What Executive Coaches Should and Should NOT Do

Exec Coaches

Most leaders recognize they either don’t have the skill sets to coach or they don’t have the time.  While being a strong leader entails having the ability to coach, the fact remains that companies pay for us executive coaches to come in and partner with senior management on flexing their style.

This “style stretch” may be a result of an upcoming promotion, settling into one’s position better, working with a different regional culture, or to rectify egregious behavior that does not sit well with peers and direct reports.

These lists below are to help companies and executives become aware of what to expect, and what to look out for, when engaging executive coaches…

DO:

Set Objectives.  These may be professional or personal objectives, as the areas tend to seep into each other.  E.g. Executive presence, motivating direct reports, managing up, learning indirect communication, etc.

Expect Regular Reports.  The company (or individual) paying for the executive coaching should receive quarterly reports, which share the progress towards a goal.  What indicators demonstrate that certain objectives have been met?  These goalposts should be established ahead of time within the Strategic Learning Contract (SLC).  What is the goal?  How much time are you dedicating on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to get there?  What are the resources you need?  Who are the people who can help you get there?  What does it look like when you have achieved that end goal?

Expect Measurements.  Progress must have its metrics.  It could be an X% increase of a business goal.  Perhaps it’s the number of people who wish to meet with you 1:1. Numbers must be attached for the quantitative crowd.

Guarantee Confidentiality. One huge benefit of working with an external executive coach (or a bonafied internal industrial psychologist) is that all of the details are kept private.  Otherwise, externals can be sued, and certified internals could lose their license.

Hold the First Session In-Person. Body language accounts for 55% of communication, and it is not all in the face. Fidgeting, foot-tapping, ring twisting, etc, cannot be easily seen via webcam; and, each carries its own meaning.  Plus, anyone who has ever argued that webcam is “just the same as” in-person is equating attending a live symphony with hearing the music on the radio.  There is something to be said for vibe.

Meet Regularly.  Not more than one month should lapse between coaching sessions.  It is hard to stay on task, otherwise.  I generally recommend every two weeks, although, serious coaching issues may require twice weekly.

 

DON’T:

Settle for Bias.  Coaches are subjective, too; and, they may tell you what they know you want to hear.  This gets you nowhere.  Let them praise you when your metrics kick in positively.  If you have a coach who never pushes back and (gently, yet firmly) holds you through a line of inquiry to some degree of accountability for whatever predicament you raise, then you may have a co-dependent coach…they would like to keep getting paid.

Settle for Unconscious Bias.  Some coaches bring their unconscious bias into the room, which is a red flag that s/he is not an expert coach.  Jumping to conclusions or accusations, e.g. “You lied to me;” labels, e.g. “You’re being childish;” and other forms of subjective experience, e.g. “You can’t say you’re ‘comfortable in your own skin’ just because you are [race]” are forms of bias that muddle your journey; not clarify the steps for your path.

Allow the Coach to Dictate Actions.  Coaches are there to help you become aware of solutions that work best for you and your situation.  Best practices can be raised to spur ideas, but your coach is raising a red flag if s/he starts telling you what to do.  Coaches are thought partners; not judge and jury.

Accept if Not Committed.  Unless the coachee is wholeheartedly ready to seek out ways to be more effective in workplace interactions, an executive coach is set up to fail.  Coaches succeed when their clients succeed.

 

COACHING FAUX-PAS

One Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) hired a friend of his who called herself an executive coach.  The CHRO hired her to work with a VP who had a terrible case of team attrition.  Unbeknownst to her, the human resource team fully intended to let the VP go, regardless of the outcome – which was never measured.  They simply paid the CHRO’s friend to have sessions with the coach, who occasionally vouched for her progress, and then the HR team documented that they had performed “due diligence” in supplying the VP with assistance before they laid her off.

This approach was not only contrary to the company’s espoused values of integrity and transparency, it communicated the HR team’s inability to recruit the right individual, hold the VP’s supervisor accountable, provide the VP with critical feedback along the way, and to hold a constructive conversation with her themselves so that the VP would not be blindsided with her own inefficiencies – despite turning over three entire teams.  No one had ever stopped her from mishandling her team.  Why? Because she ultimately provided results.  The end justified the means.  Or did it?  Everyone failed.  There was plenty of collusion which negatively impacted many families, and over a long period of time.

Leadership Development is the #1 human capital concern.  Spend your money wisely.

