Dealing with Difficult People

By Debra J. Oppenheimer

How do we as humans deal with people who yell and scream at us or refuse to be rational? You know the type, adversarial, manipulative, inflexible, unreasonable, and irrational. For most people, the answer is “We don’t”. If given the choice, most of us choose not to work with people like this. We don’t socialize with them, we avoid them at work if possible, and we make our own lives easier by simply ignoring them whenever we can.

difficult pplBut what happens when you do not have a choice? In homeowner associations, we often find there is at least one person who refuses to listen to anything the board has to say. Unfortunately, because associations are also businesses, it is often not possible to simply ignore the person. So how do associations handle these types of situations? How should they handle them? The same way you would at work when you have no choice. You remain professional and you follow the rules.

First, try to empathize with the “opposition”. In other words,try to understand (not agree) with the difficult person’s position. Understanding the basis for their position may lead to a quicker resolution. See the below example:

Situation One
You are working on picking a landscape bi d. You believe 123 Landscapers would do an excellent job, but one homeowner is screaming at the board for the choice. Take a break in the meeting and talk with the owner and see if you can get his reason for being upset. It could be as simple as having incorrect information about the bid. Another possibility is he is confusing the current company for another company that did poor work for the community in the past. If you can get the opposer to calm down and provide his reasoning, it may be something that can assist or be easily addressed by the board.

Some people believe the only way to be heard or listened to is to yell and scream. While it is difficult to deal with, a little time and effort can assist you to work with these types of homeowners. But what about those people whose demands are just irrational? These are the homeowners whose complaints persist long after a decision was reached or the complaints pertain to issues the association has no authority to address or has already addressed. See the below examples:

Situation Two
A homeowner calls the manager to complain about noise.  When asked for specifics, the homeowner advises he can hear water running in the unit above him when the owner takes a bath and he wants it to stop. There is no appropriate response to this request that will satisfy the complainer. Taking a bath is not a creation of unreasonable noise and prodding such a response will not suffice.  In this type of situation, your fallback position must be to explain that you only have authority to enforce the restrictions and requirements set forth in the covenants and the noise of running bathwater is not a violation of the covenants. Therefore, you cannot assist the complainer.

Situation Three
Homeowner does not believe the association should approve a requested addition in his neighbor’s property.  The design review committee looks at the governing documents and approves the application.  Again, the first step is to communicate with the complainer and advise of the decision and the reasons for the decision. You may even wish to obtain a legal opinion indicating it was appropriate. When the complainer shows up for each meeting thereafter for months and attempts to argue the point again and again, remain calm and follow the rules.  Your conduct of meeting policy should state that homeowners may comment on issues prior to a board vote. Once they have commented on an issue, they do not get to do so again. Do not let them run meetings by going over issues not on the agenda or already decided.  Call on the next person to speak or move to the next item on the agenda.

What do you do about the person who screams, yells, and attacks when he is asked to comply with the covenants?  No matter what the violation is, when the covenant violation notice is mailed out, it is sure to be returned with pages of complaints, or excuses, or both along with attacks against everyone, including the manager and board of directors.

Regardless of what the violation is, if the owner supplies addresses of properties also in violation of the covenants, the board addresses these as complaints. Each violation must be reviewed and if the complaint is verified, then a violation letter should be sent out to each verified violator.

The excuses should be reviewed as evidence in any hearing scheduled on a complaint. The attacks should be reviewed and, if verified, addressed. If untrue, they should be ignored. No matter how long the list is, the board needs to investigate the allegations.  Additionally, the investigation needs to remain separate from the enforcement of the covenant violation of the homeowner. The board must follow the association’s covenant enforcement policy and move forward with the covenant violation just like any other violation. No matter how hateful the letter, the issues still must be reviewed. If associations follow their policies on covenant enforcement, then they will have investigated the complaints and taken action on those matters that could be verified thus, ending those attacks.

The urge to ignore people who attack or to try to turn the other cheek will not help associations. While it is difficult, it is the job of the board of directors working with community managers to investigate complaints and to enforce covenants. Associations and their representatives need to follow their own policies each time an issue arises. Difficult people live within our communities and the only way to address the situations that they cause is to remain professional and follow the rules.

Debra J. Oppenheimer is a partner at HindmanSanchez. With over 20 years of legal and business experience, Debra is a seasoned litigator. She is always prepared for whatever is thrown at her even in the courtroom. As a prior Deputy District Attorney, she learned the value of “listening” to people in order to get them to do what your client wants – a skill she uses daily in covenant enforcement.

Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely?

By James R. Detert and Ethan R. Burris

Chances are, your employees are withholding valuable intelligence from you. Maybe it’s about a project that’s gone off track or a manager who’s behaving badly. No matter how open you are as a manager, our research shows, many of your people are more likely to keep mum than to question initiatives or suggest new ideas at work.

This is true even if, like most leaders, you believe you have an open-door policy. (In our years of studying employee “voice” and advising organizations, we’ve never heard anyone say, “I have a closed-door policy.”) Think about it: How often do employees come to you, on your turf, to tell you the unvarnished truth simply because you’ve encouraged them to do so? The reality is, they worry—rightly or not—that you’ll take their comments personally, or that they’ll come across as disrespectful know-it-alls.

Leaders use a variety of tools to get people to speak up, like “climate” surveys and all-staff feedback sessions. Many of these efforts focus on improving communication up and down the hierarchy. But they usually fall short, regardless of good intentions, for two key reasons: a fear of consequences (embarrassment, isolation, low performance ratings, lost promotions, and even firing) and a sense of futility (the belief that saying something won’t make a difference, so why bother?). Here, we’ll look at how leaders’ misguided attempts to promote candor fail to address—and sometimes stir up—those feelings. We’ll also discuss tactics that are much more effective.

In a number of studies, we’ve found that when employees can voice their concerns freely, organizations see increased retention and stronger performance. At several financial services firms, for example, business units whose employees reported speaking up more had significantly better financial and operational results than others.

So getting all this right pays off—not just for the individuals eager to make contributions but for the organizations they want to improve.

The Fear Factor

It doesn’t take a tyrannical boss to inspire fear within an organization. Nor does it matter if an unsettling event like a restructuring or a takeover happened long ago. Once people become afraid to speak their minds, they’ll keep justifying their silence with explanations like “That’s the way our culture is—you don’t disagree with your boss.”

Without realizing it, leaders tend to make the problem worse with the following practices:

Relying on anonymous feedback.

The promise of anonymity is a common way to encourage frank input. Suggestion boxes, ombudspeople, 360-degree assessments, and satisfaction surveys all serve this purpose. Here’s the logic: If no one knows who said what, no repercussions will follow, so people can be forthright about any topic.

