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How Stanley Milgram Predicted United’s Behavior


“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.



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.



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 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



Stanley Milgram. Obedience to Authority

Simon Sinek. Leaders Eat Last



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Renaissance and Organizations


Three of the most important Renaissance thinkers were Dutch theologian Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), the Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), and French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592).  Their teachings continue to live on in the form of organizational cultures.  The intent here is to examine how each philosophy surfaces and manifests itself in the form of actions within the organization that solidify its culture, which creates “the way we do things around here” – the catchphrase popular in defining organizational culture.



Aside from being a Catholic priest, Erasmus was known as a social critic and humanist.  We could compare him to a Corporate Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Officer.  He was respectful to the authority of the Pope (corporate comparison: CEO), and, he acknowledged that some leaders can be abusive.  He advocated that we must think for ourselves and not merely be foot-soldiers; yet, withhold opinion (Dale Carnegie’s “Do not Condemn, Complain, or Criticize), so as to not make waves.  He was determined to be an internal change agent, and remained a life-long, faithful “employee.”

Erasmus’ strategy was to take a middle-road approach (i.e. mild on Confrontation/Harmony; not extreme/very strong, on the continuum of preferences) in his actions and words.  His best known work, The Praise of Folly (a.k.a. Morias Encomium), was a story indirectly criticizing Senior Management (i.e. the Church’s practices and its political allies).  His intervention caused people to think critically and thereby proved to be instrumental in the Protestant Reformation.



Perhaps the most notoriously popular philosopher of this period is Machiavelli, who authored The Prince.  Although, he died before it was published for public consumption.  His book was infamous for recommending that Senior Leaders (i.e. Rulers) resort to extreme measures in (Corporate) Governance.   These measures include the use of force, the use of manipulation through lying, and playing on people’s beliefs and their ideals of goodness (e.g. comparable to placing a positive spin on irrefutable data, such as lowered financial guidance). 

Machiavelli’s doctrines were in direct conflict against the doctrines of politics and ethics of the time. 


  • How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.  (In other words, get real and figure out when to break the rules to come out ahead).
  • The ends justify the means.  (Unethical practices are okay as long as you’re a corporate survivor).
  • It’s better to be feared than followed.  (Corporate Bully).
  • Men shrink less from offending one who inspires love than one who inspires fear. (Corporate Bully).
  • The offenses one does to a man should be such that one does not fear revenge for it. (Undermine your peers, et al, in a way where you can gain power without fear of any repercussion).



Montaigne was the first person who referred to his writing as essays.  Essay in French means “try” or “attempt.”  His approach was intended to explain, rather than prove a position.  As a deep Thinker, Montaigne was revolutionary about the world, people, and social constructs, but he didn’t try to bring attention to himself.  He was considered honest and a modern skeptic.  He revitalized Socrates with his comment, “Que sais-je?” (What do I know?).  He was a masterful story-teller that, combined with his vast intellectual knowledge, had great public appeal and bore influence on several of the greatest philosophers, psychologists, and other thought leaders from René Descartes to Friedrich Nietzsche and onward.



All three of these men practiced critical thinking.  They became highly influential leaders through independent thinking.  It takes courage to voice your thoughts when it goes against Senior Management.  Many leaders have been glorified and crucified for their words, yet even when the person is gone, their impact is still felt.   

Know your purpose.

Thank you.


Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. 

Note:  This author does not endorse Machiavellianism.  She believes power is a social construct that is a manifestation of a character flaw known as an insecurity and/or fear of weakness. 



Carnegie, Dale.  How to Win Friends and Influence People. Ebury Publishing. 2010.

Deal T. E. and Kennedy, A. A. Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1982

Stevenson, Jay, Ph.D.  Philosophy.  Penguin Group. 2014.


©Rossina Gil, 2013

Talent Mapping: The Crux of Corporate America


Of the total workforce population, there are roughly 76 million Baby Boomers, only 50 million Gen X’ers, and a whopping 86 million (& counting) Gen Y/Millennials.  Not only is there a cultural Generation Gap, there is a Talent Gap – the disparity of prepared, workforce replacements – that requires “Talent Mapping” in order to keep the economic backbone of this country strong.  Talent mapping is the process of critically examining what talent exists within the organization and how to strategically plan to prepare for future needs and/or growth initiatives.

Some of the best practices can be extrapolated from a microcosm.  For example, Switzerland has a population of <8 million; yet, is has been hailed by the Economist magazine for several consecutive years as having the highest quality of living.  With very little natural resources from which to draw, how do they have such a strong and stable economy?  Their number one reason is: they invest in their people.

