Category Archives: Organizational Behavior

Values-Based Leadership

businesswoman-looking-up

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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.

Why Leadership Is Important and Why People Want to Be Followers

lead_follow

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?

happy-couple-with-money
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 said 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.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

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

Workplace Bullying: It’s Not Employee Dissatisfaction and Why It’s Different from Schoolyard Bullying

stop bullying

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This post is in response to an article titled “Thou Shalt Not Bully” that was posted on HCOnline, Australia’s online magazine for senior human resource professionals and corporate decision-makers.

In the article, the author said:

“[D]espite the best intentions of the [anti-bullying] legislation [in Australia], employers are faced with the prospect of an avalanche of complaints based on perceptions. Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.”

The author then proceeded to offer a case to illustrate why a dissatisfied employee led to the incorrect labeling of a manager as a “bully.”

“When we met with the employee, one of the first things he said when explaining the situation was ‘bullying is a too strong a word.’ He (the employee) went on to recount a conflict scenario that involved differing views about a project recommendation he had made, and described feeling intimidated and threatened. His complaint referred to the situation as bullying. When we met with his manager, she was distressed and felt pressured by the allegation. She was confused as to why she had been accused. She felt she had supported the employee, who she perceived him as being ‘difficult’ and requiring her intervention. The experience demonstrates the dangers of bullying becoming a catchall term for interpersonal issues.”

First, labeling someone in the workplace as a bully can have significant consequences (for both the instigator and the victim) so it is prudent to exercise care and caution before initiating claims of bullying.

Second, it should not matter if an employee uses the word(s) “bully” or “bullying” or not. As the author acknowledged, the employee, when recounting what happened, indicated that he felt “intimidated and threatened.” In others words, he felt that he was not able to defend/protect himself. Put it another way, people in positions of power may not realize or care that their higher/greater power within the company can engender bullying behaviors.

Third, something that was not mentioned in the article but is critically important to point out is that there is an important difference between schoolyard bullying and workplace bullying. While both forms involve victimizing another person and using power to do so, school bullies (sometimes cheered on by other students) do not have the support of teachers and school administrators. In contrast, workplace bullies, who often hold positions of authority, do have the support of peers, HR, and even upper management (Namie & Namie, 2009).

When targets (who participated in the 2003 Workplace Bullying Institute survey) were asked if they reported the bullying behaviors to others at work and what happened after that, here are the results (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 93):

The results below summarize who knew about the bullying and what they did in terms of helping or hurting.

WBI 2003 survey

“It is clear that workplace “insiders”—co-workers, the bully’s boss, and HR—were destructive, not supportive” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 93).

Namie and Namie (2009) said it well: “[T]he child Target must have the help and support of third-party adults to reverse the conflict. Bullied adults have the primary responsibility for righting the wrong themselves, for engineering a solution” (p. 15).

Fourth, I strongly disagree with the author that “The proliferation of anti-bullying awareness campaigns has led to workplace conflicts too readily being labeled as bullying” or that “Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.” These statements are a disservice to people who have been or are currently victims of workplace bullying. And, these types of statements continue to perpetuate the myth that victims of bullying are too soft, complain too much, or just don’t have the backbone to stand up. This, in my opinion, minimizes the seriousness of workplace bullying.

I do not agree that “anti-bullying awareness campaigns [have] led to workplace conflicts being labelled as bullying.” In fact, the two constructs (“workplace conflicts” and “workplace bullying”) sometimes get confused (as is the case in the author’s HCOnline article).

Conflicts – perceived differences between one person and another about interests, beliefs or values that matter to them (De Dreu, Van Dierendonck, & De Best-Waldhober, 2003).

Bullying – “situations where a worker or supervisor is systematically mistreated and victimized by fellow workers or supervisors through repeated negative acts like insulting remarks and ridicule, verbal abuse, offensive teasing, isolation, and social exclusion, or the constant degrading of one’s work and efforts” (Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994, p. 381).

Results from the 2007 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey indicated that,

“37 percent of American workers have been bullied at work—13 percent said it was either happening now or had happened within a year of the polling, and 24 percent said they were not now being bullied but had been bullied in the past. Adding the 12 percent who witnessed bullying but never experienced it directly, nearly half (49 percent) of adult Americans are affected by it” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 4).

A follow-up 2010 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey revealed,

“35% of the U.S. workforce (an est. 53.5 million Americans) report being bullied at work; an additional 15% witness it. Half of all Americans have directly experienced it.”

Thus, when we step back and examine these statistics on workplace bullying and the difference between the concept of conflict and bullying, as defined above, we can see that bullying is not just “employee dissatisfaction” as the author suggested.

Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

De Dreu, C. K. W., Van Dierendonck, D., & De Best-Waldhober, M. (2003). Conflict at work and individual well-being. In M. J. Schabracq, J. A. M. Winnubst, & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), The handbook of work and health psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 495-515). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.

Einarsen, S., Raknes, B. I., & Matthiesen, S. B. (1994). Bullying and harassment at work and their relationships to work environment quality: An exploratory study. European Work and Organizational Psychologist, 4(4), 381-401.

Namie, G., & Namie, R. (2009). The bully at work: what you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity on the job. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.

Leadership and Management: Are They Different?

Businesswoman in conference room

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Northouse (2013) wrote that leadership and management are similar in many ways. Both involve influencing, achieving goals, and working with people. However, while they may share some similarities, there are distinct and important differences. Northouse said the study of leadership goes as far back as the times of Aristotle, while the concept of management came about “around the turn of the 20th century with the advent of our industrialized society” (2013, p. 12).

In this article, I will first include quotes in support of the notion that leadership and management are similar. I will then follow with quotes and passages in support of the notion that leadership and management are different.

