Scouting Out Future Leaders

Goal setting; sound decision making; problem solving; networking, embracing diversity…these factors have more in common than their presence across worldwide competency models. The preceding competencies are some of the many skills acquired by a girl scout. As many may be aware, Girl Scouts of America is dedicated to the development and empowerment of girls through experiences, friendships, and learning opportunities. Although I’m fairly familiar with the organization — I was a brownie myself and my Aunt recently retired from her position as CEO of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma — after further research, I was impressed to learn about the organization’s continual improvement efforts. Since its inception almost 100 years ago, the organization has progressed in conjunction with the issues facing young girls and with the evolution of women in business and leadership.Last week, Fast Company released an article about the addition of an innovation component as part of the Girl Scouts’ curriculum. Young girls will be introduced to fields like web design and product development, and will work to obtain such honors as the “inventor” and “social innovation” badges. In today’s business environment, innovation is a key component of successful leadership. By providing these skills, the Girl Scouts are working to build strong female leaders for the future. Beyond innovation, the Girl Scouts are offering programs focused on financial management, including “good credit,” “money manager,” and “budgeting” badges.The new badges are among 136 unveiled in the Girl Scouts’ first program redesign in 25 years, the result of a years-long process in which scouts themselves laid out a list of skills they would like to learn. If it’s any indication how much things have changed, nearly 100 years ago, girl scouts were working toward “telegrapher” and “matron housekeeper” badges.There’s something to be said about the balance maintained by the Girl Scouts. It’s essential for the organization to maintain the fun and flare that’s always been associated with being a Girl Scout, but also to remain forward-thinking and relevant. After reading about the organization’s program redesign, I was pleased to learn that such a balance is being achieved. Young girls will continue to enjoy Girl Scout traditions such as cookie sales, camping, and field trips, yet through these new programs, will become stronger students, community contributors, and eventually, leaders. 

Chasing Shadows to the C Suite

  At the recent Conference Board in Chicago, a number of talent management professionals and consulting experts gave presentations on next-generation leadership. These discussions included a variety of topics, from recruiting generation Y and Millennial employees to social networking and overcoming the talent management gap as Baby Boomers retire. The common thread in these topics there were three recurrent questions 1) how do we develop next generation high potentials for senior leadership roles, 2) do we tell them they are high potentials, and 3) how will this impact their ability to be authentic leaders? Read More »

Chasing Your Shadow: Leadership Brand and Derailment

I recently listened to a talk given by Greg Barnett, one of Hogan’s veteran consultants and our Director of Product Development, about the importance of defining a strong leadership brand. The concept of an individual leadership brand departs from our conventional understanding of branding from an organizational standpoint. For example, consider the brand that Apple computers has created; the exemplars of innovation, elegant simplicity, and sleek, modern, technology. Now consider the individual leadership brand that Steve Jobs created – in many ways, his personality embodies many of the same qualities of Apple’s brand – Jobs is hailed as an innovative, creative genius who changed the world with his brilliance and innovation. Even his physical image aligned with Apple’s brand – sleek, simple, and timeless with a modern slant.

Read More »

Self-Deception and Evolutionary Theory


I have been interested in the problem of self-deception (doing things for reasons that we don’t properly understand or acknowledge) my entire adult life. Writers as diverse as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and JP Sartre thought self-deception was the primary source of human misery. They also argued that people should try to overcome their self-deception for moral reasons – self-deception is the cause of most bad behavior. In everyday life, self-deception most often appears as hypocrisy.

I have also been interested in evolutionary theory my entire adult life, but my views on evolutionary theory tend to depart from the conventional wisdom as set forth by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides. A central assumption of their view is that the mind is modular, that different components of the cognitive system evolved to solve different problems and that the degree to which these different mental modules communicate is an open question, and in many cases they may not.


Robert Kurzban recently published a book, Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite, applying this mainstream evolutionary thinking to the problem of self-deception. Elliott Spitzer, the disgraced former Governor of New York, provides a good example of the problem. Spitzer notoriously campaigned publicly against prostitution while allegedly privately employing call girls with enthusiasm. The mainstream view of evolutionary psychology (Kurzban) explains Spitzer’s hypocrisy by arguing that his moralistic module didn’t communicate with his lust module. I think there are two problems with this argument.


First, the modular theory of the mind bears an eerie resemblance to 19th century phrenology. But more importantly, it seems wrong-headed. Karl Lashley (1890-1958) proposed what he called the law of mass action, based on a great deal of careful research on the actual workings of rats’ brains. The law of mass action maintains that the brain operates as an organized whole; specific thoughts are distributed across the brain and somehow become organized to generate appropriate solutions or behavioral responses. Lashley is generally credited with showing that the brain is much more complex than earlier researchers realized. But more importantly, it seems intuitively obvious that inputs from the various sensory systems feed into some kind of central processing unit which organizes the data, and generates appropriate responses. Otherwise, how could an organism coordinate thought and action and survive?