 

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is an Executive Coach who also provides Global Leadership and Organization Development.  She is the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of executive coaches.  The team aims to make the world a better place through “A-ha moments” that reduce stress and increase productivity.  Please visit CorporateLookingGlass.com

 

 

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HOW TO MAKE DIVERSITY & INCLUSION PROGRAMS WORK

RACI Acronym

Any change efforts within an organization requires METRICS to measure how the organization was before the intervention and to measure it again post-intervention.  Otherwise, money and time spent without follow-up will not lead to any substantive change, and the change efforts will merely become showcasing; just a way to appeal to consumers.

When an organization which strives to provide equitable treatment to all of its talent desires to bring in Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners, there are four important steps to follow:

  1. Aligned Leadership – Is there 100% support by the C-Suite? (If not, stop here and replace whichever officers are not in alignment. This is preparation for readiness). How is leadership going to get involved?
  2. Establish Awareness – What is the issue here? How does that tie in to the brand?  What makes this issue relevant to our consumers/stakeholders?
  3. Strategy for Implementation – RACI: Who is responsible? Who is accountable? Who is to be consulted? Who is to be informed?RACI Matrix
  4. Metrics – What are we aiming for? What does success look like?  How do we do when we have arrived at our target or future desired state?

Perhaps the most important part of a Diversity and Inclusion program is what is known as CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (coming in at Step 2: Awareness AND Step 3: Implementation). CBT is not teaching us things that we didn’t know, rather, it reminds us of what we need to do.  It is less about imparting information and more about building new habits.

Change can be scary for some. By repeatedly facing whatever it is that they’re afraid of, employees gain confidence in themselves.  It does not help anyone to be told, “Your fears don’t make sense.”

Indeed, cultures are created and shaped by reliance on repetition and a systematic approach. Consistent and progressive practice combined with accountability partners is what gets an organization to a higher cross-functional level of interaction and into a higher level of positive work climates.

Maintenance of any relationship, whether it be interpersonal or systemic, requires regular reminders of where we are and where we’d like to go.

A strong Diversity and Inclusion strategy incorporates elements from Psychology, Organization Development, Marketing, and Sociology.  The only way to ensure Diversity & Inclusion efforts are going to create a systemic impact is to use a cross-disciplinary approach.

This is what Corporate Looking Glass, LLC (www.corporatelookingglass.com) excels in executing.

 

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” – Robert Davies

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner.  She is the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of executive coaches.  Please visit CorporateLookingGlass.com

 

The Dark Triad: Your Colleagues

Dark Triad

Narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism form what is called “the dark triad.”  These personality profiles are found to be fairly common in normal work settings.  They fall into the category of Counterproductive Work Behaviors (CWB), which cost organizations millions, if not billions, of dollars annually.

While I’ve touched upon Machiavelli HERE, this blog is about recognizing the traits within your organization.

 

The Narcissists

First, a distinction between those who are narcissists and those who have Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD).  The latter is a mental illness where the individual has self-esteem issues, and some sort of deep sense of shame and humiliation, but come across as attention-seeking, confident individuals.  They usually do not have the wherewithal to rise to power, because they crumble at the slightest criticism.  Narcissists will react to challenges and criticism with rage; not anger.  This is because they have exaggerated views of their achievements and abilities, and their most pressing needs are for admiration and praise.  They do not like to share the spotlight, as they are envious beyond measure.

Narcissists tend to draw people in with their charm and overabundant self-confidence, but that is, in essence, the love they have for themselves.  The rules do not apply to them, so they offer no apologies, but expect loyalty.

Narcissists rarely, if ever, see anyone as their equal.  (E.g. Larry Ellison; Steve Jobs).  They are “more worthy” than others and, therefore, believe they are entitled to power, money, and prestige.  Not only are they heavily critical of others, they believe they have the right to exploit and control others to their advantage without feeling guilty. They can be profoundly apathetic and even ruthless towards others. In fact, they feel better when degrading others.

INFECTING CULTURE: Narcissistic leaders excel in communicating their inspirational messages and ambitious visions. This allows narcissistic leaders to draw their audience in and shape their beliefs (Have them “drink the Kool Aid” – a reference to infamous narcissist-psychopath, Jim Jones).  The effect of instilling a vision as truth or fact is particularly effective on those who are inclined to be servile and laudatory – essentially, the quiet type who doesn’t like taking a stand or voicing opposition, they just like to follow.  Together, the narcissistic leader and the submissive direct report(s) form a co-dependent relationship.  One wants to self-feed his/her need for dominance, while the other wants to follow.  (Freud had a field day on this topic).  In fact, vast amounts of empirical data, suggest that narcissism is at full force within an organization when the toxic triangle consists of the following three components: 1) narcissistic leader, 2) susceptible followers, 3) contaminated environments.