Manager And Leader – One And The Same

Mintzberg (1990) defined a manager and a leader as one and the same. Mintzberg considered a manager “the person in charge of the organization or one of its subunits” (1990, p. 164). In his HBR article (which originally appeared in Harvard Business Review in 1975), he referred to CEOs as managers. Managers include “foremen, factory supervisors, staff managers, field sales managers, hospital administrators, presidents of companies and nations…” (p. 164). Mintzberg maintained that managers are vested with authority over an organizational unit and from this authority comes status, which then leads to interpersonal relations and access to information. And, it is information that allows a manager to make decisions and develop strategies.

Manager And Leader – Not Synonymous

“Leaders manage and managers lead, but the two activities are not synonymous . . . [M]anagement functions can potentially provide leadership; [L]eadership activities can contribute to managing. Nevertheless, some managers do not lead, and some leaders do not manage” (Bass, 1990, p. 383).

“Leadership is path-finding; management is path-following. Leaders do the right things; managers do things right. Leaders develop; managers maintain. Leaders ask what and why; managers ask how and when. Leaders originate; managers imitate. Leaders challenge the status quo; managers accept it . . . Leadership is concerned with constructive or adaptive change, establishing and changing direction, aligning people, and inspiring and motivating people . . . They set the direction for organizations. They articulate a collective vision . . . They sacrifice and take risks to further the vision” (Bass, 2008, p. 654).

“Managers plan, organize, and arrange systems of administration and control. They hold positions of formal authority. Their position provides them with reward, disciplinary, or coercive power to influence and obtain compliance from subordinates. The subordinates follow directions from the manager and accept the manager’s authority as long as the manager has the legitimate power to maintain compliance—or the subordinates follow out of habit or deference to other powers of the leader. Management is concerned with consistency and order, details, timetables, and the marshaling of resources to achieve results. It plans, budgets, and allocates staff to fulfill plans” (Bass, 2008, p. 654).

Good Leader ≠ Good Manager, Good Manager ≠ Good Leader

Here’s an example that illustrates the difference:

A good leader (e.g., CEO of a software company) may not be someone technically proficient in guiding a software developer through a complex job. That job belongs to a competent manager. And, a good manager may be good at managing the day-to-day duties in the factory or office, but lacks the vision required of a great leader to strategically guide an organization.

Different Concepts That Overlap

Northouse (2013) said:

“Although there are clear differences between management and leadership, the two constructs overlap. When managers are involved in influencing a group to meet its goals, they are involved in leadership. When leaders are involved in planning, organizing, staffing, and controlling, they are involved in management. Both processes involve influencing a group of individuals toward goal attainment.” (p. 14)

References

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

Bass, B. M. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.

Mintzberg, H. (1990). The manager’s job: Folklore and fact. Harvard Business Review, 68(2), 163-176.

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

Locus of Control: Stop Making Excuses and Start Taking Responsibility

Blame by Nelson Vargas

Photo Credit: Flickr

[NOTE: This post was updated August 2016]

In my former career as a mental health counselor, I encountered many clients who struggled with taking charge of their own lives. While their struggles might have differed, the idea behind helping them was almost always the same, and quite basic. We’re taught to guide clients from seeing themselves as being victims of life’s circumstances to being movers of those life events. In other words, help clients reach deep within to draw on their own inner strength and capacity to take charge.

There are two types of locus of control: internal (inside) and external (outside). Internal locus of control is the belief that you are “in charge of the events that occur in [your] life” (Northouse, 2013, p. 141), while external locus of control is the belief that “chance, fate, or outside forces determine life events” (p. 141).

Individuals with an internal locus of control believe their behaviors are guided by their personal decisions and efforts and they have control over those things they can change. Having an internal locus of control is linked to self-efficacy, the belief you have about being able to do something successfully (Donatelle, 2011). People with an external locus of control see their behaviors and lives as being controlled by luck or fate. These individuals view themselves (i.e., their lives and circumstances) as victims of life and bad luck.

“People differ in whether they feel they control the consequences of their actions or are controlled by external factors. External control personality types believe that luck, fate, or powerful external forces control their destiny. Internal control personality types believe they control what happens to them” (Champoux, 2011, p. 113).

In leadership and management, this concept of locus of control is the same. Whether it’s coaching top executives, middle management, or rank and file employees, the idea is to get them to stop making excuses and/or blame other people, events, or things (i.e. external locus of control), and instead start taking responsibilities (i.e., internal locus of control) for them.

If you really listen, you’ll often hear people describe their lives or work as spinning out of control or they felt they had very little control over or were not in control of their lives. However, when things improve, you’ll hear them say that they’ve started feeling more in control or regaining control over their lives again. “When the locus of control shifts from the external to the internal frame, clients find more energy, motivation, and greater confidence to change” (Moore & Tschannen-Moran, 2010, p. 75).

In business and leadership, the benefit of having an internal locus of control is applicable to all individuals at all levels within an organization:

1. An internal locus of control is one of the key traits of an effective leader (Yukl, 2006).

“A leader with an internal locus of control is likely to be favored by group members. One reason is that an ‘internal’ person is perceived as more powerful than an ‘external’ person because he or she takes responsibility for events. The leader with an internal locus of control would emphasize that he or she can change unfavorable conditions” (Dubrin, 2010, p. 47).

2. An internal locus of control separates good from bad managers (Yukl, 2006).

“Effective managers . . . demonstrated a strong belief in self-efficacy and internal locus of control, as evidenced by behavior such as initiating action (rather than waiting for things to happen), taking steps to circumvent obstacles, seeking information from a variety of sources, and accepting responsibility for success or failure” (Yukl, 2006, pp. 185-186).

