Consumerism & Affluenza – How Society Shapes Our Thinking about Happiness

Within the past several decades, an alarming trend has developed, one that goes far beyond just “keeping up with the Joneses.” You see, no longer is it enough to simply “keep up.” It seems that in today’s microwave mentality, we have to have things, and we have to have them right now. Everything becomes a necessity. We no longer eat to live. We live to eat. We no longer shop to survive. We survive to shop. Or as I heard it on the radio – shop til you drop, then crawl!

We have, in fact, become a society of conspicuous consumption [spending lavishly on goods and services for the sole purpose of showing off] and consumerism [equating happiness with buying and consuming goods].

There is a name/description/label to this madness. It’s called AFFLUENZA, formed from the words affluence (wealth) and influenza (also known as the flu).

Affluenza is defined as (1) The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses; (2) An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream (Affluenza, n.d.). Affluenza is the term used to explain the problems that occur “when individuals are in pursuit of money, wealth, and material possession at the expense of other sources of self-esteem and contentment” (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006, p. 1).

Although I originally wrote about this topic of affluenza (several years ago while working in the school system) to address the madness that parents go through to feed into their children’s demands to have the latest and greatest material things, I am presenting it here now to shed light on this epidemic and its impact on adults.

Affluenza affects people across all age groups and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. “Contemporary affluenza researchers contend that if we do not begin to reject our culture’s incessant demands to work harder, spend more, and buy more, our society will begin to pay later with significant effects thrust upon our offspring” (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006, p. 1).

The incessant pressure to acquire material goods can result in the following (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006): As you go through the list below, notice that it easily applies to both children and adults.

  • Inability to delay gratification or tolerate frustration
  • Difficulty maintaining interest in anything requiring effort
  • False sense of entitlement
  • Expectation of material goods without responsibility
  • Loss of future motivation
  • Life activities don’t seem very real and nothing matters much
  • Low self esteem, self worth, and loss of self confidence
  • Approval dependent on possessions and status rather than on personal values
  • Preoccupation with externals and habituation for more material goods
  • Difficulty believing people like them for themselves rather than for possessions and status
  • Inability to trust prevents true friendships
  • Emotional energy becomes invested in material gains and sensitivity toward others declines

Here are some interesting tidbits (Affluenza…Diagnosis, n.d.):

  • Americans carry $1 trillion in personal debt, approximately $4,000 for every man, woman and child, not including real estate and mortgages. On average, Americans save only 4 percent of their income, in contrast to the Japanese, who save an average of 16 percent.
  • Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than everyone who ever lived before them. Each American individual uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually. Americans throw away 7 million cars a year, 2 million plastic bottles an hour and enough aluminum cans annually to make six thousand DC-10 airplanes.
  • Even though Americans comprise only five percent of the world’s population, in 1996 we used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican, 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India.
  • Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day.

Back in December 2009, I wrote about the hyperactive workplace. I believe what lies at the root of the hyperactive workplace is affluenza – the “epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream” (Affluenza, n.d.). We work long hours and remain in a state of frenzy to pursue that elusive dollar to buy the things we and our families desire. And we do this day in and day out like the hamster running in circles in a cage.

In “Success Intelligence,” (2005) Robert Holden wrote, “The rise of consumerism has certainly influenced our thinking about happiness and success…We are making every effort to ‘buy, buy, buy!’ our way to happiness and success” (pp. 110, 111). While buying things can temporarily bring short-term pleasure, our prior levels of happiness soon return. In other words, we can’t buy our way to happiness.

“[W]e place all our faith in external things to make us happy. The danger here is that we lose sight of inner happiness…We forget how to be happy” (Holden, 2005, p. 112).

Imagine what your own work and workplaces would be like if you changed your views about overconsumption and what it means to be happy.

References

Affluenza. (n.d.). In Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/

Affluenza…Diagnosis (n.d.). In Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/diag/what.html

Holden, R. (2005). Success intelligence: Essential lessons and practices from the world’s leading coaching program on authentic success. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.

Koplewicz, H.S. & Williams, K. (2006). Affluence-Benefit or Handicap? New York University Child Study Center Letter, 11(2), 1-3. Retrieved from http://www.aboutourkids.org/files/articles/dec.pdf

The Price of Workplace Incivility in the Navy

A female Navy captain was recently stripped of her command of the U.S.S. Cowpens following repeated complaints of “cruelty and maltreatment” of the 400-member crew on her ship (Thompson, 2010). She was found guilty of violating Article 93 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice “cruelty and maltreatment” and Article 133 “conduct unbecoming an officer” (Ewing, 2010).