In fact, most of the businesses in Switzerland are privately owned.  If we were to draw from our own talent perceptions on working for private companies, we would find that there are many perceived advantages.  These advantages can be used as recruiting and retention levers to attract and maintain top talent.  Among the top three most compelling reasons to join a private company are the following: inclusion, having a voice, and a higher degree of interrelatedness (both internally and externally).


The Three Horsemen of HR

Recruitment.  Development.  Retention.   These three areas form the triumvirate and serve as the crux of your organization’s success.  If you are deficient (or lacking) in one of these areas, then it is akin to sitting on a 3-legged stool with one leg missing – your future will indubitably falter.  The first and most strategic recruit in an organization, according to Ana Dutra, CEO Korn/Ferry International, is “A really strong head of HR with a focus on Talent Management and Leadership Development.”  S/He plays an important role in establishing the company’s reputation, which is the most frequently cited element in attracting (& retaining) talent.  And, with the proliferation of websites that facilitate the “real” Employee Engagement and Organizational Health surveys on the internet – meaning a survey that renders no repercussions from supervisors who exhibit frustration over low roll-up scores – current, ex-colleagues, and potential candidates can anonymously share their impressions of what the organization’s culture, interviewing process, and treatment of its people are really like.  These impressions are, unfortunately, generally in stark contrast to whatever the company website and other forms of propaganda profess for it to be.  This is the corporate version of Zagat’s guide.  How have others found the ambience to be like?  What is the price you pay to be there?  Is the service friendly?  How many stars would you give it?


Leadership Development

Less than half of the organizations within Corporate America have formalized processes for identifying and developing high-potentials (hi-po’s).  One best practice to keep the three horsemen at bay is to implement a Career Model Framework.  This framework is a system accessible by any company employee through the company’s intranet; it lays out a set of objective competencies one needs to achieve in order to be considered for promotion.  Merrill Lynch has a first-in-class system which enables its financial advisors to track their individualized progress.  Meanwhile, stories are regaled from other organizations, such as Amazon, that so-called Organization Leadership Reviews are intended to be objective, yet promotions seem to be heavily reliant upon subjective, anecdotal data (versus contextualized and hard data) and the senior leader’s ability/influence to persuade, either negatively or positively.


Top Developmental Tools

Retain your organizational knowledge, the investment made in the Learning Curve, your company’s morale / team-spirit, and maximize the Return on Investment (ROI) to strengthen your leadership pipeline and competitive advantages by utilizing all of the following tools.

  • Leadership Development Workshops
  • Targeted Training
  • Career-Pathing / Coaching
  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • Stretch Assignments / International
  • Rotation
  • Objective Metrics (e.g. Career Model Framework)
  • Practice Diversity & Inclusion
  • Telecommuting Options
  • Mentorship
  • Treat Your Vendors Like Internals (this goes back to Inclusion)

Business is relationships.  The way you manage those relationships is the way you’ve managed your future.

Thank you.


Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.  She wants Anne Taylor’s Kate Hudson Holiday Collection for Christmas. 



Forbes Insights, The Talent Imperative, April 2013, pg 20.

10 Traits of a Positive Thinker: #7 DETERMINATION


This blog addresses Determination in Leadership.  It is the 7th trait in the 10 traits of a positive thinker. They are the following:  1. Optimism, 2. Enthusiasm, 3. Belief, 4. Integrity, 5. Courage, 6. Confidence, 7. Determination, 8. Patience, 9. Calmness, 10. Focus.  These 10 traits were determined by positive psychology author Scott Ventrella.

If you can answer “yes” to the following questions, you may be a leader who shows determination…

  • Do I have the quality of being able to stick to plans and projects?
  • Do I rise to the occasion when goals seem out of reach?
  • Do I summon up the energy needed to see a job through?
  • Do I create a mental plan to get a task done?
  • Do I stick to the task so that I don’t have to over-rely on others finishing my job for me?

Determination comes from the Latin determinare, which means “to settle conclusively.”  What have you settled conclusively upon?  Has it been to recover your physical health or shape?  (See war veteran Arthur’s transformation:  Has it been to have peace of mind? (Check out Mindful-Based Stress Reduction expert Elmo Shade:  Has it been to become the professional you imagine yourself to be?  (See blog: Ergo Sum: Practicing Healthy Self-Talk,


Sometimes the motivators for determining a task/goal to its finish are internal (where you alone are the primary definer of your satisfaction, success, and achievement) and sometimes the motivators are external (where other people and external stimuli are the primary motivators of your satisfaction, success, and achievement).  Either way, they are rooted to your EMOTIONS, THOUGHTS, and BEHAVIORS that together compile your learning experience.

