Tag Archives: empathy

It doesn’t pay to be too nice 

P1000657 - Version 2Professor Adrian Furnham’s column in The Sunday Times is always of interest to psychologically minded executives and his book; “The Elephant in the Boardroom – the causes of leadership derailment”, should be essential reading for all would-be directors.

As a psychologist I liked the piece in which he explained why nice guys don’t always win – because of their Agreeable personality.

Agreeableness is one of the Big 5 Personality Factors (along with Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism).

He points out that Agreeableness can be a handicap in business as the higher you score on this factor, the less likely you are to succeed as a business leader!

Most of us would prefer to work for an agreeable rather than a disagreeable boss, wouldn’t we? Well perhaps not says Furnham. Agreeable bosses may make you dissatisfied by not dealing with poor performers and being too forgiving, maybe treating you all the same, or being manipulated by your more devious colleagues.

One of my earlier posts Sometimes you just have to tell em” was about research at Roffey Park that showed that we are not very good at dealing with underperformance or telling people what we want, that strong managers get more respect, and that a firm consistent approach is better for morale and performance generally.

And it gets worse – if you’re a female. The Times reported last year on some research carried out by the Institute of Employment Research and concluded that;  “It doesn’t pay for a female boss to be too nice. The research showed that personality factors do come into account and that, for example, nice people earn less.

Too niceApparently nice women are being swept away by openly aggressive ones who know what they want.

A more recent paper presented to the Academy of Management by Beth A Livingston from Cornell University analysed surveys spread over 20 years. She found that  significantly less agreeable men earned 18.3% more than men who were significantly more agreeable. For women the difference was less, just 5.5%.

Livingston said; “Men’s disagreeable behaviour conforms to expectations of masculine behaviour“.

Apparently nice women are being swept away by openly aggressive ones who know what they want.

Working hard obviously helps but if you are too conscientious you may be seen as neurotic (or get bullied), and extraverts do no better than introverts.

Professor Cary Cooper, at the University of Lancaster Management School, agrees but also thinks women have more emotional intelligence than men and are not generally as egocentric.

So agreeable managers have to learn how to toughen up – for the sake of their team and the organisation, just as the disagreeable ones have to learn how to be nice – if only for the PR.

The July 2010 issue of Psychologies magazine has picked up on this topic in their article; “Why it pays to be tough at work“. It suggests that the prevailing view that it’s not the cleverest (presumably meaning IQ) but those with the highest emotional intelligence that succeed is wrong.

That was always a simplistic view at best and one that Adrian Furnham disagrees with as he says there is evidence that disagreeable poeple do better. The German research quoted says agreeable women earned £40,000 less over a lifetime than women who behaved more like ruthless men.

The article’s author then has a go at empathy. She quotes Jack Welch’s wife as saying that; “too much empathy is paralysing” when you have to give tough feedback or make tough decisions, and goes on to talk about women being prone to slipping into “good mother” roles where they create “gardens of entitlement” sowing seeds of future problems (such as?).

After dismissing empathy – by quoting Neutron Jack’s wife for goodness sake – the author next attacks self-knowledge which she doesn’t consider essential for top jobs as it can detract from self-confidence if it makes you aware of your failings (is she serious that these people don’t need feedback ?

Some people have short memories; what about Enron, the banks or BP?. Furnham is quoted as saying that people who get on may be narcissistic – which is not the only dark-side attribute.

If men overestimate their abilities and don’t navel gaze while women underestimate themselves and have self-doubt (imposter syndrome) then women seemed doomed to fail according to the author and people like Suzy Welch.

In fact the author seems to welcome emotional stupidity as it makes less demands on her. She even has a dig at Anne Mulcahy, ex-CEO of Xerox, because, although she has written about what women can bring to the workplace in terms of emotionality which makes them better leaders, she cut 1/3 of the workforce.

Did she not wonder how Neutron Jack got his nickname?