3. Employees’ locus of control affect leadership behavior in decision-making (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012).

“Internal-locus-of-control followers, who believed outcomes were a result of their own decisions, were much more satisfied with leaders who exhibited participative behaviors than they were with leaders who were directive. Conversely, external-locus-of-control followers were more satisfied with directive leader behaviors than they were with participative leader behaviors. Followers’ perceptions of their own skills and abilities to perform particular tasks can also affect the impact of certain leader behaviors. Followers who believe they are perfectly capable of performing a task are not as apt to be motivated by, or as willing to accept, a directive leader as they would a leader who exhibits participative behaviors” (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012, pp. 544-545).

“There is also evidence that internals are better able to handle complex information and problem solving, and that they are more achievement-oriented than externals (locus of control). In addition, people with a high internal locus of control are more likely than externals to try to influence others, and thus more likely to assume or seek leadership opportunities. People with a high external locus of control typically prefer to have structured, directed work situations. They are better able than internals to handle work that requires compliance and conformity, but they are generally not as effective in situations that require initiative, creativity, and independent action” (Daft, 2008, p. 103).

“Path–goal theory suggests that for subordinates with an internal locus of control participative leadership is most satisfying because it allows them to feel in charge of their work and to be an integral part of decision making. For subordinates with an external locus of control, path–goal theory suggests that directive leadership is best because it parallels subordinates’ feelings that outside forces control their circumstances” (Northouse, 2013, p. 141).

The Importance Of Locus Of Control

Meta-analyses (the synthesis of multiple studies into a single study by summarizing the practical significance of each research finding into one combined effect) of 357 research studies “showed that an internal locus of control was associated with higher levels of job satisfaction and job performance” (Colquitt, LePine, & Wesson, 2015, p. 287) and “that people with an internal locus of control enjoyed better health, including higher self-reported mental well-being, fewer self-reported physical symptoms” (Colquitt et al., 2015, p. 287).

Takeaway Message: Having an internal locus of control can go a very long way in differentiating between effective and ineffective leaders, managers, and employees.

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

References

Champoux, J. E. (2011). Organizational behavior: Integrating individuals, groups, and organizations (4th ed). New York: Routledge.

Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., & Wesson, M. J. (2015). Organizational behavior: Improving performance and commitment in the workplace (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Daft, R. L. (2008). The leadership experience (4th ed.). Mason: OH: Thomson/South-Western.

Donatelle, R. (2011). Health: The basics (Green ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Dubrin, A. J. (2010). Leadership: Research findings, practice and skills (6th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western/Cengage Learning.

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

Moore, M. & Tschannen-Moran, B. (2010). Coaching psychology manual. Baltimore, MD: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Organizational Diversity Initiatives

diversity business employees

Photo Credit: Flickr

Diversity initiatives usually sound great on paper and on an organization’s website. However, upon closer inspection, it is easy to see that there often exists a huge gap between rhetoric and practice.

Jayne and Dipboye (2004) stated that simply having a diverse workforce “does not . . . produce the positive outcomes that are often claimed” (pp. 411-412). Increasing diversity, in and of itself, will not improve the talent pool. It will not build commitment, improve motivation, or reduce conflict. Nor will it increase group or organizational performance.

One of the first challenge in managing a diversity initiative is to understand that the concept of diversity is difficult to operationalize, with different organizations defining the term “diversity” differently (Jayne & Dipboye, 2004).

Second, a diversity “training” program on its own is not a panacea. A company with only a diversity training program should never think of itself as having a diversity initiative. For example, in reviewing the components of a diversity initiative at one organization (I’ll called it Company DIYDI for “Do It Yourself Diversity Initiative”), it became evident that the diversity training program was just one part of a much larger, more comprehensive diversity initiative. The other pieces of a diversity initiative, in addition to training, MUST also include: recruiting, retention, development, external partnership, communication, and staffing and infrastructure (Jayne & Dipboye, 2004).

Due to the absence of many of the parts listed above, the diversity initiative at Company DIYDI was ineffective. Unfortunately, the diversity programs that were in place played a very minor role in shaping the diversity initiatives at this particular organization. Among some of the major omissions, there were no leadership development programs, no community outreach, and no employee benefits with a diversity component integrated into the larger framework. For instance, at Company DIYDI there were no domestic partner benefits for employees.

To succeed in properly instituting a diversity initiative, it is essential to integrate diversity priorities with the overall mission of the organization. For instance, to achieve diversity success for a college or university, Wade-Golden and Matlock (2007) suggested creating a well-crafted, well-articulated and integrated strategic plan that engages each level of the institution and one that reflects a commitment to action.

When there is a lack of consistency between what’s written or advertised at the organizational level from the reality of what employees (and/or students if it’s at a university) perceive, feel, and/or experience, tensions (sometimes subtle and other times more visible and vocal) can surface.

Jayne and Dipboye (2004) listed some steps that organizations can take to manage diversity more effectively:

  1. There must be commitment and accountability from upper management.
  2. A comprehensive needs assessment must be conducted.
  3. Tie the diversity strategy to business results in a realistic way.
  4. Emphasize team-building and group process training.
  5. Set up metrics and evaluate the effectiveness of diversity initiatives.

Takeaway: Effective organizational diversity initiatives are difficult, comprehensive, and time-consuming. There’s no doubt that it is a challenging, laborious undertaking. However, if it is done correctly, organizations and its employees will benefit.

Steve Nguyen

References

Jayne, M. E. A., & Dipboye, R. L. (2004). Leveraging diversity to improve business performance: Research findings and recommendations for organizations. Human Resource Management, 43(4), 409-424.

