Being the Oddball Sucks

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Could you stand by a “wrong” answer?

Let’s pretend you’re in a room with 10 people about your age and background. You’ve been talking for a while, and you’ve gotten to know the others. Then the task begins. It’s straightforward.

On a large TV, you see a line drawing of a face. The instructor calls out people by name and asks if the face is a happy face, a sad face, or neutral face.

The first image looks like this:

The instructor calls on a very attractive woman you’d been talking to most of the night, Amy. Amy doesn’t hesitate. “Sad,” she says.

Your opinion of Angela drops. A lot.

Then the instructor calls on Dave who you knew from your kids’ baseball team even before tonight. “He looks sad to me,” Dave says.

Wow. These two should get together, you think. And not have kids.

Next, is Barry, a business school marketing professor. “Yeah, that’s sad,” Barry says. You make a note not to send your kids to his crappy school.

Then, she calls on a woman sitting behind you. You don’t know her, but she looks like an elementary school teacher from the 1950s. You put all your faith into this woman to get it right.

“Oh, sad, yes,” she says.

You realize that you are likely the only person in the room who interprets the image as a happy. You wonder if, maybe, they’re seeing something you’re not? Were they primed with an even happier face that you didn’t see, one that makes this one sad by comparison?

Now the instructor calls your name. You notice every eye in the room trained on you as if you were the approaching bus they’ve been waiting for.

Do you say, “that’s the happiest damn face I’ve ever seen, and you people are all nuts,” insulting all the other people, or do you go along with your idiot mates and agree that the face is sad?

Standing Alone Hurts

In the scenario above, your classmates were confederates of the instructor. They were actors playing people who thought that image represented sadness. The goal of the test was to see how you would respond when it came to your turn.

Most people have no idea how difficult it is to be the only person who disagrees. In psychological studies, intelligent students who know better will agree to the wrong answer if four other students before them gave the wrong answer first. “It appears that when we are unsure of how to perform a task or how to behave, we may take comfort in agreeing with a large number of other people (Lumbert, Samantha P., 2005).”We’d rather be wrong than be seen as wrong. And fMRI studies of the brain show that the pain of being the outcast is similar to severe physical pain. It’s why we give in to peer pressure.

Trump Stands Alone

At the first Republican debate in August, all the players were real. There were no confederates.

Bret Baier of Fox News asked the 15 candidates to raise their hands if they would NOT promise to support the Republican candidate for President. If you are trying to win over Republicans, there is only one right answer: you keep your hands at your sides.

On August 6, 2015, 14 candidates had a knee-jerk reaction to a softball question: raise your hand if you might not support the eventual Republican nominee. Each of those men (and they were all men that night) did quick math. They all believed they would win and if they didn’t, someone like them would win. Because that’s what we always think–if not me, someone like me. So they kept their hands down.

One man thought different. That man realized he might not win and the person who does win might be very different from him. Too different. In fact, being a strategic thinker, this man realized that if he did not win, the winner was likely to be very different from him. And despite the pain of being the outcast, Donald Trump raised his hand. Alone.

Later, after he had time to thnk about it, Trump signed the pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, so help him, God. So did all the others. But Trump was the only one who took the time to contemplate the commitment. He didn’t make a rash, impulsive decision, did he? He made his decision like a man who’s made a lot of big decisions. And like a leader who’s comfortable with being seen as wrong. And he suffered the pain of being the outcast for weeks.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see why Mr. Trump contemplated his commitment. Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Jeb! Bush, and Marco Rubio impulsively signed the pledge without considering the consequences, and now they wish they hadn’t. Now they’d all like to be like Trump.

Leaders Must Stand Alone

When it comes to being presidential, the sin Cruz, Kasich, Bush, and Rubio committed was not the sin of breaking their word to the Republican Party, it was the sin of rushing into a commitment without thinking about the consequences. (For the lawyers among them, that sin was mortal.) It was the sin of avoiding immediate discomfort. Each of those four men later chose to break his word, which is also painful, but less painful than breaking his identity claim.