Original published on 12 April 2010

Leadership – do you have what it takes?

LeaderNow is as good a time as ever to think about leadership, something sadly missing some might say in government and banking.

Research shows that as many as 10% of leaders could have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies lurking behind a charming veneer. They are self-obsessed, leave a trail of casualties in their wake, and like Typhoid Mary are seemingly unaffected by their actions.

Organizational psychologist Kathy Schnure’s  research, presented at the 25th annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and reported in Management Issues, compared ratings of leadership potential for those who have high levels of narcissism to those who show low-to-average levels on the ‘narcissism scale’.

She found those displaying strong narcissistic tendencies – things like exploitation/entitlement, leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, and self-absorption/self admiration – had a significantly higher rating of potential leadership abilities than those with low-to-average scores.

“Those results would indicate the vision, confidence and pride in their own accomplishments could presumably translate into effective leadership in an organization or team,” Schnure said. On the other hand, while narcissists do gain leadership roles, often based on their charisma and ability to persuade others to accept their point of view, some of the underlying traits, or dark sides” will eventually surface, preventing any “good” leadership,” she added.

Timothy Judge, an organizational psychologist at the University of Florida, says a prime example of this “dark side” is an overblown sense of self-worth

“Narcissists are intensely competitive, self-centered, exploitive and exhibitionistic. They tend to surround themselves with supplicants they see as inferior. When they are challenged or perceive competition, they often derogate and undermine anyone, even those closest to them, they perceive as threats (and unfortunately, they are vigilant in scanning for threats)“.

Schnure said  leaders who are charismatic are not necessarily narcissists. “Charismatic leaders are not exploitive; they do not trample others to get what they want. Rather they display empathy toward employees” she added.

And what about leaders who are described as “charismatic“, for example Obama or the late Steve Jobs at Apple? Rob Goffee, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School and co-author of  “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?”, quoted in an article in The Times “It’s not all about being charismatic“, in 2009, thinks that strong leaders are good at developing disciples, but not successors.

“The people that make leaders charismatic are their followers. Barack Obama, for example, is clearly charismatic, but he’s also enigmatic. You can’t pin him down and so he allows us to project our dreams and hopes on to him.”

So just what does it take to be a leader? According to the Work Foundation there are 5 key skills:

  1. Seeing the bigger picture
  2. Understanding that talk is work
  3. Giving time and space to others
  4. Going through performance
  5. Putting “we” before “me”

Source: The Guardian article “Follow Your Leader?” 16/01/2010

And based on good practice and wide experience I also offer the following quick read: 10 ways to be a leader 10Ways2bALeader

First published 8 April 2010

Informational Warfare – protect your reputation

Anyone in doubt about the impact of social media will have had to rethink their ideas after the Tunisian and Egyptian popular uprisings.

But is the tweet really mightier than the sword? Iran soon learned to curtail its impact and China and Libya, by shutting down mobile and internet services and using their internal security forces, prevented any sizeable demonstrations,

In the business world the BP Deepwater catastrophe was an undoubted PR disaster. To add to the company’s woes a tweeter began publishing from a bogus PR division within BP. As the world watched the marine disaster unfold the fake PR person published tweets about the canteen menu and other mundane issues. The satirical account of life within BP was followed by more people than followed the official BP twitter account.

The power of one man (in this case an aspiring comedian) and a laptop against a giant global corporation shows how the rules have changed. Critics and activists no longer need to have an institution behind them, This is what the military call asymmetric warfare – an uneven matching of resources which can nevertheless result in stalemate or worse – think the USA in Vietnam, think the soviets in Afghanistan.

And to make matters worse for businesses the critics don’t necessarily have to tell the truth, are probably emotionally driven because they are angry or desperate, and may also be irrational.

An article in the December 2010 issue of HBR suggests that businesses need to look at what the military are doing. After the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war the US Army War College Centre for Strategic Leadership and Canada’s SecDev Group carried out a review into what they called “informational warfare”. They found that although Hezbollah was mismatched in conventional military terms it had used social media to win “hearts and minds” (ironically a key part of psyops warfare) around the world and discredited the Israeli position.