Wade-Golden, K., & Matlock, J. (2007). Ten Core Ingredients for Fostering Campus Diversity Success. Diversity Factor, 15(1), 41-48.

Snakes in Suits? Maybe Not — Psychopathy According to DSM-IV TR

snake

Photo Credit: Flickr

I thought I would repost my comments to a discussion question in the SIOP (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology) group on LinkedIn about the notion of “corporate psychopaths” (made famous by the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work [Babiak & Hare, 2006]).

From Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work (p. xiv):

“The premise of this book is that psychopaths do work in modern organizations; they often are successful by most standard measures of career success; and their destructive personality characteristics are invisible to most of the people with whom they interact. They are able to circumvent and sometimes hijack succession planning and performance management systems in order to give legitimacy to their behaviors. They take advantage of communication weaknesses, organizational systems and processes, interpersonal conflicts, and general stressors that plague all companies. They abuse coworkers and, by lowering morale and stirring up conflict, the company itself. Some may even steal and defraud.”

As a former mental health counselor, I am very cautious about buying into this notion of “corporate psychopaths.” Technically, psychopathy is not mentioned in the DSM-IV-TR as a diagnosis. It actually falls under “Antisocial Personality Disorder” (301.7).

For information sake (not trying to diagnose), the criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder requires that a person must have (1) a history of conduct disorder symptoms as a juvenile, AND (2) antisocial symptoms as an adult. It’s important to note that the DSM-IV explains the pattern of those who engage in antisocial behavior “continues into adulthood” (DSM-IV TR, p. 702). In other words, their problematic behavior started before they were 18 and continued into adulthood.

The DSM-IV said the prevalence of psychopathy in the general population is about 3% in males and 1% in females (DSM-IV TR, p. 704).

Another important note is that generally a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder is not warranted if the person also has a substance abuse problem.

Based on the criteria listed above, many of those who would be described or classified as “corporate psychopaths” in the book “Snakes in Suits” might actually not be psychopaths.

This is why I am very skeptical about this idea of “corporate psychopaths.”

Indeed, the authors of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work (pp. xiv-xv) warned:

We consider it important to caution the reader that, although the topic of this book is psychopathy in the workplace, not everyone described herein is a psychopath [and that] reader[s] should not assume that an individual is a psychopath simply because of the context in which he or she is portrayed in this book.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

Babiak, P., & Hare, R. D. (2006). Snakes in suits: When psychopaths go to work. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Indecision and Fear of Failure-The Inefficiencies in a Bureaucracy

indecision

Photo Credit: Flickr

Those who work for a government agency, a school system, a city government office, a nonprofit association, or even a church can understand this title and the point of this post. I previously wrote about people creating bottlenecks in their own companies or place of employment.

Too often, I have seen a hesitancy to act because of a fear of making the wrong decision. One way this fear manifests itself is through a reliance or dependence on endless surveys to support their decisions. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with surveys per se. Using surveys as an excuse to not act because of a fear of messing up is wrong.

While, on the surface, it might seem like these individuals (the ones who support doing additional and unnecessary surveys) are doing the right thing. They are, in fact, crippling themselves and failing their organizations by wasting time.

A VP in one organization was so indecisive and so terrified she would make a mistake that she solicited feedback from everyone in the office about the smallest decisions. In one instance, she could not decide on a simple logo to use for her office so she asked the staff for their input about a logo design. Weeks went by and even after getting feedback from the staff, no decisions were made. It was decided to contract out the work and have a professional design the logo. However, even after several logos were designed, no decisions were made because of the indecisive VP.

“Indecision and delays are the parents of failure.” George Canning

Sadly, after the time and energy the staff invested working on the logo design project, because of the executive’s indecision, a logo was never selected and the money spent hiring the logo designer was wasted.

Fear of failure is a dangerous addiction. It creates a vicious circle which goes like this: I’m afraid of making a mistake so I won’t act. I won’t act because I’m afraid of making a mistake.

Takeaway: Fear of failure cripples people from acting and causes them to rationalize their indecisions. Their rationalizations can become so habitual and strong that it blinds them from sound advice and feedback.

An Employee’s Uncivil Behavior Can Harm Other Employees and Customers

word of mouth

Photo Credit: Flickr

More than three years ago (12/13/09 to be precise), I wrote about people with a situational value system. That post in December 2009 was about my experience as a waiter and my story about a rude customer, the wife of a famous baseball player, who snapped her fingers in a demanding way to get my attention.

The situational value system post has become the most visited post on WorkplacePsychology.Net. Over the months, and now years, that followed, I have tried to come up with a follow-up or related post. It’s not easy to do a follow-up to something that has been so well received.

Based on the number of visits and people who have shared the post or clicked on the “like” button, it seems many people can relate to or have their own stories about knowing, experiencing, and/or witnessing someone with a situational value system (i.e., an individual who treats people differently based on that person’s status).

What I have wanted to do since that time was to further explore mistreatment and uncivil behaviors in the workplace. Because my original post in 2009 talked about the impact that one customer had on me (an employee), this post in 2013 will be about the negative effects of employee uncivil behaviors on customers, coworkers, or subordinates (if the employee is in a managerial role). There’s quite a bit of research in this area, although my guess is that by writing about it, it will not be anywhere near as popular.

Harm to Customers Who Directly Experienced It or Were Witnesses to It And the Negative Business Effects

Customers Who Directly Experienced Uncivil Behaviors

Hawkins and Mothersbaugh (2010) outlined three coping strategies customers use when confronted with bad customer service (p. 381):

  • Active coping: Thinking of ways to solve the problem, engaging in restraint to avoid rash behavior, and making the best of the situation.
  • Expressive support seeking: Venting emotions and seeking emotional and problem-focused assistance from others.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding the retailer mentally or physically or engaging in complete self-denial of the event.