This line of reasoning has three flaws.

First, allowing employees to remain unidentified actually underscores the risks of speaking up—and reinforces people’s fears. The subtext is “It’s not safe to share your views openly in this organization. So we’ve created other channels to get the information we need.”

myth1Second, anonymity can set off a witch hunt. That was a theme at one Fortune 500 company we studied. When employees provided negative feedback through hotlines, suggestion boxes, and such, some bosses demanded to know “Who said this?!” People in other organizations had similar experiences. Many told us that they go to libraries and coffee shops and use public computers to complete online employee surveys—because they worry they’ll be tracked through their IP addresses otherwise. One man said he wouldn’t even report a problem to an ombudsperson. When asked why, he countered, “Who pays his salary?”

Third and perhaps most important, it can be difficult to address issues while protecting the identity of the people who raised them. Reporting in a survey that a manager acts abusively, incompetently, or in racist or sexist ways won’t do any good unless HR or an ombudsperson can assess the extent of the problem, explore the causes, and develop recommendations. That means interviews need to be conducted, stories corroborated, and additional data collected—all of which involve talking to the person who has accused the manager of wrongdoing. And if a complaint refers to a specific incident, it’s often quite clear to the manager which person filed it.

Issuing general invitations to come forward.

Open doors and attitudes are simply too passive. People still have to approach you to initiate a conversation, and that’s intimidating.

“But my people come tell me things,” you may be thinking. Fair enough, though there may be other things they aren’t coming to you about—issues that feel less safe. In particular, if you closely identify with an initiative, they’ll probably withhold constructive criticism about it, assuming you’ll take it personally.

A study we’ve run with hundreds of managers and professionals from different countries bears this out. In it, one group of randomly assigned respondents are asked to imagine they’re on a multifunctional team developing a new product. They’re told that the project keeps hitting major technical problems and that they ought to recommend ending it before it becomes a disaster. A second group are told the same thing but get one additional piece of information: Their boss has invested a lot of time in the project. Individuals in this group are significantly less likely to speak up, we’ve found. As one pointed out, frankness might wound or provoke the boss. “The old saying is ‘Don’t kill the messenger,’” he added, “but usually the messenger gets killed.”

Sending signals that you’re in charge.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably conveying your power through subtle cues. This can cause employees to clam up.

When someone ventures into your office, do you lean back in your chair with your arms clasped behind your head? You may think you’re setting a relaxed tone, but you’re really displaying dominance. (The posture makes you look bigger, a tactic animals and humans use to warn away others.) Are you sitting behind a big oak desk, in an expensive ergonomic chair, while your employee sits in a much smaller, cheaper, less comfortable one? Despite your good intentions (“Come on in!”), you’re inadvertently telling him to watch his step around you.

We’ve seen the effects of subtle power cues in many organizations. The COO of one large hospital in Texas told us a story about a prominent emergency room physician. For years this doctor had an excellent safety record and was well regarded among colleagues for delivering high-quality care. Yet he routinely received low scores on patient satisfaction. Although his diagnoses were accurate and his treatments effective, patients never felt comfortable with him. When his nurse pointed out this was causing them to withhold diagnostically important information, he finally understood what a problem it was.

With some prodding from the COO, the doctor made one simple change: He sat in a chair when making rounds, so he could talk to patients face-to-face rather than stand over them in their beds. Though his conversations were still brief and his bedside manner virtually nonexistent, sitting down made a world of difference. It seemed to convey that he took more time with people and cared about them, even though his other behavior changed very little. The next month, his patient satisfaction scores soared.

The Futility Factor

In many organizations we’ve studied, the biggest reason for withholding ideas and concerns wasn’t fear but, rather, the belief that managers wouldn’t do anything about them anyway. At one Fortune 100 high-tech company, employees cited futility as a reason for reticence almost twice as often as fear.

This “why bother?” attitude stems from—and persists because of—these leadership behaviors:

Failing to model free expression.

When leaders themselves aren’t vocal, their employees take note. One of us saw this while serving as an external researcher on a task force of senior managers at a large science-driven company. Charged with understanding the causes of employee silence and then proposing solutions, the task force conducted more than 200 interviews. But when it came time to present the findings to the CEO and the division presidents, the task force members failed to report how often they had heard about top management’s candor-inhibiting behavior.

Sure enough, the top team approved a relatively toothless set of recommendations and called it a day. Imagine how that felt to those 200 people who were interviewed (and the thousands more who had filled out the survey that led to the task force). Even speaking up about speaking up had proved futile. As more than one employee had predicted, senior people couldn’t be trusted to talk about the proverbial elephant in the room (in this case, top managers’ negative behavior). So why would others in the organization conclude that voicing concerns was worth their time?

If you don’t share what you hear from below with your higher-ups, without excessive filtering or sugarcoating, your employees will stop wasting their own breath. The same thing is likely to happen if they see you sitting silently in meetings when they know you’ve got a mental list of problems or ideas that you could be raising. Formal power comes with an expectation that you’ll be the voice of your subordinates and take action on their behalf. Failure to do so is a big demotivator.

Being unclear about the input you want.

Leaders are most responsive to ideas that support their own agendas. That’s actually not a bad thing—they need to focus on their priorities to be effective. But they also have a hard time admitting that they’re not interested in an idea, which results in “pseudoparticipation”—going through the motions of listening, with little intention of following up. They compound this problem by sending out vague calls for employee feedback—asking for a “single best idea” on a survey, for instance, or inviting people to speak up in meetings about whatever is on their minds.

If you cast that wide a net, what you reel in might not mesh with what you’re trying to accomplish. We’ve found this discrepancy in service and health care settings: When asked what they’d like to improve, frontline employees tend to focus on customer satisfaction, while their managers are looking to increase efficiency and protect against legal liability (in hospitals). If you don’t specify the kind of input you’re seeking, you may end up discarding most of what people tell you—and send the message that it’s useless for them to contribute ideas. Frustration is inevitable.

When leaders take on new roles or join new organizations, they often, as part of a “listening tour,” conduct surveys or individual interviews to hear from employees about possibilities and problems. This can make a lot of sense if you have time to synthesize the information and then take action. But it can backfire if you don’t. Suppose you’re a new manager brought in to lead an expansion into a new region. You already have your marching orders. Holding a series of open-ended meetings so that people can tell you about all the other things they wish you’d do or fix isn’t going to change your main path. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Providing no resources to address issues.