SecDev scholars wrote a report called “Bullets and Blogs” in which they set out several principles which could be used to counter attack and which also apply to protecting corporate reputations. These were:

Avoid a disproportionate show of force: don’t come across as a bully. Companies are generally seen as Goliaths compared to individuals. It’s not a good idea to respond in an aggressive manner. A more considered, less emotional, response which shows you re listening and doing something about the problem pays dividends.

Train people to respond quickly: Companies can be slow to respond especially of they need to reach a consensus or call a board meeting to agree the content of a tweet. Having a media monitoring system and social media channels in place enables companies to respond quickly through key personnel.

Avoid bureaucracy and empower teams to respond: following on from the last point, the public would rather hear it from front-line staff than the board members. So letting staff blog about their experiences is a more trusted method. I’ve seen NHS web-sites with interviews with nurses and other clinical staff talking about their work. These testimonials can work. Even the US Army allows soldiers to post blogs (as long as they are not risking security) on ArmyStrongStories.com. General Freakly, in a podcast, basically said that if you trust soldiers to make daily life or death decisions you can trust them with social media.

Go rogue – apply the same tactics: New media are often seen as a threat rather than an asset. Used ethically however they can help neutralise criticism. Domino’s Pizza was badly affected by the YouTube video of a staff member doing unsavoury things with the food. Profits were hit and that particular store was closed. The company President apologised using YouTube reasoning that that’s where the audience was. That in itself created news which by chance also diverted attention away from the problem.

Use multipliers to echo your message: In the military force multipliers are things which amplify your strength. In media having 3rd party endorsements can add to your own efforts. Critics of cruise ships visiting Haiti after the earthquake were soon neutralised when independent organisations supported the cruise line which had invested heavily in the country already, were delivering relief supplies, and who had been asked by the government to continue visiting to help the local economy to recover.

Establish your credentials in advance: Of course all these things are made easier if you already have established yourself as an ethical, diverse, fair, organisation so that when you are attacked you can point to past successes or decisions.

With new media you now have less control over your corporate message so reputation management is even more important.

Leaders, Charisma, and NVC

As I’ve posted before in Body Language Watching Opportunities” watching politicians is always good for practising your skills at reading non-verbal communication (NVC). The recent UK elections and the subsequent election of a new leader for the labour party provided lots of contrasting examples.

And although Gordon Brown, for example, was regarded as a poor performer in this regard compared to Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, Blair and Obama’s falls from favour show that people do eventually see through the spin and the rhetoric (see “Being visionary is not enough”).

Ken Rea, a senior acting tutor from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who also coaches senior executives, wrote an interesting piece for the Sunday Times on this topic putting Ed Milliband, the newly elected labour leader, under the spotlight: “Leaders must act like they mean it”.

He is quick to say that he doesn’t believe leaders should act their way through presentations - after all it takes 3 years to for students to learn how to control their voices, body and emotions - but by understanding techniques used by actors leaders could have the confidence to be more authentic and thereby gain credibility. Milliband’s recent conference speech was sincere but Rea says because it lacked passion – a criticism also levelled at Obama – it made him look lightweight and lacking in charisma.

He says charisma is about revealing your personality by widening your vocal range and projecting a positive and engaging body language – driven by your enthusiasm. (see also “Have you got charisma?”). Milliband needs to learn how to use NVC, particularly his eyes, as Rea doesn’t think they register emotion or show any enthusiasm. Rea also points out that audiences mirror what actors are doing. So if you are giving a flat performance, the audience will give you back what you deserve.

When I run presentation skills or impression management workshops one of the key elements is getting the presenters to look confident and visually connect with their audience. Having emotional intelligence is also important I believe. Having self-awareness, controlling your emotions, understanding what your audience is feeling and developing a relationship with them is the basic requirement of good leadership. As Rob Goffee said in a previous post; “It’s not all about charisma”.