The Navy inspector general’s (IG) report found that the captain “repeatedly verbally abused her crew and committed assault.” Those who knew the captain (i.e., those who worked under her) said that the IG report resulted because of the toxic work environment aboard the ship (Thompson, 2010).

The female captain “create[d] an environment of fear and hostility [and] frequently humiliate[d] and belittle[d] watch standers by screaming at them with profanities in front of the Combat Information Center and bridge-watch teams…” one crew member recounted (Thompson, 2010).

It was also reported that she ordered a “well-respected master chief to go in ‘time out’ —standing in the ship’s key control room doing nothing— ‘in front of other watch standers of all ranks.'” (Thompson, 2010).

She also told two fellow Navy officers, “You two are f______ unbelievable. I would fire you if I could, but I can’t.” Even though cursing does occur, “to have them repeatedly brandished like clubs against subordinates — especially in front of more junior crew members — is unusual” (Thompson, 2010).

“The evidence shows” that the female captain violated Navy regulations “by demeaning, humiliating, publicly belittling and verbally assaulting…subordinates while in command of Cowpens,” the report concluded. Her actions “exceeded the firm methods needed to succeed or even thrive” and her “harsh language and profanity were rarely followed with any instruction.” Her repeated criticism of her officers, often in front of lower-ranking crew members, humiliated subordinates and corroded morale, “contrary to the best interests of the ship and the Navy” (Thompson, 2010).

One gunnery officer, who served under her aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Winston S. Churchill from 2002 to 2004, said “She would throw coffee cups at officers — ceramic, not foam….spit in one officer’s face, throw binders and paperwork at people, slam doors” (Thompson, 2010).

A retired Navy commander (who served under her when she was second in command on the destroyer U.S.S. Curtis Wilbur in 1997-98) recalls, “When I think of [her], even 12 years later, I shake…She was so intimidating even to me, a 6-foot-4 guy” (Thompson, 2010).

Pearson & Porath (2009) found that targets of workplace incivility “struggle to concentrate when treated badly. They’ll lose focus trying to understand the incivility and how to respond…[T]he emotional impact…further distracts and short circuits their ability to be effective. Incivility doesn’t shock people into better focus. It robs concentration, hijacks task orientation, and impedes performance” (p. 155).

Similarly, a study by Miner, Glomb, & Hulin found negative interactions had a fivefold stronger effect on mood than positive interactions (Sutton, 2007, p. 31). Thus, it’s not surprising to conclude that…

“[N]asty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilized counterparts” (Sutton, 2007, p. 31).

References

Ewing, P. (2010, January 16). Cruiser CO relieved for ‘cruelty’. Navy Times. Retrieved http://www.navytimes.com/news/2010/01/ap_cowpens_cofired_011310/

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.

Sutton, R.I. (2007). The no asshole rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t. New York: Business Plus.

Thompson, M. (2010, March 3). The rise and fall of a female Captain Bligh. TIME. Retrieved from http://www.time.com

Leadership Lessons from the Titanic

“Madam, God himself could not sink this ship.” –A steward on the Titanic

In a discussion about stubborn leaders, I thought about the story of the sinking of the Titanic. Through research, I came across an article by Phil Landesberg called, “Back to the Future – Titanic Lessons in Leadership” (2001).

Titanic’s arrival was a modern marvel. It was “a grand combination of modern technology and luxury built to tame the capriciousness of nature” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 53). With the latest technological and design ingenuity, along with its massive size (the largest moving object at the time), newspapers proclaimed it to be “unsinkable.”

But, the Harland & Wolff Shipyard (builder of the Titanic) and the White Star Line (operator of the Titanic) knew that there were some scenarios that could sink the ship. But, in order to attract customers, both the ship’s maker and its operator went along with the marketing of the Titanic’s unsinkability.

Chosen to navigate the Titanic was a charismatic captain named Captain E. J. Smith, nicknamed “the millionaire’s captain.” Part of his job was to “cater to the expectations of wealthy and influential passengers” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 54).

For the most part, (from the time it set sail on April 10, 1912 to about an hour prior to it colliding with an iceberg) the Titanic’s voyage was pleasant, nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe that was the reason for Captain Smith’s cancellation of a lifeboat drill planned for Sunday April 14th.

Ironically, what made for a romantic setting—calm seas and a moonless night—signaled potential dangers as those conditions made spotting icebergs difficult. However, rather than staying to pilot the ship, Captain Smith instead went to a dinner hosted in his honor. He gave instructions to keep the Titanic on course and maintain speed unless visibility became a factor.

