Monthly Archives: April 2012

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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Are You Leading From Fear or Openness?

Over the past several months I have witnessed a fascinating diversity of leadership with respect to the polarities of fear and openness. One view of our world is that polarities exist for everything—black vs. white, hot vs. cold, up vs. down, and of course, fear vs. openness.

You can take your leadership to the next level by learning to harness the power of fear and openness as well as respecting the dark side of these emotions.

Man Screaming

Let’s look at fear first. Fear can be debilitating as well as energizing. Imagine you are fearful of changes in your team. You might be afraid of team members leaving, becoming burned out, or quarreling over frivolous issues. Any of these have the potential to decimate your team’s ability to meet it’s goals.

On the other hand, as the title of Andy Grove’s book states, only the paranoid survive. We all can do well with a healthy amount of fear. For example, fear of getting run over by a car keeps us alive as we walk across the street. Fear of our competitors gives us a good incentive to develop sound strategies and superior products. The trick is to use fear wisely and keep it in balance.

The other side of this polarity, openness, works in a similar fashion. You may be so open to new ideas and processes that you never get your current tasks completed. However, if you are too low in openness, you may stifle new processes, products, or strategies. In addition, a high level of openness is important in the early stages of a project but can be devastating in the final stages when you need to be converging toward a final solution and completion of tasks.

Now let’s throw the idea of change into this discussion, both internal and external change.

Change outside of your group, external change, is out of your control and it is healthy to fear it to the extent that you prepare for possible changes. If you fear external changes too much you may become impaired and end up freezing. Embrace the gamut of possible changes and develop strategies to deal with them.

Any changes you make internal to your team may be alarming as well. Team members may need to adjust to new roles and work assignments. Conflicts may arise during the adjustment period and some individuals may end up in roles they are not well suited for. However, remaining open to changes within your team can bring you to higher achievements and greater success.

As with all reflective work, awareness is the first step. Observe your emotions so that you are aware when fear emerges. Notice how fear can enhance your business strategies. Ask yourself how open you are when team members bring you innovative ideas. The ideas may also bring you fear. If so, feel the fear, juxtapose it with the openness, and explore the interplay of these two polarities.


  • Using fear wisely and precisely for positive gain can help you become more effective
  • Too much fear can debilitate you as a leader
  • A great degree of openness can help you embrace new ideas
  • Too much openness can delay or prevent completion of projects

Keywords: leadership, openness, fear, change


  • Kaiser, R. B., & Kaplan, R. B. (2006). The deeper work of executive development: Outgrowing sensitivities. The Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(4), 463-483.
  • Krause, D. E. (2004). Influence-based leadership as a determinant of the inclination to innovate and of innovation-related behaviors: An empirical investigation. The Leadership Quarterly, 15(1), 79-102.
  • LePine, J. A., Colquitt, J. A., & Erez, A. (2000). Adaptability to changing task contexts: Effects of general cognitive ability, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Personnel Psychology, 53(3), 563-593.
  • Suárez, J. G. (1993). Managing fear in the workplace (TQLO Publication No. 93-01). Department of the Navy TQL Office.
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The Visionary Leadership of Fred Smith

Fred Smith, Chairman and CEO of FedEx Corporation, has recently been making the rounds promoting his vision of all electric and hybrid electric vehicles in addition to the promotion of favorable tax and regulation codes, training, education, and free trade. Smith has always been a visionary, from his days at Yale writing a business proposal to deliver packages quickly to his current political activity promoting positive change to help the US economy and his company.

While other leaders sit back and point fingers or complain about problems, Fred Smith takes the time to discern the issues, dig deep into the heart of the matter, formulate a strategy, and then promote it both internally and externally. His energy is palpable. Upon hearing and reading his words I feel a profound energy moving all of us forward.

FedEx Express Plane

Under his leadership FedEx has recently pioneered the first commercial hybrid delivery trucks, tested fuel cell delivery vehicles, purchased lower fuel consuming airplanes, and set aggressive fuel efficiency targets. Such visionary leadership has grown the company from zero to almost $40B in 40 years.

As I have mentioned before, vision is one of the components of charismatic leadership. Research has also shown the value of vision in organizational growth.

So this begs the question regarding the vision for your team. If you have a vision, how was it crafted? Did the team provide input? Your superiors? Creating a vision does not have to be a complicated process.

My view is that vision work involves three steps: discernment, crystallization, and institutionalization.

Discerning a compelling vision for your team requires input from many sources, including team members, customers, industry analysts, and superiors. Gather as much information as possible regarding your field and begin working with core team members, if not all of them.

As you sift through all of your data look for themes and trends. Look for what is feasible within the amount of risk your organization is willing to take. Prepare several alternatives and see how they read with team members as well as customers. Once you find the most motivating creation, put a stake in the ground with your proclamation. Be confident in this vision.