Here are some Internal Motivators:

  1. Enjoyment/Passion.
  2. Knowledge/Skills.
  3. Fit/Acceptance.

Here are some External Motivators:

  1. Money/Rewards.
  2. Colleagues/Friends.
  3. Recognition/Title.

Whatever your driver(s) may be, Determination is about not giving up.  Thomas Edison said: Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

Allow yourself to sweat.  Glisten, listen, and learn.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.


Scott Ventrella, The Power of Positive Thinking in Business (New York, NY: Fireside), 2001. (pp. 69-71, 128-129)

©Rossina Gil, 2013

10 Traits of a Positive Thinker: #4 INTEGRITY


Positive Psychology author Scott Ventrella ventures to list 10 traits of a positive thinker: 1. Optimism, 2. Enthusiasm, 3. Belief, 4. Integrity, 5. Courage, 6. Confidence, 7. Determination, 8. Patience, 9. Calmness, 10. Focus.

Harvard Business School defines Leadership as “making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

Former President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity.  Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on…a football field…or in an office.”

This blog addresses Integrity and Leadership.  If you can answer “yes” to the first set of the following questions, then you may be a leader who exhibits integrity…

  • Do I tell the truth?  Or, do I call others “liars” while I consider my own fibs a part of how “business is done”?
  • Do I use the same standard of measuring my own behavior as the behavior of others?  Or, is what is good for the goose is not good for the gander?
  • Do I guard others’ privacy?  Or, do I promise to keep things confidential and then tell another?
  • Do I treat people even-handedly and fairly?  Or, do I allow those who I’m partial towards get away with constant overpromising and underdelivering?
  • Do I engage in the dissolution of conflict?  Or, do I promote my own hidden agenda?

How we choose to respond to another person’s reality is a critical, and difficult, role for the leader.  And, with so many customers (and potential customers) out in cyberspace, it is unlikely to know who everyone is, but their actions or words are important for strategic planning at all levels.

If you can’t handle a difficult conversation with authenticity and integrity, then have the difficult conversation with yourself on your role as a leader.


As inspirational author, H. Jackson Brown, Jr. said, “Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”  So, take her (i.e. Opportunity) out on the floor and show her your moves as you guide her into an artful difficult conversation.

As John Travolta is Tony Manero to the dance floor, so are you the deft, integrity-filled leader to the difficult conversation.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. 


H. Jackson Brown, Jr. Life’s Little Instruction Book (Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, Inc.), 1991.

Scott Ventrella, The Power of Positive Thinking in Business (New York, NY: Fireside), 2001. (pp. 37-38, 40, 44, 85).

©Rossina Gil, 2013

10 Traits of a Positive Thinker: #3 BELIEF


Piggy-backing off of Scott Ventrella’s work, The Power of Positive Thinking in Business — who piggy-backed off of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s work — is an expansion on what I refer to as the 10 traits of positive-minded leaders.  Ventrella states that “Positive thinkers are tough-minded reality-based people who blast through problems with energy and zeal.”  Cynics and skeptics do not change the world; leaders do.

The following are the 10 traits of a positive thinker: 1. Optimism, 2. Enthusiasm, 3. Belief, 4. Integrity, 5. Courage, 6. Confidence, 7. Determination, 8. Patience, 9. Calmness, 10. Focus.

This blog addresses Belief and Leadership.  If you can answer “yes” to the following questions, you may be a leader who exhibits a strong sense of belief…

  • Do I know that I have the power to change my outlook?
  • Do I practice affirming myself?
  • Am I comfortable knowing that I can improve upon my best efforts?
  • Am I committed to living my life to high standards and a higher purpose?
  • Do I see individual events as part of a greater plan?  Or, am I at least comfortable knowing that negative consequences can ultimately yield positive results?

Belief comes from conviction that certain things are trueIt is paramount that leaders have a strong sense of Belief in self; when self-doubt creeps in, we lose sight of our individual identity and uniqueness.  How can you lead effectively, if you do not know who you are?  Leaders also steer away from any self-limiting beliefs, as they do more harm than good.

SELF-LIMITING BELIEFS (all lies we tell ourselves)

  1. People must treat me fairly. The bottom line is that the world and the people in it are often unfair.  We cannot avoid unfairness.
  2. I should have little discomfort in life.  The truth is: no one will leave this world without discomfort at some point.
  3. People must find me likable.  Concentrate on liking others versus being liked by others.
  4. It’s awful when I make a mistake.  Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
  5. I must perform well or I’m no good.  While perfectionists do tend to get promoted, they usually are the least satisfied in work and life because they usually convince themselves that having done their best is never good enough.  They “rig the game” against themselves for assured dissatisfaction.  Life without satisfaction and gratitude is a hard road to travel.  Practice gratitude daily.
  6. People who treat me badly deserve to be punished.  As tempting as revenge may be and as justified as you may feel, stay away from vindictiveness – it only creates more negative energy, which is a poison you wish to administer to the other while unconsciously engaging in self-administration.
  7. I must get what I want, when I want it.  Choice is a gift, Patience is a virtue, and Restraint is what separates us from the rest of the Animal Kingdom.
  8. I cannot control how I feel.  Quite often this type of victim-speech is spoken by people who are helped by enablers (the psychological term for people who feed into or support ineffective habits).  Enablers say, “Oh, don’t mind James, that’s just the way he is.  Don’t take it personally.”