“Less than an hour before Titanic was to collide with an iceberg, Californian’s wireless operator, Cyril Evans, tried to pass along a message from her captain warning that Californian was surrounded by ice and stopped. On board Titanic, Phillips (one of two Titanic wireless operators working for Marconi Company onboard to relay commercial messages) was busily sending commercial messages, and replied, ‘Shut up, shut up, I’m busy….’ Ten minutes before the collision, Evans, noting that Phillips was still busy with commercial messages, shut down his equipment and retired to his cabin” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 54).

Although a large iceberg was spotted by a lookout on the Titanic, its speed and proximity “meant that the efforts of the officer in charge to avoid a collision were doomed to failure. Titanic struck the iceberg on her starboard side, sustaining damage along a 300-foot section of her hull in a mere 10 seconds. Titanic’s design allowed her to take on water in two compartments and remain afloat, but more than four compartments were breached during the collision. Upon assessing the damage, Andrews (one of Titanic’s designer who was onboard) estimated that Titanic would sink in an hour or two” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 54-55).

In an atmosphere of confusion and chaos, women and children were loaded onto lifeboats (per Captain Smith’s order). Unfortunately, without an understanding of and experience with lifeboat procedures, “the lifeboats were only partially loaded before being lowered to the sea. Designed to carry up to 65 passengers, some left with only a dozen people on board. As the lifeboats rowed away from Titanic to avoid being sucked down when she sunk, hundreds of passengers were left screaming and thrashing about in freezing water” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 55).

By early morning on April 15th, only 705 people were still alive, while 1,517 died.

LEADERSHIP LESSONS

#1 Never Make Assumptions

Captain Smith and many other leaders affiliated to the Titanic assumed that it could never sink.

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” -Captain R. J. Smith, R.M.S. Titanic

#2 Watch for the Calm before the Storm

The quiet seas and a moonless sky made it hard to spot icebergs, making it deceiving that things were ok.

#3 Heed Warnings

There were attempts to warn the Titanic from another ship (the Californian’s Cyril Evans). But those messages were dismissed because Phillips (one of two Titanic wireless operators) was busy sending commercial messages.

#4 Stop Finding the Blame

“[I]f we look for culprits when something goes wrong, we’ll find them. However, holding individuals accountable for results can prevent learning how to improve performance or prevent a problem from recurring” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 56).

#5 Manage the System to Find a Solution

The Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic revealed that Marconi wireless operators (like Jack Phillips who was onboard the Titanic to relay commercial messages) often would refuse “to communicate with wireless operators of ships (such as the Frankfurt) known to use competitor’s equipment. Frankfurt was the first ship to answer Titanic’s distress call and the operator went to consult his captain. When he returned, Phillips, on board Titanic, rudely refused to answer the question posed by Frankfurt’s captain, “What is the matter?” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 56).

The lack of cooperation and collaboration was evident in Landesberg’s (2001) account:

“While there seemed to be a ship relatively close by, the nearest ship responding to Titanic’s SOS distress signal was Carpathia, and she was more than four hours away” (p. 55).

“Leaders must look to cooperate (even while they compete) to improve the systems in which they operate, for the good of all…Had the aim of providing passenger safety been clear to everyone (i.e., Titanic’s officers and crew–including wireless operators and Californian’s officers and crew) there would have been far less confusion, more cooperation, and less loss of life on the evening of April 14, 1912.” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 56-57).

Reference

Landesberg, P. (2001). Back to the Future—Titanic Lessons in Leadership. Journal for Quality & Participation, 24(4), 53-57.

The Importance of Work

“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?” (NRC, 1999, p. 50)

Year % of Americans Who Said They Would Continue to Work
1973 69.1
1974 64.8
1976 69.0
1977 70.0
1980 76.9
1982 72.3
1984 76.0
1985 69.5
1987 75.4
1988 71.0
1989 72.2
1990 72.7
1991 66.9
1993 69.0
1994 65.8
1996 68.0

These data confirm that “Americans are highly committed to work as a central activity in their lives” (NRC, 1999, p. 51).

Reference

National Research Council. (1999). The changing nature of work: Implications for occupational analysis. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Leading in a Crisis

“A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.” -English proverb

The recent earthquake in Chile is a grim reminder of what it takes to lead in a crisis. Unlike the situation in Haiti, Chile has both a functioning government and the infrastructure in place to respond to the disaster. However, the Chilean response has not been fast enough (MSNBC, 2010). Chilean leaders are immobilized from not knowing what to do and their actions in disarray.

In Chile, survivors said they had little warning about the coming tsunami. Furthermore, they’re angry that the government’s response, in providing aid and support, has been slow. Looting has resulted as people desperate for food and supplies say they’re not getting any help (MSNBC, 2010).

