It’s All About Values

The failure of core values being lived in an organization usually represents a gap between intellect and action, between knowing what a particular belief means vs. actually doing it.

Every time we hire someone it represents an opportunity to demonstrate one’s belief in the core values of the organization. If the candidate cannot demonstrate its commitment to and ability to live these values, the result of a poor hire accelerates exponentially the demise of such values. It is easy to mouth a belief, much more demanding to exhibit it in one’s behavior.

Thus, lived core values reflect what we do, how we act and, ultimately, who we are as individuals and as an organization.

When there is a disconnect between what we say we believe in and what people experience, credibility and trust are lost. This is especially true if the leadership behaviors experienced by employees are different than the behaviors those same leaders champion and broadcast. Hypocrisy is a subtle poison that will undermine both morale and performance, the toxic result of leaders whose actions don’t match their words.

People talk about organizational culture without knowing what culture actually means. Culture represents the organizational norms that dictate who we are, what we do and how we do it. To the world that observes the organization, over time, the perceived culture becomes the “brand” no mater what the leaders want. If what we do is customer service, as in the case of Zappo’s then it becomes its brand – “powered by service” – its reputation, regardless of what any branding PR may suggest.

Behaviors, not slogans, determine brand and culture. 

Funny, Marine style.

I should add this to my list of lessons learned as a Marine. But, I’ll put it in the humor chapter of “Seduction of the Leader”.

Marine Tact and Navy Sensitivity:

Years ago, a young Navy Pilot was severely injured while ejecting from his A-4 Skyhawk due to engine failure during a catapult shot from the aircraft carrier, but due to the heroics of rescue helicopter and the ship’s hospital staff, the only permanent injury was the loss of one ear.

Since he was now physically impaired he did not remain on flight status but eventually became an Admiral. However, during his career, he was always sensitive about his appearance.

One day, the Admiral was interviewing two Navy Master Chiefs and a Marine Sergeant Major for his personal staff.

The first Master Chief was a Surface Navy-type, and it was a great interview. At the end of the interview, the Admiral asked him, “Do you notice anything different about me?” The Master Chief answered, “Why, yes, Admiral. I couldn’t help but notice that you’re missing your starboard ear, and I don’t know whether this impacts your hearing on that side.The Admiral got very angry at this lack of tact, and threw him out of his office.

The next candidate, an Aviation Master Chief, when asked this same question, answered, “Well, yes, Sir. You seem to be short one ear.” The Admiral threw him out, as well.

The third interview was with the Marine Sergeant Major. He was articulate, extremely sharp, and seemed to know more than the two Master Chiefs put together. The Admiral wanted this guy, but went ahead with the same question. “Do you notice anything different about me?”

To his surprise, the Sergeant Major said, “Yes, Sir. You wear contact lenses.”

The Admiral was impressed, and thought to himself, ‘What an incredibly tactful Marine’. “And how would you know that?” the Admiral asked.

The Sergeant Major replied: “Sir, it’s pretty hard to wear glasses with only one fuckin’ ear, sir!”

How To Tease Out Great Ideas From Every Person On Your Team

I felt so many things when I read the above article from Fast Company

  • Happy that folks are having these design conversations.
  • Smart since our design skills and tools are so broad and deep.
  • Stupid when I had to look up the definition of an asshat.
  • Thankful for the image Google provided.


“Rod Napier wrote the book on management best practices. His dozen books and forty years of experience are all about the application of skills and strategies for leaders and managers. Rod’s dynamic style of “telling it like it is” has positioned him as a sought after leadership consigliere to top-tier executives who desire the hard truths necessary to improve their organizations – and themselves.” For information about Rod’s speaking and consulting engagement – please email

Do you take your childhood to work?

Within families, parental control is often exerted in terms of approval or disapproval. For children, approval serves as evidence of their parents’ love and affection. Parental disapproval is usually perceived as rejection or withdrawal of love and affection by the most powerful people in their lives.

