I needed help and had few choices.

I have studied hiring, written a book about it, helped others do it and agree totally that it’s the single most important thing a leader can do. Jim Collins has it right.

I confess, I’ve only done it for myself a few times in my forty years. One time, through absolutely no fault of my own, I got it right… a brilliant hire that reflects everything that the best hire in the world should be like.

Let’s start with the data that my research revealed and the reality that remains consistent. Leaders asked if they had the opportunity, “How many of those hired in the past would you hire again, if you had the choice?” That would imply that these individuals who they would hire again either met or exceeded their expectations. Or if they declined the rehire implied that they were sold a false product during the hiring process. The answer usually hovers around 50%. That means, about 50% are what we call “false positives.” They look like a good candidate, but somehow didn’t live up to their “potential.” Oops.

If that 50% failure rate holds up over years, those hired into organizations will slowly bring down the level of competency and, effectiveness will diminish. The result of all this noodling around in relation to hiring is that I began to ask, what does the perfect hire, the perfect employee look like? And, what is it that people wanted most and seemed to get the least.

Following is that list that resonates with me, and many others.

  1. Someone who comes early and stays late and doesn’t count. It’s the idea that they will do what’s necessary to get done that must be done – regardless.
  2. Someone who is trustworthy. They speak the truth, hold confidences, and give me permission to do the same.
  3. Someone who is constantly looking for things to learn – because they love to learn. They simply are curious, want to understand the in’s and outs of the business / the job sufficiently enough that it becomes part of them.
  4. Someone who wants to be the best – where excellence is the end of everything they do. Mediocrity simply doesn’t stand a chance with this person. It also holds me to a higher standard.
  5. Someone who challenges my thinking – not because they want to be right, but because they want me to be the best I can be. That requires courage and tenacity since I don’t always want to hear what I need to hear.
  6. Somebody who can laugh out loud with me, at me, and at themselves. It sets a tone of humility so that no one gets too big for their proverbial britches. It is the contrarian we all need.
  7. Someone, who is interested in the world in which they live – the good, bad and the ugly. It’s the only way to maintain perspective and not get lost in the minutia of one’s work so that family and the larger world are first, not second thoughts.
  8. Someone who can make an honest mistake and not beat themselves up for it. Perfection is a hard edge to be around, since it makes it harder for others to be imperfect.
  9. Someone who is not better than anybody else – who will do the grunge work and never complain. Somewhere in here lies gratitude for our own good fortune.
  10. Someone who is open to forgiveness. It’s one of those necessary two-way streets, without which long relationships are impossible.

I write this because this is the last day of work for my fifteen-year colleague.

Chris originally undertook a part time engagement. Providentially, my small office in the woods was half way between the nursery school her children attended and her home in a rural part of Pennsylvania. Raised on the island of Nevis she had few of the normal credentials and no understanding of anything I did. But, I needed help and had few choices. I discovered that she had most of the things on that list and, over the years found the rest. As she grew and changed, learned her trade and my trade she never brought her bad day to work, although I did create a few for her. (See #10)

Chris leaves for the right reasons. She has outgrown me, and my business. It’s time for her to bring these ten qualities to the benefit of others who she will now lead.

The challenge of any hiring process is that if asked, most candidates for any job will say they have all or most of the ten. And, when tested many will appear as false positives. The things we can measure would never have told me these sterling qualities of Chris. They were on the job discoveries that kept on giving – to both of us.

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 info@thenapiergroup.com. 

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.

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?

My Intention

I want to challenge, educate and inspire

     Light a fire in the ear of those I touch

          Provide hope, ideas and affirmations

               Create new perspectives

I want to shine a small light

     That will turn average into memorable

          And will have people turn to each other

               And say, “WOW l hadn’t thought of that. I could do it.”

My talks are wide ranging, sometimes audacious and engaging

     Exploring why teams fail and

          What it takes for success in a team-based world

     Why so many intimate relationships fall apart

          In spite of years of love and affection

     How to diminish predictable SHIT PILES of most relationships

          With new strategies, humor and grace

     What to do when leaders are seduced by lies and half-truths

          By those around them, when they desire honesty

     How to use the creativity of paradox

          To manage difficult people who drive us crazy

     How people unintentionally make each other defensive

          And how to turn that into something positive

     How listening deeply is the key to intimacy and affection

          That anyone can master but few do

     Why most meetings are both costly and insufferable

          And how to change that reality and save money too

     Why teams and individuals lack the courage to risk

          And how to provide it to both

     Why half of all hires fail in the eyes of those doing the hiring

          With answers for diminishing such false-positives

     How to break bad habits that get in our way

          So we can be happier and more productive


These are beginning thoughts. I will refine them. But, each can be delicious and provide fodder for the curious and well intentioned.

 Rod Napier