The customer might work with the organization to try to resolve the situation (active coping). Other customers might decide to vent their frustrations to the company (expressive support seeking) or they might tell their friends or broadcast it online about their bad experience (negative word of mouth [WOM]). The last case, avoidance, is also damaging because a customer might choose to avoid an organization completely or continue to be a customer but makes an effort to avoid the company (either physically or mentally), in which case the result will be lost sales (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010).

“Many times, however, consumers do not complain to the company, but instead take actions such as switching brands or engaging in negative word of mouth (WOM)” (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010, p. 636).

Customers Who Were Witnesses to Uncivil Behaviors

Porath, MacInnis, & Folkes (2010) found that when an employee mistreated or was uncivil (e.g., being rude or discourteous, ignoring or making derogatory remarks, passing blame for their own mistakes, belittling the efforts of others, etc.) toward another employee, customers who witnessed it tended to “make negative generalizations about (a) others who work for the firm, (b) the firm as a whole, and (c) future encounters with the firm, inferences that [went] well beyond the incivility incident” (p. 292). What researchers discovered was that “consumers [were] also negatively affected even when they [were] mere observers of incivility between employees” (Porath et al., 2010, p. 301).

Harm to Coworkers or Subordinates

Pearson & Porath (2009) discovered in their studies that 1 in 5 employees reported being targets of incivility from a coworker at least once a week. About 2/3 said they witnessed incivility happening among other employees at least once a month. Ten percent said they saw incivility among their coworkers every day.

A survey of public sector employees in the United States found that 71% of respondents reported at least some experience of workplace incivility from a supervisor or coworker (e.g., being treated rudely or discourteously, having a coworker or boss ignore or make derogatory remarks, being blamed for a colleague’s mistakes, being belittled, having someone set them up to fail, being shut out of a team, etc.) during the previous 5 years, and 6% reported experiencing such behavior many times (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001).

Lim, Cortina, and Magley (2008) found that (1) “uncivil work experiences also appear to have a direct negative influence on mental health” (p. 104), (2) employees who experienced incivility were more likely to be dissatisfied with their boss and coworkers than with the the job itself, and (3) those personal experiences of workplace incivility can lead to them eventually quitting their jobs.

Take-Away:

An employee who engages in uncivil behavior (i.e., being rude, insensitive, or disrespectful) is harmful to: (1) other employees inside the organization, and (2) customers who are direct targets of such behaviors or who might simply be witnesses (from the outside) to uncivil behaviors between employees.

References

Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J., Williams, J. H., & Langhout, R. D. (2001). Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6(1), 64-80.

Hawkins, D. I., & Mothersbaugh, D. L. (2010). Consumer behavior: Building marketing strategy (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Lim, S., Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J. (2008). Personal and workgroup incivility: Impact on work and health outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(1), 95-107. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.93.1.95

Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it. New York, NY: Portfolio.

Porath, C., MacInnis, D., & Folkes, V. (2010). Witnessing incivility among employees: Effects on consumer anger and negative inferences about companies. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(2), 292-303.

Your Negative (But Honest) Feedback Might Just Set a Narcissist Off

narcissistic

Stock photo: Narcissism

How many times have you heard a supervisor or coworker say: “I welcome any feedback.” On the surface the statement “I welcome any (or your) feedback” suggests someone who is receptive to getting feedback. It might also imply that people are welcomed and invited to come share about problems, issues, and/or concerns.

Myers (2010) said feedback works best when it is presented in an honest and specific manner. However, there’s a caveat: Even when the feedback is delivered honestly and specifically, the reaction of the receiver to that feedback might not always be what you would expect.

There is research (Bushman, Baumeister, Thomaes, Ryu, Begeer, & West, 2009) suggesting that individuals high in narcissism and self-esteem are more likely to either retaliate or be aggressive toward those who give feedback that the person with high narcissism and self-esteem perceived to be critical or insulting.

Simply stated, if you have a narcissistic boss or colleague with very high self-esteem (yes high, not low; there are narcissists with low self-esteem¹), be careful the type of feedback (especially if it’s critical or negative) you share with them. If they perceive your comments/statements as threats to their inflated egos (researchers call it the threatened egotism hypothesis), then there’s a good chance their reactions (words and/or behaviors) will be aggressive².

“[N]arcissists with high self-esteem are eager to dominate their social environment and claim the admiration to which they apparently feel entitled, and when their interaction partners fail to cooperate, they may turn aggressive” (Bushman et al., 2009, p. 441).

Interestingly, the researchers “found no support for the view that low self-esteem causes aggression. . . . On the contrary, low self-esteem reduced or eliminated the independent effect of narcissism on aggression” (Bushman et al., 2009, p. 441).

¹Bushman and colleagues explained that, “Narcissists with low self-esteem may be shy, socially anxious and unconfident, and preoccupied with their own possible inadequacy, but they are still highly self-absorbed” (p. 441).

²Aggression is defined as, “Behavior directed toward the goal of harming another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment” (Baron & Branscombe, 2012, p. 322).

References

Baron, R. A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2012). Social psychology (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Bushman, B. J., Baumeister, R. F., Thomaes, S., Ryu, E., Begeer, S., & West, S. G. (2009). Looking again, and harder, for a link between low self-esteem and aggression. Journal of Personality, 77(2), 427-446. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00553.x

Myers, D. G. (2010). Social psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

How Expertise can Strengthen or Dilute your Credibility

trust

Photo Credit: Flickr

Japanese television offers a wide selection of variety shows. Unlike those in the U.S., Japanese variety shows will invite a group of “talents” (although I’m still not sure what many of their talents are, other than smiling and tasting different foods). The thing that immediately got my attention about all of these variety shows was the repeated use of talents (actors or comedians) to comment on any issues, whether the person was qualified to do so or not.

