Team Model


Just Say No to Negativity

I frequently encounter leaders who simply tell their team members what to do and then expect them to do it and be happy. These aren’t always older folks, either, and their comments are generally more negative than positive.

Positivity Ratio

Research has shown that the ratio of your positive versus negative comments has a profound effect on your team’s performance. It’s called the positivity ratio. Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy reviewed data from comments made during meetings among 60 strategic business unit management teams in a major corporation. The comments were coded as either negative or positive. The high performing teams had a positivity ratio over ten times higher than the low performing teams.

Positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson continued the work with Dr. Losada and reviewed additional data from other sources. Their conclusion was that a ratio of positive to negative comments of 2.9 was a tipping point, above which teams would flourish. Below this they may languish. Granted this isn’t the only factor in a successful team, but I believe that it is a powerful indicator of team climate and leadership style.

If you think about positive comments for a moment, I believe that you will discover how open and expansive a climate they create. When you tell someone you like what they’ve done, they will think they should do more of it. A positive comment is forward-moving energy.

Likewise, a negative comment stops the flow of energy and can stifle creativity, innovation, and forward movement. Negative comments also create a poor work environment, leading to high turnover and low team performance.

As you would expect, there can be too much of a good thing. Fredrickson and Losada found that when the positivity ratio began to exceed about 11 the benefits began to disintegrate. This is to be expected, of course, since appropriate negativity is sometimes required to guide your team.

Sometimes leaders have a team member who can’t seem to do anything right. Take it as a challenge to catch them doing something right and provide positive praise at that moment.

An excellent exercise is to observe yourself during your work day and make a list of tick marks for positive and negative comments you make. This will also help you become more mindful.

When you are in meetings observe people’s reactions when positive and negative comments are made. Observe how the dynamics of the group change with positive and negative comments. All of these tools will help you become more mindful, and as a result a better leader.


  • Observe your comments each day. Keep a small notebook or piece of paper with you and make a small tick mark when you find yourself making a positive or negative comment
  • Observe your team member’s reactions to positive and negative comments
  • Observe your team dynamics when positive and negative comments are made

Keywords: leadership, positive psychology, mindfulness, Losada line, positivity ratio


  • Cameron, K., Mora, C., Leutscher, T., & Calarco, M. (2011). Effects of positive practices on organizational effectiveness. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(3), 266-308.
  • Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678–686.
  • Losada, M. (1999). The complex dynamics of high performance teams. Mathematical and Computer Modelling, 30(9), 179-192.
  • Losada, M., & Heaphy, E. (2004). The role of positivity and connectivity in the performance of business teams. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(6), 740-765.
Share on Facebook

Lessons From the Culture of Penn State

This blog post has been difficult for me to write given the despicable nature of the crimes committed by Gerald “Jerry” Sandusky at Pennsylvania State University. Most of you know that he was convicted on June 22, 2012 on 45 counts of criminal charges for his sexual exploitation of young men at Penn State.

Levels of Culture

I feel there are valuable culture lessons for all leaders in the sordid action by Penn State administrators following each exposure of Sandusky’s activities. As the Freeh special investigation report states, “One of the most challenging of the tasks confronting the Penn State community is transforming the culture that permitted Sandusky’s behavior, as illustrated throughout this report, and which directly contributed to the failure of Penn State’s most powerful leaders to adequately report and respond to the actions of a serial sexual predator.”

The most poignant example of the role the Penn State culture played in the continued cover-up of Sandusky’s activities is that of two janitors who had witnessed Sandusky engaged in an act with a victim. They both felt that they would be fired if they reported this activity given the untouchable status of the Penn State football program. Assumptions such as this are at the core of organizational culture.

I’ve been working with several organizations on their culture recently and find the model developed by Edgar Schein to be very useful. This model looks at organizational cultures from three levels: artifacts, values, and basic underlying assumptions. In the case of the Penn State example I highlighted above, we can easily identify the elements. The janitors assumed they would be fired because the university valued the football program above all else, stating, “football runs this University.” Artifacts supporting this were previous incidents where football players were treated leniently when involved in altercations which would have otherwise suspended them from the football program.