FINANCIAL RISK: Narcissistic leaders tend to make more impulsive and risky decisions, such as tremendously overpaying for a company acquisition.  This behavior is a reflection of their megalomania (delusions of wealth, power, and/or knowledge); although, not all narcissists are megalomaniacs, but all megalomaniacs are indeed narcissists.  They may be the CEO of a small to medium-sized company, but close the deal by flying in on their own jet, due to their egomania (excessive vanity, pride, arrogance), while touting how ecological the company is.

 

The Psychopaths (Social Predators)

First, the term “psychopath” is used interchangeably with “sociopath”; however, the serious distinction is that psychopaths are more dangerous.  Not only do they need a human to take advantage of (usually after isolating the prey from others), predatory behavior is their most prized objective in their life.  This is what separates them from the narcissist, although they can certainly be both (e.g. Harvey Weinstein).  For the sake of this blog, we shall stick with the model.

According to Drs. Babiak and O’Toole, psychopaths are more commonly found in corporate settings than in the overall population.  Psychopaths are parasitic in that they experience positive emotions when they see/cause others to suffer, and negative emotions when they don’t.  Their most important priority is getting away with it; not getting caught. (E.g. Matt Lauer, Bernie Madoff; Jerry Sandusky).

INFECTING CULTURE: Several have earned an advanced degree, such as Ph.D., M.D., or J.D. degree (e.g. Ted Bundy).  Psychopathic leaders are more likely to either describe themselves as hands-off managers and/or practice a laissez-faire leadership style.  Consequently, their teams end up being less engaged and more dissatisfied w their jobs than the corporate norm.

FINANCIAL RISK:  Psychopathic leaders may be praised for their capability to make tough decisions and stay calm in the heat of battle; however, this misperception is actually the inability to feel emotions.  While it may be argued that negotiations require separating emotion from business, the war for talent may well become the war on talent, leading entire divisions towards failure and significant losses.

 

The Machiavellians

Machiavellians are politically savvy psychopaths who are more likely to engage in counterproductive work behaviors, especially the type that concerns mistreatment and betrayal of work colleagues. They are the most socially skilled of the three types within the Dark Triad, because they are capable of manipulating and influencing others by pretending to agree with them while hiding their true intentions.  They use others as stepping stones and use lies/deceit to advance themselves.

There is a strong overlap between Machiavellians and psychopaths, in that both are characterized by clear deficits in moral standards and empathy.  The distinction is that psychopaths purposely set out to hurt others for enjoyment, whereas Machiavellians will injure someone solely for socio-political advancement and/or financial gain.

While a narcissist exposes him-/herself with anger and jealousy over someone else’s success, a Machiavellian is not delusional, can mask their true emotions well, and will accept the success of someone else if that means s/he could also move up the ladder.

INFECTING CULTURE – Since Machiavellian leaders are socially intelligent and unethical, they end up accomplishing their goals as they harm others, thereby fomenting a “dog eat dog” work climate.  For example, Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, allowed several of his executive leaders (at HQ and across world regions) room and direction for unethical and questionable behavior. Dissension is created.  Top talent is lost (e.g. Susan Fowler, Uber engineer).

FINANCIAL RISK:  Machiavellians have crooked ethical views that lead to justification of their corrupt behaviors. (E.g. Enron’s “Burn, baby, burn“). In today’s social media world, sooner or later, most Machiavellians are bound to have short-lived successes and long-term career struggles.

 

What Ado about Something

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT.  Research indicates that corporate organizations which use leadership development interventions benefit from focusing on the dark side, in part because dark side traits predict how leaders respond to coaching and change interventions. Narcissists are incapable of assessing their own performance, since they always overrate their abilities. Because they believe they are perfect, narcissistic leaders are likely to be the ones who resist coaching and developmental interventions altogether.  It’s for other people to do.

COACHING.  If you manage to get a narcissistic leader in a coaching opportunity as coachee, remember that s/he is more likely to react defensively to negative feedback. Business psychologist Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic: “There is arguably no better way to spot a narcissist than to question his talents and see how he responds – the more self-obsessed and deluded a leader is, the angrier this will make him.”

360-DEGREE ASSESSMENTS.  This tool can be used to effectively identify workplace psychopaths, but they also tend to produce many false positives.  Once identified, bear in mind that in most cases, psychopaths they will not change.  Leaders will have to openly demonstrate the ability to be self-critical in order to be seen as more self-aware by their peers and direct reports.  When leaders lack self-awareness, their dark side tendencies create toxic work environments, damage morale, destruct team cohesion, reduce productivity, spike attrition, and cause other corporate maladies because they are incapable of recognizing others’ perceptions and of making attempts to modify their ineffective behaviors.