In “7 Lessons for Leading in a Crisis” (2009), Bill George said that a crisis is like being at war. Crises test a leader’s ability to lead an organization through and out of a crisis. “There is nothing quite like a crisis to test your leadership. It will make or break you as a leader. Crises have brought down many leaders and their organizations with them…” (George, 2009, p. 1).

George (2009) maintained that leaders who are never tested (i.e. have never gone through a crisis) may be unable to handle crisis situations. Instead, under such emergencies, these untested leaders may buckle under pressure or freeze.

This is akin to an emergency room doctor who has just graduated from medical school and doing his internship. Although he may have learned what to do via textbooks, he has never been in a real crisis situation before.

From my experience conducting crisis management workshops, I have seen this first-hand. During the didactic (teaching/lecturing) portion, professionals will appear to be learning the required skills about what to do in a school or classroom emergency (e.g., when a student becomes violent). In simulated exercises, they’ll seem a bit less skilled. And in the final phase of the training, in testing (applying knowledge to simulated scenarios), they are the least proficient.

Finally, after these workshops and without a chance to apply what they’ve learned, their skills level decrease and sometimes disappear altogether.

My recommendation, based on my experience teaching crisis management, is to practice, practice, practice for emergencies. Just as police SWAT teams practice, just like firefighters practice, just like nurses and doctors practice to stay sharp during emergencies, so too should organizational leaders practice. They need to develop an emergency plan, get stakeholders involved, practice and then practice some more.

References

George, B. (2009). 7 lessons for leading in a crisis. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

MSNBC (2010, March). Lots of anger, some aid, in disaster zone. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35657707/ns/world_news-chile_earthquake/

3 Leadership Tips from Warren Bennis

“Leadership is the wise use of power. Power is the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it.” -Warren G. Bennis

In an interview with Harvard Business Review’s Christina Bielaszka-DuVernay (2009), Warren Bennis* (at right in above photo) shared three tips for how leaders and aspiring leaders can be successful:

1) Delegation: “Learning to delegate is difficult. It’s tempting for all of us, especially ambitious business professionals, to believe that unless we do something ourselves, it won’t be done right.

“What new leaders need to understand is that by not delegating, they’re disrespecting not only others but themselves. They’re not using themselves to their best advantage, and they’re demonstrating that they haven’t learned one of the key truths about leadership, which is that the only way to make your weaknesses irrelevant is to respect others’ strengths and use them.”

2) Attentiveness: “[E]ven if a leader has surrounded herself with trusted advisers who give her straight talk, she still needs to cultivate attentiveness. That means whenever an issue or crisis arises, asking herself, What have I done to create this situation? What did I contribute to this mess?

“The goal is not to blame but to understand. Accepting failure is pretty easy; to understand it is the hard part.”

3) Contextual Intelligence: “Get the business literacy down pat. Just as a musician has to master the scales before he can become a master, so a leader has to gain a command of the basics to break free of the grid of technique and become an eminence.

“It also means knowing the whole industry: what it’s about, what makes one an expert in that particular space.

“Finally, it requires knowing your company inside and out: the products, how customers see you, the culture — and what employees particularly value about it….If you want to lead people, you have to enter their world.”

*Dr. Warren Bennis is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on leadership. His best selling book On Becoming A Leader has been named one of the 100 best business books of all times and considered the top leadership book. He has served as an adviser to five U.S. presidents.

Reference

Bielaszka-DuVernay, C. (2009, April 13). Avoid mistakes that plague new leaders: An interview with Warren Bennis. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://hbr.org

Workplace Violence, Organizational Justice, and Wounded Pride

Recently, a Harvard-educated Ph.D. professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville was accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three others during a faculty meeting because she was denied tenure. But why is this topic getting attention here on WorkplacePsychology.Net? We normally don’t think of college and universities as organizations, but they are.

In industrial-organizational psychology, the topic of organizational justice is important because it plays a critical role in workplace violence. The manner in which employees see themselves being treated (fairly or unfairly) by their companies affects how these employees will behave (emotionally and behaviorally) in the work environment. In the case of the accused professor, being denied tenure might have caused her to feel that she was unfairly treated by the university.

There are three types of organizational justice: distributive (perceived fairness in allocation of rewards to employees); procedural (perceived fairness of the process/procedure by which rewards are distributed); and interactional (sensitivity with which employees are treated & degree to which employees feel respected) (Landy & Conte, 2007, citing Colquitt, Colon, Wesson, Porter, & Ng).