We want to be loved, need to be loved and will respond positively to regular doses of love and affection. Some of us fear rejection and spend great quantities of our energy trying to be liked and appreciated. We can accept fair punishment for wrong doing. But, we find it incredibly difficult to accept rejection and loss of affection and love.

Because parents are central to a child’s view of themselves, to withdraw love is translated “I am not lovable.” As a child’s risk of rejection increases the level of trust toward their parent decreases. Thus, a child will learn to distrust a parent if, as a form of parental control, he or she is continually threatened with the withdrawal of love and affection or approval as a means of control.

ImageThe paradox is that the parent “solution” of disapproval, the untethering of that powerful anchor of unconditional acceptance, becomes part of the “problem”. When a parent shows clearly and often to their children that they are lovable because they exist, over time the child constructs the most critical building block of trust possible. It is the belief that my parents will always be there for me (risk disappears and trust is high).

Arbitrary anger grounded in the withdrawal of parental affection feels worse to the child within us than our boss telling us how poorly we did a particular job. But, it rings old bells and triggers memories of rejection. People almost immediately generalize a criticism of work performance to a comment about “me” – the person.

I loved my father. As a proper southerner, he was taught that respect was the keystone of any relation between child and adult and particularly between parent and child. Respect meant unquestioned obedience, responsiveness to command and suggestion, and politeness at all times. Such expectations immediately reduce any give and take in the parent/child relationship, render the child impotent and create a barrier to intimacy.

In my family, to be loved and rewarded – usually in the form of compliments from friends of my parents on how well mannered my sister and I were – were closely tied to demonstrations of respect (obedience and politeness). Thus, intimacy was the outcome of our conformity to expectations.

For my sister this was intolerable. When not mannerly or obedient, she felt unacceptable and ultimately unloved. With the withdrawal of love and affection gone went trust of my father. Feelings of intimacy came less and less with his stubborn adherence to arbitrary rules or decisions.

Increasingly, he appeared unfair and irrational to my sister at exactly the time she most needed his love and validation. As bright and tough in her way as he was in his, she made him pay dearly for the love he increasingly could not give.

Watching the incredible conflict and mutual rejection created, I chose the sensible mannerly route, dutifully fulfilling the required doses of respectful behavior and receiving enough “conditional” love to feel comfortable. My parents’ relief at my tolerance to conformity made me a source of affection and pride in contrast to the antagonism and anger toward my sister who flouted every expectation.

Many parents confuse respect and control as the key ingredients to successful parenting since this is all they know.  Plain and simple – it is difficult to feel close to a parent, who is; always correct; demands total obedience; appears invulnerable; allows no disagreement; reveals no weakness; never defines his or her limits of authority and creates “respect” through conformity. Quite a formidable barrier to intimacy.

In many ways the same issues exist in businesses when some leaders act in the same paternalistic and controlling ways to their subordinates. The difference is that fewer subordinates will overtly act out, but they will take it underground.

Before he died, we had three days in which I finally had a chance to know him and where he came from and who he ultimately was as a man, a father and as a long awaited friend. That time gave us a connection that we had never had.

If I hadn’t made the journey to England to be with him in his last weeks, hadn’t made the time in the midst of my busyness, – stopped the car, the carousel – and been present to and with him, and if I had not done that I would STILL be therapy with unresolved issues around my father and who I am as a man.

“Rod Napier wrote the book on management best practices. His dozen books and forty years of experience are all about the application of skills and strategies for leaders and managers. Rod’s dynamic style of “telling it like it is” has positioned him as a sought after leadership consigliere to top-tier executives who desire the hard truths necessary to improve their organizations – and themselves.” If you’d like to speak to Rod about a speaking and consulting engagement – please call 610-469-3850 or email 

Don’t Blame Trust

Trust is never the problem. It is too complex: a feeling, an outcome, a level we define, measure.

Real trust is a gift that we have control of giving to others and they to us. Most people can count on a single hand the number of people they deeply trust. Thus, to have it in someone and then to lose it can undermine the entire relationship. The gift we gave is suddenly discarded, thrown away and with it a critical dimension of the relationship.