It is simply baffling to me how a group of people, with no discernible expertise on a subject matter will comment on just about anything. The subjects can vary from management to mental health to melting snow, and believe it or not, a group of people will comment on it. Last week, I saw five people on one variety show standing around commenting on different shapes of snow.

In another week, a young man (one of the “talents”) was on a talk show embedded inside a joint infomercial and a soap opera (I’m not joking). The young man shared that he was concerned about his melancholy outlook on life and his tendency to be negative. Another “talent” (I think he’s a former teacher) proceeded to play armchair therapist by asking the guy to read aloud from Romeo and Juliet.

Ok, so what does all of this nonsense have to do with psychology and workplace behaviors? Two things: expertise and credibility.

I realize I’m making a huge leap from talking about Japanese variety shows to the business environment, so please bear with me. But, the more I watched these “talents” the more I kept thinking about expertise and credibility. Because these “talents” do not have the expertise to offer anything of substantive value (that I could not otherwise get by simply asking my next door neighbors for their opinions), they (at least in my eyes) end up diminishing their own brand and/or jeopardizing their own credibility.

In Business Leadership (2003), Kouzes and Posner said credibility is one admired characteristics of a leader:

“Credibility is the foundation of leadership” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 262).

“The qualities of being honest, inspiring, and competent compose what communications researchers refer to as source credibility. In assessing the believability of a source of information—whether it is the president of the company, the president of the country, a sales person, or a TV newscaster— researchers typically use the three criteria of trustworthiness, expertise, and dynamism. Those who rate highly in these areas are considered to be credible sources of information” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 261).

Kouzes and Posner (2003) said your credibility must be earned over time. It’s not something that’s bestowed upon you when you get a new title or job. What’s more, credibility can affect the workplace.

“Credibility has a significantly positive outcome on individual and organizational performance” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 266).

In The Leadership Challenge (2007), Kouzes and Posner explained in greater details about why credibility matters. They wrote (pp. 38-39):

“Using a behavioral measure of credibility, we asked organization members to think about the extent to which their immediate manager exhibited credibility-enhancing behaviors. In our studies we found that when people perceive their immediate manager to have high credibility, they’re significantly more likely to

  • Be proud to tell others they’re part of the organization
  • Feel a strong sense of team spirit
  • See their own personal values as consistent with those of the organization
  • Feel attached and committed to the organization
  • Have a sense of ownership of the organization

When people perceive their manager to have low credibility, however, they’re significantly more likely to

  • Produce only if they’re watched carefully
  • Be motivated primarily by money
  • Say good things about the organization publicly but criticize it privately
  • Consider looking for another job if the organization experiences problems
  • Feel unsupported and unappreciated

“Credibility makes a difference” (Kouzes & Posner, 2007, p. 39).

References

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2003). Leadership is a relationship. In J. M. Kouzes (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 251-267). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Silly Job Titles Are Not Funny

[NOTE: This post was updated March 2018]

Forbes has a funny post about the silly job titles that some top executives hold (e.g., Chief Listening Officer [at Kodak]). Please understand I’m not commenting on the skills and competencies of the individuals who hold these titles, only in the silliness of the titles themselves.

The Forbes article quoted Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks, in saying: “It is all corporate Kindergarten playtime title-making . . . It’s a puppet show.” According to Stevens, having “Chief” in the title is merely for show. “These people have absolutely no power . . . Most of these vanity titles don’t even report to the CEO.”

Here’s the bottom line: “The only C’s with ‘real’ power are the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer and, occasionally, Chief Operating Officer” (Forbes).

Similarly, Josh Dreller wrote in a blog post about the most meaningless job titles on LinkedIn. As his post showed, title inflation is not unique to top executives. Instead, it’s an epidemic that is spreading to every level, in every company. On LinkedIn, Josh came across various silly titles, such as “Senior Road Warrior Marketing Intern”, “The Social Media Badass”, “Chief Thought Provoker”, “Chief People Herder”, and “Digital Marketing Magician.”

I love what Robbin Block (an author and a radio host who commented on Josh’s post) said:

“It’s getting ridiculous to the extreme. A label can be useful, but not if it’s completely fabricated . . . Titles actually used to mean something and indicated a person’s expertise and experience.”

Although Robbin was referring to marketing titles, I think this is certainly applicable in every industry.

All silliness aside, a job title is important for several reasons. I/O psychology professor Michael Aamodt (2010) explained that an accurate job title does the following:

  • It describes the nature of the job.
  • It aids in employee selection and recruitment (by indicating the nature of the job, thus helping an organization match potential applicants with the requirements for the job).
  • It provides employees with some form of identity.
  • It affects perceptions of the status and worth of a job.

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

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Dreller, J. (2012, August). The most meaningless (and hilarious) job titles on LinkedIn. Retrieved from http://www.imediaconnection.com/articles/ported-articles/red-dot-articles/2012/aug/the-most-meaningless-and-hilarious-job-titles-on-linkedin/

Goudreau, J. (2012, January 10). C Is For Silly: The New C-Suite Titles. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/01/10/c-is-for-silly-the-new-c-suite-titles/

Analysis Paralysis-A Self-Imposed Bottleneck

In a conversation about how, in one organization, management had known for quite some time what needed to be done, but they just didn’t do it, a professor inquired: “What purpose might it serve for an organization to be in possession of possible solutions yet choose not to implement them?”

What a great question.