 

Society’s current largest workforce, millennial employees, is asking for more feedback than any previous generation.  Building self-awareness, especially awareness of one’s limitations, will only help any organization thrive. Therefore, having these interventions on a regular basis is paramount to organizational success and survival. Build on the two traits Millennials offer, curiosity and entrepreneurship.  Exhibitors of those traits are those whose talent must be retained.

The worst part of evil is that one gets used to it. – Jean-Paul Sartre

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of coaches. She is the author of The Corporate Looking Glass: Using Culture for Your Competitive Advantage. Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.

 

 

Resources

Babiak, Paul; O’Toole, Mary Ellen. The Corporate Psychopath. https://leb.fbi.gov/articles/featured-articles/the-corporate-psychopath

Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas. The Talent Delusion: Why Data Not Intuition, Is the Key to Unlocking Human Potential. Piatkus. 2017.

Navarro, Joe. Dangerous Personalities. 2017.

Twenge, Jean; Campbell, W. Keith. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. Free Press, NY:NY. 2009.

15 Learnings from My 30th High School Reunion

Prep Band

I remember sitting in my Economics college class listening to Professor Lary (sic) Taylor describe how he had just attended his high school reunion.  Given my interest in human behavior, I was rapt with attention, as though I was hearing the words of a prophet prophesying my future.  Indeed, many of his findings concurred with my own 30th high school reunion.  I have starred (*) these six below.

First, I never intended to be the organizer for my reunion; that’s life for you.  I had missed two earlier big markers of time.  Namely, the 10th reunion was too close to my wedding to attend. And, my parents both died right before my 20th reunion, so I did not have the heart to attend.  Losing my mother led me to want to have a “family reunion” with my community.  The outcome resulted in planning the 30th to include anyone who lived in my hometown as a student in the 1980’s.  And, so, my mission began.

Here are the 14 learnings I take away from this experience on 9.9.17:

  1. *Be Kind…you never know what someone is going through. The strangest guy in my graduating class ended up in San Quentin prison for pedophilia. As it turns out, he was sexually, verbally, and physically abused by his father since he was a toddler.
  2. *Entrepreneurialism Works. A couple of my schoolmates never went to college and are financially successful and self-taught.  I never doubted it as possible, and it was rewarding to see it.
  3. Mama Mía. One of the absolute poorest schoolmates has become one of the most wealthy among us, both financially and spiritually. She adopted three children as a single mom.
  4. Generosity & Otherwise. In order to be inclusive to all I made the reunion entry a nominal $19.87.  Three schoolmates made sizeable donations towards expenses, and several paid-it-forward on the entry.  There were roughly a dozen who couldn’t comprehend why they should pay any amount, and a few dared to show up without paying (*freeriders).
  5. Bueller? Even a couple of “popular kids” were afraid to return; with some not coming at all.  One schoolmate claimed to have to breathe in his car for 20 minutes before he could join in.
  6. *Sing “Memories,” Babs. A lot of people forgot a LOT of details from the past.  For some, the fond memories got jogged back.  For others, there was closure on lost loves and/or grievances.  For all, the event felt like getting back in touch with one’s self, but a better version of one’s self.
  7. *Party on, Dude. The high school partiers are still the partiers.  Despite being rabble-rousers, they are an inextricable ingredient to a lively reunion.
  8. I Did; I Do. The girls who experimented early (on a campus which imposed a double-standard) ended up being devoted, long-married women.  Love, and let love.
  9. ‘80’s Medley. One of the great joys that added to the exponentially intense emotional highs was gathering with those schoolmates who preceded and succeeded us; not just one class, and not just for those who actually graduated.  It was a true community event – one which even included parents.
  10. *Back in Time. Several of us described how incredibly unusual it was to hear the same voices and hear the same laughter after all these years, and be able to recognize them. This enabled us to “time travel” emotionally.
  11. Before & After. Having a slideshow of how we were “back then” and having the schoolmate stand next to his/her slide photo when their name was called proved to be very useful. Some I failed to recognize upon first sight, and others I didn’t know had shown up until they stepped up. Individual recognition among a group of classmates to the larger student body introduced a “Venn diagram” of connection which was palpable.
  12. Repetition & Resilience Pays. There were numerous monkey wrenches thrown at every facet of the event: from venue to cupcakes; the worst being no cell phone coverage. I determined the Rule of 7…if I haven’t communicated, like an advertisement, at least 7x, then I must hold only myself accountable.  
  13. *Forever Young. We laughed; we cried. We lost 16 alumni in less than 35 years.  Given the smallness of our alumni group, that averages to roughly 6% of our student population.
  14. Scathed. No one seemingly gets through the gauntlet of 30+ years of life past high school without some form of tragedy, trauma, or grief touching us. There were tales of divorce(s), jail, death(s) of loved ones, lost employment, financial ruin, illness, etc.
  15. Success Defined. It all depends on how one defines success, of course. I define it as balance. From my observations, it appears that the ones who have achieved the most balance in their lives are not necessarily the ones who earn the most money, or have the most education.  It seems to be the ones who have successfully found the right partners, family, and/or friends to surround themselves with…constantly.  Positive chemistry.  That may sound like nothing new, yet, it is one thing to know it; and, quite another to witness it at this juncture in life and work, on such a grand scale.