Actually, the loss of trust is a symptom – an emotional feeling connected to certain acts or situations which, if we take the time to examine, may provide clues to determine the real problem. The disappearance of trust is like a huge boulder suddenly being placed between two people. It appears that it simply has to be rolled over and removed. But, the real problem, the root cause, lies somewhere underneath.




Demanding trust will never alter the situation. In fact, talking about the loss of trust will inevitably create more of a problem. It is much easier to complain loudly about its loss and petulantly demand its return than to look into the root causes. To take a serious look will take time and may be uncomfortable and possibly painful. Predictably, we will often find ourselves to be very much a part of the problem.

Are you willing to risk the discomfort?

“Rod Napier wrote the book on management best practices. His dozen books and forty years of experience are all about the application of skills and strategies for leaders and managers. A co-founder of the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate program in Organizational Consulting and Executive Coaching, Rod’s dynamic style of “telling it like it is” has positioned him as a sought after leadership consigliere to top-tier executives who desire the hard truths necessary to improve their organizations – and themselves.” For more information about booking Rod for a speaking engagement – please call 610-469-3850 or email 

Seed of Intentional Leadership


Seed of Intentional Leadership

The seed, unknown to me, had been indelibly planted in my brain nearly fifty years ago by Sergeant Hatchel. Known by many of my equally fearful fellow recruits as the nastiest Drill Instructor in the entire Marine Corps. He took no prisoners. A machine gunner, he had fought in two wars and was looking for a third, us. His permanent scowl said, “Never make a mistake and we can live together – but, even then, I won’t like it and I will never like you.“

When he was around, we lived in perpetual terror.

As a “older” recruit, I had been anointed a squad leader whose major role was not to piss off Sergeant Hatchel. Even worse, the mistakes of the small band I led became my own mistakes and, oh, how I would pay. As a result, I was always on full alert – that is, almost always…

It was a sweaty, torrid sunny day in July in the last place anyone would want to be, Paris Island. I was ushering my twelve privates back to the barracks after a wickedly grueling two hours of PT under an unforgiving, broiling sun. Stopping, perhaps twenty-five yards from the barracks, I casually looked back over my shoulder at the weary group and shouted, “Group, dismissed.”

From a second floor window came a screaming tirade, “Private, you get your sorry ass up here or I’ll come down there and break your miserable neck.” It was Sergeant Hatchel looking for blood and he had found it – me.

I ran to the small porch in front of the barracks to receive his rage – knowing the punishment would follow. He was just warming up. “What do you think you doing, taking a walk on the beach? That kind of slovenly, undisciplined behavior is what gets people killed, and you’ll be the cause of it.”

My sin? Not pivoting smartly and saluting, while giving my order. His rant continued as he proceeded to insult me, several of my favorite body parts, my closest relatives, all the while asking me why I had the nerve to insult the entire Marine corps by joining in the first place.

Between gritted teeth he shouted, “I want a hundred squat thrusts, a hundred sit-ups, a hundred push-ups, twenty five at a time and, then we’ll see what else. And, they had better be perfect.” In spite of my exhausted state, pure adrenalin drove me through the first six rounds of twenty-five. And, then, there was nothing left to give. Meanwhile, he’s screaming something about being a spineless, chicken shit. Then, he had me stagger to my feet, stand up, heals angled against the wall, body pressed straight against it, and said I was to slowly lower my body and hold it half way down. Well, my entire body was shaking in a matter of minutes and I caught a glimpse of his sneering smile. Some time later – I had lost all sense of time and my body – he screamed, “Private, when I count three, I want your sickening self out of my sight.”

When three came, I couldn’t move. There was nothing left – not even pain. Just humiliation and a commitment to pay attention in the future. All these years later, it’s still there — the huge gift from Sergeant Hatchel.

Pay attention. Be fully present. Own your own mistakes. And in my words:

Be intentional in everything you do as a leader, since there are real consequences for yourself and others. There are few short cuts and no six easy steps to success.

I believe the “how” can differ, (it doesn’t demand suffering) but the message was clear.

