At first glance, I thought that Alan Deutschman's new book, Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders, was an exercise in belaboring the obvious. Just as Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink can be reduced to "trust your gut," I thought Deutschman's premise that top CEOs and leaders need to "walk the walk, not just talk the talk," was too obvious to warrant repeating, let alone spend 176 pages discussing at length. But after reading both the book and the business section pages over the past few days, I've decided I was wrong. On two fronts.
First, it appears that Deutschman's premise about the importance of management being authentic, honest, and not asking anyone beneath them to meet any standard or make any sacrifice they're not prepared to meet or make themselves is clearly not as obvious or widely understood as I once might have thought. Take yesterday's column by David Carr of the New York Times about the management at the Tribune Company arguing to a bankruptcy court--after leading the company into bankruptcy (in no small part because of a badly-conceived, heavily-leveraged purchase that left the company saddled with debt) and depriving more than 2,000 employees of jobs-- that the managers should be awarded between 45 to 60 million dollars in performance bonuses. The bonuses are necessary, the company's lawyers argued, because getting a company out of bankruptcy is hard work, and "not being rewarded for hard work and hard effort is demotivating."
No kidding. As Carr says, tell that to the 2,000 journalists and other Tribune personnel whose reward for hard work and hard effort was the elimination of their jobs.
The stunning obliviousness of the Tribune management reminds me of a definition I heard a long time ago for "chutzpah": someone who kills his or her parents and then pleads mercy from the court because he or she is an orphan. Run a company into bankruptcy, and then plead with the court that running a bankrupt company is hard, so you need extra money to do it. That takes ... well, chutzpah. Among other things. Not to mention the fact that $60 million (if all the management performance numbers were met) would give every laid-off staff person $30,000 a year. Think of the products the Tribune could actually produce for that amount of money.
Compare that, for a moment, to some of the military and business leaders Deutschman uses as examples--from Alexander the Great, who took more hits on the front line than any of his soldiers, to Norman Schwartzkopf, who insisted that officers in his command eat the same food and meet the same fitness standards as the troops they commanded. Or Bill Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard, who Deutschman says made every employee, including himself and his entire top management team, take every 10th day off without pay, rather than laying off any employees in the recession of 1970.
Another point Deutschman makes is that a great leader has, in the words of Urban Meyer, head football coach at the University of Florida (where Tim Tebow plays), "the ability to make the level of play of everyone else around him better." Again, a seeming statement of the ridiculously obvious. But consider this piece on Bank of America's outgoing CEO (and former chariman) Ken Lewis, who announced last week that he was retiring--although he said he'd stay on through December because a successor wasn't waiting in the wings. And why wasn't a successor waiting in the wings? Because, according to the article's author, Joe Nocera, Lewis "brutally fired many of the firm's most talented executives, seemingly afraid to be surrounded by potential successors."
So, Lewis wasn't well liked, or good at nurturing or inspiring good performers around him. But not every leader has to be liked to be successful, right? Possibly. But they have to be respected, at least. And ... oh yeah, successful. But during Lewis's tenure, he also made a series of less-than profitable business decisions and purchases, including the purchase of the notorious mortgage disaster known as Countrywide Financial, not to mention the Merrill Lynch mess, that caused the stock to return negative 13 percent while he was in charge.
And yet, Nocera reported, Lewis has taken home $60 million in compensation over the past three years. Clearly, the idea that a good leader--one worth compensating obscenely well-- should be someone who not only exceeds expectations but also inspires better performance in those around him and sacrifices with the troops, is not a patently obvious or well-understood idea at the top levels of Bank of America. Or among executives at any number of other financial institutions and corporations who have spent the last year boggling many people's minds at their capacity for tone-deaf and enduring senses of entitlement. So much so that the entitlement-laden gestures and complaints aren't even eyebrow-raising to many people at this point.
So maybe the more interesting question is: Are these executives beyond hope? Are really great leaders born, and these executives simply don't have what it takes? Or, even if great leadership traits can be learned, are they traits we have to learn in childhood, not at age 55? Or can they be rehabilitated into better behavior and leadership?
Deutschman doesn't get into whether leadership traits are innate or acquired. But he does sketch out, at the end of his book, some traits that he believes are essential in a great "leadership personality": focus; empathy; relentless authenticity; belief not only in themselves, but also in others and in change itself; resilience; and dogged persistence.
