Category Archives: Business

Stop Telling People You’re a “Thought Leader” Because You’re Not

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Is Thought Leadership Old Wine In New Bottles?

There are certain words/phrases that irk me to no end — thought leader or thought leadership is one of them. I cringe every time I see the words “thought leader” or “thought leadership” on a website or by a person’s name.

David Brooks wrote a satirical, op-ed piece in the New York Times in December 2013 titled, “The Thought Leader.” Describing the life of a “thought leader,” Brooks wrote:

“[The thought leader] doesn’t have students, but he does have clients. . . .Not armed with fascinating ideas but with the desire to have some, he launches off into the great struggle for attention.”

Origin of Thought Leadership

Alexander and Badings (2012) explained in their book “#Thought Leadership Tweet” that the term “thought leaders” originated from Joel Kurtzman while he was editor for Booz & Company’s strategy+business magazine. In “Thought Leaders,” Kurtzman traveled the world for two years, interviewing 10 (2 were interviewed by Glenn Rifkin, the book featured 12) leaders (e.g., executives, authors, professors) from across the globe on issues related to business strategy, growth, and HR.

Old Wine In New Bottles

Merely wrapping, repackaging, or pouring old wine into a new bottle does not make it “new wine.” It only means you’re reusing or repackaging an old or existing idea and calling it new.

If you read a thought leader’s writings today, you will rarely find references or citations to ideas he or she borrowed from. These thought leaders tend to take credit for ideas that are, in fact, not new but rather have been around for decades.

For these individuals, their notion of thought leadership is pouring old wine into a new bottle and calling it new wine. Giving themselves the label of being a thought leader and selling this idea to others adds to their pseudo credibility.

I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to be regarded as a thought leader?

What (and Who) Is a Thought Leader?

“Thought leaders advance the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, commercially relevant, research-backed, new points of view.” -Liz Alexander and Craig Badings

Many consultants are calling themselves thought leaders in the hopes that others might view them as trusted advisors, experts, or even futurists. However, “‘thought leader’ is not a position you choose to adopt, it is bestowed on you by others” (Alexander and Badings, 2012, p. 14).*

*And yet, ironically, after writing that the title “thought leader” is bestowed upon us by others, Alexander and Badings then said, “individual thought leaders are in plentiful supply” but because companies struggle to establish their thought leadership, that was the reason for them [Alexander and Badings] to write a book to help organizations design and implement a thought leadership campaign (their “proven, five-stage ‘Thought Leadership BluePrint.’”).

Not Thought Leaders, Thought Regurgitators

No matter how hard people convince themselves they’re a thought leader, in all likelihood, they’re not. Most people are not thought leaders. Regurgitating old ideas and gift-wrapping them using fancy, new decorative paper (no matter how nice) does not change the fact that you have not come up with a unique and innovative idea.

I love this quote from an article by Cheryl Kim in the Financial Post.

[M]ost people talking about thought leadership have no clue what it means. And most content labeled as ‘thought leadership’ is actually missing the elements of both ‘thought’ and ‘leadership’. -Cheryl Kim

She goes on to say:

“Thought leaders are defined as such because they articulate a problem about which others haven’t spoken, or because they present a novel approach to solving it. Thought leaders change the way people think and what they do. The best thought leaders are actually trying to address a problem or issue at hand — not just talk about it.” -Cheryl Kim

In their coverage of organization development and summarizing the thinking of some OD leaders, William Rothwell and Roland Sullivan (2005) said this:

“[M]uch of contemporary thinking is not truly new and is a trendy version of previous ideas and practices rather than breakthrough in nature” (p. 178).

In his book, Psychology in Organizations: The Social Identity Approach, Haslam (2004) quoted McGregor as saying:

“What sometimes appear to be new strategies – decentralization, management by objective, consultative supervision, ‘democratic’ leadership – are usually but old wine in new bottles” (p. 231, citing Pinder, 1984, p. 42).