Cohen-Charash and Spector (2001) found that regardless of age, gender, race, and education, all people view justice similarly. In their examination of 190 studies totaling 64,757 participants, these researchers discovered that job performance and counterproductive work behaviors were mainly related to procedural justice (the perceived fairness of the process or procedure by which ratings are assigned or rewards are distributed) and that perceived injustice causes negative emotional reactions in the forms of mood and anger. Cohen-Charash and Spector (2001) further predicted that procedural justice will be more important than distributive justice (perceived fairness in allocation of rewards to employees) under certain contexts, especially in situation involving difficult decisions that might hurt or be of great significance to the person affected by them (e.g., layoffs).

Another factor related to workplace violence is a wounded pride (ego threat). Challenging the myth that low self-esteem is an important cause of violence, Baumeister, Smart, & Boden (1996) discovered that violence usually results from egos that felt threatened.

People whose favorable self-conceptions are inflated, uncertain, or unstable may become quite sensitive to unflattering feedback and may react with hostility…[H]ighly sensitive individuals may react with considerable hostility to seemingly minor ego threats (Baumeister et al., 1996, p. 11).

In this context, the college professor might have felt that those individuals who denied her tenure threatened her ego (how dare they deny someone with my intelligence and educational background) and violated procedural justice (it’s unfair how they treated me).

Research says that it takes an individual’s personality, a threatened ego, and a view of injustice to contribute to workplace aggression (Baumeister et al., 1996; Hershcovis et al., 2007). Tragically, the mixture of the professor’s personality, her wounded pride, and her perception that others had treated her unjustly resulted in workplace violence that left three people dead, three others injured, and a community in shock and mourning.

References

Baumeister, R., Smart, L., & Boden, J. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103(1), 5-33. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.103.1.5

Cohen-Charash, Y. & Spector, P.E. (2001). The role of justice in organizations: A meta-analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86(2), 278–321.

Hershcovis, M. S., Turner, N., Barling, J., Inness, M., LeBlanc, M. M., Arnold, K. A., Dupre, K. E., & Sivanathan, N. (2007). Predicting workplace aggression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(1), 228-238.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (2nd Ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

What Customers Want

In “Serving Internal and External Customers,” Swartzlander (2004) outlined what customers want. She maintained that customers want to feel valued by the companies and/or places they conduct business with. More than anything else, customers value the way they’re treated. An American Society for Quality Control study found that less than 10% of customers leave/go elsewhere (defect) for reasons not related to the business (e.g., moving or no longer need the product); less than 10% liked a competitor’s product; and about 15% defected because they were unhappy/dissatisfied with the product. However, the study discovered that more than 65% of customers went elsewhere because of poor customer service.

As a former waiter and someone who has held various customer service jobs, I instantly look for good customer service everywhere I go. I expect good customer service when I go to a bookstore, when I go to a restaurant, when I buy groceries, etc. About two weeks ago, my wife and I went to the mall looking for an eye glasses case. My wife had misplaced her old case and since we were at the mall, we decided to stop by one of the eye glasses stores there.

In the first store we visited, the employee never even acknowledged us. He never asked us if we needed help or to let him know if there was something he could do. For that matter, he never even bothered looking up from his station! We were there for a few minutes digging through their selection of eyeglass cases. When we didn’t see anything that would fit my wife’s eyeglasses, we gladly left.

The second store we walked into was much different. Almost as soon as we entered, a customer service person looked up, smiled, and asked if he could help. We told him that we were looking for an eyeglasses case. He asked when we purchased the eyeglasses to which I replied that we bought it at another place. This gentleman, smiled and asked us to sit down. He pointed to the area where there were some cases available and then offered to clean my wife’s glasses.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find anything. But, rather than resorting to making faces or displaying other rude nonverbal behaviors, this man called downstairs to a sunglasses kiosk (one of his competitors) to ask if they still carried that small case he remembered from before. He hung up the phone, finished polishing and returned my wife’s glasses, and then told us where to go find a smaller case that would fit.

This employee displayed “positive personalization,” the positive social interaction between a service provider and the customer. Positive personalization has a positive effect on how customers perceive and evaluate the overall service quality of an establishment and in consideration about repurchases.

Swartzlander (2004) stated that personalization can range from the positive, warm feeling to the opposite – cold and impersonal. With the first store, we definitely felt the negative personalization (cold and impersonal), but with the second store our experience of positive personalization (positive, warm feeling) restored our faith that not all service professionals are bad or rude. And even though we may experience negative personalization more often than we would like, we’re always glad to come across positive personalization.

Your business customers want to be treated with respect and civility. It’s not rocket science. If your company/organization does not deliver, remember that out of every 100 customers, 65 will not come back because of poor customer service.