Once you have solidified the vision communicate it widely and build your teamwork around the vision. Make the vision a part of your institution. Create narratives and stories around it, for it can truly become the key to your success.


  • Crafting a vision involves three steps: discernment, crystallization, and institutionalization
  • What is the vision for your team?
  • How has the vision for your team positively or negatively impacted their performance?
  • How can you make your vision more compelling and motivational?

Keywords: leadership, vision, charismatic leadership


  • Bass, B. M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics, 18(3), 19–31.
  • Baum, J. R., Locke, E. A., & Kirkpatrick, S. A. (1998). A longitudinal study of the relation of vision and vision communication to venture growth in entrepreneurial firms. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(1), 43–54.
  • Bennis, W. G., & Biedermann, P. W. (1997). Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration. Perseus Books.
  • Dionne, S. D., Yammarino, F. J., Atwater, L. E., & Spangler, W. D. (2004). Transformational leadership and team performance. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 17(2), 177-193.
  • Kirkpatrick, S. A., & Locke, E. A. (1996). Direct and indirect effects of three core charismatic leadership components on performance and attitudes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 81(1), 36–51.
  • Larwood, L., Falbe, C. M., Kriger, M. P., & Miesing, P. (1995). Structure and meaning of organizational vision. Academy of Management Journal, 38, 740-769.
  • Westley, F. R., & Mintzberg, H. (1988). Profiles of strategic vision: Levesque and Iacocca. In J. A. Conger & R. N. Kanungo (Eds.), Charismatic leadership: The elusive factor in organizational effectiveness (pp. 161-212). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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Are the Mics on? What to Communicate

On March 26, 2012, US President Barack Obama was in South Korea and met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. As they were preparing to give remarks to reporters President Obama leaned over to President Medvedev and stated that he would “have more flexibility” in missile defense negotiations after his election.

This blunder is reminiscent of an off-the-cuff declaration by President Ronald Reagan on August 11, 1984 prior to his weekly radio address. Reagan announced, “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

These comments bring to mind the issue of what to communicate to your team. As a leader you may frequently undertake exercises or explorations with radical negative team impacts. Since these exercises often have a very small chance of being executed and a release of an incomplete plan can install fear into team members, it is important that they stay within a small group of colleagues. While this may smack of clandestine and unsavory business dealings, it is the smart thing to do.

If you are negotiating with an external party this complicates matters further. You do not want to tip your hand to the other party, inadvertently providing them with an advantage. Negotiations can sometimes involve multiple individuals with specific roles, including “good cop/bad cop” duties, the technocrats, the diplomats, and so on. To share such details with your team is both unnecessary and a waste of time and energy.

When considering how much information to share broadly with your team, a litmus test I use is to consider:

  • Likelihood that the scenario will play out
  • Ramifications on the psyche of individual performers
  • Effect of a transmission of partial information or information taken out of context to other groups
  • The value of your team having the information vs. not having the information.

Whatever information you do share with your team, assume that it will be spread widely. I often chuckle at the comment, “Don’t tell anyone, but…” If everyone follows this common policy then everyone ends up knowing the information.

On a related note, I routinely have leaders confide to me that team members are talking behind their backs. Expect that. Accept the fact that everyone is talking about everyone and forget it. Move on to more important issues. People share thoughts and experiences to expand their knowledge and to attempt to bring certainty to uncertain situations. This is why rumors start.

As humans, we abhor uncertainty. Rumors are an effort to find certainty in uncertain circumstances. It is best to deal with rumors using frequent, clear, honest communication. In these communications it is acceptable and reasonable to say that you cannot divulge all information. A good example is potential layoffs. If rumors begin you may need to state that layoffs are being explored but that they are a last resort. You should also state what actions are being taken in order to avoid such an action.

Here’s a parting thought on what to communicate… Think about what you would tell an eight year old child of yours about a possible negative event. On one hand you want to prepare the child, on the other you don’t want to instill him or her with anxiety or fear. So remain thoughtful and diligent about what and how you communicate.


  • Communicate only what is valuable and necessary for your team
  • Assess the ramifications of what you are planning to share
  • It’s acceptable to state that you can’t share everything at the moment but that you will provide updates as more information becomes certain

Keywords: leadership, communication, rumor, negotiation


  • Allport, F. H. (1924). Social Psychology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • DiFonzo, N., & Bordia, P. (2006). Rumor psychology: Social and organizational approaches. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Hersey, P., Blanchard, K. H., & Johnson, D. E. (1993). Management of organizational behavior: Utilizing human resources (6th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Leidner, D. E. (1998). Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 3(4). Retrieved from
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