Are Curators of Ideas & Synthesizers of Information Thought Leaders?

Dorie Clark, in an HBR article, cites Des Dearlove (co-founder of Thinkers50, a global ranking of management thinkers) in explaining that some thought leaders are actually curators of ideas and synthesizers of information:

Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Goleman [are] examples of thought leaders who are actually “synthesizers” of information. Says Dearlove, “These guys bring communication skills and an ability to bring complex ideas and make something out of them, but it’s not their [original] research.”

Some Criteria for “Thought Leadership”

Daniel Rasmus wrote a nice article in Fast Company titled, “The Golden Rules For Creating Thoughtful Thought Leadership.” In it, he outlined 11 rules to create and elevate thought leadership:

  1. Don’t sell anything except ideas.
  2. Always give it away.
  3. Have a unique perspective.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time.
  5. Address a specific audience.
  6. Get involved.
  7. Admit what you don’t know.
  8. Make your audience feel smarter.
  9. Market thought leadership like a product.
  10. Hire thought leaders.
  11. Thought leaders should be thoughtful leaders.

Takeaway: Calling yourself a thought leader doesn’t make you one, neither does having a fancy degree, certification, or job title.

“Just because you have a degree from a top university, you’re CEO of a company or you are certified to teach a certain topic doesn’t make you a thought leader.” -Denise Brosseau

“Thought Leaders move and inspire others with innovative ideas, turn those ideas into reality, then create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale those ideas into sustainable change.”Denise Brosseau

I love what Denise said about a thought leader needing to be patient while possessing the knowledge, expertise, and commitment to put themselves and their reputation on the line:

“[N]ot just anyone can be a thought leader. Thought leadership takes time (sometimes years); knowledge and expertise in a particular niche; a certain level of commitment and a willingness to buck the status quo or the way things have always been done.”Denise Brosseau

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Alexander, L., & Badings, C. (2012). #Thought Leadership Tweet. Cupertino, CA: THINKaha.

Brooks, D. (2013, December). The thought leader. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/opinion/brooks-the-thought-leader.html

Brosseau, D. (2015). Thought Leadership Lab. What is a Thought Leader? FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.thoughtleadershiplab.com/Resources/WhatIsaThoughtLeader

Brosseau, D. (2015). Thought Leadership Lab. What is Thought Leadership? Retrieved from
http://blog.thoughtleadershiplab.com/what-is-thought-leadership

Haslam, S. A. (2004). Psychology in organizations: The social identity approach (2nd ed.). London, England: Sage.

Kim, C. (2014, March). Think you’re a thought leader? You’re probably wrong… but here are 3 ways to become one. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/executive/leadership/think-youre-a-thought-leader-youre-probably-wrong-but-here-are-3-ways-to-become-one

Kurtzman, J. (1998). Thought leaders: Insights on the future of business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pinder, C.C. (1984). Work motivation: Theory, issues and applications. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Rasmus, D. W. (2012, December). The golden rules for creating thoughtful thought leadership. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3003897/golden-rules-creating-thoughtful-thought-leadership

Rothwell, W. J., Sullivan, R. L. (Eds.) (2005). Practicing organization development: A guide for consultants (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Manager and HR

100-Things-You-Need-to-Know

Description (from a Lominger flyer): In 100 Things, three internationally-recognized experts in human capital management provide the research behind the best people practices in an easy-to-read and easy-to-reference format. You’ll find research, discussion and a “so what” section (that tells you what best practices to follow as a result of the research) on the full range of HR people issues you deal with all the time—change management, HR effectiveness, measurement, campus recruiting, career development, feedback, selection, pay practices and more.

I shared before about how I love Half-Price Books. Recently, I discovered other sources of used books – online bookstores! I’ve been impressed by the convenience, price, and quality of the used books I ordered thus far.

Previously, I had written about Lominger’s (now a part of Korn/Ferry) book, FYI For Your Improvement (a development and coaching tool for learners, managers, mentors, coaches and feedback givers). The FYI book can be used in conjunction with 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004).