Reference

Swartzlander, A. (2004). Serving Internal and External Customers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Traits of Leadership

Research regarding traits related to leadership effectiveness has found about half a dozen (Yukl, 2010):

  • High energy level and stress tolerance
  • Self-confidence
  • Internal locus of control
  • Emotional stability and maturity
  • Personal integrity
  • Socialized power motivation
  • Moderately high achievement orientation
  • Low need for affiliation

Goleman (2004) maintained that “emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader” (p. 82). He proposed that emotional intelligence is made up of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. While emotional intelligence has a genetic component, it can also be learned and increases with age.

In order to improve emotional intelligence, organizations need to help leaders break old behavioral habits and start new ones. This requires an individualized approach and takes time.

“It’s important to emphasize that building one’s emotional intelligence cannot—will not—happen without sincere desire and concerted effort. A brief seminar won’t help; nor can one buy a how-to manual. It is much harder to learn to empathize—to internalize empathy as a natural response to people—than it is to become adept at regression analysis. But it can be done” (Goleman, 2004, p. 87).

I believe that Apple, Inc.’s CEO Steve Jobs has many of the traits related to leadership effectiveness as outlined by Yukl (2010) and Goleman (2004). Whatever you call it – passion, determination, motivation, zeal – he never lost it and was able to capitalize on his vision to propel him back to the top, running Apple Computers today.

There’s a great story in the Harvard Business Review (Sonnenfeld & Ward, 2007) about what happened after Jobs lost his job and how he recouped and climbed back atop the leadership mountaintop.

One week after he was fired from Apple (a company he co-founded), Jobs flew to Europe, bought a bicycle and a sleeping bag and camped out under the stars in the Tuscan hills of northern Italy, planning what he would do next.

After returning to California, with a renewed passion and ambition, he went on to found another computer company, NeXT, which Apple purchased in 1996. With the acquisition of NeXT by Apple, Jobs returned to Apple as its leader and simultaneously became the energy behind Pixar, the computer-graphics studio famous for producing Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Monster, Inc., and recently Up.

“It is the single-minded, passionate pursuit of a heroic mission that sets leaders like Steve Jobs…apart from the general population, and it is what attracts and motivates followers to join [him]” (Sonnenfeld & Ward, 2007, p.84).

References

Goleman, D. (2004). What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review, 82(1), 82-91.

Sonnenfeld, J.A. & Ward, A.J. (2007). Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters. Harvard Business Review, 85(1), p76-84.

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

Elements of Corporate Cultures

In “Culture by Default or by Design?” Edmonds and Glaser (2010) talk about the challenge of describing the culture of an organization. In the article, the authors maintain that the impact of your corporate culture can spell success or disaster for the organization.

The culture of your company is its personality, it’s “how things are done around here” (Edmonds & Glaser, 2010, p. 37). Culture can be the company’s values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors – both of the overall system itself and of the individual members who make up the organization.

Asking employees to describe their corporate culture is akin to asking a fish to describe what water is like. Neither the employee nor the fish can do it properly because they’re both immersed in it (Edmonds & Glaser, 2010). It’s even more challenging for new employees as they sometimes stumble onto and violate unwritten norms and rules embedded in the organization.

Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) assert that the function of the organizational culture is to serve both as an external and internal role to help the organization adapt. Under the external role, questions asked include, “What exactly needs to be accomplished and how do we do this?” For the internal role, the question is “How do members of the organization work together, get along, and work out conflicts?”

On the surface it may seem apparent, but it can take years to fully understand some corporate culture (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005). The reason is that corporate culture is highly complex and multi-layered, composed of an observable culture, the shared values, and common cultural assumptions. The observable culture is the “how we do things around here.” The shared values link employees of a company together. Finally, common cultural assumptions are those “truths” that will come up after analyzing the culture (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005).

Elements of Strong Corporate Cultures (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  • A widely shared real understanding of what the firm stands for, often embodied in slogans
  • A concern for individuals over rules, policies, procedures, and adherence to job duties
  • A recognition of heroes whose actions illustrate the company’s shared philosophy and concerns
  • A belief in ritual and ceremony as important to members and to building a common identity
  • A well-understood sense of the informal rules and expectations so that employees and managers understand what is expected of them
  • A belief that what employees and managers do is important and that it is important to share information and ideas

References

Edmonds, C. & Glaser, B. (2010). Culture by default or by design? Talent Management, 6(1), 36-39.

