The Leadership Trust Gap

How much do you trust your boss?
In a perfect organizational world, we would be blessed with transformational servant leaders who are intrinsically motivated to provide benefits to their followers. But in the real world, bosses are rarely that accommodating. We nevertheless expect our leaders to make things better for both the business and our careers.
Corporate leadership is simultaneously envied and disdained. We are in awe of strong personalities who take charge and earn big compensation packages, bonuses and perks. At the same time, we cannot deny that the gap between the rich and poor has been steadily increasing for decades, and the middle class has declined.
Furthermore, the financial crisis – the worst since the Great Depression – has been slow to recover. Many blame executives at our top financial institutions for eroding trust in leadership. We are left with an impression of widespread corporate corruption that continues to be amply rewarded, even when CEOs are dismissed for poor performance.
A 2011 Gallup poll confirmed that corporate America’s reputation is in tatters, with 62% affirming they want major corporations to have less influence in the future – a figure that increased 10% in a decade. A whopping 67% of those polled said they resent big business’ influence.
A survey of Fox News’ right-of-center viewers found that most overwhelmingly believe (a 6:1 margin) that corporate leaders have done more to hurt than help the economy.
Income: The Great Divide
Most of us expect our leaders to be paid more than we receive. We recognize that they work long and hard, are intelligent and experienced, and shoulder responsibilities and risks most of us wouldn’t want.
But has the economic and lifestyle gap grown absurdly large?
Between 2002 and 2007, the bottom 99% of American incomes grew only 1.3% a year, compared to a 10% bump in compensation for the top 1%.
Let’s look at a few examples of CEOs’ annual compensation:
o In 2008, Oracle’s Larry Ellison received nearly $193 million
o Countrywide Financial’s Anthony Mozilo: $102.84 million
o Aflac’s Daniel Amos: $75 million
o Safeway’s Steven Burd: $67 million
The median pay for top executives at 200 big companies in 2010 was $10.8 million, a 23% jump from 2009.
These examples contribute to our dislike and distrust of those at the helm. These leaders seem to grow excessively rich as the average American struggles to make ends meet.
What do you think? What do you and your colleagues say about trust in today’s leaders? Can leaders learn to be more trustworthy? I’d love to hear from you.

Leadership’s Devolution

Until only recently, we presumed that leaders should dominate and followers must do as they’re told. But after several revolutions, labor movements, human-rights legislation and the spread of democracy, the world has radically changed.
Power, authority and influence are in scarce supply for even the most charismatic CEOs,and continuing to devolve. Workers in the middle and at the bottom of the hierarchy have an expanded sense of entitlement, but they’re demanding more and giving less. Technology has helped level the playing field.
Workers are often indifferent, disengaged or outright resistant. There are only two reasons they’ll follow a leader:
1. They have to.
2. They want to.
The end of the 20th century marked the demise of command-and-control leadership, although some bosses stubbornly insist on trying to make it work. In its place, leaders are advised to become more participatory – to lead by cooperation and collaboration.
Leadership success is judged on three criteria:
1. Is the leader ethical?
2. Is he/she effective?
3. Does the business make money and provide jobs?
In the workplace, however, followers judge their leaders and ask:
1. Does my boss have my best interests in mind (and does he/she even know what they are)?
2. Is my boss looking out for the company’s best interests?
3. Why should I believe, follow and trust this person?
Like most other animals, humans tend to look to strong males to provide what’s most important: safety and security. We’re just like apes and baboons, we like deferring to males whose strength and capacity to lead have been tested. And of course we like to think that’s changing to a more gender diverse arena, but change is slow.
There is no leadership without followership. Good leadership requires good followers, who may be passive or active (depending on context). But followers have generally been slow to embrace empowerment and participate in the leader/follower tango. Few training or coaching services specifically target the development of followers.
What do you think about this?

The End of Bad Leadership

Leaders everywhere are in disrepute. What can we do to end bad leadership when our jobs depend on putting up with incompetent or even unethical bosses?