Leadership demands a meticulous and rigorous approach to “what” is expected of each leader in that role, in any given moment.


“New York Times Article – David Reimer of Merryck & Co.”

Thanks to Merom and Louise Klein who forwarded this to me. Great article on “seduction of the leader”:

The older we are, the more influence, power and authority we have, the less the people around us, those upon whom we depend, will tell us the truth.

We have all been there, all held our truths, failed to say what needed to be said at a critical moment, colluded with a wrong, even shameful, choice or action, and walked out of a meeting tremulous with our own knowledge of what we left unsaid. The consequences have ranged from minimal to disastrous. Yet the data remained undiscussed except, perhaps, with a close friend or in the deepest, safest part of our informal organizational underground.

While there are always reasons for withholding the truth that we can easily justify and rationalize, they rarely can excuse the cost to ourselves, those who trust us, and to the team or organization we have let down.

The problem begins with us, our own willingness to risk, to stand tall and deliver, or accept, the truth that lies waiting to be uncovered.

If I am the leader of a team or organization, the truth starts with me, what I am willing to share and model for others. This is followed closely by my own willingness to set the truth free among those around me, who are harboring what needs to be said. Without those closest to us being willing to tell the truth, we all lose.


When I was a boy, I was always just a little afraid –  of being hit or hurt, making a mistake, looking stupid. It wasn’t readily apparent, but I always was fearful that my weakness would be revealed, that everyone could probably see the fear in my eyes. Then, I surmised, when I wasn’t around they would talk about what a chicken shit I was.

Most of my friends, I was convinced, were never afraid. Not Pete Treat, only 5’8”, but ate glass and never backed down from anything. Or Bill Payes, a silver spooned maniac who incited others to riot, Others like Bucky who, one day feeling maligned by our demanding football coach, picked him up and threw him against the locker room wall almost knocking him out. And he got away with it because he did the same thing to opposing centers.

Then there was this big raw-boned farm boy, Ronnie Butts, gentle as a kitten unless defending his end of the line. He would just toss offensive linemen like bales of hay, He never talked, just created mayhem.

I had come to the Midwest hicksville town when I was 15 – kicking and screaming – from an elitist suburb where most everyone went to college, owned a car, belonged to a country club and seemed to grow up being a stock- broker or insurance salesman, that is, if they weren’t a doctor or lawyer. My new friends, in contrast, were a mix of small town, rich, poor, farmers, suburban kids living in the last rural outpost of Chicago – hayseeds who worked and played together in all the ways kids do who weren’t consumed with lives of how much, how fast, shopping malls and being the best.

These new friends had played together since first grade and, now in a school of 400 in a town of 4000 they hardly knew how good or how big they were until as seniors they went undefeated in football, won 26 basketball games and went to the state championships – an astounding tribute to their toughness and skill.

I was a runty half-back playing football, I just tucked my 150 pound body behind the big trees on the line and dashed around, afraid, but determined not to let them down. Of course, I would make the obligatory tackles, break off an occasional run and made a rare block or two; but, it was never really carefree and spontaneous or having fun like the rest of the guys. We were so good and so much better than the other teams that even I received accolades and awards. One small college wanted to give our whole team, lock stock and barrel, scholarships. It never would happened, but what a great idea.

Deep inside I didn’t believe that I deserved nary an honor as long as I felt one ounce of fear.

So, I went to college feeling like a fraud and not intending to play football at all. I had chosen a Minnesota college where I’d be able to play hockey, my true love and fearless passion. You see, football is terribly premeditated – with lots of time to think of the consequences, to analyze one’s feelings, to dwell on “what could happen.” Hockey, on the other hand, is a reaction game where speed shots raw adrenaline into your brain and excises fear. In hockey I could be Bucky Grom, or Pete Treat – diving, crashing, fighting, never hurt, never worried.

Habit, Fear and the Truth But, I get ahead of my story. I had played football every year since I was ten years old. Despite all of the old apprehensions and self-doubts, in college I found myself, once again drawn, like vice to the devil, to football.Slightly bigger, I was now more experienced, a tad tougher and a proven winner, but, my brain still got in the way of my guts.