So I think this is an excellent example to learn from so that you can become more aware of the culture you have created for your team. If you wish to assess your team’s culture you can begin by asking the values they perceive and why they have that perception. Sometimes it is difficult to get a true reading from team members and it takes an independent third party for this analysis. An even more difficult task may be to pry out the underlying assumptions related to the values. One of the questions I like in order to determine assumptions is, “What are some actions which may affect your employment here over the short or long term?”

Cultural values are frequently communicated through stories of past actions and experiences. These stories are the artifacts present in all organizations. If you choose to change your culture, behave consistently with the new culture and continually communicate events, experiences, and behaviors by team members exemplifying the new values. These new artifacts will go a long way toward spotlighting the new direction you would like to head.


  • Look at the organizational artifacts you create each and every day
  • Find out from your team members the values they perceive
  • Dig deep to determine the underlying assumptions your team members believe
  • Create and communicate new artifacts to promote the culture changes you desire

Keywords: leadership, culture


  • Denison, D. R. (2000). Organizational culture: Can it be a key lever for driving organizational change? In S. Cartwright & C. Cooper (Eds.), The Handbook of Organizational Culture. London: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, LLP. (2012). Report of the special investigative counsel regarding the actions of the Pennsylvania State University related to the child sexual abuse committed by Gerald A. Sandusky. Retrieved from
  • Hofstede, G. (1983). The Cultural Relativity of Organizational Practices and Theories. Journal of International Business Studies, 14(2), 75–89.
  • Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., Luque, M. S., & House, R. J. (2006). In the Eye of the Beholder: Cross Cultural Lessons in Leadership from Project GLOBE. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 20(1), 67–90.
  • Quinn, R. E. (1984). Applying the competing values approach to leadership: Toward an integrative framework. In J. G. Hunt, D. M. Hosking, C. A. Schriesheim, & R. Stewart (Eds.), Leaders and managers: International perspectives on managerial behavior and leadership (pp. 10–27). New York: Pergamon Press.
  • Schein, E. H. (1990). Organizational culture. American Psychologist, 45(2), 109–119.
Share on Facebook

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

Share on Facebook

Avoiding Culture Clash

Over the past several years Chinese construction companies have broadened their reach, aggressively pursuing projects in the West and Middle East. Unfortunately, several of these projects have run amok, falling prey to the ignorance of local regulations, insensitivity to culture, and importation of foreign workers. Notable examples are a section of highway in Poland and several projects in Saudi Arabia.


China Overseas Engineering Group (COVEC), a division of the China Railway Engineering Corp (CREC), underbid European contractors on a 30 mile segment of highway the Polish government had hoped to complete before the European Championship soccer matches in early June 2012. They didn’t underbid by just a little, but by about half. European contractors cried foul but were overruled. Work began and COVEC hired some local contractors and imported Chinese workers at low labor rates. Then the process began to bog down due to shoddy workmanship, inadequate review of specifications, and inexperience. Cash flow slowed and material costs began to rise. The result was unpaid workers and the dismissal of COVEC after they demanded an additional $320M to complete the project.

Several Chinese companies have departed from the Saudi Arabian market when their construction quality could not meet local quality standards. When asked to meet those standards they requested price hikes that would put the cost in the same ballpark as those from experienced, high quality US and European companies. The Saudis opted to go with the proven contractors instead.

In a similar fashion, when you are leading your team into new geographic markets it is important to immerse yourself into the fabric of the local culture. Remember that you will be viewed as an outsider and possibly a threat to local jobs. Hire native individuals for local management and listen to their opinions.

One way to build rapport is to keep in mind the simple fact that everywhere in the world people all want the same thing. I have worked in almost 20 countries and experienced a set of universal values—everyone wants safety and security, a modicum of shelter, safe and adequate food supplies, sufficient healthcare, jobs, and education for their children. While one could argue the items on this list, the concept is nevertheless solid. Building your discussions and strategy around these universal elements will go a long way toward productive integration with the locals.

As you become closer to the people and culture in this new region, whether providing a service or product, or manufacturing in the area, observe and analyze the effect you and your organization will have on the people. Is there a possibility that you might affect the culture? If so, expect a backlash from a segment of the population and prepare in advance to handle it with great sensitivity and be proactive whenever possible.

Lastly, ensure you meet all local laws and regulations. Hire knowledgeable contractors to assist in planning for and navigating through the labyrinth of legal barriers.

