Welcome to the Vital Integrities Blog

The Long Road to Equality

The death last week of Helen Gurley Brown seemed like a good milestone to reflect on the advancements made by the women's movement that she helped champion throughout her life. But two national incidents since the former Cosmopolitan editor's passing reveal how much progress still needs to be made.

The first occurred this past weekend, when U.S. Representative and Senate candidate Todd Akin told a television interviewer that it’s impossible for women to get pregnant from what he called, "legitimate rape." Akin's absurd explanation infers that rape victims can only get pregnant if they enjoy it, meaning that the crime could not be a "legitimate rape." The Missouri Republican has so far ignored calls from leaders of both political parties to give up his Senate race.

Second, earlier this week, famed golf club Augusta National announced it was admitting two female members for the first time in its 80-year history. The news might be exciting were it not so embarrassingly late. Augusta hosts the Masters, one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world, and its board has resisted pressure to admit women for decades. Augusta's leaders – who had defended their male-only membership policy as if they were defending democracy itself – couldn't help sounding insincere when announcing this "joyous occasion."

Helen Gurley Brown's death is indeed a landmark along the road of the women's movement. And a look around shows that the road is still a long one.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment

Leadership Is Conversations

In an old story, a newly married man visits his minister seeking advice on a problem at home. "Father, all my wife seems to want to do is talk about our relationship," he says. "Morning, noon, and night, she wants to have conversations about our relationship. It's exhausting. Please, Father, how do I convince her that we don't need so many conversations about our relationship."

"My son," says the minister, "you have it all wrong. Conversations are the relationship."

Many people in leadership roles have the same misunderstanding about conversations. They treat conversations with their followers as tiring interruptions or distractions. But in fact, leadership is all about the conversations we have with people. Without conversations, leadership is nothing more than bureaucracy.

Until you master the art of conversations – both the listening and the speaking aspects – you will never master the art of leadership.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment

Statues Are For Leaders

In the early morning hours of Sunday, July 22, 2012, workers at Penn State University draped a blue tarp over the statue of Joe Paterno just outside Beaver Stadium. Paterno's bronze likeness had greeted football fans entering the hallowed field since 2001. But on that morning, a forklift unceremoniously moved the monument to an undisclosed storage space inside the stadium.

Rumors of the statue's removal began circulating shortly after an independent report by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded that Paterno, along with other high-level PSU administrators, knew about and deliberately concealed the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. Just a few days before workers carted the monument away, a plane could be seen flying over State College, Pennsylvania, pulling a banner reading, "Take the statue down or we will."

In a statement, Penn State's current president Rod Erickson said, "I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse."

Erickson could have added that leaving the Paterno statue in place would provide a constant reminder of a colossal, institution-wide leadership failure. And, for that matter, he might have mentioned that statues are reserved for leaders.

If numbers in the win column were a true measurement of leadership, Paterno's iconic likeness would still grace the stadium's entrance. But being a good leader is more than having an impressive win-loss record. Leadership is also about calling the right plays.  

Freeh's report confirms what most of us suspected all along: the Sandusky cover-up occurred at all levels of PSU's leadership team. Desperate to protect their leadership reputations, officials ignored abuse against children. The evidence, including emails between top administrators, is there in the report for anyone to see.

There are those clinging to the belief that Paterno was not involved in covering up the scandal. After all, there are no incriminating emails from Paterno, because he didn't use email. But his influence is unmistakable in messages in which top officials go along with ethical breaches after "talking it over with Joe."  

Being a great leader means doing what's right—every time—regardless of the potential consequences. And if you ignore that obligation, don't expect anyone to erect—or defend—a statue in your honor.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment

Who's Responsible for an Organization's Ethics?

"The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims." Freeh Report

While performing an independent investigation into sexual abuse at Penn State, former FBI director Louis Freeh and his team conducted over 430 interviews and analyzed more than 3.5 million communications. Their research concluded that the university's most powerful leaders knowingly looked the other way while a sexual predator continued harming children for over a decade, and concealed the crimes from authorities to keep bad publicity away from the school's famed football program.

Freeh's report names the culprits, but other than the late Joe Paterno, most are not household names. On the other hand, their titles should be enough to indict them for complicity: university president, senior vice president of finance and business, athletic director, head football coach, university police department chief, and board trustees. The list raises the question: if leaders at these levels cannot be trusted to oversee an institution's ethics, who can be?