Another person's list might differ. But I found the list interesting food for thought. For one thing, "empathetic" isn't generally the first word we hear when Wall Street and corporate titans are described. Brilliant, focused, ruthless, sharply analytic, and relentless, yes. But authentic and empathetic ... not so much. That might explain a lot. (Also ironic to see empathy given such big play in a business book, after all the argument about it in Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings.)
But just for argument's sake, let's say Deutschman is right, and the traits he lists really are the essential pre-requisites for a great executive or leader. Can they be taught in business school, or in a business setting? Or do we simply have to start looking for a different kind of leader in the first place?
Evolutionary psychologists are only beginning to look at how individual personality traits may evolve (as opposed to more basic domains of survival, sexuality, parenting, community, cooperation and aggression). But a recent paper on the subject by David Buss, professor of psychology at the University of Austin, noted that "virtually all personality characteristics ... show heritabilities in the range of 50% and substantial cross-time stability, even over spans of decades."
Which still leaves 50 percent, of course. And education and training can certainly help strengthen or mitigate someone's natural tendencies. After all, belief in a person's ability to change is, itself, one of the traits Deutschman says great leaders possess.
On the other hand, if the traits Deutschman lists as important really do have a significant genetic component, and personality traits have substantial stability over time, then it might not do troubled executives much good to read Deutschman's book. But even if that's the case, it could still prove useful to the rest of us ... if only in underscoring the seemingly obvious fact that we might want to give a little more attention to the personality traits of who we hire to run things. Walking the walk, it turns out, is a lot harder, and rarer, than one might imagine.
In 12 of 16 past cases in which a rising power has confronted a ruling power, the result has been bloodshed.
When Barack Obama meets this week with Xi Jinping during the Chinese president’s first state visit to America, one item probably won’t be on their agenda: the possibility that the United States and China could find themselves at war in the next decade. In policy circles, this appears as unlikely as it would be unwise.
And yet 100 years on, World War I offers a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for folly. When we say that war is “inconceivable,” is this a statement about what is possible in the world—or only about what our limited minds can conceive? In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.
Life in Ohio's proud but economically abandoned small towns
Just over a decade ago, Matt Eich started photographing rural Ohio. Largely inhabited by what is now known as the “Forgotten Class” of white, blue-collar workers, Eich found himself drawn to the proud but economically abandoned small towns of Appalachia. Thanks to grants from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and Getty Images, Eich was able to capture the family life, drug abuse, poverty, and listlessness of these communities. “Long before Trump was a player on the political scene, long before he was a Republican, these people existed and these problems existed,” Eich said. His new book, Carry Me Ohio, published by Sturm and Drang, is a collection of these images and the first of four books he plans to publish as part of The Invisible Yoke, a photographic meditation on the American condition. Even with a deep knowledge of the region, Eich was unprepared for the fury and energy that surrounded the election this year. “The anger is overpowering,” he said. “I knew what was going on, and I’m still surprised. I should have listened to the pictures.”
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Universities themselves may be contributing to burnout.
With half of all doctoral students leaving graduate school without finishing, something significant and overwhelming must be happening for at least some of them during the process of obtaining that degree. Mental illness is often offered as the standard rationale to explain why some graduate students burn out. Some research has suggested a link between intelligence and conditions such as bipolar disorder, leading some observers to believe many graduate students struggle with mental-health problems that predispose them to burning out.
But such research is debatable, and surely not every student who drops out has a history of mental illness. So, what compels students to abandon their path to a Ph.D.? Could there be other underlying factors, perhaps environmental, that can cause an otherwise-mentally-healthy graduate student to become anxious, depressed, suicidal, or, in rare cases, violent?
A child psychologist argues punishment is a waste of time when trying to eliminate problem behavior. Try this instead.
Say you have a problem child. If it’s a toddler, maybe he smacks his siblings. Or she refuses to put on her shoes as the clock ticks down to your morning meeting at work. If it’s a teenager, maybe he peppers you with obscenities during your all-too-frequent arguments. The answer is to punish them, right?
Not so, says Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center. Punishment might make you feel better, but it won’t change the kid’s behavior. Instead, he advocates for a radical technique in which parents positively reinforce the behavior they do want to see until the negative behavior eventually goes away.