Following these simple guidelines can mean the difference between success and failure in a new geographic region. Just remember the word “respect.” Respect all people, all the time wherever you are and they are likely to respect you back.


  • Understand and embrace local customs
  • Remain sensitive to the ramifications of you and your company’s presence and actions
  • Investigate pertinent regulations and laws

Keywords: leadership, culture, strategy

Share on Facebook

Rita Builds Bonds Beyond the Ropes

Rita Hayan-Feruz Kleinstein, or just “Rita” as she is affectionately known, is considered by most people to be the top female singer in Israel today. Turns out she also happens to be extremely popular in the land of her country’s archenemy—Iran. Jewish Rita was born and raised in Iran until the age of eight when she immigrated to Israel. Throughout her life she cherished the Persian folk songs passed on to her by her mother. Last year she chose to modernize and record them, producing her latest album, My Joys. Since Western music is banned in Iran, Iranians have purchased bootleg copies on the black market or discretely downloaded digital versions. And so Rita is building an enthusiastic bond between the people in the land of her birth and the land of her heritage.

Rita Yahan Farouz

Such bonds can help your team perform better as well as maintain its viability over a long period of time. Research has shown that group performance is correlated with the individual team member’s ability to work together toward a common goal. This is known as task cohesion. Similarly, when team members get along well socially, i.e. have high social cohesion they are able to function well for an extended period of time.

For example, you might have a team in which the members don’t really enjoy each other’s company but all are motivated to complete the goal. They will likely perform well and finish their task. However, they may choose to switch teams at the end of the project phase or, in extreme cases where the team degenerates into dysfunction the team may dissolve.

So-called “ropes” courses are meant to be physically challenging exercises where individuals discover they can complete a task only by working together. Research has shown that these courses increase cohesion within groups for a time but that follow-up sessions are required to continue the momentum. This is analogous to research on virtual teams. The virtual team research shows the importance of face-to-face meetings to build both social and task cohesion.

As those of you who have attended one of my training sessions know, I am a big fan of experiential learning. To be effective, experiential learning must incorporate two sets of polarities: abstract concepts vs. experiences and action vs. reflection.

The experiences, like the ropes courses imbed the knowledge or learning in our bodies. Explaining the concept or theory imbeds the knowledge in our heads and helps us relate the new information to existing knowledge, or schema as it is called in the psychology world. Applying the new information via multiple channels also helps reinforce the message. Incorporating reflective individual questions and discussion helps reinforce the actions participants take in the exercises.

One of the classic experiments involving group cohesion is the Robbers Cave study which was carried out in 1954. This study of two groups of 11 year-old boys illustrated the value of task cohesion and the resulting social bonds it could build. The study was carried out in three phases. In the first, the boys were divided into two groups and over a week’s time were allowed to develop social bonds and group norms. During the second week the two groups competed against each other and rivalries developed. The third week researchers introduced goals which required resources and effort beyond the capability of one group. As the two groups joined forces toward common goals they were able to achieve them and social bonds resulted.

Returning to Rita, I am delighted with her energy and enthusiasm toward building a bond between the Israeli and Iranian people. Music is frequently a common denominator across cultures. I have traveled the world and marveled at the universality of music, from classical to pop. My hope is that her efforts spawn similar experiences, building bonds across all cultures across the globe.


  • Create and communicate a common goal
  • Build social bonds between team members for long-term team viability
  • Generate and treasure common experiences

Keywords: leadership, cohesion, ropes course, adventure course, challenge course, adventure programming, outdoor management training, OMT, outdoor experiential training, outdoor challenge
courses, adventure education, virtual teams


