Workers Gone Wild!

In the past two weeks several scandals have surfaced. Individuals with the US General Services Administration (GSA) have been accused of spending lavishly on parties, conferences, travel, and gifts. Under the leadership of Jeff Neely, Public Buildings Commissioner for GSA Region 9, these activities continued for several years.

Members of the US Secret Service were caught in Columbia hiring prostitutes and speaking openly of their mission in the country. Lastly, photos of US soldiers posing with body parts of suicide bombers in Afghanistan have come to light.

All of these incidents have a common thread—individuals have exercised poor judgment. The workers went wild, or as some say, have gone rogue.

Wild Party

While we, as leaders, never have control over our team members’ behavior, we can build and maintain an environment that will go a long way to prevent such rogue behavior.

First and foremost is to foster a culture that centers on doing a good job and feeling satisfied after a job has been well done. Maintain a healthy mix of accountability, fun, and rewards for appropriate action.

Research from several famous studies have highlighted the profound effects of social pressure and role identity. In the prison experiment by Zimbardo and colleagues, college students in the roles of guards began to abuse students in the roles of prisoners and the experiment was terminated earlier than planned. In the Milgram study on obedience, voluntary participants were forcefully ordered to continue to administer electric shocks to actors, illustrating the reluctant willingness for individuals to comply with requests. In a study reported by Solomon Asch in 1951, he relayed the inclination of people to conform to the majority of a group even when it went against their perception of what was correct. All of these studies, along with the concept of crowd psychology, illustrate how normal, well-intentioned individuals can get caught up in undesirable, and even despicable activities when a harmful culture emerges and continues unfettered.

Communicate stories of individual’s actions that promote the behavior you want to see in all workers. Culture is often built on such anecdotal vignettes that become part of the fabric of all organizations.

Secondly, maintain a vigilant focus on your goals. When you see behavior that wavers off the path, have a one-on-one discussion with the team member to understand the reason for the behavior and to re-align the behavior toward your team goals.

Finally, look at how you are selecting team members. Do you have an objective analysis of their personality? Conscientiousness, one of the personality facets in the Big Five personality models has shown good correlation with job performance. Many selection instruments incorporate this element into the mix.

I believe that good selection instruments, a continual focus on goals, and a healthy culture will greatly reduce the possibility of your team members creating embarrassment for you and your organization.


  • Foster a culture with a healthy mix of job satisfaction, accountability, joy, and rewards
  • Keep a vigilant focus on your goals
  • Select employees based on conscientiousness

Keywords: leadership, culture, dark side, goals, conscientiousness


  • Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure on the modification and distortion of judgments. In H. Guetzkow (Ed.), Groups, leadership and men (pp. 177-190). Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.
  • Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The big five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44(1), 1-26.
  • Burton, J. P., Hoobler, J. M., & Scheuer, M. L. Supervisor Workplace Stress and Abusive Supervision: The Buffering Effect of Exercise. Journal of Business and Psychology, 1-9.
  • Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). NEO PI-R professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
  • Denison, D. R. (1984). Bringing corporate culture to the bottom line. Organizational Dynamics, 13(2), 4–22.
  • Denison, D. R. (2000). Organizational culture: Can it be a key lever for driving organizational change. In The Handbook of Organizational Culture. London: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Etzioni, A. (1975). A comparative analysis of complex organizations: On power, involvement, and their correlates (Revised and enlarged ed.). New York: The Free Press.
  • Haney, C., Banks, C., & Zimbardo, P. (1973). Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison. International Journal of Criminology and Penology, 1(1), 69–97.
  • Hogan, R. J., Curphy, G. J., & Hogan, J. (1994). What we know about leadership: Effectiveness and personality. American Psychologist, 49(6), 493-504.
  • Hogan, R. J., & Hogan, J. (2001). Assessing leadership: A view from the dark side. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 9(1&2), 40–51.
  • Judge, T. A., Bono, J. E., Ilies, R., & Gerhardt, M. W. (2002). Personality and leadership: A qualitative and quantitative review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(4), 765-780.
  • Kahneman, D. (1992). Reference points, anchors, norms, and mixed feelings. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 51(2), 296-312. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(92)90015-Y
  • Kotter, J. P., & Heskett, J. L. (1992). Corporate culture and performance. Free Press.
  • Losey, S. & Medici, A. (2012, April 16) GSA calls on officials to repay party expenses. Federal Times. Retrieved from
  • McCrae, R. R., & John, O. P. (1992). An introduction to the five-factor model and its applications. Journal of Personality, 60(2), 175-215.
  • Meckler, L. (2012, April 14) Secret Service misconduct is alleged. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from
  • Medici, A. (2012, April 17) Inspector General: GSA official’s waste part of pattern. USA Today. Retrieved from
  • Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral Study of Obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371-378.
  • Perez, E. & Decordoba, J. (2012, April 17) New details in Secret Service case. Walls Street Journal. Retrieved from
  • Perez, E. & Molinski, D. (2012, April 19) More firings seen at Secret Service. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from
  • Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.
  • United States Secret Service. (2012, April 14) Statement by Assistant Director Paul S. Morrissey. Press Release. Retrieved from
  • Zucchino, D. (2012, April 18) U.S. troops posed with body parts of Afghan bombers. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from
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So You Want to be a Leader: What is Your Myers-Briggs Type?