In our consulting work, we’ve seen leaders in higher education, financial services, retail, and other contexts who spent thousands or millions of dollars collecting ideas but then didn’t allocate a single employee to read through the data, much less design a systematic evaluation process. Sometimes we transcribed and analyzed the ideas according to their level of creativity, feasibility, and apparent overall value, only to learn that senior leaders had no intention of holding people accountable for implementing the suggested improvements. Or the company’s leaders simply said they were too strapped to fund any new projects.

Devoting resources to collecting ideas without making commitments, financial and otherwise, to see at least some of them to fruition can only lead to a sense that employee input will change nothing.

Creating a More Vocal Culture

Though leaders clearly struggle to get employees to speak up, it can be done. From our research, we’ve gleaned the following best practices:

Make feedback a regular, casual exchange.

If you ask for input frequently and hold the conversations face-to-face, idea sharing will feel less ominous and more natural. Schedule regular meetings with your employees, and don’t cancel every time you don’t have an agenda. In fact, you might occasionally announce that the top item on the agenda will be employee feedback. Tell people in advance what sort of conversation you’ll be having (a brainstorming meeting, for instance, or a planning session), and explain the kinds of problems or possibilities you want to discuss. That will give a sense of what’s fair game. Also assure people that they needn’t make an ironclad case for every suggestion, so they won’t worry that they’ll look dumb or get in trouble if they don’t have all the answers. When the first brave souls speak up, especially with comments that challenge how things are done, thank them and publicly acknowledge how much you value their input. Then be sure to adopt at least one idea or solve at least one problem that was mentioned, letting everyone know who deserves the credit for bringing it up.

Be transparent.

Transparency about feedback processes can reduce anxiety and increase participation. In one midsize health services company, a VP for quality outlined a six-week plan for gathering and acting on employee ideas for improvements in three mtransparencyajor areas. She laid out three clear phases: two weeks to collect ideas through an online platform; two weeks for task forces to evaluate the impact and feasibility of the ideas; and two weeks to prioritize which ideas would be implemented, create timelines, and announce plans to the rest of the company. Spelling out guidelines and commitments up front made contributing feel less daunting and futile to employees.

Reach out.

If you really want to know what people think about something, go ask them. Otherwise, employees might seek you out only when things are getting really bad for them. However, try not to shut out good suggestions that don’t happen to jibe with your current priorities. A VP of manufacturing in a health products company told us he’d once saved about a million dollars because, during a plant visit, he’d veered from the scheduled “dog and pony show” to walk the floor by himself and talk with frontline employees. One of them mentioned a flaw in the design of some bubble wrap, which the VP jotted down and was able to quickly address.

Soliciting feedback informally can be much more effective than just being open to it when it comes your way.

When you do ask for feedback, go to the people who know something you don’t. The folks in your immediate network probably are similar to you in background, perspective, and knowledge—so branch out. Counteract the all-too-common norm of expecting new people to quietly fit in until they understand “how we do things around here.” New people can tell you how other organizations operate and will have a fresh perspective on your firm’s strengths and weaknesses.

Soften the power cues.

If you really want to get the truth from below, play down your power when interacting with employees. One reason MBWA (management by walking around) is so effective is that it shifts the home field advantage to the staff—the conversation happens on their territory, not yours.

Of course, some conversations will need to happen in your office, but you can take steps to make your guests feel more comfortable. Add a small table with chairs of the same size and quality so that when someone comes to talk, you can sit together. Table shape matters, too. It’s usually easy to guess who has the most power at an oval or a rectangular table, but there’s no “head” at a round table. And consider your attire: Do you really need a tie for meetings with the creative team? You want employees to feel you’re one of them.

Ken Freeman, a successful corporate executive for decades before becoming the dean of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, is someone who understands power signals. When he arrived at the school, the dean’s office was on a high floor with limited access. It was larger and more luxurious than any corporate office he’d ever had. Hardly anyone came to see him. So he moved to a small office with a clear-glass exterior wall, located on a classroom floor just down the hall from a heavily trafficked coffee shop. And he made another conscious choice to signal who he is and what he cares about: The only awards he put on prominent display were those for ethics and his academic diplomas.

Avoid sending mixed messages.

In one R&D organization, the managers were baffled that the brilliant researchers they’d recruited turned out to be uninspiring. But while the firm boasted that it hired only the best, it made its talent feel dumb. When researchers presented to senior managers, they were routinely beaten up and their ideas shot down. Challenging the status quo felt unsafe there. Even informal “blue-sky” sessions were stifled by reminders to use the company’s standard PowerPoint template and adhere to rules about maximum words per slide, which reinforced the feeling that people needed to stay within certain bounds.

Be the example.

Most employees understand that you don’t have full control over the resources or decisions needed to address their issues. To determine whether it’s worth bringing things to your attention, they calculate how likely you are to represent their interests to the leaders above you. To document this implicit calculus, we asked more than 10,000 restaurant employees to what extent their shift supervisors took their problems and suggestions to the general manager for action. Those whose bosses frequently acted on their behalf had significantly reduced feelings of futility. What’s more, they shared their concerns and ideas with their supervisors 10% more frequently than employees whose bosses didn’t represent them.

Employees feel inspired when they see you advocating for them. That message came through quite clearly when we spoke with people at a real estate firm. A team there had inherited a project that its members quickly realized would lead to a dangerous and illegal situation if allowed to continue. One employee described the group’s leader as “courageous,” explaining that he was “unafraid to speak up and point out the issues involved. He was fearless in challenging the status quo, as the project had already been approved by senior managers, who clearly were not paying attention to the details.”

While it’s great when your subordinates can see you speaking up, in many cases that’s not possible, because they aren’t present when you interact with your own boss. But you can tell them what happened and involve them directly in any follow-up steps. For example, rather than letting subordinates suspect you didn’t fight hard for their project, tell them that senior management was skeptical about some of your numbers and unsure whether it deserved prioritization in light of many other options being considered. And then bring them with you to present additional data that might convince higher-ups. This has a few benefits: First, it shows your people that you were willing to make an effort on their behalf, something they’re likely to appreciate no matter how things turn out. Second, it gives them a broader perspective on the barriers you, and those above you, face. And third, it keeps them informed about your progress so that they aren’t left wondering what’s happened since they spoke with you—which brings us to our final recommendation.

Close the loop.

If you don’t want people to think their ideas went straight to the trash can, make sure you tell them what you did next and what they can expect as a result.

Even the best-intentioned leaders often fall down on follow-up just because they are busy fighting fires. So consider adopting processes that formally include next steps, such as the “strategic fitness process” developed by Mike Beer and his colleagues at the consulting firm TruePoint. It calls for managers to receive input from a task force that gathers employees’ comments and highlights themes. The managers then report to the task force what they will do in response to the feedback. Task force members are responsible for communicating plans to the staff and helping implement the changes. Another effective tactic is simply to adhere to strict, well-publicized timelines for collecting, evaluating, and implementing ideas.