Believe in yourself.  Do not BeLIEve in a LIE.  How would that help you?

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. 


Scott Ventrella, The Power of Positive Thinking in Business (New York, NY: Fireside), 2001. (pp. 37-38, 40, 44, 85).

©Rossina Gil, 2013

10 Traits of a Positive Thinker: #1 OPTIMISM


À la Ventrella (i.e. Scott Ventrella), who built his work, The Power of Positive Thinking in Business, upon the foundation of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s work, he states that “Positive thinkers are tough-minded reality-based people who blast through problems with energy and zeal.”  Cynics and skeptics do not change the world.

Ventrella lists the 10 traits of a positive thinker as the following: 1. Optimism, 2. Enthusiasm, 3. Belief, 4. Integrity, 5. Courage, 6. Confidence, 7. Determination, 8. Patience, 9. Calmness, 10. Focus.

This blog addresses Optimism in Leadership.  The next 9 traits will be addressed in my weekly postings.  If you can answer “yes” to the following questions, you may be a leader who exhibits optimism…

  • Do I meet challenges with a sense of control?
  • Do I act with a sense of hope about what lies ahead?
  • Do I work to minimize the impact of my doubts and fears?
  • Do I keep my spirits up even when things aren’t going well?
  • Do I gear myself to be positively hopeful in my attitudes and expectations?

The “Law of Positive Expectancy” (or the Power of Projection) can be defined by the story the “Little Engine That Could.”  Through hard work and optimism the Little Engine achieved what it expected to achieve, which is what we can do for ourselves as humans.  We also achieve what others expect us to achieve – such as parents, role models, teachers, coaches, etc. – and, conversely, we may not establish “stretch goals” for ourselves nor attempt to achieve what we project to be possible, or thwart any intentions to achieve something, if others deem our ideas as impossible.

In the workplace, optimistic leaders gain a competitive edge on others because they have…

  1. Self-Enhancement – Decision-Makers can control their anxiety better with optimism, which allows wiser judgment.
  2. Self-Presentation – Leaders who present themselves in an optimistic manner and more positive light are generally more accepted than those who are negative.
  3. Perceived Control – Leaders in control (or perceived control) tend to rely heavily on direct action and responsibility of situations.


Most of us are sporadic pessimists.  This means that we occasionally get triggered by situations that tend to contribute towards making us FEEL, THINK, or ACT less optimistically.  Below are four itemized categories of areas that may dim your optimism in the workplace.

Being Managed

  1. Receiving (or not receiving) performance reviews/feedback.
  2. Being left out of decisions or plans.
  3. Not being recognized or rewarded for performance.
  4. Difference in personal and/or managerial styles.
  5. Lack of communication with my manager on work progress, issues, opportunities.

Managing Others

  1. Giving performance reviews or feedback to others.
  2. Having to deal with conflicts among others.
  3. Dealing with style differences among employees.
  4. Being kept “out of the loop” on important issues, problems or decisions. (See blog Workplace Xenophobia)
  5. Having to deal with personal problems.

Organization & Culture

  1. Company politics and game playing.
  2. Policies, processes, or systems that hinder progress, new ideas, or exceptions to the norm.
  3. Reorganization, reengineering, downsizing, and so on.
  4. Bureaucratic structures, reporting relationships, layers.
  5. Insufficient communication and dialogue about what is happening and why.

Peer & Customer Relationships

  1. Company gossip or the “grapevine.”
  2. Opinions or feedback on my performance that goes to others, not me.
  3. Feeling or knowing that I am being lied to, blamed, or patronized.
  4. Not being able to negotiate over projects, deadlines, requests.
  5. Being left out of decisions or problem solving that affects me and/or my employees. (See blog The Corporate Bully)

Bobby McFerrin wasn’t the first to sing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but if we sing it ourselves, our positive well-being and self-esteem are healthy for us and can influence others favorably.

Optimism helps.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.


Scott Ventrella, The Power of Positive Thinking in Business (New York, NY: Fireside), 2001. (pp. 15, 69-71, 112-113).


©Rossina Gil, 2013