100 Things You Need to Know is listed at $44.95 on the Korn/Ferry website (Lominger originally sold it for $49.95), but I bought a used copy online for $4.00 (that includes shipping/handling)!

What I especially like is that the authors have sifted through, pulled together, and presented research that back up HR and people practices, and then (and this is important) translates that research into what it means for you in your HR role – that is, what should you do based on the research findings. I also love the “How sure are we at this time?” a 5-point scale in which the authors indicate how certain they are of their answer/response.

Here’s an example:

What is the relationship between being smart (having a high IQ) and the ability to manage others effectively?

Select One:

    A. There is a strong relationship; the smarter you are, the better manager you can be.

    B. There is a moderate relationship; the smarter you are, the more likely it is you can manage others well.

    C. There is a small relationship; it helps but not much.

    D. There is no relationship; the level of your IQ has nothing to do with how well you can manage others.

    E. There is a negative relationship; the smarter you are the more likely it is that you won’t listen or delegate.

The correct answer is C: There is a small relationship; it helps but not much.

How sure are we at this time (based on the research evidence)?
[on a scale of Hint, Suggestive, Trending, Substantial, Solid] — Substantial*

*Substantial: Enough research has been done to feel strongly about the answer, although further research might shade the answer slightly in one direction or the other.

Next, Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich provide summaries of what they’ve found in support of the conclusion they reached. Finally, in the “So what difference do these findings make?” section, the authors share what you should do that’s in line with the research evidence and what are the best practices that can be gleaned from the research findings.

Human resource practitioners and many others will find 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR to be an incredibly useful, reputable, evidence-based, must-have resource. I wish I could get a copy for every HR, OD, and I/O consultant I know.

As Madigan and Dickson stated, citing Denise Rousseau (2007), there “remains a gap between much academic research on the workplace and I-O and HR practitioners’ day-to-day decision making and managers’ daily activities” (Madigan & Dickson, April 2008, p. 72). 100 Things You Need to Know will help bridge this gap by linking practitioners with research and providing them with guidance in performing their day-to-day activities.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Madigan, J., & Dickson, M. W. (April 2008). Good Science-Good Practice. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 45(4), 67-72.

Rousseau, D. M. (2007). A sticky, leveraging, and scalable strategy for high-quality connections between organizational practice and science. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 1037-1042.

Cajoling and Betraying Trust

The Oxford American Dictionary defines cajoling as “persuad[ing] someone to do something by sustained coaxing or flattery.” It’s another way of describing how we sweet-talk others into doing our bidding.

A damaging consequence of a leader cajoling employees is losing the employees’ trust or confidence in that leader, and in his words and actions. Although they may, initially, trust the leader it often does not take long for employees to recognize that it’s simply deception designed to get them to do what that leader wanted them to do.

“Cajoling employees (i.e., using persuasive tactics) is a poor leadership approach because it’s more about getting what you want and tricking people into listening to you. It’s sleight of hand. Employees might be deceived for a while into thinking they are following you, but they’ll eventually figure it out.” -John Brandon

FYI: For Your Improvement (2nd ed.) tells us betrayal of trust is problematic when we (a) say one thing but mean or do something else, (b) are inconsistent with our words or acts, and/or (c) fail to deliver on our promises or follow through on our commitments (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998).

Some reasons why a business professional betrays trust include (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998):

  • Wants to avoid conflict
  • Is dishonest, underhanded, devious
  • Has trouble saying no
  • Is disorganized, has poor time management, or is forgetful

Here are two remedies to help you to not lose people’s trust:

(1) Are you conflict-averse? I knew a guy who would (and could) never say no. He was notorious for always saying yes but everyone knew that he actually meant no. Friends would invite him to come hang out with them and he would always say he’ll meet them there, but, without fail, he would never show up. After a while, his friends stopped asking because they knew his hollow promises (to meet them) were never supported by his actions (of showing up). Some people are so worried about offending others that they’ll say yes or commit to something when they actually have no intention of following through.