I am grateful to have had my sons serve as volunteers at this event, simply for this last learning.  The challenges of life are hard to face without the love and support of those who know you at your core.  THIS is family.

I can cross this off my bucket list.

 

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a proud member of the Class of 1987, Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.  Visit us at CorporateLookingGlass.com.

©Rossina Gil, 2017

“Happy Chemicals” at Work

Happy Chems

Happy people don’t leave organizations.  Why? Because they enjoy what they’re doing with others who value what they bring to the table.  How is that relevant to the company?  Because literally billions of dollars are lost annually from attrition, gatekeeper recruiter time, interview travel costs, relocation expenses, learning curve/training time, cultural assimilation, possible visas/attorney fees, loss of productivity, and further fallout from the change of talent.  Has your company ever measured the cost of poor organizational health?  If not, be prepared that today’s talent is checking organizational culture reviews on Glassdoor before they even apply or accept interviews.

So, what is happening internally which causes people to stay?  Some companies (surprisingly) still believe it is about the money, despite several studies indicating the contrary.  Scientists across several fields of study concur that human beings strive for homeostasis, i.e. a balance, which helps us feel safe.  While we can be motivated by fear, our strong preference over “fight or flight” is to dwell and enjoy.  The four chemicals that our bodies physiologically produce when we enjoy our environment and the variables within it are the following: Dopamine, Endorphin, Oxytocin, and Serotonin.

 

OFFICE YIN YANG

The SELFISH chemicals are dopamine and the endorphins.  They get us to where we need to go as individuals.  The SELFLESS chemicals are oxytocin and serotonin.  They get us to work together and develop feelings of trust and loyalty.  If only one side dominates, your organization has either chaos or stagnancy.  The balance of selfish and selfless chemicals is one of the successful CEO’s primary tasks.

Let’s examine each one:

Dopamine – DOMINANCE.  This is the Incentive for progress.  The positive is it enables us to set goals, focus, and achieve.  For those who like “the chase” and the cave man feeling of “conquest,” they have to monitor a possible addiction to dopamine. How does your organizational culture promote win-win goals?

Endorphins – ENDURANCE.  These mask physical pain.  They are released during a “runner’s high” and when your stomach is contracting strongly during a good laugh. Imagine: It is impossible to simultaneously laugh and be afraid. What keeps your office smiling?

Oxytocin – AFFECTION. This forms bonds of love and trust.  Oxytocin is produced through acts of service, sacrifice, and selflessness on behalf of others. Organizational cultures which implement these behaviors into a daily practice have a high chance of pre-empting the emergence of toxicity in the workplace.

Not only does oxytocin keep us healthy (no sick days), they make us better problem solvers. It is #10 on the Gallup Q12: “I have a best friend at work.”  This means someone who we can trust as an ally.  This chemical makes it more about “us,” instead of the addictive quality of “me” that dopamine fulfills.  When we share joint challenges, our bodies release oxytocin, which forms bonds.  Leaders must offer talent a reason to grow.

Serotonin – PRIDE.  It’s the feeling of pride and leadership.  Serotonin is produced when those we lead in the workplace develop into more skilled professionals under our guidance.  True leaders are supportive and do not undermine their direct reports.  (Managers do).

Serotonin only exists in symbiotic relationships – each person feels like s/he is gaining a benefit from their association.  Much like Confucianism’s five bonds (father to son, elder brother to younger, husband to wife, ruler to ruled, friend to friend), a burst of serotonin provides the feeling that others like or respect us.  This is why time is allowed to each Oscar winner at the Academy Awards, before the symphony plays them off stage…the winner feels like s/he couldn’t have accomplished what they did without the support from others.