Getting the ideas you want and need from your employees will always be a challenge. Most people care too much about their social and material well-being to routinely speak truth to power—unless you clear some obstacles out of the way. Halfhearted efforts like anonymous reporting systems and vague invitations to submit ideas won’t do the trick. What will make a difference is taking steps to assure people that it’s both safe and worthwhile to contribute, no matter where they sit in the organization.

James R. Detert is a professor of management at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Ethan R. Burris is an associate professor of management at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.


6 Tips for Recruiting Future HOA Leaders

By Community Association Management

  1.  Start the conversation early.

“The best way to get people involved is to do it right when they move in,” says Debra A. Warren, principal of Cinnabar Consulting in San Rafael, Calif., which provides training and employee development services to community association management firms and training and strategic planning sessions for association board members. “Have a program in which a board member is assigned to go meet new residents and bring basic information about the association.”

“The intention should be to get them to come to board meetings and meet the rest of the board members to have a conversation about their interests,” adds Warren. “From a committee perspective, you should be trying to get a feel for where they might fit in because they have an interest. The idea is to have a member of the board start that conversation.”

  1. Be wary of burdening busy professionals.

 “Look at new owners’ leadership ability, communication ability and so on for potential leadership positions,” advises Warren. “But be careful because I’ve seen problems develop. It’s important for board members not to be coercive to get someone to volunteer for the board who doesn’t have the time to participate.

“Maybe a CPA or financial planner moves in,” Warren explains. “She’s a very busy professional but has expertise the board can use. Board members will get excited to recruit her, and she can certainly be helpful. But maybe she doesn’t have the time available to devote to the board. Maybe the answer isn’t for her to be on the board but to be on a committee or available to provide extra advice to the board when necessary. You don’t have to lead people all the way into the swamp the first time.”

  1. Empower members to get involved.

“I just ran across a huge community with thousands of residents that’s particularly good at this,” says McCormick. “I asked, ‘What’s your secret?’ The response was that it’s a matter of giving volunteers the authority to do things and recognizing them for their accomplishments. You need to have a process that supports them and enables them. If you don’t have that, they’ll fizzle away.”

If there’s a local meeting of association members or professionals that’s open to the public, encourage your residents to go. “The volunteers I saw were at an association industry event, and the association had told them, ‘Yes, please get involved,’” explains McCormick. “The association fosters those residents’ desire to go to industry events, and the residents feel involved, important, and like they’re really accomplishing something. That’s good for them and the community.”

  1. Delegate authority to your residents.

“Another key is giving volunteers the authority to do things,” says McCormick. “You have to pay attention to what residents are saying. A resident may come to a meeting and say, ‘I was out doing this in the community, and I met this person.’ That person sounds like she has a natural tendency to meet people and might be perfect for a welcoming committee for new residents. In that case, you’re giving her the ability to do things she already likes on behalf of the association, and she’s going to have an investment in it. But you have to pay attention. If a resident says he loves gardening, you have to think: ‘Perfect for the landscape committee!’”

  1. Start them out slowly.

“I’ve seen some people want to get involved, but they’re not quite ready yet,” says Robert M. DeNichilo, an attorney at DeNichilo & Lindsley LLP in Irvine, Calif., who specializes in representing community associations. “So they get involved on committees. It’s a platform to graduate from before serving on the board, and it’s a way for them to get a taste of what it’s like to be involved.”recognition

  1. Recognize their efforts.

Residents are more likely to want to continue helping out if you recognize them for their contributions. “Give recognition at the annual meeting, even if it’s simple,” says McCormick. “How much does it cost to create a certificate that you print out?



Secrets of the Superbosses

By Sydney Finkelstein

What do Ralph Lauren, Larry Ellison, Julian Robertson, Jay Chiat, Bill Walsh, George Lucas, Bob Noyce, Lorne Michaels, and Mary Kay Ash have in common?

Certainly all of them are known for being talented and successful—even legendary—in their respective fields. All have reputations as innovators who pioneered new business models, products, or services that created billions of dollars in value. But there’s one thing that distinguishes these business icons from their equally famous peers: the ability to groom talent. They didn’t just build organizations; they spotted, trained, and developed a future generation of leaders. They belong in a category beyond superstars: superbosses.


I started researching this cohort of managers a decade ago, when I noticed a curious pattern: If you look at the top people in a given industry, you’ll often find that as many as half of them once worked for the same well-known leader. In professional football, 20 of the NFL’s 32 head coaches trained under Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers or under someone in his coaching tree. In hedge funds, dozens of protégés of Julian Robertson, the founder of the investment firm Tiger Management, have become top fund managers. And from 1994 until 2004, nine of the 11 executives who worked closely with Larry Ellison at Oracle and left the company without retiring went on to become CEOs, chairs, or COOs of other companies.

Eager to learn the secrets of these star makers, I reviewed thousands of articles and books and conducted more than 200 interviews to identify 18 primary study subjects (definite superbosses) and a few dozen secondary ones (likely superbosses). I then looked for patterns—common tastes, proclivities, behaviors—anything that might help explain why these people were able to propel not only their companies but also their protégés to such great heights.

I found that superbosses share a number of key personality traits. They tend to be extremely confident, competitive, and imaginative. They also act with integrity and aren’t afraid to let their authentic selves shine through.

But far more interesting (and more important for teaching purposes) were the similarities I saw in the “people strategies” that superbosses employed. Their remarkable success as talent spawners was not the result of some innate genius. These leaders follow specific practices in hiring and honing talent—practices that the rest of us can study and incorporate into our own repertoires.

Unconventional Hiring

Superbosses begin by seeking out unusually gifted people—individuals who are capable not merely of driving a business forward but of rewriting the very definition of success. As Lorne Michaels, the longtime producer of Saturday Night Live, has said, “If you look around the room and you think, ‘God, these people are amazing,’ then you’re probably in the right room.” Here’s how he and others do it.

Focus on intelligence, creativity, and flexibility.

Superbosses value these three attributes above all others. C. Ronald Blankenship and R. Scot Sellers, both protégés of real estate guru Bill Sanders before they became CEOs of leading property companies themselves, remember how Sanders would brag about bringing in so many people who were “four times smarter” than he was. He would insist that if you weren’t going to hire someone great, you shouldn’t hire anyone at all.