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Six Leadership Styles

In “Developing a Leadership Style,” Alan Murray cites six styles of leadership from Daniel Goleman’s “Primal Leadership.” They are outlined below:

  1. Visionary: this is best when an organization needs a new direction. The aim is to move people towards a new set of shared dreams. Leaders communicate where a group is going, but not how it will get there. This way, people free to innovate, and experiment.
  2. Coaching: this style focuses on developing others, showing them how to reach their goals and improve their level of performance. One warning is that too much hovering over an employee might, instead, be perceived as micromanagement.
  3. Affiliative: stresses importance of teamwork and connecting with others. This style is not good to use by itself because it tends to emphasize group praise allowing for poor performance to go uncorrected.
  4. Democratic: this style works best when the organizational goal is unclear and the leader needs to tap into the feedback and wisdom of the group. This style is counterproductive in times of crisis, however, when quick, decisive decisions are needed from leaders.
  5. Pacesetting: leader sets a high expectation of performance. But it must be cautioned that using it too often can result in lower employee morale because employees may feel that their work is never good enough.
  6. Commanding: while this military style is the most often used, it’s also the least effective. It leads to lower morale because there are more criticisms and less praise.

Without a strong vision of leadership, managers may display a leadership style that is too affiliative (e.g., unable or unwilling to address poor performance), too democratic (e.g., lacked ability to make decisive decisions), or too pacesetting (e.g., worked employees to death but never happy with their performance).

Reference

Murray, A. (2009). Developing a leadership style. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on January 30, 2010 from http://guides.wsj.com/management/developing-a-leadership-style/how-to-develop-a-leadership-style/

Follow Your Heart

One of my all-time favorite quote is from Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. It was a speech given to the graduating class at Stanford University in June 2005. Jobs was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004, the year before. Luckily, it was eradicated through surgery and he has since recovered. Below is part of his commencement speech:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart…”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

What Really Motivates Employees

In an article titled, “What Really Motivates Workers” in the January-February 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Amabile & Kramer (2010) invited over 600 managers from dozens of companies to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors:

  1. recognition,
  2. incentives,
  3. interpersonal support,
  4. support for making progress, and
  5. clear goals

The #1 ranking of the managers was “recognition for good work.”

However, and this surprised me, from their multiyear study in which they tracked the day-to-day activities, emotions, and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers in various settings, Amabile & Kramer (2010) discovered that the #1 motivator for employees is progress.

You read that right folks, the top motivation for workers is making progress.

On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. (Amabile & Kramer, 2010, p. 44.)

Ironically, progress was the factor ranked dead last by managers as something that motivates employees.

The researchers analyzes nearly 12,000 diary entries, along with the writer’ daily ratings of their motivation and emotions. The analysis indicated that “making progress in one’s work – even incremental progress – is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event” (Amabile & Kramer, 2010, p. 44).

The HBR article offered this advice to managers:

Avoid impeding progress by changing goals unilaterally, being indecisive, or holding up resources (Amabile & Kramer, 2010).

How managers can help facilitate progress (Amabile & Kramer, 2010):

  • Clarify overall goals
  • Ensure employees’ efforts are properly supported
  • Refrain from exerting time pressure so extreme such that minor glitches are seen as crises
  • Cultivate a culture of helpfulness
  • Roll up your own sleeves and help out
  • Celebrate progress, even small ones

Reference

Amabile, T.M. & Kramer, S.J. (2010). What really motivates workers. Harvard Business Review, 88(1), 44-45.

Helping to Bring Credibility to Executive Coaching

The profession of coaching has grown and continues to do so such that “nearly every age, occupation, and personal passion has a coach waiting to answer the call” (p. xiii). In particular, coaching is becoming a common part of an organization’s toolkit to help rank-and-file employees on up to top executives (Whitworth et al., 2007).

Much has been heralded (especially within the past several years) about coaching and its benefits. No, I’m not talking about sports coaching, but rather coaching applied to the world of business, also known as executive coaching. Because there’s no law (in the U.S.) preventing anyone from calling him/herself a “coach” or using the word “coaching,” executive coaching can sometimes seem like the old wild west. Research indicates that within the field of coaching, one of the fastest growing areas is in business (includes executive) coaching (WABC, cited in Stout Rostron, 2009).

It’s interesting to note that many who enter the coaching profession do so without any formal psychological training (Peltier, 2010). As such, they often question the need for this type of background. A 2009 Harvard study of coaching showed that only 13% of coaches believed that psychological training was necessary and almost half didn’t think it was important at all (Kauffman & Coutu, cited by Peltier, 2010).

However, the study also observed that even though coaches are only hired to help executives with personal issues 3% of the time, these same coaches, in fact, addressed a personal issue 76% of the time in coaching!

Stout Rostron (2009) maintains that while business coaches don’t need to be psychologists, they should at a minimum receive “practical grounding or ‘literacy’ in psychological theory” (p. 25).