I must have learned something because not only did I make the freshman team, but, I was made co-captain. If they only knew how nervous I was they surely would have sent me packing. Always nervous that one day they would uncover the truth, I continued the charade, running scared. No matter how I performed, I have passion for the game. I just couldn’t kick the habit.My freshman year our varsity won the league championship – undefeated for the first time ever; moreover, only one player wasn’t returning the next year. Entering as a sophomore, my performance anxiety had decreased considerably, and I guessed that I would feel a lot less pressure to succeed.

End of Another Myth One day early in the pre-season practice, I was sent into the backfield, ostensibly to block for our all-conference wild man, Petsey Voss. He could stop trains with his glance, afraid of nothing. Suddenly, he had the ball. It was like a bad dream. I was running in front of him leading him around left end. I felt his hand on my butt, using me like a probe as we moved toward the oncoming hoards. He expected me to sacrifice my body and block the onrushing linebacker or tackle whose job was to demolish first me, and then Petsey.

Apparently, Petsey had never been told that I was not a blocker, that I had rarely run interference in high school, and that I found the idea of placing my body in front of the approaching monster tackle quite distasteful. Through gritted teeth, Petsey snarled, “Look prick, if you fuck up this block I’ll personally whip your ass.”

Suddenly, there was no doubt whether the greatest source of fear was in front of me, behind me or within my failing psyche. There, coming straight at us, was the all conference tackle, Bruce Mahachick, roaring and hungrily eyeing me up . I don’t remember being crazy enough to throw my body across his knees and, truth be told — I never felt a thing. I do remember old Petsey prancing untouched into the end zone with a grin a mile wide and shaking his fist in triumph.

The elation quickly turned to grief as Petsey, beside himself with wild-eyed enthusiasm, came running back to the huddle mumbling “Hey, you’re my boy – yes sir, you’re my boy.” And, sure enough, from that minute on, for the next three years, I was a blocking back, laying my body out on a daily basis.

A New Perception – A New Reality  It was difficult to believe that fear no longer ruled, that I had crossed over some line that turned a terrified act into a normal experience and cast away the weighty albatross that had plagued my life. It was not so much that Bucky and Pete had courage – but rather that they had freedom from their own voices of restraint. They had refused to let their minds manufacture the fear that would block their willingness to act. My inhibition was my own creation.

Blind Spots and Family of Origin

The older I get the smarter Sigmund Freud becomes. It’s all about our families – our parents, siblings and powerful figures in our family constellation. When I had kids of my own, I found I was running amuck in Freud’s notions of power and authority. Since then, I’ve taken (and continue to take) some hard looks at myself. In my work, I began searching out, in earnest, the blind spots in many of my clients.

I know an incredibly talented CEO of a small private company. She is organized, conscientious, politically astute and measurably successful. But, if happiness is part of the criteria for success, either hers or others, she was failing. And, because of her inability to be happy, those around her were caught in her web of discontent.

As a child, she was criticized mercilessly. Nothing was good enough and, as a result, she was never good enough. Intellectually she was capable of seeing her many strengths, but emotionally she was vulnerable and had turned her self critical nature on herself and others.

She had zero tolerance for mistakes – by herself or others. The result was individuals were constantly afraid of failing in her eyes because she had no acceptance of anything less than perfect. She was reluctant to delegate to anyone and was forever burdened with doing too much, not letting go and creating a constant state of stress – always overly busy and on the verge of having something fail.

Those who did have responsibilities would come to her two, three, even four times to check out their progress so that, in the end, they would pass her test of acceptance. These individuals rarely took a risk, less frequently initiated anything and continually remained dependent on her. Since she was so critical, rarely did she gives kudos for work well done, since it could always be better – and this she would gladly show you. Professionally, she was praised as for her outcomes. Yet, many vilified her behind her back for being callous, insensitive and, humorless.