The evidence detailed in the report shows that people at many levels of Penn State's hierarchy knew what Jerry Sandusky was doing, but they were either frustrated in their attempts to report it, or reluctant to say anything for fear of losing their jobs. Whether they deferred their responsibility to superiors, or made a conscious decision to remain quiet, these employees could have done more to stop the abuse.

As it turns out, we're all responsible for our organizations' ethical conduct. Being ethical is not just about behaving ethically; it's also about calling out those who engage in unethical behavior, whatever the personal consequences.

Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment

Who's Driving This Bus?

When it comes to driving growth, most executives have little faith in their companies' leadership.

According to a recent survey of 200 middle-to-upper level managers, only 25 percent believe their company has the right leadership with the skills necessary to compel grow and identify new opportunities in the coming year. Nearly one in four said a complete overhaul of their leadership team was in order. The Korn/Ferry Institute conducted the global survey.

Almost three quarters of respondents said that a lack of leadership capabilities caused their companies to postpone or completely abandon strategic growth actions in recent years. Nevertheless, 35 percent expect their companies to reduce investment in talent development, while 37 percent expect no increase in leadership training.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment

Nothing Lasts Forever

In early March, the Indianapolis Colts cut iconic quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning had been the heart and soul of the Colts for fourteen years, leading the team to the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons, and to a Super Bowl victory in 2006-07. He won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award four times.

“We all know that nothing lasts forever,” an emotional Manning told the press.

Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. In his absence, the Colts posted a dismal 2-14 record. Coming off his fourth neck surgery, Manning’s ability to return to his pre-injury form is uncertain. More importantly, perhaps, is that he’s expensive: the Colts are trying to rebuild after 2011, and Manning’s salary put a strain on the team’s salary cap. So, despite his having “been a Colt for almost all of my adult life,” as Manning put it, the team’s leadership sent him packing.

Luckily for Peyton Manning, a handful of NFL teams showed immediate interest in hiring him to do for them what he did for the Colts: win games. The Denver Broncos signed Manning, and in the process, unseated their starting quarterback, Tim Tebow.

Tebow didn’t have the Bronco starting job for long. The former Heisman Trophy winner-turned rookie sensation took over the Bronco’s offense after their own dismal 2011 season start. But with his running ability and come-from-behind heroics, Tebow restored the team to respectability, helping them end the season 8-8, and getting them into the playoffs where they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round.

And what does Tebow get for his efforts? The same that Manning got for his: the boot.

But hey, business is business. Besides, Colts and Broncos fans will forget as soon their teams start winning again. Right?

Maybe not. These are two high-profile employees whose treatment by their leaders leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths. And if star performers like Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow can be treated this way – despite giving their all to a team – then what chance does the average worker have?

Nothing lasts forever, not even the trust people have in their leaders. A lot of people will remember what happened to Manning and Tebow for a long time, and wonder if it will happen to them. 
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment

Racial Biases in Leadership

While playing varsity football in college, Andrew Carton "became aware of certain racial biases," as he put it. Later, as a graduate student at Duke, Carton discussed those experiences with Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, a Duke professor whose work included researching bias in the workplace. Their conversations led them to collaborate on a study recently published in The Academy of Management Journal. The findings show how racial stereotypes influence the way we judge leaders.

Carton and Rosette analyzed newspaper coverage of 113 college football quarterbacks during the 2007 season. They found that news articles tended to attribute a winning team's success to its quarterback's intellect when that player was white, while crediting the quarterback's athletic ability when he was African American. Conversely, African American quarterbacks were likely to be criticized for bad decision making when their teams lost, whereas white quarterbacks were said to have weak throwing arms or limited agility.

According to the researchers, the study's findings carry over to the business world. "Quarterbacks are a good focus for any research on leadership," says Carton, "because they have an executive role on the field that is unique in sports. No other position in sports is equated with leadership as much as the quarterback in football."

Simply put, when white leaders succeed, we assume it is because of their intelligence; but when African American leaders succeed, we imagine it is for reasons other than intelligence.

