An Open Letter: The Choice is Yours

I’ve gotten a few questions over the week on last week’s blog post and how to bring traumatic issues to closure and move forward. As I was driving one afternoon I began to imagine myself as a plant manager for a Japanese owned factory in China. Some of these factories have been shuttered due to the protests over the Diaoyudao islands in the East China Sea.

Senkaku Islands

The relationship between Japan and China has many dark moments. Most recently, between 1931 and 1945 Japan carried out barbarous attacks in China. While one could argue that several generations have passed since then, the trauma and losses are not easily forgotten.

I drafted a statement and have worked with Nancy Wiser of Wiser Strategies who advises clients on how to handle crises, to craft a message that would help in such a time of crisis. Here is the statement I would make…

“We understand the concern the citizens of China have over the islands between Japan and China and we understand the history between our two countries. We regret what our ancestors have done in China and unfortunately there is nothing that can be done about the past except to acknowledge it and express our regret for it.

“Beyond that, there is nothing you can do about that, there is nothing I can do about it. We can only move forward.

“We respect all of you as citizens of China and citizens of the world. We would like to continue to work with you. We would like to move forward. We would like to put the past behind us.

“You and I cannot control what our governments do. While we can vote and express ourselves peacefully in the streets as you have done, we cannot absolutely control our governments.

“I would like us to focus on moving forward. What can we do in this city today, at this factory to move forward? You can make a choice, we in our company can make a choice. Do you wish to prosper together? We are in business together. We have a factory here and would like for all of us to prosper.

“Every day that we are closed you lose money and we lose money. If you would like to work together to move forward, to create jobs, to help build a lifestyle that you would like and that we would like, then let us figure out how to work together peacefully.

“In this moment the choice is yours. Again, we respect each and every one of you as citizens of the world. We ask that you come together with us to build a prosperous business. The choice is yours and we sincerely hope that you will choose to move forward with us. Thank you.”

Keywords: leadership, trauma, grief, protests, riots, Senkaku islands, Diaoyudao islands

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Political Conventions and the Integrity Gap

I’ve been following the political conventions from a distance and one issue stood out for me—integrity. It seems that we hold our politicians to a much lower standard of integrity than we do leaders in the business world. My guess is that since almost all of the politicians lie, spin facts, or make outlandish unjustifiable claims we become numb to this subterfuge.

Donkey and Elephant

I’m going to refrain from going into the details of the transgressions from both parties because the fact-checking sites perform a good service for us in this regard. I would like to analyze this situation in the context of how these incidents would appear coming from a business leader.

For me the situation is comparable to a new business leader showing up for an introductory speech with his new team assembled before him and claiming that a project he led had a return on investment (ROI) of 100% in six months when in reality the performance was a sub-par 5% in one year. This leader may continue to blame the closing of an R&D facility to his ousted predecessor when in reality it was due to the ineptitude of an even earlier administrator.

Now imagine yourself sitting among your peers in this audience, questioning the integrity of your new leader. Lapses such as this fall into what we call in the Industrial and Organizational Psychology industry as “bad bosses.” This is one of the few areas where we haven’t created a fancy term for something quite ordinary.

Research has shown that the percentage of bad bosses out there may be in excess of 50%. Furthermore, research shows that an individual’s relationship with their boss is one of the most significant reasons for leaving a job or staying.

I feel that integrity has two components—honesty and matching words with actions. Honesty is easier to maintain than dishonesty. Once you cross that line you soon find you will need to remember what you said. Otherwise you will likely be caught in the inconsistency. Matching your (honest) words with action sends a clear message that you intend for your team members to act according to their words as well. In essence you should develop yourself as a good role model.

A propensity toward unethical behavior is generally detected by team members. It’s like fear, they can practically smell it. Further, research has shown that team members who view their boss as unethical have lower job satisfaction, and we know well that this drives turnover.

So it’s not hard to make the leap that bad bosses drive turnover. Integrity is key.

You may want to do a little introspection and review your recent behaviors. Is your integrity impeccable? Are your actions matching your words?