  • Birx, E., LaSala, K. B., & Wagstaff, M. (2011). Evaluation of a team-building retreat to promote nursing faculty cohesion and job satisfaction. Journal of Professional Nursing, 27(3), 174-178.
  • Carless, S. A., & De Paola, C. (2000). The measurement of cohesion in work teams. Small Group Research, 31(1), 71-88.
  • Chang, A., & Bordia, P. (2001). A multidimensional approach to the group cohesion-group performance relationship. Small Group Research, 32(4), 379-405.
  • Gillis, L. H., & Speelman, E. (2008). Are challenge (ropes) courses an effective tool? A meta-analysis. Journal of Experiential Education, 31(2), 111-135.
  • Judge, W. (2005). Adventures in creating an outdoor leadership challenge course for an EMBA program. Journal of Management Education, 29(2), 284-300.
  • Kass, D., & Grandzol, C. (2011). Learning to lead at 5,267 feet: An empirical study of outdoor management training and MBA students leadership development. Journal of Leadership Education, 10(1), 41-62.
  • Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4(2), 193-212.
  • Sherif, M., Harvey, O. J., White, B. J., Hood, W. R., & Sherif, C. W. (1961). The Robbers Cave experiment: Intergroup conflict and cooperation. Norman, OK: Institute of Group Relations, University of Oklahoma, reprinted by Wesleyan University Press, 1988.
  • Shooter, W. (2010). A closer look at the “inner workings” of adventure education: Building evidence-based practices. Journal of Experiential Education, 32(3), 290-294.
  • Zull, J. E. (2002). The art of changing the brain: Enriching teaching by exploring the biology of learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Share on Facebook

The Power of Collaboration

This past week I had the honor of working with 200 high school sophomores from all over the state of Kentucky. These bright, hard-working students were hand-picked by their high school teachers and administrators to take part in the state-level three-day Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) program.


The students were divided into 10-member groups and I had created an exercise which provided a unique role for each student. One student was the leader and the others had other specific roles on the team. We held two rounds of discussion which were facilitated by the leader.

In the first round, the leader was to have described the project and quash any discussion of broadening the project scope. In the second round of discussion the leader was told to take a more collaborative approach and explore new ideas with the team members.

During this second round the students revealed information regarding new features that could be included with little additional schedule risk or budget ramifications. They were able to work together more productively, came up with more creative solutions, and felt more satisfied in their roles. We then held a discussion with the entire group and talked about the differences between the two types of leadership style. When asked if they would have considered quitting their job during the first round had it been real life, several said that they would have quit.

These students experienced two powerful aspects of leadership firsthand—the significant influence a leader has over the process within the team and the power of working collaboratively.

Research has illustrated these factors as well. Fostering collaboration allows each team member to contribute their unique and valuable knowledge, skills, and abilities. Frequently, one individual will add to another’s contribution, thus developing something more than originally envisioned. Creative insights, such as these synergies are the innovations which fuel organization’s profits on a continuous basis.


  • Does your leadership promote a framework within which your team can actively and safely pursue creative ideas?
  • Do you bring individuals onto your team who have a diverse set of skills and knowledge?
  • Do you challenge your team to think beyond existing products, services, and paradigms?


  • Your leadership will shape the type of process your team will use
  • Collaboration is a powerful tool for high performing teams

Keywords: leadership, collaboration, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, HOBY


  • Amabile, T. M. (1998). How to kill creativity. Harvard Business Review, 76(5), 76-87.
  • Ansell, C., & Gash, A. (2008). Collaborative governance in theory and practice. Journal of public administration research and theory, 18(4), 543-571.
  • Bennis, W. G., & Biedermann, P. W. (1997). Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration. Perseus Books.
  • Chrislip, D. D., & Larson, C. E. (1994). Collaborative leadership: How citizens and civic leaders can make a difference. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Cohen, S. G., & Ledford, G. E., Jr. (1994). The Effectiveness of Self-Managing Teams: A Quasi-Experiment. Human Relations, 47(1), 13.
  • Deiglmayr, A., & Spada, H. (2010). Collaborative problem-solving with distributed information: The role of inferences from interdependent information. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 13(3), 361-378.
  • Rentsch, J. R., Delise, L. A., Salas, E., & Letsky, M. P. (2010). Facilitating Knowledge Building in Teams: Can a New Team Training Strategy Help? Small Group Research, 41(5), 505-523.
  • Schrage, M. (1995). No more teams!: Mastering the dynamics of creative collaboration. New York: Currency Doubleday.
  • Share on Facebook

SpaceX Checks its Ego at the Door

As I write this the SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) Falcon 9 rocket has blasted into space, carrying the Dragon spacecraft toward the International Space Station (ISS) with a load of cargo. This milestone marks a new era in private as opposed to government space flight. While a significant portion of the program funding comes from NASA and therefore could be considered government funded, two important points would be missed if we apply such a broad brush.