FYI this is not the first time someone from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama has expressed opinions on this subject. In an earlier post “Leadership Panto” the “charisma queen”, voice coach Patsy Rodenburg, explained how people can be coached to be more effective presenters.

Back in September the Daily Telegraph ran a piece in their Science section explaining why they thought David Milliband would be the new leader of the labour party (I almost typed new labour party leader but that would never do in these post-Blair days). Asking; “Is he built to lead?” the authors, Anjana Ahuja & Mark van Vugt, argue that we always pick a chief who can “emote”.

They remind us that David M owes his place at Oxford to his gift of the gab rather than his academic achievements (rather overlooking the possible influence his father might have had) and received an unconditional offer – not for him the need for outstanding A-level results. In their book: “Why some people lead, Why others follow and why it matters” they say that leadership and followership behaviours are hard-wired from our past over 2 million years ago and that we still measure our leaders in the same way we would have done over 10,000 years ago when we first settled in communities.

So if you were fit and healthy you were a potential leader and being big and strong helped you settle disagreements. They point out that that still holds true; taller candidates beat shorter ones eg Obama v McCain and stronger looking CEOs run larger companies than weaker-looking ones. And we know tall men earn more and first impressions count at interviews. (See “Take me to your tall…leader”)

One of the authors was able to demonstrate experimentally how people could be influenced by their sense of belonging to a tribe to choose an incompetent leader over an incompetent one, and even choose a leader who had previously failed when they had a choice of someone who had previously succeeded! So perhaps Red Ed’s triumph over David M through the tribal support of the unions shouldn’t have been such a surprise after all.

They are not saying whether leaders are born or made, because we don’t know. But we do know that some inherited personality traits such as extraversion and verbal IQ are associated with leaders. Leaders tend to speak more fluently using more metaphors and are able to create an emotional connection. Tony Blair said that because Gordon Brown had zero emotional intelligence he couldn’t communicate to the electorate and we saw some examples of that before he decided to retire.

The authors concede that we are sometimes poor at selecting our leaders because we are influenced by their spin or their good looks rather than their expertise or principles. But they say we have also evolved ways of dethroning power grabbers and failing leaders, not least by gossip or ridicule. These days it seems we go for character assassination rather than the real thing. Machiavelli must be turning in his grave!

FYI Research at Columbia University compared power postures to low power, non-assertive postures. Power postures take up more space, like a peacock spreading its feathers, whilst subordinates want to take up less space.

The researchers found that those people asked to adopt power postures, even though they didn’t know why, had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. In other words they felt more powerful and less stressed out.

Tim Lambert, a colleague of mine who is a consultant and trainer and a former actor, coaches people into making use of their personal space to help them to be more assertive and influential.

Female CEOs still trusted more than males

Almost half of the 5,000 employees polled for the Index of Leadership Trust thought that their CEOs had handled the impact of recession well.

And, as in last year’s survey, female CEOs are still trusted more than their male counterparts.

The second annual survey ( a 50:50 mix of managers and non-managers) carried out by the Management Today magazine and the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) had better news than last year with leaders being rated more highly for creating more open and understanding cultures. They seemed to be making an attempt to be more visible.

And there was an 8% increase in that trust for female CEOs amongst male employees and an even higher 11% for those men who weren’t managers. (See my earlier post on last year’s survey at: “Do you trust your boss?“). It seems women are rated higher, not just on doing their job well, but in being principled and honest, and particularly in understanding the problems facing employees.

Penny de Valk, CEO of the ILM, is keen to play down the gender stereotype. She says it’s not because women are more empathetic than men but because; “we know that women are not likely to put themselves forward for new roles unless they feel 95% capable, whereas men will happily do so at 65%, so what happens is that when women are promoted, they are very familiar with the tasks their people are doing”.