  • Business leaders are held to a higher standard of integrity than political leaders
  • Let honesty govern your thoughts and words
  • Behave consistently with your words

Keywords: leadership, integrity, ethics, politics, politicians


  • Hogan, R. J. (2008, April). Leadership is a Hygiene Factor. In R. B. Kaiser (Chair), Unconventional thinking about leadership. Symposium conducted at the meeting of Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference 2008, San Francisco, CA.
  • Hogan, R. J., & Kaiser, R. B. (2005). What we know about leadership. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 169-180.
  • Kaiser, R., & Hogan, R. (2010). How to (and how not to) assess the integrity of managers. Consulting Psychology Journal, 62(4), 216-234.
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    A Tale of Two Leaders: Authentic Leadership

    Today I’d like to illustrate a few points with a story that plays out in many variations in countless organizations across the globe.

    Brad is a hard-working, creative project leader at Vector Software. He and his team have identified a new method of discovering devices on their networks, called NU for Network Ubiquity. This will greatly simplify and shorten their installation process. Unfortunately the state of the economy prevents them from fully developing and integrating the technology in their software product.


    The following year Andy, a peer project leader is able to make a case for a significant amount of funding for the next release of their software. He realizes the value of NU technology and instructs his team to develop and implement it.

    While Andy and his group do not take credit for inventing the technology, nevertheless, Brad is furious. He feels that his group, as the inventors of the technology, should have been given the task of completing the development. He and his team take issue with the technology and begin to assert that it has many drawbacks and should not be implemented under any circumstances.

    As we stand and view this scenario from a distance we can see two unfortunate behaviors Brad is exhibiting. First, he is allowing his ego to take control. He feels that he and his team deserve to bring the product to market since they were the inventors. Secondly, he turns away from what he believes deep down, that NU technology is beneficial to the product and organization.

    How do you think others will view Brad at this point? When he speaks how will they know if he really believes in what he is saying? Will he change his tune again next week?

    Alternatively, Brad and his team could have felt honored that their technology was being adopted and have offered to help in any way they could. While he may feel that Andy and his team end up looking like heros because they were the ones to implement the technology, those in the know would remember both where it came from and Brad’s response to the situation. In the long run Brad’s stature would rise along with Andy’s.

    I understand that in many organizations where competitiveness is promoted that Andy could wear his achievement on his shirt sleeves and use it to move ahead of Brad. Such cultures breed leaders who work to promote themselves rather than build great products. The ultimate result is mediocrity and loss of true high performers who choose to work elsewhere. In such a case Brad should ensure his leaders remember who the inventors of NU technology were and allow Andy to gain points for bringing it to market. No matter how toxic the culture is, unless Brad remains true to his values, he will lose credibility and find it harder to recruit and lead high performing team members.


    • Observe yourself to see if your ego is controlling your actions
    • Remain true and authentic in your beliefs and actions

    Keywords: leadership, authentic, collaboration

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    Michigan Rising Under the Leadership of Governor Rick Snyder

    The state of Michigan, long a manufacturing bastion of the United States, was on the skids in the heart of the recent recession. Unlikely gubernatorial candidate and self-proclaimed nerd Rick Snyder was swept into office on the heels of the recession. Willing to press forward and sometimes take an unpopular stand, Governor Snyder is leading the way to a better future. We can learn many lessons from him.

    Rick Snyder

    The first lesson is courage. Governor Snyder has eschewed conventional political wisdom and taken a firm stand on issues such as budget cuts and tax reductions. He has been able to improve the business climate by changing the business tax to a flat 6%. While the budget cuts have been painful for many and have cost a significant amount in political capital, Governor Snyder continues to press forward.

    The second lesson we can learn is to take a holistic view. Creating a favorable business climate with low and simple taxation is simply one step along the journey. Businesses require an educated, talented workforce. Governor Snyder noticed the mismatch in number of students graduating with technical degrees and workforce requirements, and then promoted a program to retrain workers in areas of shortfall. Similarly, people want to live and work in a desirable living environment. And so, two of the points on the Reinventing Michigan plan are restoring Michigan cities and protecting the environment.