Falcon 9 Launch May 22, 2012

As a leader our ego sometimes gets the better of us. We begin to believe that we and our team can deliver new products or services without the help of others. Such an attitude frequently ends in failure and a veritable crawl back to those who offered help in the first place.

The collaboration of SpaceX with NASA has been shown to provide tangible benefits in terms of development time and cost. While SpaceX has taken a fresh approach to rocket and spacecraft design they have hired and collaborated with NASA engineers to design and produce highly reliable and much lower cost equipment. This collaboration has created the best of two worlds—the fresh, pristine design team and the legacy team learning from the vast knowledge of successful and failed missions.

In order to make this collaboration work the SpaceX management and design team had to set their ego aside and embrace the NASA voice of wisdom. My work with clients has revealed many a time when individuals feel they can go it alone to achieve their goals. Sometimes this is successful, sometimes not. I find it helpful to strike a balance between receiving and utilizing sage advice versus allowing your team to become bogged down with too many opinions.

I believe the second lesson here is one of minimizing bureaucracy. In general, as organizations mature they continually learn from mistakes and implement a multiplicity of checks and balances. At some point the organization becomes overly cautious and new, more nimble competitors swoop in to take market share with clever innovations.

As you observe this taking place in your organization you have a couple of options: either allow the bureaucracy to slowly build and then destroy it and build anew or continually hack away at the bureaucracy and agree to take on a measured amount of risk.

So when you find yourself turning down offers of help ask yourself if your ego is popping up. Continually assess your processes to ensure you have not become too bureaucratic. After all, this is rocket science and you want to do the best you can.


  • Allow your ego to step aside and ask yourself where the help of others might improve your team’s performance
  • Take a fresh look, from the ground up, what business processes are absolutely necessary for your team to meet its goals

Keywords: leadership, ego, bureaucracy

Share on Facebook

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

Share on Facebook

The Leadership Style of Osama bin Laden

Last week, on the one year anniversary of the fatal raid of Osama bin Laden’s house, a set of documents was released providing us additional insight into the mind of this famed terrorist. While certainly a despicable character, I find his charisma and longevity remarkable. Let’s take a look at his approach.

Osama bin Laden


Osama bin Laden had a clear and consistent vision—attack America. He viewed the United States as an immoral nation, full of homosexuality, gambling, alcohol, and an unacceptable alliance with Israel.

Loosely allied terrorist groups frequently adopted this mission and expanded it to include local governments. This caused bin Laden quite a bit of consternation. He made a considerable effort to moderate these more extreme groups. In this sense he was a moderate.

He admonished rogue groups who reinterpreted ancient Islamic law regarding collateral damage in the event of an attack into enemy territory. While Islamic law may allow this only in extreme circumstances, these regional groups considered it acceptable to inflict casualties to innocent bystanders, including Muslims during “normal” operations.


As these regional groups adopted more radical terrorist tactics bin Laden attempted to persuade them to come back into the fold and moderate their behavior. Surprisingly, based upon the materials I have examined, it seems that he did not attempt to use coercion or punishment as tools in this regard. Other al Qaeda leaders wanted to take more polar positions with these errant groups, either distancing themselves or bringing them under their wing in order to broaden the reach of al Qaeda central.


Osama bin Laden’s journey from country to country has been well-documented. He fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, then returned to his home country of Saudi Arabia from which he was expelled. He chose to live in Sudan and continue to build a network of terror. Pressured to leave that country, he boarded a chartered flight back to Afghanistan. Upon his return he struck up a friendship with Mullah Omar and began to establish the fighter training camps. Each stop along bin Laden’s journey he adapted to the local culture and developed a strong network of allies.


In order to execute successful terrorist attacks significant training is necessary and bin Laden knew this. He invested both time and money in people and equipment. The September 11, 2001 attacks are a prime example of meticulous plans executed well.


From the beginning, Osama bin Laden felt that discipline and a code of conduct were necessary. The al Qaeda manual obtained in a raid on a Manchester, England house reveals a number of values and behaviors demanded from all members. These included patience, a calm personality, a commitment to the organization, and the Islamic faith.