Superbosses want people who can approach problems from new angles, handle surprises, learn quickly, and excel in any position. Norman Brinker, the casual-dining innovator who founded Steak and Ale, was a good example. As Rick Berman, who worked under him before founding a successful lobbying firm, recalls, Brinker “wasn’t a fan of hiring people to play first base; he just wanted to hire a good baseball player.” That emphasis on versatility helped give rise to a generation of top leaders in the restaurant industry, including the CEOs of Outback Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s, and Burger King.

Find unlikely winners.

Superbosses consider credentials, of course, but they’re also willing to take chances on people who lack industry experience or even college degrees. According to Marty Staff, who worked for Ralph Lauren before becoming CEO of Hugo Boss USA, Lauren once made a runway model the head of women’s design “for no other reason than she seemed to get it—she got the clothes.” At health care giant HCA, Tommy Frist sometimes set even physical therapists on a path to the C-suite, simply because he spotted something in them.

Because they reject preconceived notions of what talent should look like, superbosses often show greater openness toward women and minorities. Mary Kay Ash, in fact, expressly designed her company to empower women, holding sales conferences where the message was “If she can do it, so can I.” Walsh started a fellowship program in the NFL for minority coaches, giving participants a fast track into the league and himself a chance to tap into a vast new source of talent.

Superbosses often dispense with the conventional interview process, too; instead, they pose unusual or quirky questions or use observation as a tool. When Ralph Lauren met with job candidates, for example, he would ask them to explain what they were wearing and why. Sanders would invite prospects to hike a 7,000-foot peak on his New Mexico ranch with him and other managers. “We learned a whole lot about these kids on the hikes,” recalls Constance Moore, who worked for Sanders at Security Capital before becoming CEO of BRE Properties. “After, we would all sit down and talk about each of them and figure out which ones we wanted to ask to join.”

Adapt the job or organization to fit the talent.

Superbosses opportunistically tailor jobs and sometimes even their organizations to new hires. As an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals, Walsh had to invent a new offense to enable the backup quarterback to excel after an injury brought down the team’s starter. Because the second-stringer had more accuracy than arm strength, Walsh designed an unusual strategy around short passes—which later became known as the West Coast offense (when Walsh was with the 49ers). Lorne Michaels lets his ensemble’s ideas and abilities constantly shape and reshape their contributions to Saturday Night Live. Writers sometimes become performers, and performers or assistant directors sometimes become writers. At Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’s employees didn’t even have job descriptions. They were assigned tasks on various projects according to what was needed and who was available. All these examples run counter to traditional HR practices, but they reflect an innovative mindset that superbosses bring to virtually everything they do.

Accept churn.

Smart, creative, flexible people tend to have fast-paced careers. Some may soon want to move on. That’s OK with superbosses. They understand that the quality of talent on their teams matters more than stability, and they regard turnover as an opportunity to find fresh stars. Consider how Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks reacted when, in 1997, his second in command, Richard Allen, was asked to become the head of National Geographic’s for-profit arm. Hendricks would have loved to have kept Allen but never tried to hold him back, realizing that he’d rather have a friend leading his rival than anyone else. “It was a real indication of his generosity of spirit,” Allen says.

This kind of attitude has an added payoff: When word gets out that people who work for you succeed not only at your organization but outside it, the world will start beating a path to your door. Superbosses barely need to recruit, because their reputations bring a continuous stream of talent to them.

The Three Types of Superbosses


Hands-on Leadership

Superbosses also have a distinct way of developing employees. Take Larry Ellison. His greatest strength, according to one of his protégés, is his ability “to make exceptional people do the impossible.” I heard stories in a similar vein about other superbosses. From them, one can distill these principles:

Set high expectations.

Superbosses are bullish on what their teams can accomplish. They demand extraordinarily high performance; “perfect is good enough” captures their attitude. The legendary Bob Noyce, for instance, “could be a very, very tough taskmaster,” remembers his fellow Intel cofounder Gordon Moore. “If you were up for the challenge, you could be very successful.” But superbosses go beyond pushing hard for results and instill a sense of confidence and exceptionalism in their people. Michael Rubin, who was a young member of Lucas Film’s Graphics Group in the 1980s, recalls how transformational it was to hear Lucas talk about his vision for digital filmmaking and the role they would all play in it. “I heard him explain what the future could be like, and I was infected with that at age 22. I believed him. And it changed my career.” Tom Carroll, now chairman of TBWA Group, sounds a similar note about former boss Chiat: “Jay left something in people that makes it hard for you to go back to being ordinary. Once you feel it, you can’t change it.”

Be a master.

Superbosses are extremely effective delegators. Having chosen smart, ambitious, adaptable people and offered them a vision, they trust the team to execute. “Norman Brinker gave us incredible autonomy,” explains Richard Frank, a former senior manager at Steak and Ale who went on to run Chuck E. Cheese. “We definitely had the ability to fail.” And yet superbosses also remain intimately involved in the details of their businesses and their employees’ work. HCA’s Tommy Frist, a licensed pilot, would take subordinates on his plane to company events, using the flight time to engage in what was almost a tutorial on some aspect of what those people were working on. I compare it to the master-apprentice relationship you find in a traditional artisan workshop. Like highly skilled craftsmen, superbosses give protégés an unusual amount of hands-on experience but also monitor their progress, offer instruction and intense feedback, and step in to work with them side by side when necessary.

Superbosses’ teachings extend to leadership and life lessons as well. Frist would counsel managers on everything from setting daily goals to the importance of exercising to stay sharp. Luc Vandevelde, the former chairman of Marks and Spencer and Carrefour, was taught by former Kraft CEO Michael Miles to walk a fine line between partnering with subordinates and micromanaging them. Miles advised Vandevelde to work closely enough with his people to “elicit skills” but not so closely that he would “limit skills.” “I’ll never forget those words,” Vandevelde explains. “They profoundly changed my management approach, creating an environment where people can be at their best.”

Encourage step-change growth.

All the superbosses I studied offered advancement opportunities far beyond those found in traditional organizations. Rather than relying solely on “competency models” to guide development and promotion decisions, they customized career paths for protégés who had proved their worth, seeking to dramatically compress their learning and growth. Chase Coleman, a disciple of Julian Robertson, says that his former boss “was good at providing a steep learning curve for people who excelled at their first task.” In fact, just three years after Coleman joined Tiger Management as a technology analyst, Robertson sent him off with $25 million to start his own fund. Larry Ellison took a similar approach, says Gary Bloom, a former executive VP of Oracle who later became CEO of Veritas. “One thing Oracle was incredibly good at was on a continual basis throwing new responsibility at people,” Bloom notes. For example, Safra Catz was acting as CEO in all but name for a decade before formally being elevated to co-CEO (with Mark Hurd) in 2014.

Stay connected.