That sin of Cruz, Kasich, Bush, and Rubio is in the past. It can’t be undone. Endorsing Mr. Trump now will not erase the rash the fact that they made rash decisions in August.

When is comes to executive skills, Trump beat them all. Hands down.

P.S. In a related psychological study, researchers tested groups in several age groups. They found that older adults were more likely to answer accurately even if doing so violated the norms of their group (Lumbert, 2005). Maybe Donald Trump was the only candidate old enough to give the right answer instead of the easy answer. In other words, the others might become better leaders and better decision makers over time. See this for more on these fascinating studies.

Source: Lumbert, Samantha P., 2005, Conformity and Group Mentality: Why We Comply, Rochester Institute of Technology

One Question for Carly Fiorina

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The next US President must be a great communicator.

Distilling complex and controversial problems into mental models accessible to large numbers of people is not deception–it’s brilliance. The reason we hang onto sound bites isn’t because we’re stupid–it’s because we’re busy. We all don’t have time to earn masters-degree understanding of every issue facing society and government. Honest, accurate distillations of the complex ideas allow us to choose and act quickly.

Carly the Communicator

Based on everything I’ve read, Carly Fiorina is the champion communicator in the 2016 race. She went from secretary to CEO in large part because people understand what she’s talking about, and her explanations are consistent with reality.

Don’t discount that last part. It’s one thing to use communications to bamboozle people. It’s another to use communications ethically. And Carly Fiorina’s reputation is stellar in clearly communicating the truth.

Is Carly a Conservative?

Some conservatives doubt Ms. Fiorina’s conservatism. I don’t.

While she was on the wrong side of the government shutdown recently, reasonable people can disagree on tactics. Strategically, she wants the same outcome Ted Cruz and Mike Lee want. And there’s no way to know who was right.

Meanwhile, I see some people making ridiculous exaggerations about her statements on Islam. What she said about Islam is historically unassailable. It’s depressing that some political partisans feign ignorance of history to score cheap political points. [olympus_highlight color=”yellow”]I don’t see the benefit to conservatism to be thought of as ignorant[/olympus_highlight].

So, unlike a few of my friends I do not doubt Carly Fiorina’s conservative bona fides. She served as Chairman of the American Conservative Union. (She calls herself “chairman,” refreshingly, not “chairperson,” “chairwoman,” or the truly confusing title “chair.”) Her vision for America is and has been consistently conservative.

But conservative isn’t enough. I have one big question for Carly Fiorina, and it involves leadership.

Would President Fiorina Eat First or Last?

I spent a large part of my adult life in technology. I have  few friends and colleagues who worked at Hewlett-Packard before and during Ms. Fiorina’s term as CEO.

These HPers tell me that many of Fiorina’s decisions as CEO turned out to be good in the long run. Some of those decisions, like buying Compaq, were highly unpopular then, but turned out to be the right moves.

Other Fiorina moves are more disturbing. Carly Fiorina changed HP’s culture, and I don’t like the way she changed it. In short, HP’s greatest innovation was never technological–it was cultural. From Entrepreneur Magazine in 2008:

But what really sets HP apart isn’t technology, but the visionary management style created by HP founders William Hewlett and David Packard. Their policy of [olympus_highlight color=”yellow”] showing sensitivity to their employees’ needs and giving their workers the chance to be creative in solving technical and business problems has made HP one of the most successful and admired companies in the history of American industry[/olympus_highlight].

I’ve heard that Fiorina undid that great culture. While Hewlett and Packard ate lunch in common cafeterias with their employees, Fiorina isolated executives in veritable palaces. The ultimate engineering company–of engineers, by engineers–became a two-tier society with MBAs and lawyers as the elites and engineers as the plebes.

