Wisdom of the Ages

I stumbled across a faded client file from 20 years ago and unfolded a sheet of newsprint I used during a workshop in 1993.  During a discussion on leadership, I referred to a book that had just been published that captured the “essential elements of a leader”. I was a huge fan of Leadership Jazz by Max Depree – one the best books on the subject.

All these years later, I remain a fan, and a fervent advocate of these principles that withstand the test of time.

(And, in the newsprint vs Powerpoint debate, chalk a point up for the pen and paper! A typed transcript is provided after the jump.)


Tough Questions for Very Human Leaders

  • Do you take time regularly to recognize and thank people?
  • Do you show interest and concern in their work?
  • Do you let people know when you don’t know something?
  • Do you call key customers regularly to touch base?
  • Do people come to you to confide in you?
  • Does the day to day work of the organization feel boring, stale & conservative? What risk or sense of adventure do you model?
  • Do you hire the best – even individuals better than you?
  • Do you stop, talk, listen, congratulate, inquire – as part of your role?
  • But, do you really listen?
  • Are you willing to let go of unproductive programs? People?
  • Do you institutionalize effective interventions?
  • Do you life people beyond complacency, reignite emotion or ambition, challenge?
  • Do people feel supported, encouraged to grow personally?
  • Are you publicly accountable with your own goals? Achievements? Feedback?
  • Do you model openness?

The Seduction of a College President

In the world of higher education, generating dollars in support of research, salaries, educational initiatives and, of course, bricks and mortar is essential. Jennifer Raab (President of Hunter College) is, without question, a profoundly successful generator and that provides faculty the security they need and students the opportunities that could not be possible were it not for her efforts. The average college or university president lasts less than four years. One of the primary reasons is that they do not know how to do what Ms. Raab does so well. Her record at Hunter is, indeed, remarkable.

After twelve years, the sewer is backing up, and Ms. Raab’s limited skills in her other critical leadership role, that of managing others, are beginning to show (or smell). It does not take much intelligence to identify symptoms of a broken management system.

For starters, the revolving door of faculty, staff and other administrators, while not exceeding the $ figure achieved by her fundraising, takes expensive toll on resources, and productivity in terms of morale and performance.

Each time a mid-level university administrator leaves the cost to the system can be $50,000 to $100,000 in replacement fees. Small change you say. Good universities, and Hunter is one, normally find turnover minimal, since people arrive and wish to stay in an environment that provides intellectual stimulation and the opportunity to be a part of something positive.

If raising money is the only standard against which to measure a president’s performance, Ms. Raab excels. But, there is something deeply troubling about a leader who is unable or unwilling to name even a single “criticism of how she leads.” She is either unconscious, in a self protected bubble surrounded by those afraid to tell her about her impact, or arrogant and unwilling to even recognized the need to look at her effect as leader.

I have worked for fifteen years exploring a premise that most leaders will acknowledge:

The older you are, the more power and influence you have, the less those around your will tell you the truth.

In all those years, sharing the implications of this notion among leaders in higher education, business and politics, I have only received knowing nods from those listening. What I call “Seduction of the Leader”, is alive and well in most organizations.

It is for the leaders to overcome the reality of seduction, to develop ways of protecting those who, as in this instance, live in a climate of fear, and have a lot to say but no security to do so.

So, who are those around Ms. Raab who will tell her of her excesses? What does she do to measure her own effectiveness as both leader and manager? How does she model the use of feedback to allow course corrections in her own leadership or that of those around her?

It is not about her being a woman leader that is to be questioned. It is true of male and female leaders who create a climate where truth and candor go underground and fear trumps trust.

Her statement, “I have a vision and I have always been very, very determined …I am very tenacious” is, I’m sure, one of her greatest assets. It may also be one of her biggest weaknesses. Will her ideas be challenged by others as smart (or smarter) but, perhaps, less certain, less tenacious than she? Can she hear them? Will she seek them out or only those compliant to her strengths?

When Matthew Goldstein, the former Chancellor, was pressed about the case being built against Ms. Raab he said, “but her metrics are very good.” I ask, however, are their metrics about her behavior, about her style, about her impact on staff, managers and others? Did the Chancellor take part in the seduction of  her as a leader by being unwilling to look beyond the metrics he provided?

Without much training or experience in higher education when she entered the Hunter system, there may still be things she can learn that could help her presidency. As an educator, regardless of her degrees, you would want someone open to possibilities and who would be encouraging of others to share their ideas for the betterment of The University. That a minority of her constituents find Hunter to reflect a climate of fear, is something that needs to be addressed. It would logically start with Ms. Raab.


So Much for Lines in the Sand


I voted for Obama. I want to trust him – but I can’t.

He’s lost credibility.  He draws lines in the sand on valued based decisions and then fails to act.

Three months ago he declared “if they use chemical weapons we will intercede.” Since then, there has been considerable evidence that this occurred. Now, there is firm evidence . For confirmation look at the bodies of children stacked on pallets.

The world watches. Days pass. No action. Now, within the same week Assad continues“crimes against humanity”. Only days later, another horrendous act against humanity, the bombing of a school with a Napalm like substance, killing, burning and disfiguring scores of school children.

How many times do you draw a line in the sand?

In Egypt, we’ve supported the generals for years. We don’t like the regime, the Islamic brotherhood, a freely elected government. So we turn our backs when the generals (who we support) oust the freely elected government after less than a year.

We don’t allow democratic processes to take place. The generals conduct a coup.

Obama won’t even say the word coup because it would mean giving up the right to supply arms and aid to the generals.

I want to trust him.

But I don’t.

Hitting the Air Waves


Radio Interview

I was recently interviewed about “Seduction of the Leader” and, for your listening pleasure, I’ve provided a link below:

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!”

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.

Call me “Sir”

To my father, children were polite, quiet, hardworking diligent adults in young people’s clothing.  As a 55 pound eight year old caught between extraordinary fear and respect, I had few choices.

I searched carefully for any signal that I was straying off course. I watched his eyes, the veins in this neck, the tone and depth of his voice, how quickly he turned toward me. If any of these forewarned a problem, I tried to correct it immediately.

Sometimes he got me before I could atone for the indiscretion. When, in a deep, annoyed voice he said, “Come here, big boy,” I knew I was about to get a licking – usually for some minor impropriety. Today, they would call it child abuse; then, they called them spankings. And those who heard me scream probably figured I deserved it.

Whatever you called what he did, I remember this; a small boy running, on command, to receive 10 or so wallops – and peeing in my pants before he ever hit me.  The fear and humiliation was enough incentive to behave. Do as you’re told, never complain, and, above all, be polite above the age of two.

That formula I developed to survive certainly doesn’t cultivate creativity and risk taking; it doesn’t encourage one to spread his wings and learn to fly.  But it keeps you safe.

Sadly, it sounds like many businesses I consult, where the employees drive the boss nuts because they don’t behave the way he wants them to.  With his punitive / judgmental response, he can’t understand why they’re so unwilling to try new ideas, why they’re always covering their proverbial asses, why they’re so uncreative and, finally, why they show little initiative – preferring, instead, to wait to be told what to do and how to do it. Fear is the basis of dependency and an effective extinguisher of creativity.

As I did, they stay out of sight as much as possible.  They’re invariably polite and avoid delivering bad news.  Their response to fear, intimidation and judgment is to go underground, complain and bitch, moan to each other, laugh at “Dad’s” frailties behind his back and, above all, hide the truth and protect each other. 

Not a great recipe for innovation, motivation or productivity.

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