 

CHEMICAL IMBALANCE IN THE WORKPLACE

When I was young, I was told “stress will kill you.”  This never made much sense to me until more recently.  Cortisol is the chemical that is produced by our bodies when our workplace offers a constant state of fear and/or anxiety.  This chemical, cortisol, has the potential to reconfigure our internal systems, cause lasting damage, and shorten our lives.  One of my clients ended up in the emergency room, only to be told by her doctor that she was experiencing work-related stress.  She had an interim boss who was a corporate bully.  He did not recognize that fear and/or lack of homeostasis inhibit(s) productivity.

For our own health reasons, we must never accept toxic environments, whether they be inside or outside of the workplace.  Do not attempt to fool yourself that you can become accustomed to the stress.  Low, regular levels of stress (i.e. cortisol) can no only break down our internal organs, it can activate dormant cancer cells.

What constitutes a toxic workplace?  Basically, values which are not being supported from the top-down. Author Simon Sinek: “Hypocrites, liars, and self-interested leaders create culture filled with hypocrites, liars and self-interested employees.  The leaders of companies who tell the truth, in contrast will create a culture of people who tell the truth.  It’s not rocket science.  We follow the leader.”

Mimicry begins in infancy.  Leaders know when to make it stop, and that includes you – know when to walk away from those who have a toxic abundance.

 

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners. She is the author of The Corporate Looking Glass: Using Culture for Your Competitive AdvantageWe increase retention. Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.

 

Resources:

Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D. Habits of a Happy Brain

Simon Sinek. Leaders Eat Last

 

How Stanley Milgram Predicted United’s Behavior

Stanley

“The essence in obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as an instrument for carrying out another person’s wishes and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions.” ― Stanley Milgram

Social psychologist and Yale professor Dr. Stanley Milgram conducted a controversial experiment on obedience and authority in the 1960’s. Following the Nazi war crimes from WWII where the German soldiers defended themselves in court trials as “Not Guilty” because they were just following orders, Milgram’s intent was to expose how willingly people behave towards those in charge. 

EXPERIMENT: Milgram engaged volunteer students to play the role of being electrically charged, where the ultimate charge involved excruciating pain and could potentially kill someone. While they were indeed connected to equipment, there was no exposure to pain – they simply acted. The subjects, unaware of the ruse, believed that the volunteer students could be hurt as they turned a series of “electrical” switches in increasing amounts of voltage under the direction of a “scientist.” The volunteers were placed in an adjacent room, however, their screams, cries of pain, and shouting to make it stop, could easily be heard. Whenever the subjects hesitated to turn the next switch of a higher voltage, the scientist would calmly state, “the experiment must continue.” How many continued?

RESULTS: Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the subjects completed the entire experiment. Not only did they not show concern for the student’s well-being, they insisted that they were not responsible for it, despite having been the one who turned the switch! Their reasoning? “They were just doing as they were told.” Deflection and blame (transference) against the student was also common, e.g. “He was so stupid and stubborn, he deserved to be shocked.”

ABERRATION: So, what about the other 35%? The subjects who refused to continue were those who did not see the scientist as the ultimate authority. They either saw God as who they serve, and/or believed that they themselves must assume accountability for their actions in harming others. This is true leadership, not just whoever is sitting at the top of the pecking order.

SUMMARY: The 65% result demonstrates how the majority of people within a system will ignore how others are hurting if, and when, they feel that they are disrupting their place in the pecking order. They are more prone to following the “rules,” instead of exhibiting empathy and humanity.

 

APPLICATION TO THE WORKPLACE

In a recent debacle with United, a passenger was literally dragged off a plane, because he refused to give up his paid-for seat to crew which needed to be sent to the destination city for work the next day. United had offered vouchers to those four who would give up their seats, but it wasn’t monetarily sufficient for the passengers to volunteer, so the four passengers to be ejected off the aircraft were selected (through algorithms) for “forced volunteerism” – which United referred to as “re-accommodation.” When the fourth passenger refused to deplane, the crew called Security, which ended up forcefully dragging the passenger off the flight, and, in the process, bloodied the passenger. Despite protests from fellow passengers, Security dragged the passenger up the aisle and off the plane.

The United crew, commended by their CEO the following day for their judgment, elected to not incrementally increase the price of the voucher for self-select volunteerism, which could have very well led to four passengers voluntarily agreeing to deplane. Instead, United resorted to treating its customers as cargo.