Fiorina, I am told, turned a great culture into a hierarchical hell. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard ate last; Fiorina’s executives ate first.

Leaders Eat Last

Why is this so important to me? Why do I keep harping on leadership and service?

Because [olympus_highlight color=”yellow”]a free society depends on virtuous citizens and servant-leaders[olympus_highlight]. I want to puke when I read about the Obamas and their 200-person entourages, their privilege, their demand for royal treatment,  their disruption of people’s lives so they can play golf in Hawaii. And what about Hillary Clinton’s egomaniacal demands when she speaks for $250,000 an hour? (I do not care about the fee. Speakers should be paid. But Hillary’s list of accommodations is just sad.)

We recoil at these selfish excesses because they say to us, “I am better than you, commoner.”

This is America. We are all commoners. As Simon Sinek points out in his TED talk:

This is the reason so many people have such a visceral hatred, anger, at some of these banking CEOs with their disproportionate salaries and bonus structures. It’s not the numbers. It’s that they have violated the very definition of leadership. They have violated this deep-seated social contract. [olympus_highlight color=”yellow”]We know that they allowed their people to be sacrificed so they could protect their own interests, or worse, they sacrificed their people to protect their own interests. This is what so offends us, not the numbers[/olympus_highlight]. Would anybody be offended if we gave a $150 million bonus to Gandhi? How about a $250 million bonus to Mother Teresa? Do we have an issue with that? None at all. None at all. Great leaders would never sacrifice the people to save the numbers. They would sooner sacrifice the numbers to save the people.

I don’t want another elitist President. We’ve had too many. It’s one reason I worry about Donald Trump.

Maybe Carly Has Changed

On the flip side, Carly Fiorina has so many positives I must stay open. I am giving her the benefit of the doubt, but I want to know she’s change her view of executive elitis

So I have only[olympus_highlight color=”yellow”]one question for Carly Fiorina: how do you justify the elitist culture so many HPs employees say you installed as CEO?[/olympus_highlight]

If she answers that question well, she might become one of my favorites in the race.


What Is The Difference Between Leadership and Service?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Marine Corps officers eat last.

That simple insight inspired the title of Simon Sinek’s latest book, “Leaders Eat Last.” If I could influence high school or college curricula, no one would graduate without successfully completing a semester course on that principle.

Below is another remarkable video of Simon Sinek discussing how circumstances can override our desire to lead and serve and how leadership and service can fix almost any problem. But first, I’d like you think a bit more about these two critical needs: leadership and service.

America is woefully short of leaders. Sure, we have plenty of authorities. We have plenty of order-givers. We’re chock-full of jerks who belligerently spit out directives of what others should do. But we’re at an all-time low of people who actually lead.

At the same time, we have retained an innate appreciation for service. My unscientific survey of readers of this blog found that 82 percent believe a strong service ethic would make America stronger. That’s encouraging.

What I think we fail to recognize is that [olympus_highlight color=”yellow”]leadership *is* service[/olympus_highlight]. That’s why Marine Corps officers eat last. Officers serve those who serve.

So many problems in America result from our leadership deficit. Do you think Barack Obama eats last? Do you think Hillary Clinton does? Or Donald Trump? I’m not telling you what to think, I’m asking you to really think about that one aspect of character and purpose. This week’s Hennessy’s View poll asks precisely that: which candidates would eat last?

The poll ends on Saturday, but I’ve already seen a remarkable trend. The software tracks how many people start the poll but don’t finish it. On previous polls, well over 95 percent who started the poll completed it. On this poll, only half complete it. And this survey contains only 4 questions, one of the shortest polls I’ve ever run.

Ask yourself why that is. Why is the abandonment rate of this simple poll so high?

Leadership is service. Service is leadership. Authority and leadership are orthogonal–one can be a leaders without authority and an authority without leadership. Most American business “leaders” lack any resemblance of leadership. They wield power. Most political “leaders” are mere authorities seeking only power. True leaders are rare.