Second, the propensity to reflect on one’s actions and to compare them with internalized norms is an individual differences variable. People with low scores on HPI Adjustment and high scores on HPI Prudence are prone to intensive self-examination and self-criticism. People with high scores on HPI Adjustment and low scores on HPI Prudence are not prone to self-examination. Spitzer fits the second pattern to perfection.


But evolutionary theory provides a straightforward alternative account. In every social living species, cheaters or free-riders inevitably emerge. Free-riders participate in the benefits of social living – cooperation, group support, shared food – but act selfishly and contribute nothing to the welfare of the larger social group. Parenthetically, I think politicians are the free riders of democratic society. Social interaction is about impression management. Hypocrisy is the free-rider’s solution to the problem of how to endorse altruistic values while behaving selfishly. And it is worth noting that Elliott Spitzer was a career politician. 

How Attractive Is Your Personality? (Part II)

In August I wrote about some interesting findings about how our personality makes us more or less physically attractive to others (read Part I). We learned that being friendly, attention-seeking, and demonstrating a genuine concern in networking with and helping others enhances perceptions of physical attractiveness, while being distant, indifferent, passive-aggressive, and eccentric can be real turn-offs. These results represented trends across people in general, regardless of their gender. To satisfy my insatiable curiosity, I decided to delve further by investigating whether there are personality characteristics that differentially relate to the physical attractiveness of men versus women.

Read More »

Streaming Leadership Derailment

I’m a big movie buff. Since I have young children I rarely get a chance to go the movie theaters anymore to see a film that doesn’t star Woody, Buzz, Lightning McQueen, or a princess of some type. In my 5+ years of fatherhood, Netflix has become a savior in terms of feeding my movie addiction. For me and 20 million other subscribers, seeing that a new movie is available for streaming online or getting that red envelope in the mail is one of life’s simple joys.The joy of being a Netflix customer was mightily shaken last July when customers received a brisk, impersonal email informing them that the video subscription service pricing would be increased by as much as 60% per month unless subscribers decided to substantially limit the services they were receiving. In essence, customers were abruptly told that they would no longer be able to enjoy both the streaming movies and DVD-by-mail features. They would be required to choose one type of service otherwise incur the price hike to retain both options.Netflix customers were outraged by this imposed price increase and/or elimination of service options. This outrage was not only communicated via blogs and Facebook posts. Many customers have truly put their money where their mouth is by canceling their subscriptions. The company’s stock price is now 42% lower than it was in July before the price hike announcement. An organization that by all accounts changed the video rental industry and was experiencing a fantastic upward trajectory envied by the business world has taken a serious turn for the worse. How did this happen?The recent events at Netflix appear to be yet another unfortunate example of leadership derailment. The company’s decision to increase prices and the manner in which they communicated the changes to customers has been perceived by many as a bold and arrogant move. In September, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings issued a statement apologizing to customers. However, it is possible that some may view his apology as too little, too late. Even after the initial customer backlash, Netflix at first confidently defended their decision and even announced in August that they expected to gain 400,000 subscribers by the end of September. Recently, Netflix has projected that it will have actually lost 600,000 customers by the end of September. In other bad news, Starz, a key movie content partner for Netflix, ended its partnership with the organization. The company has decided to rebrand their DVD-by-mail service as a separate company called Qwikster. The effectiveness of this strategy is being questioned by many and could further stoke the flames of the fire started earlier this summer.Two months after the initial controversy, Reed Hastings’ blog post apology stated that the July announcement “lacked respect and humility” and indicated that he should have personally communicated in more detail the reasons for the changes. He went on to say, “In hindsight, I slid into arrogance based upon past success.” Hastings ends his statement by saying that he and his team will work hard to regain customers’ trust. Interestingly enough, his actions and choice of terminology strongly parallel the leadership derailment research findings of Hogan Assessment Systems. High potential leaders assessed by Hogan tend to be seen as confident, assertive, ambitious, and visionary. Some of these very characteristics are likely present in the senior leadership team at Netflix and surely contributed significantly to the company’s hugely successful rise. However, during stress or heavy workloads, when leaders aren’t paying attention, or during times of change, this confident style may emerge as counterproductive behaviors viewed by others as arrogant, lacking humility, setting unrealistic expectations, and ignoring negative feedback. In his own words, Hastings acknowledged a very similar behavioral pattern. Furthermore, derailing behaviors related to arrogance often lead to the inability of leaders to be seen as trustworthy and sincere, hence Hastings’ comment that Netflix is now committed to regaining customer trust. Leaders that allow their natural confidence to descend into arrogance rarely admit when they are wrong, learn from mistakes, or take responsibility when things go wrong. This recent statement by the CEO appears to potentially demonstrate a realization that a mistake was made and a willingness to take ownership of the misstep…however the pricing increase was not rescinded and only the poor communication of the policy change was addressed. Will the apology and Qwikster rebranding strategy be effective in retaining customers and attracting new subscribers? Can Netflix and its leaders get back on track after derailing so drastically? Stay tuned! 

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Working together; it’s such a simple concept, and vital for work teams. However, good teamwork is often lacking in groups. Take a moment to fathom how much could be accomplished in the world if individuals were just better at working together.

Read More »