And so we can get a better picture of Osama bin Laden the leader. Far from a feckless leader, he developed a vision and remained steadfast in it. He adapted well to contrary events, trained his people, and demanded the best of his men.

Osama bin Laden: loathsome—yes. A successful leader—yes, unfortunately.


  • Maintain a clear and consistent vision
  • Use power wisely and effectively
  • Remain adaptable, able to adjust to changes in outside forces
  • Invest in training for your people
  • Communicate well to assure alignment of everyone in the organization

Keywords: leadership, vision, power, adaptability, training, alignment


Share on Facebook

Finding a Balance in Your Leadership

Last week I attended the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology (SIOP) conference, my favorite. For me, the resonant theme was achieving a balance—in many areas. It was particularly timely given my involvement with a client wrestling with a team of extraordinarily talented individuals who have difficulty working together.

I want to focus on three qualities in leaders which may be assets or liabilities, depending on how they are utilized and how well they fit the situation. These three qualities are strengths, openness, and mental ability.

Curvilinear Performance

Much has been written about the benefits of specific strengths in leadership. Some work has carried this research further, and revealed how often strengths become liabilities. Assertive leaders can cross the line to domineering. Technically knowledgeable leaders can become micro-managers.

The key here is to understand how your leaders are utilizing their strengths. Leverage these strengths but make sure they are held in balance with contrasting characteristics such as good listening skills and openness.

Which brings me to the next quality—openness. While I don’t have statistical evidence, I frequently hear executives praise leaders for their decisiveness and ability to bring issues to closure. This decisiveness is often accompanied with a low amount of openness, a factor of the Big Five, or Five Factor Model of personality.

We can easily imagine situations where a decisive leader, one with low openness may be good at making decisions but less effective when it comes to gathering information in order to make a well-informed and comprehensive decision.

We also must look at the specific task at hand. For example, the leader of a task force exploring future strategies must be open to new ideas and thoughts, i.e. have a high degree of openness. On the other hand, a group working to complete a long-term project requires a leader converging on solutions and closing the project down. These may require a low amount of openness. Here we can see situations where there may be an optimal amount of openness for each job.

Similarly, consider the leader’s level of intelligence and the relationship to their performance. We expect that leaders with low levels of intelligence will have lower performance than those of higher intelligence, and research bears that out. Interestingly enough, once a certain level of intelligence is reached, performance begins to decline with increasing intelligence.

While we can easily imagine the difficulties with a leader who is not too bright, it may be difficult to understand how too much intelligence becomes detrimental. Consider for a moment a brilliant executive with a high business acumen. While he may be good at business analysis and strategy, imagine he is unable to communicate this strategy and motivate his team to implement it. Illuminated in this fashion, his brilliance seems doomed to failure.

So it may be good to consider your own leadership style. Do you have strengths you are leaning on and therefore possibly overusing? How might you balance these strengths in order to move from being a good leader to a superior one?


  • When reviewing required leader characteristics for a job, consider the ramifications if a leader goes overboard on those characteristics.
  • When evaluating a leader, consider the leader’s strengths and the consequences if he or she overusing this strength.

Keyword: leadership, balance, strengths


  • Ghiselli, E. E. (1963). Intelligence and managerial success. Psychological Reports, 12, 898.
  • Kaiser, R., & Hogan, J. (2011). Personality, leader behavior, and overdoing it. Consulting Psychology Journal, 63(4), 219-242.
  • Kaiser, R. B., & Hogan, J. (2012) Personality, leader behavior, and overdoing it: Empirical links. In R. B. Kaiser (Chair), Theory-driven, personality-based leadership development. Symposium conducted at the meeting of Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology 2010, San Diego, CA, USA.
  • Kaiser, R. B., & Overfield, D. V. (2010) Strengths, Strengths Overused, and Lopsided Leadership. In R. B. Kaiser (Chair), The trouble with the strengths fad. Symposium conducted at the meeting of Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology 2010, Atlanta, GA, USA.
  • Kaplan, R. E., & Kaiser, R. B. (2009). Stop overdoing your strengths. Harvard Business Review, 87(2), 100-103.
  • Sharer, K. (2012). Interview by Thomas Fleming : Why I’m a listener: Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer. McKinsey Quarterly.
Share on Facebook