Being a leader has become a mantra. It is a presumed path to money and power; a medium for achievement, both individual and institutional; and a mechanism for creating change sometimes – although hardly always – for the common good.” ~ Barbara Kellerman, The End of Leadership

Hardly a day goes by without news of corporate ethical violations, financial fudging and CEO failures. Yet, compensation packages and bonuses continue unabated, even when disgraced leaders are sent packing.
Corporate leaders are being pushed out in record numbers. In 2002, 100 CEOs from the world’s 2,500 largest companies were replaced – almost four times the number in 1995.
What is happening to our efforts to develop good leaders? In spite of the billions spent annually to train high-potential candidates, why do those promoted to positions of power, with critical responsibilities, continue to fail?
Harvard Business School Professor Barbara Kellerman criticizes the leadership-development industry in her new book,
The End of Leadership (HarperBusiness, April 2012). She asserts:
o Leaders at every level, across all industries, are failing the people who depend on them.
o Leadership programs have done an inadequate job of producing effective and ethical leaders.
o We don’t really know how to grow good leaders, and we know even less about how to stop or slow the bad ones.
o Today’s business environment is rapidly changing in ways leaders are unable or unwilling to grasp.
o Followers are disappointed and disillusioned, even though they are more empowered, emboldened and entitled than ever before.
It seems to me that leaders and owners of smaller businesses get it right: they can’t afford to fail. Their actions are immediately reflected in the bottom line. At least that’s what’s apparent to me in the work I do in corporate coaching.
Maybe there’s too much emphasis on the importance of leadership and an absence of developing smart followers. If we learned to question more, challenge assumptions, and step up to the plate with collaborative discussions, followers would exercise more empowerment.
Just my opinion, of course, and I know that in some companies, with some bosses, that’s easy to say and hard to do. What about you, what do you think?

Self-Assessment for Leadership Strategic Intelligence

There is no established measurement tool for strategic intelligence. In Narcissistic Leaders, author Michael Maccoby offers several questions that can help you self-assess your abilities.
The real test of a leader’s strategic intelligence is in the workplace:

  • Foresight: How well do you stay abreast of marketplace trends? Do you excel at imagining new products, services and paradigms for the future?
  • Systems Thinking: Do you think in terms of systems, synthesizing and integrating feedback and hard-to-imagine possibilities?
  • Visioning: How well can you take an idea and translate it into a workable vision with measurable goals?
  • Motivating: Do you inspire others to buy into your vision and execute your ideas?
  • Partnering: How well do you forge strategic alliances, both internally and externally? Do you recognize that alliances are two-way streets and encourage collaboration?

There is a strong need for bold, visionary, productive narcissists who can lead companies through 21st-century periods of uncertainty, innovations, and transitions. The best way to avoid leadership derailment is to steer narcissistic leaders onto stabilizing paths by developing their strategic intelligence.
Maccoby makes a strong case against obsessive, by-the-numbers personality types as leaders because their conservative approach to running companies doesn’t allow for sufficient risk-taking or innovation. Much depends, however, on the specific business environment.
If you’ve ever wondered how someone like Steve Jobs was successful as CEO of Apple, in spite of his lack of emotional intelligence, the answer may lie in his strengths as a productive narcissist, coupled with his strategic intelligence.
The same can be said for many stellar leaders over the last 20 years: Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Andy Grove, Larry Ellison, Richard Branson and Herb Kelleher. Each is a strong personality with narcissistic tendencies of the productive kind.
Given the huge social and economic stakes, there’s a critical need to understand leadership personalities, including the value of the narcissistic leader.
What do you think about leadership personality and its importance for creating business success in the coming decade? Are strong personalities and innovative mavericks rewarded and promoted in your company? I’d love to hear from you.