While researching coaching textbooks, I came across the Institute of Coaching, an organization that aims to legitimize the field and practice of coaching by promoting coaching research, education, and practice. It is “dedicated to enhancing the integrity and credibility of the field of coaching.” Stout Rostron (2009) talked about the need to create empirical evidence on executive coaching and its impact. This is why I believe the existence of the Institute of Coaching will be a tremendous boost to help build that much needed credibility in the otherwise undisciplined field of coaching.

“The Institute (housed at McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and the world’s premier psychiatric hospital) is a way to build a robust international coaching research community and to support coaching research by providing research grants and mentoring to advance the practice and profession of coaching.”

The Institute of Coaching recently launched its own membership association called the Institute of Coaching Professional Association (ICPA).

MEMBER BENEFITS

ICPA members (annual subscription fee required) have access to peer-reviewed journals, networking and educational opportunities with leaders in coaching research, coaching demonstrations, and much more. ICPA offers three levels of membership—Affiliates, Founding Members, and Founding Fellows.

All members have access to:

  • Monthly Coaching Report
  • Extensive online resources including a library of research papers, white papers on best practices and return on investment, PowerPoints on many coaching relevant topics
  • Monthly live interviews, seminars, and coaching demonstrations with coaching leaders and researchers.
  • Online journal club
  • Journal subscription to Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research & Practice
  • Discounts on IOC events and professional development seminars

SEMINARS AND INTERVIEWS

Leadership tele-seminars, podcasts, and interviews will us better understand the mindset and expectations of the business leaders. Questions include: What do corporate leaders value about coaching? What are they looking for?

COACHING DEMONSTRATIONS

Coaching demonstrations will help you see coaching skills in action and learn the answers to important coaching questions. Coaches will describe the theory and evidence-based thinking behind the interventions they offer. The goal is to use theory and research to provide much needed “legs” for the practice of coaching.

COMMENTS

For those new to the profession of coaching (especially students like me), the benefit of watching coaching demonstrations is invaluable. This is a great way to learn by watching veteran/master coaches. When I was going through my counseling program, our professors made us watch videos of master therapists/psychologists conducting sessions. It was a way to connect what we learned via books to real life scenarios.

[NOTE]: ***I am not affiliated nor am I being paid to advertise the Institute of Coaching. I am merely passing along information that I think might benefit those who seek it. Thanks.***

References

Institute of Coaching. (2010). About Us. Retrieved January 10, 2010, from http://www.instituteofcoaching.org/index.cfm?page=aboutus

Institute of Coaching. (2010). Welcome to the Institute of Coaching Professional Association! Retrieved January 10, 2010, from http://www.instituteofcoaching.org/index.cfm?page=members

Institute of Coaching. (2010). Coaching Research Network. Retrieved January 10, 2010, from http://www.instituteofcoaching.org/index.cfm?page=network

Kauffman, C., & Coutu, D. (2009). HBR research report: The realities of executive coaching.

Peltier, B. (2009). The psychology of executive coaching: Theory and application (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business coaching international: Transforming individuals and organizations. London: Karnac.

Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, K., Kimsey-House, H., & Sandahl, P. (2007). Co-active coaching: New skills for coaching people toward success in work and life (2nd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

Undercover Boss and Emotional Intelligence

A new reality TV show called Undercover Boss will soon hit the air. The idea is for top executives to go undercover by working as rank and file (ordinary) employees in their own organization. Each week a different executive will work undercover deep inside their company.

While working alongside their employees, they will see the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organization and get an up-close look at both the good and bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their company run. -Undercover Boss website

The show is set to premiere (in the US) in February 2010 after the Super Bowl (American football).

It seems that by helping executives become aware of what it’s like at the bottom of the ladder in their corporate hierarchy, that they would somehow become enlighten and change how they conduct business and/or run the organization.

Peter Senge says, “The quality of our leadership depends on the quality of our awareness.”

Among the leadership competencies identified, emotional intelligence is one quality that is important for effective leadership (Goleman, cited in Yukl, 2010).

Emotional intelligence is the extent to which a person is attuned to his or her own feelings and to the feelings of others and is able to integrate emotions and reason such that emotions are used to facilitate cognitive processes, and emotions are cognitively managed. – Gary Yukl

Emotional intelligence can help leaders solve complex problems, improve decision-making and time management, adapt to changing situations and better manage crises (Yukl, 2010).

So by working alongside ordinary workers, these CEOs will (hopefully) gain emotional insights into what life is like to work in that job for that company. They will gain skills to better understand what it’s like to “walk in their workers’ shoes.”

Reference

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

The Science of People at Work