Robert Sutton (2010) contended that what separates good bosses from bad ones is that good bosses find ways to link talking to doing, and that bad bosses are oblivious and often don’t even realize that they “routinely stifle and misdirect action” (p. 130).

Perhaps this is overly simplistic, but with regard to why organizations that are in possession of possible solutions but choose not to implement them, I think sometimes managers and/or organizations fall prey to “analysis paralysis” where there’s a tendency to over analyze everything and which can result in the crippling or stifling of timely actions.

The Ultimate Business Dictionary (2003) defines analysis paralysis (or paralysis by analysis) in this manner :

Paralysis by analysis is “the inability of managers to make decisions as a result of a preoccupation with attending meetings, writing reports, and collecting statistics and analyses” (p. 235).

The obsession with studying a problem and analyzing an issue to death is akin to creating a self-imposed bottleneck. The obstruction/congestion is your own doing.

References

Sutton, R.I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best…and learn from the worst. New York: Business Plus.

(2003). The Ultimate Business Dictionary: Defining the World of Work. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Good Liars: Their Characteristics and Why They are So Hard to Detect

Liar | Credit: Jacopo Comanducci

[NOTE: This post was updated December 2017]

Politicians and car salesmen are notorious for being dishonest. But what’s often overlooked are skilled liars who might be a coworker, a supervisor, a top executive, a family member, or even a neighbor. It isn’t until a major scandal, like the ones involving Ponzi schemers Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, that people take note that lying is more pervasive and much more difficult to detect than we think.

The scandal in 2009 involved CEO Allen Stanford and other top executives of Stanford Financial Group. They were charged and convicted of fraud for scheming investors (for more than two decades). Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison for a $7 billion Ponzi scheme.

The NY Times article said: “Prosecutors argued that Mr. Stanford had consistently lied to investors, promoting safe investments for money that he channeled into a luxurious lifestyle, a Swiss bank account and various business deals that almost never succeeded.” It also stated that Stanford was convicted “of running an international scheme over more than two decades in which he offered fraudulent high-interest certificates of deposit at the Stanford International Bank, which was based on the Caribbean island of Antigua.”

And, even as he made his final statement in court, Stanford continued to lie by saying: “I’m up here to tell you from my heart I didn’t run a Ponzi scheme.” The federal prosecutor called his statement “obscene” and said this: “This is a man utterly without remorse . . . from beginning to end, he treated all of his victims as roadkill.”

But a scandal in late 2008 is perhaps even more outrageous and infamous. It involved Bernie Madoff, wherein he lied, stole and laundered money, and deceived thousands of investors out of billions of dollars. Even more incredible was that the scheme lasted for two or even three decades! Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his Ponzi scheme.

An article in Scientific American led me to a book by professor Aldert Vrij called “Detecting Lies and Deceit” (Vrij, 2008). Professor Vrij defines deception or lying as:

“a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue” (Vrij, 2008, p. 15).

Dr. Vrij identified three different categories that make detection of lying challenging: (1) a lack of motivation to detect lies; (2) difficulties associated with lie detection; and (3) common errors made by lie detectors. I want to focus on “good liars” (identified on pp. 378-381), one of the seven reasons listed under “difficulties associated with lie detection.”

“Good liars are those people: (i) whose natural behaviour disarms suspicion; (ii) who do not find it cognitively difficult to lie; and (iii) who do not experience emotions such as fear, guilt, or duping delight when they are lying” (Vrij, 2008, p. 378).

CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD LIARS

There are 8 Characteristics of Good Liars (Vrij, 2008, p. 378-379):

(1) Being natural performers: “Directed gaze to a conversation partner, smiling, head nodding, leaning forward, direct body orientation, posture mirroring, uncrossed arms, articulate gesturing, moderate speaking rates, a lack of ums and ers, and vocal variety” are often associated with being honest and likable.

(2) Being well prepared: “Good liars therefore say as little as possible or say things that are impossible for others to verify. The less verifiable information is given, the less opportunity it provides for the lie detector to check.” The better the preparation (and the more believable the lie), the easier it is for good liars to lie effectively.

(3) Being original: People who are especially good at lying are mentally creative and original. They’re able to offer a convincing and credible answer in almost any situation.

(4) Rapid thinking: Good liars are quick to respond to a question because waiting too long to answer would arouse suspicion. Thus, being able to think quickly is an important characteristic.

(5) Being eloquent: Being eloquent, in the context of being a good liar, means that you provide a long-winded, intentionally vague response to avoid answering the question. Good liars might even say something that, on the surface, sounds plausible, but actually does not answer the question. Just imagine a skilled politician dodging a question and you get the idea.

(6) Good memory: Good liars must have a good memory or else they risk getting caught in their web of lies. They have to be able to recall what they’ve previously said so they can repeat theta same information without contradicting themselves.

(7) Not experiencing guilt, fear, or delight: “Deceiving others is made easier if the liar does not experience feelings of guilt, fear or delight, because in that case there will not be any emotional behaviour that needs to be suppressed.”

(8) Good at acting: If a person is not a “natural performer” (the first characteristic listed) or they are not especially skilled at masking their guilt, fear, or delight when lying (the seventh characteristic listed), then being a good actor is a must. Good liars are masters with excellent decoding skills. They can adapt to quickly to disarm suspicion.

SPOTTING LIARS DIFFICULT DUE TO LIE DETECTION MISTAKES

Under “Common Errors Made by Lie Detectors”, Dr Vrij explained that, in addition to lie detection being difficult, those who play the role of lie detectors also make SEVEN mistakes. I’ll just mention five mistakes below.

(1) Examining the Wrong Cues: Lie detectors (referring to people whose job is to spot liars, such as police detectives) might look at the wrong cues. For instance, one police manual says that liars tend to look away and make grooming gestures. But a lie detection study, Dr. Vrij found that the more police officers endorsed the lie cues promoted in that police manual, the worse they were at detecting suspects who lied and suspects who told the truth.