As Simon Sinek wrote, “We don’t just trust people to obey the rules, we also trust that they know when to break them. If good people are asked to work in a bad culture, people will be more concerned about following the rules out of fear of getting in trouble or losing their jobs than doing what needs to be done. When fight or flight is the name of the game and no broad Circle of Safety exists, then kill or get fired is the best strategy.”

Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and author of at least five books on (so-called) leadership, is among several corporate leaders who began treating people as an expendable resource back in the 1980’s. Since then, other organizations believed they should follow suit and use layoffs to meet their numbers for Wall Street. One company in the South (which no longer exists) followed this practice for 8 consecutive years, and, according to its former head of HRIS (Human Resource Information Systems), manipulated the data to falsely represent that more formerly exited employees were wishing to return than those wishing to leave.

 

IMPACT ON THE YOUNGEST WORKFORCE

It is little wonder why Millennials have been dubbed as “disloyal” for leaving companies after relatively little time. Bear in mind the following, which shaped their perspective:

  • Millennials witnessed the fall of “stable organizations” such as Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and Lehman Brothers – companies to which some of their parents had dedicated their entire careers.
  • Millennials watched their parents’ devastation over losing money to fraudulent stockbrokers, like Bernie Madoff.
  • Some Millennial families became homeless after the Dot.com bust of 2000, or the housing-market crash of 2008.
  • Worst of all, many Millennials lost their parents in the ultimate sacrifice of solely showing up for work at the Twin Towers on 9.11.01.

What they observed is that company loyalty towards its talent for how hard their parents worked or how much they sacrificed or how well they contributed to the company no longer translated into job stability. In a workforce predominantly consisting of egalitarians, loyalty is not a one-way street. Therefore, it is paramount that empathy and humanity be part of the corporate equation in order for retention, productivity, and stock to stay strong. It is a balance that must be remedied in order for our economy and personal health to be robust.

 

Leadership displays empathy and humanity. Praise your talent for those traits; role-model them. Empower them to use their minds to overcome rules which may oppose these traits, and, like United, you could potentially save your company a $800 million public relations disaster.

 

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners. She is the author of The Corporate Looking Glass: Using Culture for Your Competitive AdvantageWe increase retention. Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.

 

Resources:

Stanley Milgram. Obedience to Authority

Simon Sinek. Leaders Eat Last

 

Blue Health™ Videos English/Danish/Spanish

BH Video

Blue Health™ is the newest Leadership Development program created by Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a global consultancy based in the USA.

Here is a 2-minute video in ENGLISH.

Here is a 2-minute video in SPANISH.

Here is a 2-minute video in DANISH.

So, if you are interested in having critical thinkers as leaders (as opposed to mindless foot soldiers) and resilient leaders who can bounce back (regardless of whatever “shizzle” is coming down the pike at work – or at home), then your company needs this program.

We build healthy, functional leaders.

Contact us at info@corporatelookingglass.com.
Visit us at CorporateLookingGlass.com

Kindle Book

2nd Book Cover

The Change Agent’s Handbook: Insights from the Field of Leadership Development is available on Amazon HERE.

This book contains a series of blogs which have reached 120+ countries, and over 16K readers who are interested in books and topics which relate to leading effectively. Specific recommendations and concrete, current examples are provided to direct the reader into relevant action and to establish clear comprehension of the Behavioral Science theories –which often get lost in academic jargon. Executives, people managers, Industrial Psychologists, Organization Development practitioners, facilitators, and anyone interested in provocative thinking would be interested in this book.

 

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is an inquisitive Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.  We increase retention.  Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.

Engage in Nashville

Engage

Engage in Nashville is a strategic plan created as a contribution for America’s “It” city, Nashville, Tennessee.  This post exhibits exemplary work by Corporate Looking Glass, LLC.

Please click on the Engage in Nashville link to see the slideshare.  If you are interested in work for your city, kindly write us at info@CorporateLookingGlass.com, and an associate will promptly contact you.

 

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, cultural integration expert, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.  We increase retention.  Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.

 

 

Sycophant: Tale-Teller about Figs

Figs

Synonyms for “sycophant” include brown-noser, ass-kisser, bootlicker, flatterer, toady, apple polisher, yes-man, parasite, ladder climber, hanger-on, and fawner.  When a cultural norm (or object) is important to a culture, it is given several names.  The Eskimos have 50+ words for snow, Brazilians have 136 terms (28 categories) for skin color, and so on.  So how did the word “sycophant” originate?