Highly intelligent and conscientious, she decided to bring her 35 key leaders together to assess the state of the organization and, together, look toward the future.  In a design aimed at protecting confidentiality and encouraging candor, she had everyone respond to several questions.  One question was: “What are the issues that, for whatever reasons, are not being addressed, and need to be addressed, if we are going to be the best we can be?” (It should be noted that despite her discomfort with criticism, she agreed to include this and another question that would result in some judgment of the organization and, even, her.)

The design worked to a “T” and nearly every individual felt safe enough to discuss the challenging questions in an open and candid manner among small clusters of other leaders. The resulting data were organized objectively. Then, because Mary wanted to signal to the group that such collaboration was healthy and desired, the highlights  — critical concerns from across the data — were shared in front of the entire group.

Since such feedback and process were not the norm, people were rightfully nervous. They knew that Mary might take things personally and feared she might react defensively or with anger, or both. While this did not occur, she did become somber – appearing overtly sad and withdrawing from much of the ensuing conversation.

Witnessing this, some of her colleagues came up to her informally and asked if she was “all right.” She confided that she felt unappreciated and “betrayed” by the day. Those typically  perceived as “in Mary’s camp”, immediately began to point fingers, blame others and suggest that this was not the kind of collaboration they had in mind. A good day would be to say only good things about the Mary and the organization.

Given the things that had the potential to have been said, the critical statements were “mild”. Yet, Mary was initially emotionally triggered and later even more so as individuals offered sympathy as a means of placating her and to diffuse any potential anger.

The next day, Mary was still bitter and hurt. This is understandable, since for the six years of her reign she had protected herself from any possibility of receiving feedback that would question her perfection or that of the organization.

Mary had inadvertently created a barrier preventing her behavioral “blindspot” from being revealed by those from whom she needed the truth. Her own unfinished business from the past was crippling her, in spite of all her good work, and her leadership potential.

Mary’s denial and sympathy seeking behavior only exacerbated the problem. Had she acted positively toward the feedback, helped support change where appropriate, her critics would, most likely, have given her kudos and, probably, supported (or at least been neutral) to any changes. They would have also waited to see her responses in the future. Forgiveness is usually created over time, while “hope” can be generated in the short term.

A week later, after further conversation, she discerned the pattern that she had been living, recognized that her strong response – feeling betrayed and unappreciated – to people who were trying to gift her with the truth was how she handled almost any criticism, any disconfirming responses to her efforts. Worse yet, she realized she was becoming a source of toxicity that trumped her many strengths as numerous individuals increasingly disliked her lack of openness and acceptance of her own shortcomings when they were evaluated and expected to own their failures.

So What?  The clues to much of our own blindspots or ineffective behaviors are there to be seen. If asked, people will tell us if they are protected and if they believe their truth may lead to positive results. The courage was for Mary to seek the truth known to many and rarely seen by her.

Her strong feelings of self-criticism and doubt were clues to how she had to change to be happy and more productive. The good news is that the self-awareness of her impact and its implications for her leadership was the first major step to change. She had all the tools to be among the best. Only she stood in her way.

Coaching helped her develop a plan to demonstrate new openness to her staff. Counseling helped her discern the original of the emotional triggers that energized the criticism of self and others. A year later, she reported that the single insight about how her family of origin had created a protective wall around her all those years later has been seminal in her new openness and success as a leader.

There are, parts of Freud I don’t buy, that make no sense to me. But, in general, the impact of our family of origin on ourselves as leaders, parents, friends and relationships, is spot on. So often what gets us into trouble in our relationships can be seen vividly at the times when we are either angry and attacking, or feeling impotent and withdrawing. These times are usually accompanied by “big” feelings. The problem is that in the moment of conflict it’s difficult to focus on our part of the equation in the midst of becoming defensive or blaming of others.

We are all long…


We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.


A dear friend, who I knew at the beginning of her career, expressed this to me 40 years later. It shows that she internalized the values at the time and that to this day we try to create in community.

Starhawk’s words are extraordinary and they reflect the challenges for all of us.

My question – do you have a place like this in your life?

If not, why not?