    Finally, we can learn from the simple, clear way that the Governor communicates. In a throwback to President Ronald Reagan, he boils the issues down to a few. His card for Reinventing Michigan is a case in point. The points begin with “Create more and better jobs,” and continue from there. He doesn’t shy away from his scorecard, either. He adopted the use of a simple dashboard in order immediately determine the progress or lack thereof.

    Not without his detractors, the governor is facing a second recall campaign after the first one withered on the vine, unable to gain the required votes. Despite the best of communication and rationale, none of us want to have to give up any pay, perks, or educational funds.

    Some wonder if Governor Snyder deserves the credit for this renaissance. Sure, the global economy has improved and he’s enjoyed the bailouts for the auto companies, but when I talk with business owners in the state they tell me they believe he’s authentic in truly wanting to turn the state around. So far he’s made great strides.


    • Summon the courage necessary to move your initiative forward
    • Take a holistic view
    • Communicate simply and clearly

    Keywords: leadership, communication, holistic view, courage

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    Leadership in the Aftermath of Greg Smith

    On March 14, 2012 Greg Smith, a Vice President in the London office of Goldman Sachs, resigned from the firm. The same morning an op-ed piece from him with a public explanation for his resignation was posted on Mr. Smith stated that he could no longer work at Goldman given the shift, in his opinion, from a strong customer orientation to concern solely for Goldman’s profit.

    Reflecting on how you might respond to a similar situation is a good leadership exercise. I believe there are two facets, or angles, from which to view this situation—internal and external to your organization.

    As a leader, I feel it would be crucial to reach out to customers as quickly as possible with a message describing your values related to customer satisfaction and providing specific examples where customer benefits were put before your own corporate profitability. As I have written previously, trust is an essential element of leadership. This message can be delivered without a reference to the op-ed piece, thus keeping Mr. Smith’s negative view below the radar if it had not surfaced at any given customer.

    The second facet is more difficult. An important question is the accuracy of Mr. Smith’s views. If his views are a faithful representation of your culture then it is time for some organizational reflection and soul-searching. It may be important to ask yourself what cultural values you wish to promulgate and then make a concerted effort to assess leader behavior.

    Your behavior speaks louder than your words. Maintaining awareness of your own behavior is frequently difficult although training in mindfulness can pay great dividends. Using a third party to gather qualitative and quantitative views of your behavior is a good complementary method of assessment.

    While it may be easy to dismiss Mr. Smith as simply a disgruntled employee, an authentic leader will have the desire to dig deep within himself and into the organization for any lessons that may be gleaned from this unfortunate situation.


    • Embrace and quickly respond to any customer concerns related to publicly aired negative views of your organization
    • Take any negative opinions of your leadership to heart
    • Use self-reflection and mindfulness to become more aware of your own behaviors
    • Use a third party to gather qualitative and quantitative views of your behavior

    Keywords: leadership, trust, culture, mindfulness


    • Hogan, R. J. (2007). Personality and the fate of organizations. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    • Hogan, R. J. (2008, April). Leadership is a Hygiene Factor. In R. B. Kaiser (Chair), Unconventional thinking about leadership. Symposium conducted at the meeting of Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference 2008, San Francisco, CA.
    • Schein, E. H. (1990). Organizational culture. American Psychologist, 45(2), 109–119.
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    How About Trust Intelligence?

    A few weeks ago the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer results were announced. It was a sad day for CEOs and government leaders. Trust that business, government, and NGOs (non-government organizations) will “do what is right” all declined. The credibility of CEOs took a hit, moving from 50% in 2011 to 38% in 2012. Government officials or regulators also declined in credibility from 43% to 29%.

    As you well know, trust is a big deal. Leaders frequently bemoan to me the lack of trust from their subordinates. I’ve had the conversation enough times that it has caused me ponder the notion of a “trust intelligence.” We’ve got emotional intelligence, why not trust intelligence? It flows both ways, as well. Subordinates may not trust their superiors and superiors may not trust their subordinates.