Radical Leadership: A Call for Street Smarts

In my series of posts about radical leadership I presented an idea from Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, about strategic intelligence, the key to help
leaders turn visionary ideas into business success.
Strategic intelligence requires a high degree of competency in five leadership areas:
1. Foresight
2. Systems thinking
3. Visioning
4. Motivating
5. Partnering
Foresight and systems thinking are pure intelligence skills. The other components of strategic intelligence – visioning, motivating and partnering – are real-world skills or street smarts.
Motivating is the most misunderstood and elusive element of strategic intelligence. It’s one thing to talk up a storm about how a corporate initiative designed to improve sales and profits will help you crush the competition. It’s quite another to grasp the importance of “soft” skills like influencing others to act as you see fit.
Motivating is difficult because it involves the messy work of igniting people’s passions so they’ll carry out your vision. A business model that neglects human motivations won’t get the buy-in needed to make your vision a reality.
Consider appealing to the four “Rs”:
1. Reasons
2. Rewards
3. Relationships
4. Responsibilities
You must reward positive behaviors to further your vision. By building genuine relationships, you convince people to take ownership of the responsibilities you’ve entrusted to them.
Many leaders motivate only their immediate teams, often ignoring front-line workers and lower-level employees. A CEO with strategic intelligence recognizes the need to motivate the entire hierarchy.
Partnering is the ability to forge key strategic alliances. It’s different than making friends; a leader with strategic intelligence makes allies. You need to understand how each alliance fits into your corporate vision.
Partnering is not a matter of acquiring companies to bolster overall financial holdings, it’s quite the opposite. Leaders who operate in this fashion are merely “serial acquirers”. Instead, you learn to partner internally (with advisers who complement your personality) and externally (with companies that add value rather than size). This requires an understanding of how companies work together to motivate a social system that achieves one’s vision.
Often visionary leaders are so passionate about their ideas, they neglect to develop the right alliances needed to make their visions realizable. And that’s where professional leadership coaching can lend another set of eyes to help you create a strategic plan.
If you’ve got great ideas, but don’t know how or where to take the next steps, maybe you could use a coach? Let’s talk.

The Five Elements of Strategic Intelligence

According to Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, visionary leaders succeed because they have mastered five elements of strategic intelligence:
1. Foresight
2. Systems thinking
3. Visioning
4. Motivating
5. Partnering
Any coherent view of strategy involves thinking about the future. Leaders anticipate how current movements, ideas and forces will play out in the short and long terms. They can identify evolving products, services, technology systems, global gaps, competitors, and customer needs and values.
Foresight is more complex than extrapolating today’s market into the future. The dot-com boom and bust between 1995 and 2000 is a perfect example of the difference between foresight and extrapolation. Aspiring entrepreneurs came up with ways to make it big on the Internet. They asked, “How do I capitalize on what already exists?”
Foresight would have required them to ask, “How do we capitalize on what doesn’t exist now but will in the future?” It’s not about linear thinking. Leaders must connect the dots among many interdependent forces and determine how they will coalesce. Foresight requires systems thinking.
Systems Thinking
Visionary leaders understand how disparate parts influence the whole. They synthesize and integrate various elements to build and maintain healthy systems.
Those who want to lead companies in new directions must have competency in systems thinking, as well as the other interdependent elements of strategic intelligence.
Foresight and systems thinking are pure intelligence skills. The other components of strategic intelligence – visioning, motivating and partnering – are real-world skills, sometimes referred to as “street smarts”. Unforeseen events, people’s quirks and qualities, messy interactions with other companies and a volatile economic climate make business success a complex affair.
Visioning combines foresight and systems thinking into a realistic view of business goals. In some companies (IBM, GE), visionary leaders have had the foresight to shift from selling products to selling solutions in a knowledge/service economy.
A focus on learning ensures that visioning evolves with the times. Yet, even the clearest vision can fail if a leader lacks the skills to motivate. My next post describes what’s needed to excel in the next elements of strategic intelligence: motivating and partnering.
If you’d like to develop your leadership potential and strategic intelligence, and have questions about executive coaching, feel free to contact me.