But it wasn’t always this way.

I had a boss who was a full generation older than me. We were talking recently about when business stopped being fun and profitable for everyone. His answer, “when the last of the World War II guys retired. That’s when everything changed.

So many of those “WWII guys” knew leadership and service. They lived it. Sure, there were nasty bastards among that generation. But the World War II generation yielded a ridiculous number of true leaders. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, founders of HP, died in the simple homes they lived in when the company was founded. They never moved up. They ate lunch in a cafeteria with everyone else. Owning a great company never got in the way of their leadership.

America has a leadership deficit. To me, that’s the most important issue in 2016. [olympus_highlight color=”yellow”]Without leadership, none of the other problems will be solved[/olympus_highlight]. None of them.

The good news: it’s easy to spot a leader. A leader is the person who eats last.


Featured Image: Dave Packard (left) and Bill Hewlett.

What Is Leadership?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Many of you loved Simon Sinek’s Start With Why TEDx talk.

I love the way Simon Sinek thinks. It’s no surprise, then, that his TED Talk on leadership could be the greatest definition of leadership I’ve ever heard.

Please watch and share. I have some thoughts and a poll following.

Contrasts give greater clarity. Sinek’s contrast between military leadership and business leadership says a lot about the state of American business.

[olympus_highlight color=”yellow”]You know, in the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain. We have it backwards[/olympus_highlight]

Ouch. It hurts because it’s true.

Do you want to work for a company whose leaders eat first? Or a company whose leaders eat last?

Do you want to work for a company that gives awards to people who sacrifice themselves for others? Or a company that gives awards to people who sacrifice others?

If we want a better company and a bette country, we need to start choosing better leaders. Leadership is not about speaking your mind. Leadership isn’t what you say at all. Leadership is what you do.

Choose Your Leaders Carefully

In America, we choose our leaders. We choose the companies we work for. We choose the people who hold high office.

Before we ask about a candidate’s ideological purity, doesn’t it make sense to ask of every candidate: would this man or woman eat last?

If you could not imagine a candidate running into a fire fight to rescue his or her subordinates, why in God’s name would you ever put them into high office? Why would you choose a leader who would sacrifice you or your children for his or her gain or comfort?

This Week’s Poll

Which candidate for President and Missouri Governor do you believe is most likely to eat last?

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How to Recruit Better Political Candidates

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Let’s accept that people are lazy.

I noticed no one rose to argue, so universal laziness is a given.

When political consultants and parties recruit candidates, they do the lazy thing. They look for candidates who are easily electable. They want people who look good, speak well, shake hands like they’re still alive, and never made the papers for slapping their spouse.

Actually, they want people who are squeaky clean. Boring. But still good speakers. Candidates like Rick Santorum.

(I already regret that comparison, but I’m sticking with it.)

The problem is  . . . America deserves better. We deserve candidates who can lead. We are the United States of America. We deserve and expect more from political candidates than looking good in their high school year books and never having posted drunken selfies on Facebook. (I’m 0 for 2.)

We need leaders.

My business hero, Peter Drucker, said,

The idea that there are well-rounded people, people who have only strengths and no weaknesses, is a prescription for mediocrity if not for incompetence… strong people always have strong weaknesses too… where there are peaks, there are valleys.

I believe that. In my 51 years, I’ve never met a person of great strength who didn’t also have a great weakness. And all the “perfect” people with no weaknesses? They had no great strengths, either. They were mediocre.

A great political consultant would look for candidates with a strength we need. The person with that strength will have a weakness. The consultant or the party must shield the candidate and the people from that weakness without trying to “fix” the candidate. That’s hard work, to elect a candidate with both great strengths and great weaknesses. But it’s what political leaders sign up to do.

The World War II generation got this. All the generations since WWII have stumbled by looking for leaders who have no weaknesses. In the process, they’ve settled for leaders who have no strengths.