For superbosses, counseling protégés is a long-term commitment. Even after someone moves out of their organization, superbosses continue to offer advice, personal introductions, and “membership” in their networks. Former creative director Ken Segall says that although he served under Jay Chiat for only three years during the mid-1990s, he made a practice of calling his former boss whenever he changed jobs. “Usually within two or three hours at the most, I would get a call back,” Segall recalls. “He would consult with me and advise me. He was that kind of guy.”

Maintaining relationships with ex-employees sets superbosses up for all sorts of follow-on opportunities, such as developing business partnerships. Frist helped many of the managers who’d worked for him at HCA start companies in the health care space by investing or becoming a customer. Lorne Michaels excelled at this, too, producing films and TV shows with former SNL stars Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen, and Tina Fey.

Superbosses employ practices that set them head and shoulders above even the best traditional bosses. They seek out talent differently and hire them in unusual ways. They create high expectations and take it upon themselves to serve as “masters” to up-and-coming “apprentices.” And they accept it when their protégés go on to bigger and better things, making sure to stay connected.

You, too, can move closer to this ideal. Don’t feel you need to try every move in the playbook at once. Experiment with one or two. Consider unorthodox applicants for open positions, looking at people who might possess unusual abilities. Remember that people are more effective when they feel confident, and make it your job to build them up. Get in the trenches more often with line employees, so you can learn more about their particular talents and challenges and impart wisdom that will help them grow. Look for opportunities to delegate big responsibility even to younger team members.

Following the superboss playbook, we can all become better at nurturing talent, creating higher-performing workforces and, ultimately, more dynamic and sustainable businesses and industries.

Sydney Finkelstein is the Steven Roth Professor of Management in Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and the author of Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent (Portfolio/Penguin, February 2016) from which this article was adapted.


Be Intentional About Leadership

By Mary Jo Asmus

Many leaders put as much effort into defining how they want to “show up” as they would in buying a new refrigerator. In fact, some may give their leadership skills even less thought. These mindless leaders react to whatever captures their attention and desire in the moment, but don’t stop to think about their impact or how they want others to remember them when they are no longer around.

Being intentional about how you lead is hard work, but in a way it’s no different than learning to play the piano or getting better at your golf swing. It requires you to look to a future goal (“I want to be a concert pianist”; “I want to be able to compete at golf”; “I want to increase my level of influence”). You have to be diligent and work hard at practicing with deliberate action steps that are focused on the nuances of your strengths and gaps.

It takes courage, fortitude, and resolve to be intentional in your work as a leader. It requires risk, failure and the ability to pick yourself back up and go at it again.

The hard work is worth your efforts. The gifts that come back to you when you’re intentional are results and a legacy that others remember. You’ll create a world that is better than when you entered it.

To start you on your journey of intentionality:
Be visionary. This is what Stephen Covey called “begin with the end in mind.” Consider the following questions: What will it look like when you’re at your best as a leader? How will others describe you and the impact you made on them? What will they remember you for? No matter what you do and how you do it, you’ll leave a legacy. Why not make it one that you’ve crafted and been intentional about? Write it down. Revise it. Ask others what they think about it. But do have a personal leadership vision.

Be driven by your values. What values do you stand for? Knowing what principles and beliefs are important to you provides an anchor when it comes time to make tough decisions or take difficult action. Spend some time thinking about what’s important to you and what things you won’t compromise on. You can work with a mentor or coach on this, or you might already have an idea of what’s most important to you. Write down your top three to five values. Carry them with you or memorize them. They will be an important tool to help you become and stay a great leader.

Be courageous. It takes courage to follow a vision and to stand true to your values. Are you ready for the conflict it may cause? How will you react when you’re criticized for decisions you make based on your values? How will you respond to those who disagree? A personal vision and values sometimes requires you to follow the road less traveled, which isn’t always considered an asset in the business world. Make sure that your resolve is strong as it will only make you a better, more confident leader.

Be reflective on your progress at becoming more intentional. Refer to your personal vision and values regularly as you consider if you are on the path or straying from them. What steps are you taking to assure that your vision and values become incorporated into your daily routine? What happens when your daily routine blows up and you are under stress (do you revert to reacting rather than being intentional?). Who can help you stay true to what matters to you?

Being intentional about your leadership is a best practice for making incremental improvements in the way you lead. Start with vision, values, courage and reflection, and you are on your way toward becoming the best.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages Fortune 500 corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.

4 Reasons to be a Mentor

By Peter Cohan

Mike Bergelson, CEO of Everwise, a service that connects mentors and protégées, believes mentoring is a great way for big companies like his former employer to develop talent. A study by a former Sun Microsystems executive found that employees who received mentoring were five times more likely to be promoted. And a study of successful people like Warren Buffett found that the second most important reason they believe they’ve been successful is great mentors (Buffett’s was Benjamin Graham).

Everwise has developed an algorithm that has contributed to a “96 percent match satisfaction rate.” Assuming that’s true, Bergelson should be an authority on why people agree to serve as mentors. Here are his four top reasons.

1. Give Back

Successful people I have interviewed often say that they were helped early in their career by someone who had achieved greatness. Now they believe that they should “pay it forward.”

But why do they feel that way? Some feel that they are repaying a debt to future generations; others believe that if their advice helps a younger person, it will make a little piece of them immortal; still others see mentoring as going back in a time machine and giving a younger version of themselves the advice that they wish they had received.

This last reason highlights the importance of matching the right mentor and protégé. After all, if a mentor finds a young person with similar life experiences–such as emigrating from Chile or competing in triathlons–it will strengthen the feeling of giving back to a younger version of herself.

2. Learn From Process

Many mentors claim that they learn by teaching. This observation brings to mind the Seinfeld episode about mentoring. In case you missed it, George Costanza needs to learn about risk management so he asks his protégé to record herself reading the book to him. (Naturally, Costanza took the idea of learning from mentoring and turning it on its head.)

Bergelson said that many mentors learn through the process of teaching others and they find that mentoring makes them better leaders. He said that 94 percent of mentors agree to repeat their experience because they “take away a lot from the process.”

3. Meet New People

Mentors also like the idea of meeting new people whom they can add to their “I kmentorPuzzleSMnew when” list. After all, who doesn’t like the idea of bragging to associates that they knew [currently famous person X] before they became successful?

For mentors with this motive, there is also a potential financial benefit. The protégé might offer the mentor an opportunity to invest in an early-stage venture. And if that happens, the mentor may not only get bragging rights but a big slug of cash when he sells stock in the now successful venture.

 4. Get Exposed to New Ideas

Protégés also expose mentors to new ideas. For example, the protégé might discuss how her company is using a new approach to innovation, pricing, or customer service. Mentors may be able to apply some of these best practices to their own activities.