(2) Neglect of Interpersonal Differences: There are large differences when it comes to people’s behavior, speech, and physiological responses. “The result is that people whose natural behaviour looks suspicious (e.g., people who naturally avert their gaze or fidget a lot) are in a disadvantageous position, because they run the risk of being falsely accused of lying . . . Introverted and socially anxious people in particular run such a risk” (Vrij, 2008, p. 383).

(3) Neglect of Intrapersonal Differences: “Not only do different people respond differently in the same situation (interpersonal differences), the same person also responds differently in different situations (intrapersonal differences). Neglecting or underestimating those intrapersonal differences is another error that lie catchers make. The failure to control adequately for intrapersonal differences is one of the main criticisms of concern-based polygraph tests” (Vrij, 2008, p. 383).

(4) Use of Heuristics: Following general decision rules (heuristics) can easily lead to mistakes and biases. For example, facial appearance heuristic is the “tendency to judge people with attractive faces or baby-faced appearances as honest” (Vrij, 2008, p. 385). And the fundamental attribution error which occurs when we form impressions of others and then overestimate their character factors while underestimating situational factors. Thus, if we believe someone to be trustworthy, we will judge that person a telling the truth in any given situation. On the other hand, if we think someone is untrustworthy, we’ll tend to judge that individual as dishonest in any given situation. “Obviously, trustworthy people are not honest all of the time and untrustworthy people are not always dishonest” (Vrij, 2008, p. 385).

(5) Overestimating the Accuracy of Lie Detection Tools: We tend to overestimate the accuracy of lie detection tools. However, despite the belief that polygraphs or fMRI brain scans are effective, Dr. Vrij argued that “every single lie detection tool used to date is far from accurate and prone to errors” (p. 386).

Polygraphs measure finger sweating, blood pressure, and respiration. Dr. Vrij explained that one of the most frequently used polygraph test today is the Comparison Question Test (CQT), also referred to as the Control Question Test. I would recommend reading Ch. 11 “Physiological Lie Detection: The Concern Approach” of his book for a detailed explanation about the CQT and the criticisms of the CQT. Professor Vrij (pp. 304-305 citing Iacono [2000]) contended there are three reasons why the CQT is controversial: (i) there is no consensus amongst scientists that there exists an adequate theoretical foundation for its application; (ii) the polygraph profession operates outside the scientific environment and is practiced most by law enforcement officials trained at freestanding polygraph schools that are unrelated to universities; and (iii) polygraph tests can have profound consequences for individuals subjected to them. [***It is not the intent of this post to argue for or against the merits of the CQT because I do not possess expertise in this area. However, the criticisms about the CQT are worth noting.]

According to Dr. Vrij, when we try to deceive others, we activate higher centers of the brain. fMRI scans (when used to detect deception or lying) are supposed to reveal this. However, “different people tested in the same situation revealed different patterns of brain structure and area activity when they lied (interpersonal differences) and the same person shows different patterns of brain structure and area activity when he or she lies in different situations (intrapersonal differences)” (Vrij, 2008, p. 371). Therefore, Dr. Vrij argued, fMRI scans aren’t much different from the traditional polygraph lie detectors.

“So far, research has not yet shown that the fMRI technique does produce more accurate results than traditional polygraph testing, and I therefore do not recommend using such scans in real-life settings for lie detection purposes” (Vrij, 2008, p. 372).

The sad reality is that there are very skilled liars who are able to effectively lie for years or, in the case of Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, even decades before they’re caught. And, I suspect, there are many other good liars who have never been and probably will never be caught.

A 2016 study in Nature Neuroscience discovered that our brain actually adapts to being dishonest, and that habitual lying can desensitize our brains from “feeling bad,” and may even encourage us to tell bigger lies in the future.

Bottom line: Good liars (those with natural behavior that disarms suspicion, who do not find it cognitively difficult to lie, and who do not experience fear, guilt, or delight when they are lying) can be hard to spot because they’re very skilled at the art of lying. Even polygraphs and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning techniques will not adequately identify those who are good at lying because these lie detection methods have important limitations.

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

References

Bering, J. (July, 2011). 18 Attributes of Highly Effective Liars. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2011/07/07/18-attributes-of-highly-effective-liars/

Bernard, S. (February, 2009). Baylor alum accused of money fraud. Retrieved from http://www.baylor.edu/lariat/news.php?action=story&story=56377

Garrett, N., Lazzaro, S. C., Ariely, D., & Sharot, T. (2016). The Brain Adapts to Dishonesty. Nature Neuroscience, 19, 1727–1732.

Healy, J. (June, 2009). Madoff Is Sentenced to 150 Years for Ponzi Scheme. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/business/30madoff.html

Henriques, D. B., & Healy, J. (March, 2009). Madoff Goes to Jail After Guilty Pleas. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/business/13madoff.html

Iacono, W. G. (2000). The detection of deception. In J. T. Cacioppo, L. G. Tassinary, & G. G. Berntson (Eds.), Handbook of psychophysiology, 2nd edition (pp. 772–793). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Krauss, C. (June, 2012). Stanford Sentenced to 110-Year Term in $7 Billion Ponzi Case. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/15/business/stanford-sentenced-to-110-years-in-jail-in-fraud-case.html

NY Times. Bernard L. Madoff. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/m/bernard_l_madoff/index.html

NY Times. Robert Allen Stanford. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/robert_allen_stanford/index.html

Vrij, A. (2008). Detecting lies and deceit: Pitfalls and opportunities (2nd ed.). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.