It’s time to reassert strengths in America. And that means learning to live with our leaders’ weaknesses.

Want a better country? Recruit candidates with strengths, and sign up for the work of mitigating their flaws.

Americans will put up with flaws, but we will no longer tolerate mediocrity.

How Emphasis on Race Hurts Efforts to Reform Municipal Courts

Reading Time: 3 minutes

My story on the Justice Department’s Ferguson report addressed race early. .

So let’s have a little blunt talk about race from a West County white guy’s point of view (which is alway helpful).

Faction A and Faction B

Whenever race comes up, two large factions shut down. They shut down intellectually because ‘race’ touches an irrational, emotional nerve.

Faction A views every issue as a race problem. They see rain at a picnic as racist. They see horse racing as racist. They see the neighbor’s barking dog as racism, even if the dog and its owner are black. Doesn’t matter. Anything that bothers them must have racism as its cause. This group assumed Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown because Michael Brown is black, and no evidence in the world will change their minds.

Faction B views every problem as a false accusation of racism. If Faction B sees a KKK member burning a cross, it  blame the race-mongers for putting Section 8 housing where some gentleman needed to start a fire. This group believes every time a police officer shoots someone, arrests someone, or pulls over someone, the police action was justified and necessary. No. Matter. What. This tweet, in response to yesterday’s headline, is a perfect example of Faction B reaction:

As soon as either faction hears “race,” it exits the conversation. They leave the conversation because the word triggers a default script in their minds. Everything to them is literally black or white.

And these are two really big factions. Both factions are so big that united they can do anything and divided they can stop everything.

If we hope to resolve the problems of police and courts shaking down citizens, we must unite these two factions. But declaring any problem a racial problem divides these two factions.

So what’s the solution?

I don’t have the full answer, but I know it starts with leadership, because all problems are leadership problems.

Leaders must rise above the race card. That’s not to say leaders ignore racial problems. It means leaders accept the racial factors involve, then address the causes of the problem.

Let’s use Ferguson as an example.

Race and Ferguson

I recognize that race is a factor in Ferguson, and I said as much in yesterday’s post. But gazing at the race problem does nothing but satisfy Faction A (“I told you so”) and irritating the Faction B (“There they go again.”) Real leaders must acknowledge the obvious: abusive courts and fine-wielding police in Ferguson disproportionally hurt African-Americans.

And that’s where the racial conversation must end.

Blaming Ferguson’s problems on race is like blaming a cavity on tooth decay. The decay is the thing you can see, but the cavity didn’t cause itself. Bad hygiene and diet and maybe a little genetics caused the problem. While drilling and filling the cavity will stop the pain, the next tooth over will soon rot.

In Ferguson, the problem is government. The people in government who created the problem did not decide “let’s mess with the black people.” They decided, “let’s use the police and courts to pull in more money.” Black people disproportionately got in the way of that money grab. The money grab, not racism, caused distrust of the police and courts. Since the police and courts are mostly white and the people mostly black, race was a factor in the result, not necessarily in the cause.

Put another way, there is no racial remedy for what’s wrong in Ferguson, but fixing Ferguson will disproportionately benefit African-Americans. And that’s a good thing.

Seize the Blessing | Ignore the Curse

Leaders must want to fix the problem, not be proven right about its cause. Addressing the real problem of overextended municipal government and unprincipled leaders like Judge Ronald Brockmeyer will alleviate the  most obvious race problem of poor blacks going to jail and getting poorer.

The Justice Department’s report on Ferguson was both a blessing and a curse. The blessing was pointing out how corrupt and destructive is the practice of “taxation by citation,” to use Senator Eric Schmitt’s fantastic phrase. The curse of the DOJ report was its over-emphasis on race as a cause.

If our leaders focus on the blessing in the DOJ report, we can unite the factions and do anything that needs to be done. Unity will improve the race problem. But admiring the problem does nothing.