Radical Leadership: A Call for Strategic Intelligence

“All people, especially leaders, need a healthy dose of narcissism – it’s the engine that drives leadership.” ~ Manfred Kets de Vries
While some thought leaders claim that sustained business success depends on bold innovators and productive narcissists, many caution against celebrity CEOs, given that some of them have lead Enron- and Tyco-type scams.
Obsessive business leaders excel at cutting costs, culling nonperformers from the pack, and implementing the right processes and systems. On the other hand, productive narcissists want to create new games, changing the way we live and work. Which approach is better for leading your company?
The answer depends on the context.
I think that at this time in history, we need creative energy and passion more than ever before. According to Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, what differentiates the more successful visionary leaders from the failures is strategic intelligence.
Strategic Intelligence
Think of Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Bill Gates and Herb Kelleher, the flamboyant self-promoter who built Southwest Airlines. These leaders developed disciplined management styles by partnering with operational managers who implemented their strategies.
These visionary leaders (and others who succeed as productive narcissists) are strategically intelligent. It’s not enough to be a creative genius with media-worthy new ideas.
Building an innovative organization requires leaders who know how to motivate talented and ethical people within a socioeconomic system that creates value for customers, employees and owners.
The problem is, however, many companies, even those known for innovation, don’t want to hire or promote narcissists. No matter how much their leaders boast of encouraging independent thinking and creativity, many businesses have little tolerance for true originals or mavericks. They prefer the obsessive type who is driven to please and enforces company rules.
Too often, promotions are in short supply for high-performing, creative visionaries who aren’t “”team players”. Indeed, most narcissists don’t “play well with others” – unless, that is, they have strategic intelligence and pay close attention to the crucial requirements for leading a company to sustainable success.
I believe that with executive coaching, some creative visionaries can learn what’s needed to navigate career success, including developing their strategic intelligence. What do you think?

Radical Times Call for Visionary Leadership

The great accomplishment of [Steve] Jobs’s life is how effectively he put his idiosyncrasies – his petulance, his narcissism, and his rudeness – in the service of perfection. ~ Malcolm Gladwell
Like it or not, we are in the midst of great social, economic and political upheaval. The way we live and work has changed tremendously in the last 10 years, and I believe it’s likely to be radically different in this coming decade.
Perhaps we need to take another look at what’s needed in leadership style during this period of uncertainty and transition. Are conservative, by-the-book personalities best for driving success? Or is it time to call on radically visionary leaders?
There’s a case to be made for narcissistic CEOs who can lead companies to greatness, inspire followers and achieve game-changing solutions in our rapidly evolving world. In the words of Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails: “It is narcissistic leaders who take us to places we’ve never been before, who innovate, who build empires out of nothing.”
Unfortunately, with the banking meltdown and recession that followed in 2008, capital has been shifted away from risky investments, spurring more conservative, by-the-numbers leadership personalities to take charge.
This doesn’t change the fact that we’re still living in an era of continuous invention and experimentation. I think it takes strong, visionary leaders to unleash the power of emerging technologies, turn ideas into practical tools everyone can use, and change the way we live and do business.
Think about it: conservative leadership, focusing on what works now, can negatively impact the technological and social advances required over the next 20 years – particularly in emerging fields like nanotechnology, genomics and gene therapy, robotics, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, bioengineered food, environment, energy and health care.
Given the huge social and economic stakes, there’s an urgent need to understand leaders – personality types – particularly, the promise and peril of radical, visionary leadership. When does visionary leadership veer off into unproductive narcissism?
Narcissists can be honest or crooked, brilliant or ordinary, wise or foolish. The label is often misused and misunderstood, and it’s usually applied in a negative context. Consider this: narcissists can be passionately bold visionaries, highly capable of persuading others to embrace the value of their ideas.
In the last 20 years, we’ve enjoyed radical advances from companies led by productive narcissists like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Andy Grove, Howard Schultz, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey.
But how do you know if a budding leader with strong ideas in your company will turn out well or derail with increasing responsibilities? I see the potential – and the risks – when I’m coaching high-potential candidates in the work I do with healthcare coaching and other areas.
What do you think about the importance of leadership personality in the success of your company?