In conversations with leaders and those who select them the topic of the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) occasionally arises. While the Myers-Briggs type may not be the best assessment of personality it is certainly the most well known.

Let’s start with a quick review. A Myers-Briggs type contains four letters. For example, I usually score as an ENFP. The first letter is how you gather energy. Extroverts (E) are energized in groups and during interactions with other people. Introverts (I) are more energized in quiet moments. The second letter can be thought of as the way you gather information. Intuitive (N) leaning individuals look for patterns in the past while sensing (S) individuals look around in the present moment. You can think of the third letter as an indication of how you make decisions. Thinking (T) individuals use logic and reason to make decisions. Feeling (F) people look for what will best create harmony. Finally, the last letter is how an individual closes issues. Judging (J) individuals like to close things down, to converge on solutions or decisions, wrap them up with a bow, and move on to the next project. Perceiving (P) individuals like to leave things open because they may want to incorporate new data as it become available.

I frequently hear upper level managers say something to the effect of, “I think I want Sally to lead that team because she’s good at getting projects done. She gets groups to converge to a solution rather quickly.” When I hear this my first question is to inquire as to the nature of the new group’s task. If the task is one which requires a lot of discovery and inquiry, then Sally is probably not a good fit. From the manager’s first statement it is clear that Sally has a tendency toward judging and closing things down. The judging factor is indeed what you need when closing a project down, but it’s not what you want for a group whose mission is to explore and discover.

An important point to remember is that the Myers-Briggs type indicates a preference. It is not a fixed type of personality. If you look at the questions you will see that you are forced to choose between one of the responses.

As a leader, I don’t always care where a person scores, that is, what their preference is. I care greatly, however, whether or not they can easily shift from one mode to another. For example, a leader may be in a position which requires much analysis with numbers and technical issues. For this the thinking orientation will serve well to help make good and quick decisions. However, when personnel issues arise we need this leader to be able to shift quickly, to adapt to a feeling perspective.

The Myers-Briggs type is an excellent model to describe behaviors, and is one I frequently use with my clients. As with all tools, use it wisely and within its limitations.


  • The Myers-Briggs type indicates an individual’s preference
  • How well a leader can adapt to the issue in the present moment is more important than their preferred mode
  • The Myers-Briggs type is a good model that highlights many important elements of leadership

Keywords: leadership, Myers-Briggs, MBTI, extrovert, introvert, sensing, intuitive, thinking, feeling, judging, perceiving, adaptability


