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.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Why the ingrained expectation that women should desire to become parents is unhealthy
In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a "safe haven" law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe-haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off in a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.
Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here's the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.
The Nebraska state government, realizing the tremendous mistake it had made, held a special session of the legislature to rewrite the law in order to add an age limitation. Governor Dave Heineman said the change would "put the focus back on the original intent of these laws, which is saving newborn babies and exempting a parent from prosecution for child abandonment. It should also prevent those outside the state from bringing their children to Nebraska in an attempt to secure services."
It was widely seen as a counter-argument to claims that poor people are "to blame" for bad decisions and a rebuke to policies that withhold money from the poorest families unless they behave in a certain way. After all, if being poor leads to bad decision-making (as opposed to the other way around), then giving cash should alleviate the cognitive burdens of poverty, all on its own.
Sometimes, science doesn't stick without a proper anecdote, and "Why I Make Terrible Decisions," a comment published on Gawker's Kinja platform by a person in poverty, is a devastating illustration of the Science study. I've bolded what I found the most moving, insightful portions, but it's a moving and insightful testimony all the way through.
As the public’s fear and loathing surge, the frontrunner’s durable candidacy has taken a dark turn.
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina—All politicians, if they are any good at their craft, know the truth about human nature.
Donald Trump is very good, and he knows it better than most.
Trump stands alone on a long platform, surrounded by a rapturous throng. Below and behind him—sitting on bleachers and standing on the floor—they fill this city’s cavernous, yellow-beige convention center by the thousands. As Trump will shortly point out, there are a lot of other Republican presidential candidates, but none of them get crowds anything like this.
Trump raises an orange-pink hand like a waiter holding a tray. “They are not coming in from Syria,” he says. “We’re sending them back!” The crowd surges, whistles, cheers. “So many bad things are happening—they have sections of Paris where the police are afraid to go,” he continues. “Look at Belgium, the whole place is closed down! We can’t let it happen here, folks.”
Better-informed consumers are ditching the bowls of sugar that were once a triumph of 20th-century marketing.
Last year, General Mills launched a new product aimed at health-conscious customers: Cheerios Protein, a version of its popular cereal made with whole-grain oats and lentils. Early reviews were favorable. The cereal, Huffington Post reported, tasted mostly like regular Cheerios, although “it seemed like they were sweetened and flavored a little more aggressively.” Meanwhile, ads boasted that the cereal would offer “long-lasting energy” as opposed to a sugar crash.
But earlier this month, the Center for Science in the Public Interest sued General Mills, saying that there’s very little extra protein in Cheerios Protein compared to the original brand and an awful lot more sugar—17 times as much, in fact. So why would General Mills try to market a product as containing protein when it’s really a box fill of carbs and refined sugar?
The statesman understood something most diplomats don’t: history—and how to apply it.
In his new biography of Henry Kissinger, the historian Niall Ferguson recalls that halfway through what became an eight-year research project, he had an epiphany. Tracing the story of how a young man from Nazi Germany became America’s greatest living statesman, he discovered not only the essence of Kissinger’s statecraft, but the missing gene in modern American diplomacy: an understanding of history.
For Ferguson, it was a humbling revelation. As he confesses in the introduction to Kissinger: “In researching the life and times of Henry Kissinger, I have come to realize that my approach was unsubtle. In particular, I had missed the crucial importance in American foreign policy of the history deficit: The fact that key decision-makers know almost nothing not just of other countries’ pasts but also of their own. Worse, they often do not see what is wrong with their ignorance.”
Can we predict romantic prospects just from looking at a face?
By the time you swear you're his, / Shivering and sighing. / And he vows his passion is/ Infinite, undying. / Lady, make a note of this — /One of you is lying. ― Dorothy Parker
Edward Royzman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, asks me to list four qualities on a piece of paper: physical attractiveness, income, kindness, and fidelity. Then he gives me 200 virtual “date points” that I’m to distribute among the four traits. The more I allocate to each attribute, the more highly I supposedly value that quality in a mate.
This experiment, which Royzman sometimes runs with his college classes, is meant to inject scarcity into hypothetical dating decisions in order to force people to prioritize.
Students at Princeton University are protesting the ways it honors the former president, who once threw a civil-rights leader out of the White House.
The Black Justice League, in protests on Princeton University’s campus, has drawn wider attention to an inconvenient truth about the university’s ultimate star: Woodrow Wilson. The Virginia native was racist, a trait largely overshadowed by his works as Princeton’s president, as New Jersey’s governor, and, most notably, as the 28th president of the United States.
As president, Wilson oversaw unprecedented segregation in federal offices. It’s a shameful side to his legacy that came to a head one fall afternoon in 1914 when he threw the civil-rights leader William Monroe Trotter out of the Oval Office.
Trotter led a delegation of blacks to meet with the president on November 12, 1914 to discuss the surge of segregation in the country. Trotter, today largely forgotten, was a nationally prominent civil-rights leader and newspaper editor. In the early 1900s, he was often mentioned in the same breath as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. But unlike Washington, Trotter, an 1895 graduate of Harvard, believed in direct protest actions. In fact, Trotter founded his Boston newspaper, The Guardian, as a vehicle to challenge Washington’s more conciliatory approach to civil rights.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.