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 First Lady took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention, and united a divided hall.
Most convention speeches are forgotten almost before they’re finished. But tonight in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama delivered a speech that will be replayed, quoted, and anthologized for years. It was as pure a piece of political oratory as this campaign has offered, and instantly entered the pantheon of great convention speeches.
Obama stepped out onto a stage in front of a divided party, including delegates who had booed almost every mention of the presumptive nominee. And she delivered a speech that united the hall, bringing it to its feet.
She did it, moreover, her own way—forming a striking contrast with the night’s other speakers. She did it without shouting at the crowd. Without overtly slamming Republicans. Without turning explicitly negative. Her speech was laden with sharp barbs, but she delivered them calmly, sometimes wryly, biting her lower lip, hitting her cadence. It was a masterful performance.
His convention speech re-introducing his wife to the country was an uneven, but ultimately effective, performance.
Just before Bill Clinton strode onstage to be his wife’s character witness, his wife’s convention planners played a video tribute to him. “When he said stuff, you believed it,” a man dressed in union gear said of Bill Clinton, “because you lived it.”
This was no accident: An overwhelming number of voters don’t trust Hillary Clinton. That credibility and character gap is the one thing that might stop Americans from electing a second President Clinton. And so the master of persuasion bragged on and on about his wife: career highlights, familiar anecdotes, and enough warm and cheesy sentiments to launch a thousand wedding toasts.
“If you were sitting where I am sitting and you heard what I heard at every dinner conversation and … on every long walk, you would say this woman has never been satisfied with the status quo about anything,” Bill Clinton said. Having been the candidate of change in 1992, Bill Clinton knows his wife faces headwinds against Donald Trump’s promise of radical, unruly change. “She always wants to move the ball forward,” Bill Clinton said. “That just who she is.”
Why Donald Trump’s recent comments on the alliance caused such an uproar
Donald Trump shocked foreign-policy professionals and observers when he remarked to The New York Times that if he were president, the United States might not come to the defense of an attacked NATO ally that hadn’t fulfilled its “obligation to make payments.” The remark broke with decades of bipartisan commitment to the alliance and, as Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in The Atlantic, aligned well with the interests of Russia, whose ambitions NATO was founded largely to contain. One Republican in Congress openly wondered whether his party’s nominee could be “seemingly so pro-Russia” because of “connections and contracts and things from the past or whatever.”
It’s not unlike Trump to make shocking statements. But these ones stokedparticularalarm, not least among America’s allies, about the candidate’s suitability for the United States presidency. So what’s the big deal? What does NATO actually do?
The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.
A few months ago, I presented the following scenario to my junior English students: Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you or should you not turn him or her into the police?
The class immediately erupted with commentary. It was obvious, they said, that loyalty was paramount—not a single student said they’d “snitch.” They were unequivocally unconcerned about who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario. This troubled me.
This discussion was part of an introduction to an essay assignment about whether Americans should pay more for ethically produced food. We continued discussing other dilemmas, and the kids were more engaged that they’d been in weeks, grappling with big questions about values, character, and right versus wrong as I attempted to expand their thinking about who and what is affected—and why it matters—by their caloric choices.
In his convention speech, he suggested that Muslims need to earn the rights that all other Americans enjoy.
I love Bill Clinton. But I didn’t love his speech Tuesday night in Philadelphia. Given the job of humanizing his wife, he came across as genuinely smitten. But he failed to do what he’s done in every convention speech he’s delivered since 1992: tell a story about where America is today and what can be done to move it forward. He called his wife a great “change maker” but didn’t define the change America needs right now.
But the worst moment of the speech came near its end, when Clinton began to riff about the different kinds of people who should join Hillary’s effort. “If you love this country, you’re working hard, you’re paying taxes, you’re obeying the law and you’d like to become a citizen, you should choose immigration reform over someone that wants to send you back,” he said. Fair enough. Under any conceivable immigration overhaul, only those undocumented immigrants who have obeyed the law once in the United States—which includes paying taxes—will qualify for citizenship. Two sentences later, Clinton said that, “If you’re a young African American disillusioned and afraid … help us build a future where no one’s afraid to walk outside, including the people that wear blue to protect our future.” No problem there. Of course African Americans should be safe from abusive police, and of course, police should be safe from the murderers who threaten them.
This week, the co-author of Donald Trump’s autobiography said in The New Yorker that if he were writing The Art of the Deal today, it would be a very different book with a very different title: The Sociopath.
To title a person’s life story with that label is a serious accusation, and one worth considering. The stakes are high. Tony Schwartz, the writer of the best-selling book, said that he “genuinely believe[s] that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes, there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.” In that light, Schwartz said he feels “deep remorse” at having “put lipstick on a pig.”
That seemed to me to be something of a contradiction to the charge of sociopathy, as pigs have been found to show signs of empathy. If you call a pig by name, it will come and play with you, reciprocating affection like a dog. So which is it, pig or sociopath?
When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.
But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.
“Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.
Stock-market crashes, terrorist attacks, and the dark side of “newsworthy” stories
Man bites dog. It is one of the oldest cliches in journalism, an acknowledgement of the idea that ordinary events are not newsworthy, whereas oddities, like a puppy-nibbling adult, deserve disproportionate coverage.
The rule is straightforward, but its implications are subtle. If journalists are encouraged to report extreme events, they guide both elite and public attitudes, leading many people, including experts, to feel like extreme events are more common than they actually are. By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.
Take finance, for example. Professional investors are fretting about the possibility of a massive stock-market crash, on par with 1987’s Black Monday. The statistical odds that such an event will occur within the next six months are about 1-in-60, according to historical data from 1929 to 1988. But when surveys between 1989 and 2015 asked investors to estimate the odds of such a crash in the coming months, the typical response was 1-in-10.
Four decades after he asked his wife to set aside her own ambitions, he asked Americans to return her to the White House in her own right.
On Tuesday night, Bill Clinton spoke before thousands of delegates at the Democratic National Convention, and did his best to repay a debt he’d incurred 45 years before. He met Hillary in 1971, and she married him four years later. “I really hope,” he said, “that her choosing me and rejecting my advice to pursue her own career was a decision she would never regret.”
Now, as she pursues the presidency in her own right, he took the opportunity to reintroduce her to the public, spending most of his time on stage rehearsing the years before she became a national figure. “Cartoons are two-dimensional,” Clinton said, and did his best to render his wife vivid, human, and real.
It was a speech that aimed to move past some of the central paradoxes of Clinton’s candidacy. She sacrificed her ambitions to advance her husband’s career, but his success has now enabled her own rise. Most Americans view her unfavorably, and yet she has just become the first woman to be a major-party nominee for the president.
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.