Here’s something those who are afraid of saying no don’t realize: People will respect you MORE if you say “NO” instead of saying yes and not mean it.

(2) Intentionally saying things to gain an advantage? Another type of betrayers of trust are folks who “know ahead of time that what [they] are saying is not really true or that [they] really don’t think that [way]” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 455). These people “say things [they] don’t mean to gain an advantage or forward a relationship or get some resources” (p. 455).

When we talk about people who say things they don’t mean just to make a sale or to gain some type of advantage, snake oil salesmen or car salesmen quickly come to mind. But, I bet we all know or work with, or for, someone who does this (i.e., say things they don’t mean or make empty promises, etc.). As the FYI book explains, individuals who habitually overpromise (to impress others) and underdeliver on those promises will “lose in the long term because others will learn to discount promises and only measure results” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, pp. 454-455).

Takeaway: In daily life and in the workplace, people trust us to do what we say we’ll do. Human beings expect and demand a certain level of trust in their interactions with one another. When that trust is severed because a person uses sleight of hand to dupe others into carrying out his/her agenda, relationships are damaged, business projects derail, and drama ensues.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Brandon, J. (2014, November 19). How to Stop Making the Most Common Leadership Mistakes | Inc.com.
http://www.inc.com/john-brandon/10-common-leadership-mistakes-and-how-to-stop-making-them.html

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Critically Examine Information to Avoid Garbage In, Gospel Out

One of the aims of my WorkplacePsychology.Net blog is to encourage and insist on evidence-based practices. A huge pet peeve of mine is the stating of opinions or thoughts as facts or providing incorrect or false information, such as when someone will matter-of-factly state something as fact when it’s actually just their opinion or sharing something they heard or read or concluded incorrectly. What’s troubling is that this occurs so often today despite the wide availability and ease of access to the Internet to help confirm or challenge these mistakes.

I’ve seen this happen in conversations as well as writings — in social gatherings, the workplace, and even in business magazines and books. To me, the fault lies not only in the individual(s) passing along the mistake but also in the receiver(s) who careless accept it as facts. If information (news, stories, statements, claims, and so on) is not properly vetted (i.e., carefully examined), by both sharers and receivers of that information, it can quickly snowball into useless noise or, worse, damaging rumors or unintentional (or even intentional) misinformation.

For instance, I heard two people talking about a news story (of which I had read about). Person X made an emphatic statement about the type of weapon used to commit a crime and Person Y simply accepted it as truth, without ever verifying that this was actually true or not.

In another case, I was very curious as to how writers and authors arrived at the $300 billion cost for the toll of stress on the U.S. economy. This price tag is often cited in newspapers, blogs, magazine articles, and even textbooks. After some research, I discovered that the $300 billion cost of stress on the U.S. economy is actually based on speculation made in a 1979 book that were then later adjusted to account for inflation.

According to IBM, “Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few.”

Indeed, as our demand for and use of mobile devices grows so too will the unbridled growth of what’s called unstructured data which are “generated by all our digital interactions, from email to online shopping, text messages to tweets, Facebook updates to YouTube videos” (Wall, 2014).

While it would be impossible to critically examine every piece of information, it is wise to use an evidence-based approach in the planning and execution of key business initiatives (e.g., employee selection, training & development, assessments, leadership development, etc.).

Here’s one example for employee selection:

Despite their popularity and frequency of use, free-flowing, unstructured job interviews are the least effective tool when hiring. Situational interviews, patterned behavioral interview, job simulations, and a realistic job preview are four effective, research-supported tools for hiring (Latham, 2009).

There are a lot of noisy distractions (e.g., unsubstantiated claims, statements, posts, tweets, emails, texts, comments, etc.) and it’s up to each one of us to sift through mountains of data (of all types), curating the best/most useful, and ignoring the rest.

