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.

Who am I now?

GLI Fall 2013 Leaf

The GLI — Group Leadership Intensive — is over thirty years old with hundreds of participants having shared the experience. It has lasted all these years because it touches both the heart and the mind.

Names, status, personal histories, and reputations are kept out of the mix and participants take a pseudonym, a name of significance to them, a reminder of something they want to practice or remember.

The result is that this program is intense, personal and built upon a core of principles and skills that can be transferred to virtually any back-home environment, family or team.

It provides the opportunity to try on new behaviors both as a member and as a leader. It’s a place to break old habits and to ask the questions, “Who am I now?” and “Is this the person I want to be?”

If you have ever wanted unbiased feedback, based only on your behavior – this is where that will happen, by people who will want to support your growth. The good news is that those who join you are seekers, too.

Register HERE for the October Session, scholarship funds are still available.

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:

Thoughts on Steve Ballmer’s Exit from Microsoft

I was asked to comment on the shakeup at Microsoft and this post in the New Yorker. 

So, here are a few bullet points of my initial thoughts…

  • Fear snuffs out creativity.
  • Taking smart even brilliant people and having them compete to avoid failure breaks every rule of how to build motivation and morale.
  • It is obvious that Microsoft didn’t know how to build effective working teams — either in the management of the enterprise or the the creation of ideas to make the enterprise competitive.
  • Brilliance without heart is not sustainable.
  • Steve Jobs was, at times tyrannical, but he had a sense of the team, of how to motivate and challenge individuals. 

I could go on and on.

Just because you’re intelligent doesn’t mean you’re smart – whether you’re an individual, or a organization.

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. 

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 rod@thenapiergroup.com.