Well women do suffer more from imposter syndrome than men so there is probably something in that but women are probably are more empathic than men and many have to work hard at achieving a reasonable work-life balance to avoid being stressed out and suffering ill-health as a result.

So is this a backlash against alpha male leaders? These findings also conflict with another recent survey I posted a blog about which showed that all employees prefer male bosses: “Most people prefer male bosses“.

There are only 5 female CEOs in FTSE 100 companies: Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco, Dame Marjorie Scardino at Pearson, Angela Ahrendts at Burberry, Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American, and Katherine Garrett-Cox at Alliance Trust.

Regardless of gender the largest negative factor in determining trust in CEOs is whether or not there has been cost-cutting. The greater the severity of cut-backs the lower the trust in line managers and particularly in CEOs.The  CEO trust score in organisations that haven’t suffered is 68 but in organisations that have suffered cuts it drops to 51 – so massive consequences as de Valk concedes.

And it’s even grimmer news for the public sector. They already have the lowest trust in their CEOs of any sector - and I wonder if that is linked in any way to the massive salaries and pension pots they have accrued over the last decade?. With the swingeing cutbacks planned by the government it can only get worse.


Most people prefer male bosses

The majority of employees prefer male bosses.

And that despite years of  anti-discrimination legislation and diversity training, and women generally doing better than men at university.

But in a widely reported survey of 3,000 people by  UKjobs.net, three-quarters of the men interviewed said they preferred a male boss –  and so did two-thirds of the women!

Male bosses were seen as more straight forward, better at “steering the ship”, more focussed on the long-term vision and less likely to have hidden agendas.

Female bosses were criticised for having mood swings and bringing personal problems to work, being overly competitive, and spending too much time on their appearance. (Appearance is important and a subject I have posted on before: “Impression Management“)

Women on the other hand were considered better at delegating, at giving praise, and at listening, so it wasn’t all bad news. Nevertheless the majority of people seem to prefer male bosses.

This is not the kind of thing that goes down well in politically correct circles of course and you can imagine what Harriet “Harperson” would make of it. Several columnists also got their knickers in a twist with Barbara Ellen in the Guardian saying women who said these thing should be ashamed of themselves; “We’re doomed if most women want a male boss”.

She does however make a valid point; “the boss thing is not a gender issue – it is a personality issue”. I posted on this a while ago asking; “Do you have what it takes to be a leader?” and I have also had a go at so-called Alpha Males in the past.

I also wonder just how much influence Emotional Intelligence (EI) is having on the current crop of managers. Women are more at risk of stress in high pressure jobs it seems and also can’t afford to be too nice as more aggressive women will compete with them – a point made in the survey about women managers over-compensating. So they are not seen as managing their emotions – one of the core competencies of  EI.

On the other hand the positives that women were recognised for in the survey related to other EI competencies eg empathy and relating to others, yet these strengths were disregarded in favour of what might be seen as the less flexible (in management style), straight-ahead approach that male managers are perceived to have.

So what is going on? Do women really prefer to work for men? Some said that they thought they could be a better manager than their present female bosses so why would they rather work for man?  Is it “imposter syndrome“, believing they are not deserving, because I don’t see assertiveness being a problem amongst women these days?

More recently a survey in America confirmed this tendency. A survey of legal secretaries found that, although almost half had no preference either way, not one of the 142 questioned actually had a preference for working for a female partner.

Another informal survey found that almost 7 out of 10 men said they preferred to work for a man. Even more women (3 out of 4) said they preferred to work for a man.

Only a third of men and a quarter of women said they preferred to work for a woman.

See the full article on these surveys

Emotional Intelligence and empathy

Guest blog from EI4U

Emotional Intelligence and empathy In an earlier post about Emotional Intelligence and marshmallows I referred to the findings of a Demos think-tank report which reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000. Amongst the three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot was empathy - the ability to be sensitive to other people, to read their emotions and understand non-verba … Read More

via EI 4u