Less Confidence, More Leadership Success

In business psychology, the prevailing wisdom has assumed that a high degree of self-confidence leads to promotions and leadership success. New studies, however, prove otherwise, writes business psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in Less-Confident People Are More Successful (Harvard Business Review blog, July 2012).
According to this blog post, a moderately low level of self-confidence is more likely to make you successful, Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic asserts. Don’t confuse this with a very low degree of self-confidence. Excessive fear, anxiety and stress will inhibit performance, impede decision-making and undermine interpersonal relationships.
But low-enough self-confidence can work in your favor because it:
1. Makes you pay attention to negative feedback and be self-critical. This means you’re open to learning and improving. Most of us tend to listen to feedback and ignore the negative in favor of the positive. If you want to overcome deficits, you must listen to both positive and negative comments.
2. Motivates you to work harder and prepare more effectively. If you really want to achieve leadership success, you will do whatever it takes to bridge the gap between the status quo and your professional goals.
3. Reduces your chances of coming across as arrogant or delusional. People with lower levels of self-confidence are more likely to admit their mistakes instead of blaming others – and they rarely take credit for others’ accomplishments.
If you’re serious about becoming a strong leader, lower self-confidence can serve as a strong ally, inspiring you to work hard, conquer limitations and, put simply, avoid being a jerk.
In the work I do, like with hospital coaching, I’ve found that most come across as very self-confident. The news that this can inhibit their executive presence comes as a shock. They fear coming across as vulnerable to others with whom they compete for promotions.
And yet, when their confidence is dialed down a bit, they find there’s more room to ask questions, learn from others, and build better connections with the people who matter.
Consider this: when you’re courageous enough to question your own behavior and motives, you extend the privilege to others. We model the behaviors we wish to see in others. That is truly a strong leadership quality.
Avoiding blame and judgment opens the door to cooperation and productivity.
Help yourself and your staff by:
1. Reading Arbinger’s Leadership and Self-Deception.
2. Working with an executive coach to pinpoint areas of self-deception.
3. Asking yourself, “What’s my part in any given problem?”
4. Identifying ways to set aside your ego and achieve optimum results.
If you’ve found this helpful, let me know. I can be reached here. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with these issues.

Managerial Self-Deception

Try telling a colleague or subordinate that he has a problem, and the depth of his self-deception will become clear.
Helping others see what they’re unwilling to recognize is a widespread leadership challenge. And it’s one of the prime reasons my clients engage me as an executive coach. It’s especially tricky when we observe blind spots in others, yet are unable to acknowledge it in ourselves.
Even the most astute managers, no matter how much leadership trainingor executive coaching they’ve had, can harbor self-deceiving tendencies. All it takes is elevated stress for this occupational virus to sideline you – and it’s usually contagious, spreading throughout the work force.
Managers often pride themselves on how well they listen and show interest in subordinates’ family members. Some have received training in how to express “authentic” empathy. But people have keen internal radar systems, and they almost always detect efforts to manipulate them. If they think their boss is trying to outsmart them or clumsily demonstrating a learned management skill, they can smell the hypocrisy a mile away. It’s exceptionally difficult to feign genuine interest.
No matter what we do on the outside, people primarily respond to how we feel about them on the inside. It takes honesty and empathy to generate performance gains.
Always remember that no matter how nice you are when “suggesting” an improvement, your employees will have an internal reaction. That said, there’s no need to go overboard and kill them with kindness. You can be firm, yet invite a productivity or commitment upgrade.
This isn’t easy. Giving feedback that works to motivate improved performance never is. Quite frankly, unless you’ve worked on your own issues, you’ll struggle. Unless you’ve uncovered your own layers of self-deception, through the process of self-development and executive coaching [link], it will be hard to offer up your own stories and examples to help others improve.
If you haven’t experienced the benefits of coaching, please let me know. I probably have a few suggestions that you’d find helpful. Contact me here.