People are willing to mentor for free because they already have–in the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs–met their physiological and safety needs and now seek esteem and self-actualization. Mentoring is a way to get there.

Peter Cohan is a strategy consultant, start-up investor, teacher, corporate speaker, pundit, and author.

Will You Leave Your Comfort Zone?

By Suzanne Lucas

Many new business owners rely on past experience to make decisions. How to break that pattern.

I live in Basel, Switzerland, which might have the best public transportation system in the world. It is clean, fast, on time, and can get you where you want to be. In fact, it’s so fabulous that I’ve lived here for four years and still don’t own a car.

So, I was somewhat amused to look out the window of my tram this morning and see at least 100 people, in business attire, with small suitcases, waiting for taxis. (There’s a huge jewelry convention in town.) The woman next to me on the tram noticed too, and we laughed. Those people will be standing there at least an hour waiting for a taxi to get them to their hotels. In the meantime, they’ll get cranky and hot (most were wearing black and it’s in the mid 70s today), and will arrive at their hotels far later than they would if they crossed the street and jumped on a tram.

So, why wait for a taxi when it would be far easier to take public transportation? I think the answer to this is indicative of problems small business owners face as well. Here’s what I think is going through their brains–and your brains–and how to fix it.

What is going through their brains: I know how taxis work. I don’t know how the tram system works. I’d have to ask somebody what tram to take. What if I make a mistake? I don’t speak German. Yes, I see the big information booth, but if I walk over there I will lose my place in the taxi line. Plus everyone else is in the taxi line. They will think I’m cheap and not hip if I take a tram instead of a taxi.

Here’s what goes through the brains of new business owners: I know how my old manager managed me, so I’ll manage people like that. There’s resources to help people like me out, I think, but I’m not quite sure who to ask or what to say and if I say it wrong, people will think I’m stupid. Besides, by asking, people will think I don’t know what I’m doing, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing even though it doesn’t seem to be working very well.

Why do we do that? Why don’t we just ask the darn questions? There are resources out there, but sometimes they require us to step outside our comfort zones. Sometimes they require us to say, “Hey, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing here. Can you help me out?” Sometimes it requires that we ask a question of (gasp!) a subordinate who has more knowledge and experience in that particular area.

If you start asking questions, you’ll find that there are fabulous resources. You’ll find that there are (probably) better ways to do whatever it is that you need to do. And if you are lucky enough to find out that you’re doing it the best possible way, you can go forward with confidence.

If those people waiting for the taxis were able to step outside their comfort zone just a little and walk to the information booth, they’d undoubtedly discover that there was information available in a language they speak, their hotel was less than a block away from the tram stop, and that a tram ticket will cost about five francs instead of the 40 to 50 they’ll have to pay for a taxi.

What will you find out if you step outside your comfort zone and ask?

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. Follow her at Twitter, connect with her at LinkedIn, read her blog, or send her an email.

When We’re Hungriest for Leadership

by Eric McNulty, Leonard Marcus, and Barry Dorn

Just three years ago we wrote a case study for Harvard Business Review based on a terror attack in our home city of Boston. That abstract, fictional situation has now come to painful life.

At the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard, we study crisis leadership in many settings. We have seen graphic photos and heard compelling testimony about terror attacks around the world. Even for us, the horrific scenes of the carnage at the Boston Marathon yesterday are difficult to push out of our minds.

In the fictional case study we wrote, there was an explosion in the subway and a business leader had to decide whether or not to let his building be used as a triage center and temporary morgue. The expert advice was unanimous: in times of crisis, civic duty trumps private interests. Yesterday, the city of Boston resoundingly agreed: we saw many people step up to selflessly help others. Whether or not they would call themselves “leaders” at all, many did offer leadership.

It is in difficult times like these that we are hungriest for leadership, for people who can restore order, find the perpetrators, organize the aftermath, and help us find meaning and common purpose. People are wounded, whether physically or emotionally. Even those who only watched the events on television can feel the effects. Leaders, too, are affected — they’re only human. But leadership moments come unexpectedly for each of us.

Fortunately here, it seems that careful preparation helped civic leaders improvise a swift and effective response to the unthinkable. Boston officials have used past marathons and the city’s annual Fourth of July celebration to develop, exercise, and test their preparedness plans. They had also had been at the forefront of the Tale of Our Cities program, an outgrowth of a class project at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative that brought officials from London, Madrid, Islamabad, and Israel to share their experience with terrorist bombings. The city absorbed these lessons and modified its plans accordingly. For example, providing effective medical treatment in the aftermath of a mass casualty bombing is distinctly different from a more typical disaster such as multiple car collision. Multiple law enforcement agencies may see every patient as a possible “person of interest,” many physicians have limited experience with blast injuries, and the walking wounded can overwhelm the nearest healthcare facilities. Without careful preparation, leaders may do exactly the wrong thing while trying to do the right thing.

Every crisis is potentially two crises: the original event and the response to the incident. When leadership remains calm and composed, they can help avoid turning the reaction to the crisis into a secondary disaster. In this case, the response was sure and swift. In Boston, effective preparation and in-the-moment leadership kept a terrible tragedy from descending into chaos that could well have resulted in more injuries, greater loss of life, and the possible destruction of evidence. Medical professionals, police, and race volunteers provided immediate aid. The professionals called upon long-rehearsed responses and were able nimbly organize bystanders and volunteers. The area was cleared quickly and efficiently.

But leadership at a time like this is not just about the careful preparations and emergency improvisations of civic leaders and emergency responders. It’s about being the leader your followers need, no matter your position or your title.

People will mirror your behavior: Project calm and they will be composed. Demonstrate resolve and they will be strong. Be empathetic and they will support each other…and you.

We all go to the “emotional basement” in the face of a threat. It is an instinctual survival mechanism that serves us well when confronted with danger. However, the basement is not a place to dwell. Getting back to business as usual is a path up from the basement. Engaging in activities at which people can demonstrate basic competence helps “reset” the brain to a more productive mode.

It can be easy to get caught up in “what if” scenarios that bedevil leaders with potential threats around every corner. This is, unfortunately, the world in which we live. Random violence is possible and increasingly probable if not precisely predictable.

Nothing can bring back the victims or undo the injuries resulting from the violence in Boston. It is the job of leaders to help us see beyond the tragedy and pain, and heal. You must attend to collective resilience so that organizations and communities rapidly recover from tragedy. You encounter many people in any given day; take a day to slow down and connect with every single person you meet. Use their names. Ask about how the day is going. Try to meaningfully connect with each and every one of them. As Admiral Thad Allen said in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, collateral compassion is a good thing.