Overcoming those stereotypes among their colleagues and subordinates is, as Carton puts it, "an additional burden that Black leaders will likely have to bear," and it starts with being vocal about their qualifications, aptitude, and experience. Unfortunately, adds Carton, "success is not enough to change stereotypes."
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment

Apple's Golden Leader

Leadership: "A process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal." Peter Northouse

Since his death last week, much has been written about the way Steve Jobs ran Apple. By all accounts, he was a mix of creative genius and business acumen who influenced every aspect of the company's day-to-day operations. Since returning in 1997 to the company he cofounded, Jobs led Apple from near extinction to extraordinary levels of profitability and shareholder returns.

As a marketer, Jobs wielded a cult-like influence. His keynote product unveilings played to standing-room-only crowds of Apple loyalists, who hung on his every word. Video downloads of his speeches often strained the Internet for days afterward. Indeed, no CEO has ever excited customers the way Jobs did.

As a manager of employees, Jobs exhibited the characteristics associated with charismatic leaders. He had a dominant, often overbearing, personality. He could arouse creativity one moment and elicit tears the next. He acknowledged brilliance as well as ineptitude -- he sought out the former while dismissing the latter. To many, his charisma was as disheartening as it was inspiring.

But in his own defense, Jobs claimed that he was merely fulfilling his leadership responsibility to ensure that people gave their best efforts. To his credit, many former employees report that, despite Jobs' harsh management style, he inspired their finest work. Along the way, he focused Apple's human resources on making its products perfectly.

Jobs was so closely associated with Apple's identity that many observes worry that the company's culture – and for that matter, its financial success -- might not outlive him. Although he assembled an impressive group of senior managers, Jobs selected his lieutenants more for their creative gifts than their leadership skills. However, Apple's Jobs-led cultural obsession with perfection results in a workplace form of natural selection, with gifted employees known to drive away misfits by refusing to tolerate underperforming coworkers.

Steve Jobs was a charismatic leader, a creative mastermind who could exhibit daunting arrogance, and who simultaneously inspired and intimidated Apple employees. He will be missed by anyone who enjoys studying leadership.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment

Failing the Integrity Test

"I don't believe there are little transgressions and big transgressions. You're either going to have high integrity, or you're not." Erroll Davis, Jr.

According to a Georgia investigative report, many teachers and administrators working in the Atlanta Public School system found a creative way to raise student scores on standardized tests: they cheated. As The Wall Street Journal reports, state investigators uncovered cheating at 78 percent of the elementary and middle schools they examined.

When we think of cheating on school tests, what usually comes to mind is students copying off their classmates, or sneaking a look at a cheat sheet. But it was the grownups responsible for educating students who initiated the cheating in Atlanta, trying to make it appear that they were meeting their performance benchmarks.

In some instances, teachers encouraged students to change incorrect answers while they were taking tests. Other teachers simply corrected the answers themselves later. At some schools, teachers were able to obtain advance copies of tests, along with answer keys, and share them with students. Then there were teachers who organized parties where colleagues would gather to "fix" test answers.

Atlanta's is not the only school system embroiled in a cheating scandal. Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia have similar problems. There are those who blame widespread cheating on the use of standardized testing; or more specifically, using the tests' results to gauge teacher and administrator performance. Administrators often encourage teachers to cheat, those people argue, to ensure their systems meet the tough requirements for state funding.

Really, that's your defense for cheating? The standards are too high?

There is no written exam that measures a person's integrity. There is only the correlation between your words and your actions. Those educators, who tell students that success requires hard work only to cheat themselves, are failing life's standardized integrity test.
Erroll Davis, Jr., the interim superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, has already fired many of the guilty educators, and he plans to remove all the cheaters as the investigation proceeds. Prosecutors are also getting involved.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

It's all about giving their schools an impressive score. I wonder if it ever occurred to them to improve the way they teach in order to actually meet standards without cheating.

What do you think? Post a Comment

Spilling Integrity

Statistically speaking, Transocean Ltd. just came off a very safe year. In a recent proxy statement, Transocean announced that 2010 was “the best year in safety performance in our company’s history.”

That’s great news for a company whose vision lists the following goal: “Our operations will be conducted in an incident-free workplace, all the time, everywhere.”

Things were so safe, in fact, that the top five executives of the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor rewarded themselves with safety bonuses of $250,000 each.

You might recall that Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago, killing eleven workers and triggering the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Did the executives forget about that incident?

“Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record,” the company said in its proxy.

Public outrage over the statements prompted the executives to agree to donate their safety bonuses to charity.

Transocean’s leadership team has another major spill on its hands: leaking integrity.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment
Vital Integrities Blog - Blogged