  • Furnham, A. (1996). The big five versus the big four: The relationship between the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and NEO-PI five factor model of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 21(2), 303-307.
  • Furnham, A., Dissou, G., Sloan, P., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2007). Personality and intelligence in business people: A study of two personality and two intelligence measures. Journal of Business and Psychology, 22(1), 99-109.
  • Furnham, A., Moutafi, J., & Crump, J. (2003). The relationship between the revised NEO-Personality Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Social Behavior and Personality, 31(6), 577-584.
  • Myers, I. B., McCaulley, M. H., Quenk, N. L., & Hammer, A. L. (2003). MBTI manual: A guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs type indicator (3rd ed.). Mountain View, Calif.: CPP.
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Sears: A Fallen Giant

Last week Sears reported that it will close up to 120 Sears and Kmart stores. I found it to be another sad chapter in the story of a fallen giant. For me, Sears is akin to a giant sequoia tree—a mammoth, standing stable generation after generation. Unfortunately the retailer continues to erode its foundation a bit almost every year.

Let’s travel back in time for a moment. Many of you may not be aware that in the late 1950s to early 1980s considerable work on employee selection took place, primarily at Standard Oil Company, AT&T, and Sears. These organizations spent considerable time and money to determine how to select individuals most likely to be successful in their organizations. V. J. Bentz and L. L. Thurstone pioneered the efforts at Sears. Those studies became the basis for today’s selection instruments. Their efforts paid off.

Sears was the big Kahuna of retail. But it didn’t last as complacency and arrogance set in. Arrogance can blind you to new competitors, and I’ll give you a personal example. Many years ago I gave a presentation to a company regarding technology industry customer support. I listed WordPerfect (remember them?) and PCs Limited as exemplars. Before I could move past the slide one of the executives couldn’t pass up the chance to sneer at the name PCs Limited. “Who are those guys? They’re nothing.” was the comment. My retort was a simple, “Well, they may be nothing today but if they keep up the good service they’ll be something some day.” We do know them today—Dell. And the company I was presenting to, well, I’ll withhold comment.

Sears failed to adapt to changing market conditions as specialty retailers and big box stores left them in the dust. While Sears continues to be a strong retailer (number 10 last year) those with superior market strategies have prevailed.

• Use well-validated employee selection methods
• Remain adaptable to market conditions
• Never, ever become complacent or arrogant—maintain a healthy fear of competitors

Keywords: leadership, employee selection, complacency, adaptability

• Bentz, V. J. (1967). The Sears experience in the investigation, description, and prediction of executive behavior. In F. R. Wickert & D. E. McFarland (Eds.), Measuring executive effectiveness (pp. 147-205). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
• Bentz, V. J. (1968). The Sears experience in the investigation, description, and prediction of executive behavior. In J. A. Myers (Ed.), Predicting managerial success (pp. 59-152). Ann Arbor, Michigan: Foundation for Research on Human Behavior.
• Bentz, V. J. (1985). Research findings from personality assessment of executives. In J. H. Bernardin & D. A. Bownas (Eds.), Personality assessment in organizations (pp. 82–144). New York: Praeger Publishers.
• Bentz, V. J. (1990). Contextual issues in predicting high-level leadership performance: Contextual richness as a criterion consideration in personality research with executives. In K. E. Clark & M. B. Clark (Eds.), Measures of leadership (pp. 131-143). West Orange, NJ: Leadership Library of America, Inc.
• Bray, D. W. (1968). Choosing good managers. In J. A. Myers (Ed.), Predicting managerial success (pp. 153-165). Ann Arbor, Michigan: Foundation for Research on Human Behavior.
• Bray, D. W., Campbell, R. J., & Grant, D. L. (1974). Formative years in business: A long-term AT&T study of managerial lives. New York: Wiley-Interscience.
• Sparks, C. P. (1970). Validity of psychological tests. Personnel Psychology, 23(1), 39–46.
• Sparks, C. P. (1983). Paper and pencil measures of potential. In G. F. Dreher & P. R. Sackett (Eds.), Perspectives on employee staffing and selection (pp. 349–368). Homewood, Illinois: Richard D. irwin, Inc.
• Sparks, C. P. (1990). Testing for management potential. In K. E. Clark & M. B. Clark (Eds.), Measures of leadership (pp. 103-112).

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