In 2015, let us all become better, more proficient, curators of information or, better stated, evidence-based professionals. If you hear or read something, look it up (using reputable online or offline resources, and no Wikipedia is not one of them) and confirm that the information stated has merit. It does not matter if the information came from someone’s mouth, a popular blog, a business website, or a book — you should practice your due diligence and vet that information before absorbing it into your own mind. Carelessly accepting everything you read and/or hear as fact will result in a “Garbage In, Gospel Out” (an updated term to Garbage In, Garbage Out) mindset and way of life.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Ault, M. R. (2003). Combating the Garbage-In, Gospel-Out Syndrome. Radiation Protection Management: The Journal of Applied Health Physics, 20(6), 26-30. http://www.radpro.com/RPM-206full.pdf

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress. http://stats.org/stories/2004/counting_costs_stress_sep23_04.htm

IBM Study: Digital era transforming CMO’S agenda, revealing gap in readiness. http://www.ibm.com/news/ca/en/2011/10/11/s358732u66669q21.html

IBM. What is big data? http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/what-is-big-data.html

Latham, G. P. (2009). Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager: Making the Science of Management Work for You. Boston, MA: Davies-Black.

Wall, M. (2014, Mar. 3). Big Data: Are you ready for blast-off? http://www.bbc.com/news/business-26383058

In Chinese: Crisis Does NOT Mean Danger and Opportunity

JFK-crisis-danger-and-opportunity

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2017]

JFK was wrong. On pinyin.info, a website about the Chinese language, Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, firmly corrects an American linguistic blunder that interprets the word “crisis” in Chinese as meaning both “danger” and “opportunity.”

“The explication of the Chinese word for crisis as made up of two components signifying danger and opportunity is due partly to wishful thinking, but mainly to a fundamental misunderstanding about how terms are formed in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages.” -Victor H. Mair

While this linguistic faux pas, no doubt, dates much further back, it was perhaps a speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy, in Indianapolis on April 12, 1959 that is most memorable. In his speech, Kennedy incorrectly said, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.”

As Professor Mair explains (the three paragraphs below are taken directly from Dr. Mair’s article):

[The word] “crisis” (wēijī) consists of two syllables that are written with two separate characters, wēi and jī. . . . While it is true that wēijī does indeed mean “crisis” and that the wēi syllable of wēijī does convey the notion of “danger,” the jī syllable of wēijī most definitely does not (italics added for emphasis) signify “opportunity.”

The jī of wēijī, in fact, means something like “incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes).” Thus, a wēijī is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. A wēijī indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary.

If one wants to find a word containing the element jī that means “opportunity” (i.e., a favorable juncture of circumstances, or a good chance for advancement), one needs to look elsewhere than wēijī, which means precisely “crisis” (viz., a dangerous, critical moment). One might choose, for instance, zhuǎnjī (“turn” + “incipient moment” = “favorable turn; turn for the better”), liángjī (“excellent” + “incipient moment” = “opportunity” [!!]), or hǎo shíjī (“good” + “time” + “incipient moment” = “favorable opportunity”).

Takeaway: It is scary how easily we take things at face value and accept them as “truths” or “facts” without ever doing the proper research.

*For a more comprehensive discussion, please visit Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis: How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

Links

Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis. How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray. http://www.pinyin.info/chinese/crisis.html

John F. Kennedy Quote. http://quotationspage.com/quote/2750.html

Victor H. Mair. Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/ealc/faculty/mair.htm

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.”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant

Link

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

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.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant

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.

To Spread Excellence You Need Excellence To Spread

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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 take it out of your own eye first. Although the lesson is about not judging others, it can also apply to not being a hypocrite and deceiving yourself.

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5, English Standard Version).

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 (or your team or the organization) are not even adequate. Be excellent first, then you’ll have something to spread!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

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 you 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.
Leadership and Talent Consultant

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

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant

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

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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

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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

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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?

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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 https://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.