It is your opportunity to help others realize their strength and find hope in the darkness

Eric McNulty, Leonard Marcus, and Barry Dorn: Eric McNulty, Leonard Marcus, and Barry Dorn are faculty at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint program of the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. They are co-authors of the forthcoming book, You’re It! Mastering High Stakes Leadership.

1 Out of Every 2 Managers Is Terrible at Accountability

By Darren Overfield and Rob Kaiser

Out of all the things we expect of leaders — taking charge, setting strategy, empowering people, driving execution, you name it — what one single behavior would you guess is most often neglected or avoided among executives? Seeing the big picture? Nope. Delegating? Nope. Mapping out detailed project plans? Nope. Although many upper-level managers don’t do these things enough, by far and away the single-most shirked responsibility of executives is holding people accountable. No matter how tough a game they may talk about performance, when it comes to holding people’s feet to the fire, leaders step back from the heat.

In our database of more than 5,400 upper-level managers from the US, Europe, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific gathered since 2010, 46% are rated “too little” on the item, “Holds people accountable — firm when they don’t deliver.” Remarkably, the result holds up no matter how you slice the data — by ratings from bosses, peers, or even subordinates. It holds up for C-level executives compared to directors and middle managers. It is about the same in different cultures too; although accountability is a bit more common in some countries than others, it is still the most neglected behavior within every region we have studied.

When we first observed this trend, it struck us as counterintuitive. An epidemic of letting people off the hook is incongruous with the view of senior managers as tough, hard chargers intent on getting results. But episodes of Mad Men notwithstanding, this stereotype of executive leaders is seriously out of date. Abraham Zaleznik wrote about this myth over 20 years ago in his classic HBR article, “Real Work.” Zaleznik chronicled how he saw American managers, influenced by the rising popularity of the human relations school, turn increasingly from the substantive work of organizations — creating products and services, cultivating markets, pleasing customers, cutting costs, and getting stuff done — to what he termed “psychopolitics.” What he meant was that in the 1980s American managers became obsessed with managing their popularity, and were more concerned with greasing the skids, avoiding tough conversations, and maintaining a favorable image. Thus an interest in productivity gave way to process and procedures. Controversy and conflict about what needs to get done and how to do it was replaced with the ambiguity of politeness, political correctness, and efforts to not offend.

We think this trend has continued, and perhaps even been intensified as the workforce has become more diverse and especially as it has gotten younger. Over the last year blogs at US News, Daily Finance, Forbes, and articles like this one in the New York Times have questioned the work ethic and entitlement mentality of generation Y. The youngest members of the workforce, especially in the US, have grown up in a sheltered environment; they expect praise and recognition and can be indignant when it is not forthcoming. They are not particularly open to critical feedback. No surprise, then, that at a time when talent retention and engaging employees is de rigueur we get silly advice to management such as, “don’t give employees a hard time about their weaknesses, celebrate their strengths.”

But there is an even deeper explanation for the lack of managerial courage to hold employees to account for their performance. The evidence comes from experimental studies of cooperation and the problem of “free-riding,” which reveal the individual- and group-level outcomes that accrue when some team members don’t carry their weight and drag on the performance of others. The first lesson from this research is that within a group, free-riders and cheaters often get ahead of hard working contributors: they enjoy the benefits of group membership without making the personal sacrifice.

However, groups of cooperative contributors outperform groups of cheating free-riders. Thus, it is no surprise that groups in which free-riders are punished for their loafing outperform groups in which they are not. But the interesting finding in all of this is that the person who does the punishing actually pays a personal price in terms of lost social support. In a nutshell, group performance requires that someone plays the role of sheriff, but it is a thankless job. It is another one of those sticky cases where what is good for the group can be bad for the individual. You know, the kind of stuff that in another era was considered commendable because it served a greater good than self-interest.

In this light, it is easy to see why so many people in positions of authority are soft on accountability. In an age of career management and “psychopolitics,” where personal interest reigns supreme, who wants to risk being the bad guy? The unfortunate consequence, however, is that no matter what short-term costs an upwardly ambitious manager avoids by not playing the sheriff, they are overshadowed in the long run by the creation of a culture of mediocrity and lackluster organizational performance. Add this up over time and across departments and business units and the aggregate costs of neglecting accountability can be staggering for everyone.

Darren Overfield is a senior consultant at Kaplan DeVries. Rob Kaiser is president of Kaiser Leadership Solutions.


10 Leadership Practices to Stop Today

By Paul Spiegelman

If you want to be the best in your industry, you have to get rid of your outdated management style.

You might not feel it day-to-day, but business management is in a major transition. The old days of command-and-control leadership are fading in favor of what might be better termed a trust-and-track method, in which people are not just told what to do, but why they are doing it. More formally, we’re moving from what was called “transactional” leadership to “transformative” leadership. And there’s no turning back.

Business owners certainly have a long way to go, especially in more established companies where old practices die hard. But you can see increasing evidence that by creating a company with a clear purpose and values, you’ll find your employees connect themselves to something bigger, and that increases productivity. In other words, a culture of engagement leads to greater customer loyalty, and better financial success.

Here’s my list of “old school” practices you ought to chuck, and “new school” practices to champion instead:

1. Out: Micro-management, or the need to control every aspect of your company. In: Empowerment, the ability to give your people some rope–even rope to make mistakes without blame.

2. Out: Management by walking around the office; it is no longer enough to be visible. In: Leadership by watching and listening, engaging in conversation, implementing the ideas presented to you, and distributing the results.

3. Out: Pretending you know everything. You don’t have all the answers, so why try to make people think you do? In: Knowing your leadership team members and trusting them. Choose great people who have the right skills and fit the culture. And get out of the way.

4. Out: No mistakes, or a “no tolerance policy” some still think works. In: Learning from mistakes, or being the first to admit an error.

5. Out: The balance sheet drives the business, and informs all other decisions. In: People drive the business, boosting customer loyalty, and profit.

6. Out: Job competency is sufficient. Do the job asked, and you’ll survive. In: Recruit “A” players who will go the extra mile. They’re out there.

7. Out: Invest in technology to increase productivity. In: Invest in people.

8. Out: Demand change; be very specific about what you want and when. In: Nurture change; your people can come up with the best ideas and you can give them credit for it.

9. Out: Fried food in the cafeteria. In: Wellness in the workplace.

10. Out: Incentives; pay employees more money and they’ll do more. In: Rewards; being valued matters more than money.

So ask yourself which of these out-of-date practices you’re still using. There’s no time like now to try something new.

Paul Spiegelman is founder and CEO of BerylHealth, which manages patient interactions for hospitals, and co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. Read more at @paulspiegelman