wrkpsypoll

After three years and more than 4000 votes, results indicate that the majority of people who participated in my survey (56.49%) said they would, in fact, continue working even if they had money to never have to worry about working again.

These numbers are lower than the 72.8% (for the period 1980 –1993) and even the 68.1% (1994 –2006) reported in the Highhouse study. Indeed, when I posted the poll in 2010, the U.S. was just emerging from a very long recession. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (2010), the U.S. recession lasted 18 months (from December 2007 to June 2009), making it the longest of any recession since World War II.

Since the posting of that survey, the U.S. economy has seen only tepid improvements. Thus, even during tough economic times, it was surprising to see that 56% of people who took the survey said they would continue working even if they had money to never have to worry about working again.

Returning to the Highhouse et al. study, researchers are not sure why there’s a decline (although there is indication that it is leveling off) in people saying they would work if they were to win the lottery. According to Highhouse et al. there are many possible explanations: (1) it might be a decline in work ethic, (2) it might be that participants now are more candid/open about their responses compared to 30 years ago, or (3) it might be a change in the way people view the role that work plays in contributing to a productive life (e.g., result of a literate and progressive population).

“One of the reasons for the decrease in affirmative responses to the lottery question is not that the work ethic itself has declined but that the attractiveness of life after work has increased in the United States” (Highhouse et al., 2010, p. 356).

The Lottery Winners

Ok, so what about people who have won the lottery? Would they be more likely to quit their jobs, instantly retire, and spend the rest of their lives relaxing and drinking margaritas on an island somewhere? Not exactly.

Arvey, Harpz, and Liao (2004) conducted a survey of lottery winners in which they asked these lottery winners whether they had kept on working even after winning. The researchers also asked the lottery winners how important work was in their life. The researchers predicted that lottery winners would keep on working depending on their level of work centrality and on the amount of their winnings.

Arvey et al. (2004) reviewed responses from 117 people (they removed those who had retired before winning the lottery or who had missing information), average lottery win was $3.63 million (1999 U.S. dollars), 37% women and 63% men, with an average age of 43 (at the time that person won the lottery), 17% were managers, 26% were professionals, 26% were in other white-collar jobs, and 31% were in blue-collar jobs.

“After controlling for a number of variables (i.e., age, gender, education, occupation, and job satisfaction), results indicated that work centrality and the amount won were significantly related to whether individuals continued to work and, as predicted, the interaction between the two was also significantly related to work continuance.”

Results revealed that the overwhelming majority (85.5%) indicated they continued working after winning the lottery, while 14.5% chose to quit working. Arvey et al. explained that “the percentages of different options do not add to 100% because several respondents indicated more than one option. However, respondents who chose the first option (i.e., stopped working altogether) did not check any of the other options” (p. 412).

“The results of this study confirmed the main hypothesis that lottery winners would be less likely to stop working if work was important or central in their lives relative to those who viewed work as less central in their lives. Lottery winners were also more likely to quit working as a function of the amount of their winnings. The greater the award, the more likely they were to stop working. . . It is clear that winning the lottery does not automatically result in individuals’ stopping work” (Arvey et al., 2004, p. 415).

Conclusion

Why do people continue to work when they do not have to work (for instance, winning the lottery)?

When we consider the amount of time we spend at work (8+ hours a day, 5 days a week or more), or even the time spent outside of work celebrating work successes, contemplating work responsibilities/duties, or stressing over issues in our workplaces, it is easy to understand the major role of work in our lives.

With regard to lottery winners who continue working, King (2011) wrote, “The behavior of the typical lottery winner tells us that work is more than a way to earn money. It is an opportunity to use our skills and abilities and to feel successful and effective. It also provides a context in which to have meaningful relationships with other people” (p. 455).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Arvey, R. D., Harpaz, I., & Liao, H. (2004). Work centrality and post-award work behavior of lottery winners. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 138(5), 404-420. doi:10.3200/JRLP.138.5.404-420

Highhouse, S., Zickar, M. J., & Yankelevich, M. (2010). Would you work if you won the lottery? Tracking changes in the American work ethic. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 95(2), 349-357. doi:10.1037/a0018359

King, L. A. (2011). The science of psychology: An appreciative view (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

National Bureau of Economic Research. (2010). Business Cycle Dating Committee. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/cycles/sept2010.html

The Science of People at Work