Dark Side

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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    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 http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20120416/DEPARTMENTS07/204160306
    • 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 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304356604577342641172505430.html
    • Medici, A. (2012, April 17) Inspector General: GSA official’s waste part of pattern. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/story/2012-04-17/gsa-spending-hearing/54338102/1
    • 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 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304299304577350071554454122.html
    • Perez, E. & Molinski, D. (2012, April 19) More firings seen at Secret Service. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303513404577353991485029140.html
    • 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 http://www.secretservice.gov/press/GPA04-12_Statement.pdf
    • Zucchino, D. (2012, April 18) U.S. troops posed with body parts of Afghan bombers. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/18/nation/la-na-afghan-photos-20120418
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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 Missing Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

    Many of us have mourned the loss of an American icon—Steve Jobs. He has been hailed as a technology visionary and wizard, cloaked in the ability and chutzpah to bring to market paradigm-shifting products that would annihilate his company’s existing products. There is no doubt in Steve’s ability to assimilate new technologies, mold them into cutting edge products with avant-garde design, and drive his development team to deliver the goods in a timely fashion. He was the master of focusing on a singular goal. However, that is not the most important leadership lesson we can learn from Steve.

    Steve’s success at Apple can teach us a couple of different and very important lessons about leadership. First, we don’t necessarily need every single “leadership trait” to be successful. The dark side of Steve Jobs is well-documented. He was abusive and domineering, even to long-time “friends.” Steve succeeded despite his malevolent daemon. Second, Steve showed us that an extreme introvert can be a highly successful leader. He was never outgoing, but would go to great lengths to seek out an individual who might further his cause.

    The phenomenal success of Steve Jobs can be attributed to a small set of skills so masterful that they overpowered his undeniable weaknesses. Steve was the quintessential charismatic leader. His idea of “making a dent in the universe” was so magnetic that it attracted skilled designers, engineers, programmers, and other professionals whom he could then bludgeon into designing and manufacturing bleeding edge products.

    To generalize this lesson, we see a powerful example of an individual who is a very successful leader because his positive traits far and away overshadow his negative traits. Does this mean we should relinquish our quest to find “perfect” leaders who have a well-rounded set of leadership characteristics in favor of others who may have a small set of positive characteristics that outweigh their weaknesses? Not necessarily.

    I advocate a semblance of balance in leadership characteristics with an eye toward the strengths necessary for the particular leadership position. For example, you would not want to place a strong, decisive leader over a team that is almost self-managing. To do so would likely create resentment and possibly turnover in the team. Similarly, you wouldn’t position a leader whose strength is building consensus over a team that needs a quick, remedial intervention. That team needs someone who can learn quickly and make rapid, firm decisions.

    Leaders I work with frequently ask me if their shortcomings will be a problem and derail their career. I respond that it will not be a problem if they are genuinely interested in becoming an exceptional leader, gathering honest feedback from team members, and responsive to the needs of their team.

    So take an intelligent approach when looking for leaders. Determine the style and elements of leadership necessary to get the specific job done and focus on a search for the type of leader that will fit that particular role.


    • Determine the leadership elements necessary to successfully lead the specific team
    • Don’t worry if the candidate leader is weak in some areas as long as he or she meets the minimum criteria of ethical and moral behavior
    • A leader does not need to be an extrovert to be successful—clear, concise communication is what’s necessary

    Keywords: leadership, charismatic leadership, abusive, introvert, extrovert, introversion, extroversion, dark side

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