    Trust is a significant factor in team performance and contains many facets. Let’s look at a list of the elements a leader needs in order to earn trust:

    • Social interaction, approachable
    • Enthusiastic
    • Takes initiative
    • Resolves uncertainty as much as possible
    • Consistent communication
    • Responsive
    • Calming
    • Putting the team before self
    • Fair
    • Respectful
    • Resolves conflict
    • Honest
    • Respects confidences
    • Inclusive
    • Focuses the effort
    • Develops procedures when necessary

    With this many facets it is clear that an individual would have difficulty learning to build trust by rote. I believe that the ability and desire to earn trust needs to come from an individual’s soul, from deep within, otherwise it is easily perceived as false and self-serving. Some leaders feel that they can demand or dictate trust. I wish it were so easy.

    As you peruse through this list it may be helpful to list times when you have behaved in alignment with these elements and also which elements you might want to work on.


    • Trust goes two ways—how much do you trust your team to get the job done and how much do they trust you to follow through on your commitments and remain authentic to them?
    • A desire to build trust must come from authenticity rather as a means to achieve a performance goal.

    Keywords: leadership, emotional intelligence, trust


    • Ansell, C., & Gash, A. (2008). Collaborative governance in theory and practice. Journal of public administration research and theory, 18(4), 543-571.
    • Burke, C. S., Sims, D. E., Lazzara, E. H., & Salas, E. (2007). Trust in leadership: A multi-level review and integration. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(6), 606-632.
    • Hempel, P. S., Zhang, Z. X., & Tjosvold, D. (2008). Conflict management between and within teams for trusting relationships and performance in China. Journal of Organizational Behavior. Retrieved from
    • Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Leidner, D. E. (1998). Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 3(4). Retrieved from
    • Lee, P., Gillespie, N., Mann, L., & Wearing, A. (2010). Leadership and trust: Their effect on knowledge sharing and team performance. Management Learning, 41(4), 473-491.
    • Likert, R. (1967). The human organization: Its management and value. New York: McGraw-Hill.
    • Simpson, J. A. (2007). Psychological Foundations of Trust. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(5), 264-268.
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    Great Leaders Got Soul

    When I explore great leaders I always find they have a vast depth of thought, an intensity—a soul. Those who lead from the depths are genuine individuals who strive to make profound changes in the lives of many. Let’s explore two international leaders and how they might affect your leadership style.

    Mahatma (Great Soul) Gandhi and Nelson Mandela both sought and enabled profound social justice improvements in their respective countries. At their core, their depth, they valued the principle of social equality and for it were willing to give their lives.

    Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela

    These leaders spent considerable time in reflection, whether in prison or voluntarily during their times of freedom. From these depths emerged the strong boughs, beautiful blossoms, and succulent fruits of their philosophy, providing the eloquence and fortitude to move ever onward.

    Once these leaders came to power their drive continued as they worked to fulfill their mission. Others waiver and allow themselves to be corrupted by the power. Great leaders choose principle over power, maintaining a constant course using their moral compass.

    I am reminded of the quote from Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority…” Following the Arab Spring we have several countries with fresh revolutions. My hope is that their elected leaders stay true to their moral compass and do not become drunk with power.

    As I contrast great leaders with despots and politicians it is easy to see how the latter types operate from the surface. They only care about their own survival or promotion rather than a deep conviction for the greater good of the community.

    Taking some time to reflect on the questions below may help you assess your leadership and find the convictions in the depths of your soul.


    • How much time have you spent reflecting on your leadership role and what you might strive to accomplish?
    • Which is more important to you: how you may be perceived as a leader or what profound changes you may be able to make in peoples’ lives?
    • In what ways do you engage others in your mission and vision?
    • Who are your role models and sources of inspiration?

    Keywords: leadership, non-violence, soul, depth, power, principle, Arab Spring

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    Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il: A Contrast in Leadership

    The coincidental loss of two world leaders in as many days illuminates a stark contrast in leadership styles. It is difficult to find a greater difference in approach than that of Václav Havel of the Czech Republic and Kim Jong Il of North Korea.

    Václav Havel was President of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic from 1989 to 2003. Prior to his rise to power he was an outspoken dissident of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. His political plays and support for the opposition frequently led to imprisonment. In the fall of 1989 he became the head of the revolution against Communist rule, the Velvet Revolution. His nonviolent approach led to a bloodless transfer of power and election in 1990 as the first freely elected President of Czechoslovakia since 1946.