 

Origin of “Sycophant”

Well, if you’ve watched My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, the answer is not in the movie, but the origin of sychophancy came from Greece. “Sykophantēs” is Greek for a “tale-teller about figs.”  In today’s terms, we may call that person a “snitch,” however the social context is more complicated than that.  I shall explain…in ancient Greece, the law of the land had some loopholes. One such loophole, if you will, was the ability for unscrupulous people to take people to court for a crime both parties knew was not committed. It was a way to make money (i.e. blackmail), because it would be cheaper (and reduce the likelihood of a tarnished brand/reputation) to settle out of court. (A-hem!…don’t place that scalding hot coffee between your thighs as you drive away from the drive-thru).

Now 6th-century Greece did not have a police system in place, per se, and it was considered illegal to export any consumable goods other than olives, yet figs were another rich commodity.  If a fellow citizen accused you of fig smuggling, then they, themselves, could prosecute you and gain from the rewards.

The rewards were not limited to financial gain, however.  Being an informant to the authorities was a commonplace effort intended for recognition of civic duty and a behavior of explicit ingratiation.  The strive for power and influence in social circles is a cultural phenomenon found throughout the animal kingdom (that includes us homo sapiens).

Having too much power and influence often lends itself to envy.  Envy, in turn, can lead to slander, ostracism, and – in the case of Socrates (and, later, Jesus) – punishment by death.  In Corporate America, the parallel terminology could be watercooler chatter, false accusation, termination (of employment).

 

Corporate Sycophants

While At Will states create room for chaos by the masses, Right to Work (a.k.a. Right to Fire states) states are breeding grounds for more sycophancy.  This is because state law in At Will states protects the employee, whereas state law in Right to Work states protects the employer.  This social construct leads people to perform more ingratiation (than usual) from the bottom-up, knowing that if they fail to please their superiors, termination can be as simple as Donald Trump’s “You’re fired” – no reason, or paper trail, necessary.  This type of structure keeps traditional (i.e. Good Ol’ Boy) systems in place, and lends itself to conformity – which is, needless to say, lack of diversity of thought.

In a corporate setting rife with “yes-men,” how possible is it to have a robust strategy?

How likely is a sycophantic company capable of out-performing its competitors?

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Outsource Human Relations (HR). There is a grain of truth in every stereotype…social politics (hence, the workforce) will improve when the administrative laborers are off-site (or overseas).  Many HR professionals tend to respond more from a “What do you want to fix?” or a “respond to the urgent” approach rather than a “focus on the important” one.  They often demonstrate reticence, even resistance, to embrace a more strategic, and less transactional, approach, either from lack of know-how and/or fear.
  2. Clamp down on cronyism. Social factions develop as a direct result of “kharis” (Greek word with no direct translation) – which is a feeling of gratitude and loyalty for the extended favor. Self-serving behavior results (loyalty “pay-back” for having been hired by a friend/acquaintance) as opposed to what is best for the organization.
  3. Have a transparent succession plan in place. High-Potentials will stay and work hard when there is a career path outlined for them.  Outright favoritism will drive them away.
  4. Hire Organization Development (OD) professionals. A real OD practitioner does not (always) supply the answers.  Their role is to ask Socratic questions which determine the business need, and to partner with clients to determine the answers.  They facilitate discussions.  They retain objectivity, especially as outside/external consultants.  In essence, they serve as the Center of Excellence (COE), which is responsible for designing the solution, while in-house HR staff implement the solution; not the other way around.  The 5 standard COE areas are the following: Leadership Development, change management, team effectiveness, talent recruitment, and retention.
  5. Make your talent pool reflect your target market. This is so obvious, it is painful to include.  However, the statistics on the emerging markets (“hidden” dollars) contrasted against the composition of most C-Suites are staggeringly incongruent.
  6. Role-model challenging others’ thought processes. Mimicry is the oldest form of learning.  It is an innate ability we can witness in infants.  Press your direct reports, and they will learn to do the same.  (See also A Peak inside the Leadership Development of Facebook).
  7. Commend the challenging of thought process. Rewarded behavior makes it safe to perform, it gets repeated faster, and it becomes a norm.  17th-Century French philosopher René Descartes was famous for having said, “I think; therefore, I am.”  Cartesian logic (named after Descartes) is the act of exploring conceptual thought to hear and practice how the logical path stems and to where it can lead.  If a strategy is to be sound, then no stone must be left unturned, or your company risks losing its foothold on its competitive advantage.  That’s worth praise!

 

A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” – Francis Bacon

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, cultural integration expert, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.  We increase retention.  Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.

© Rossina Gil, 2016