As I was reporting my recent series about child abuse, I came to realize that parents fall roughly into three categories. There’s a small number who seem intuitively to do everything perfectly: Moms and dads with chore charts that actually work and snack-sized bags of organic baby carrots at the ready. There’s an even smaller number who are horrifically abusive to their kids. But the biggest chunk by far are parents in the middle. They’re far from abusive, but they aren’t super-parents, either. They’re busy and stressed, so they’re too lenient one day and too harsh the next. They have outdated or no knowledge of child psychology, and they’re scrambling to figure it all out.
President-elect Donald Trump has committed a sharp breach of protocol—one that underscores just how weird some important protocols are.
Updated on December 2 at 7:49 p.m.
It’s hardly remembered now, having been overshadowed a few months later on September 11, but the George W. Bush administration’s first foreign-policy crisis came in the South China Sea. On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese jet near Hainan Island. The pilot of the Chinese jet was killed, and the American plane was forced to land and its crew was held hostage for 11 days, until a diplomatic agreement was worked out. Sino-American relations remained tense for some time.
Unlike Bush, Donald Trump didn’t need to wait to be inaugurated to set off a crisis in the relationship. He managed that on Friday, with a phone call to the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. It’s a sharp breach with protocol, but it’s also just the sort that underscores how weird and incomprehensible some important protocols are.
A few weeks ago, I was trying to call Cuba. I got an error message—which, okay, international telephone codes are long and my fingers are clumsy—but the phone oddly started dialing again before I could hang up. A voice answered. It had a British accent and it was reading: “...the moon was shining brightly. The Martians had taken away the excavating-machine…”
Apparently, I had somehow called into an audiobook of The War of the Worlds. Suspicious of my clumsy fingers, I double-checked the number. It was correct (weird), but I tried the number again, figuring that at worst, I’d learn what happened after the Martians took away the excavating machine. This time, I got the initial error message and the call disconnected. No Martians.
Crucial votes in Austria and Italy, the deadly fire in California, Fidel Castro’s final resting place, and more from the United States and around the world.
—Austrians voted in a tight presidential race Sunday, electing Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent candidate backed by the Green Party, over Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the right-wing Freedom Party. More here.
—In Italy, voters participated in a referendum on constitutional reform. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has vowed to resign if the measure fails.
—California officials say the death toll in a fire in Oakland Friday night could rise. Nine people have been confirmed dead. More here.
—The ashes of former Cuban President Fidel Castro were interred in a private ceremony early Sunday in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, ending a four-day procession across the country. More here.
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
Switching pastas and breads is a small decision that could save lives.
Multigrain is a genius approach to selling both white bread and righteousness. The term crept under the umbrella of health quietly. It wasn’t clear why, exactly. (The grain part? Or the multi?) At least it wasn’t white bread, right?
As many eaters of bread came to understand that white bread is a nutritional equivalent of Pixy Stix—the nutritious, fibrous shell of the wheat having been removed, leaving us with only the inner starch, which our bodies almost instantly turn into sugar—it needed some rebranding.
Multigrain is now often used to imply wholesomeness, a virtue to which it often has no claim. Containing the flour of multiple grains does not mean containing whole grains. When millers leave the grain intact before milling, this is whole grain flour. It contains fiber, appeasing the pancreas and microbes that demand it for optimal performance. So, the term to look for is 100 percent whole wheat. (Or wholegrain, though the grain is usually wheat.)
A century ago, millions of Americans banded together in defense of white, Christian America and traditional morality—and most of their compatriots turned a blind eye to the Ku Klux Klan.
On August 8, 1925, more than 50,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan paraded through Washington, D.C. Some walked in lines as wide as 20 abreast, while others created formations of the letter K or a Christian cross. A few rode on horseback. Many held American flags. Men and women alike, the marchers carried banners emblazoned with the names of their home states or local chapters, and their procession lasted for more than three hours down a Pennsylvania Avenue lined with spectators. National leaders of the organization were resplendent in colorful satin robes and the rank and file wore white, their regalia adorned with a circular red patch containing a cross with a drop of blood at its center.
Nearly all of the marchers wore pointed hoods, but their faces were clearly visible. In part, that was because officials would sanction the parade only if participants agreed to walk unmasked. But a mask was not really necessary, as most members of the Klan saw little reason to hide their faces. After all, there were millions of them in the United States.