    Havel was an idealist and always fought for freedom for all individuals, no matter how unpopular that stance may be. For example, he fought for the rights of Gypsies and Communists after losing control of the government.

    In contrast, despot Kim Jong Il was a brutal and cunning leader. At his ascension to ruler of North Korea in 1994 he inherited a country which had lost its benefactor, was slipping into a large-scale famine, and whose economy was in shambles. Despite the dire situation, Kim was able to nurture a fledgling nuclear program to the point of creating nuclear weapons which he used as blackmail in a brilliant game of tactical brinksmanship with China, the United States, Japan, and Russia. The famine ultimately terminated over two million lives, almost 10% of the North Korean population. Yet Kim was able to maintain control by treating the military well and keeping a tight lid on dissent.

    At the time he rose to power, pundits predicted his rule would unravel before his second anniversary as leader. Instead, Kim played his cards extremely well and beat all odds, maintaining rule, oppression and the country’s borders. Kim Jong Il led by fear, intimidation, and unpredictability.

    The passing of these titans should give all leaders pause. As I observe and interact with leaders in organizations I see the complete spectrum of leadership, from abusive to congenial, from command and control to laissez faire, from respectful to disdain. It may be a good time to look in the mirror and assess your leadership style, much as many around the globe are assessing the leadership style of Havel and Kim.


    • Do you lead more frequently with fear—or empowerment?
    • Do you direct team members—or nurture their creative energy?
    • Do you respect everyone, even those seemingly without any power?
    • What legacy will your leadership leave behind?

    Keywords: leadership, authentic, dark side

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    The Leadership of Herman Cain: Round 2

    Republican hopeful Herman Cain enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity following the announcement of his bold 9-9-9 plan, but has recently endured painful missteps, an erosion of support back down to the single digits, and an exit from the race. Let’s look at these missteps and what he could have done to prevent his loss.

    In recent weeks allegations of sexual harassment by Cain have come to light, along with assertions that settlements were made with some victims. Mr. Cain vehemently denied that any of these incidents took place, and in fact declared that, “I have never acted inappropriately with anyone. Period.” Really? I think all of us, at least once, have acted inappropriately. For individuals considering candidate Cain I’m sure this was a concern. Strike one: the words and manner of his response begged the question of authenticity.

    Enter the next phase where Cain was at a loss for words when asked if he agreed with President Obama on Libya and as he asked how to say delicious in ‘Cuban’ while sipping a fine cup of Cuban coffee. Strike two: if you’re going to be a leader you need a minimal working knowledge of your area.

    Herman Cain entered the final phase of his imploding candidacy when a woman named Ginger White came forward and detailed a 13 year affair with Cain. She came prepared with records itemizing phone calls and text messages at all hours of the day. Once again, it was as much what he said in response as how he said it. Strike three: denial and arrogance remain.

    Contrast Cain’s response with that of President Bill Clinton on August 17, 1998 when he finally admitted, “I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate…” I believe that it was at that moment when the American public began a shift from reviling the President to accepting that he had made a mistake. It is easier for us to have empathy with someone who makes a mistake and admits to it rather than someone who remains defiant.

    So like a rocket ship that fails to reach orbit, Herman Cain shoots skyward on the clear, bold leadership of his 9-9-9 plan, enters a slow arc at the apex, then plummets earthward, gravity tugging on his arrogance and inexperience. Had Mr. Cain said early on that he may have made some mistakes in the past, that he regretted them, was working to do better, and had studied up on foreign policy, I believe he might still be a contender in the Republican primary race.

    • Apologize for mistakes with humility and authenticity
    • Have a good working knowledge in the areas you are leading

    Keywords: leadership, humility, authentic

    • ABC News. (1998, August 17). Bill Clinton Admits Affair [Video file]. ABC News. Retrieved from
    • Geiger, K. (2011, November 17). Herman Cain: ‘How do you say ‘delicious’ in Cuban?’ [Video file]. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from
    • Journal Sentinel. (2011, November 14). Herman Cain on Libya [Video file]. Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Retrieved from
    • The Associated Press. (2011, November 8). Cain: ‘Never acted inappropriately with anyone’ [Video file]. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

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