Friday, April 30, 2010

Obama Shows How Not to Lead

If you want to develop your leadership skills, you will need to choose the right leader to emulate.

We humans imitate our betters. It's in our DNA. We want to improve ourselves, sometimes by growing up, sometimes by becoming better people.

Even more than we want to find ourselves, we want to better ourselves.

We imitate our parents and older siblings. When we go on to school we emulate our teachers. In the business world we follow the examples set by our managers, supervisors, and CEOs.

And we imitate these people, regardless of whether we have chosen them as our role models. We do not select our parents and siblings. In most cases we do not select our schoolteachers. Eventually, we will choose the professors whose courses we will take in college, and we certainly have a say in deciding which job offers to accept or reject.

It's not just that a good manager makes our job easier, more productive, and more satisfying, he or she is also going to be your primary leadership role model.

I will mention in passing that you should never choose a fictional character, whether from television, the movies, or a novel, as your role model. Fictional characters are invariably bad role models, even when they seem to be good leaders.

In our society the highest level of public leadership is exercised by the President of the United States. Like it or not, he is our national role model. For better or worse, we are drawn to follow his example. After all, achieving the American presidency constitutes a great success.

And we all have a say in who becomes president. We make a choice. Our candidate may not always win, and we may not agree with his policies, but we want to be able to emulate the way he conducts himself in office. We want the president to set an example that we can happily follow.

If you follow the example of a good leader you will be well on the road to developing your own leadership skills. If you are led by someone who does not know what he is doing, you are going to develop a series of bad habits... whether you like it or not.

You may know that you should not emulate this or that leader, but it takes effort, it feels strange, and at times it feels like you are fighting off demons, to avoid imitating his example.

A good president knows that his public behavior will be setting standards for the behavior of others throughout the body politic. And he knows that if he wants to rule a society where social harmony is the order of the day, he needs to maintain the most strict decorum and propriety. If he wants people to respect each other he should begin by showing respect to those who disagree with him.

George Washington understood this perfectly. So, for that matter, does the Queen of England. Apparently, Barack Obama did not get the message.

Leadership is about building consensus by persuading those who disagree with you to accept your decisions. If a leader cannot build consensus, he should move on to a different issue.

As we have all noticed by now, Obama does not know how to build consensus. His presidency has been about dividing the nation against itself. Shouldn't he know that "a house divided against itself cannot stand," whether in Abraham Lincoln's version or as it was first written in Matthew 12:25?

If we put politics to the side, this is all easy to understand. Imagine that you are leading a marketing group. You, or someone else in the group, proposes a new marketing plan. Part of the group loves it; another part hates it.

You're the leader. It's up to you to decide. Or at least it is if that is how you see leadership. If you are sufficiently insecure you will feel that you are being tested and that you need to show who is in charge. You have to assert yourself so you will have a swagger that impresses Frank Rich. Link here.

(While we're here, let's be clear that Frank Rich is a bad monitor of leadership qualities, not so much because his opinions tend to be unimaginatively liberal, but because his real skill lies in drama criticism. Rich sees leadership through the perspective of what he knows best, the theater.)

You're the leader and you decide to implement the marketing plan. Too much time has been spent debating the issue; something has to be done; you are the leader; your credibility is on the line; you are going to do it. So, you do.

What are the chances that this plan will be successfully implemented? Slim to none. Given the divisions on your team its members are not going to come together to tackle their new challenge. Those who disagree have a stake in failure. Even if they are not aware of it, they are not going to be doing their level best to make the new strategy a success.

Now, of course, our dear leader has a problem. He knows he is the leader. He knows that leaders decide. He decided. Thus, he make the tough decision. If the plan is not working out as he expected, then clearly he is not to blame. If he is not to blame, then someone else is.

The leader who does not know how to lead then takes the next step. He starts setting up dissident team members to take the fall. He calls them out by name, accuses them of being too lazy, of wanting his job, of disrespecting him, of not making a good faith effort.

He is creating a narrative and beginning the process of scapegoating. When his plan fails, he will be ready to deflect attention from himself.

Dare I say that no serious business executive would ever undertake such a series of actions. A politician who has never had any experience in business, a Barack Obama, would, because, apparently, he does not know any better.

As I was discussing yesterday, good leadership involves the exercise of what John Baldoni called "earned authority." Contrasted with a leader who has earned his authority through a record of consistent achievement, Obama represents a prime example of unearned authority. He is charismatic; he incites passions; he divides people; he is not very effective.

The fact that he gained office legitimately does not necessarily mean that he knows how to conduct that office. If you want to develop your leadership skills, you would do well to repudiate the example of Barack Obama. Choose a better role model.

Lacking earned authority, Obama governs by making demagogic appeals to emotion, by scapegoating his opponents, and by stoking the fires of factional conflict.

Yesterday, to take an easy example, Obama's union allies stormed the headquarters of JP Morgan Chase Bank in New York and laid siege to the offices of Goldman Sachs. Today we discover that the Justice Department has opened an investigation of Goldman Sachs on charges of criminal fraud.

Does it matter that the bankers who run these organizations supported Obama's candidacy? Apparently, not. To coin a phrase, they are hoist with their own petard.

In Obama's narrative the proletariat rises up against its capitalist masters. You don't have to know what he is thinking; his strategy is being played out right before your eyes.

Yesterday, Dan Henninger observed and analyzed Obama's unfortunate tendency to attack, demonize, and blame others for his failings. Link here.

Henninger says that Obama is just acting like a community organizer, one who was brought up on the teachings of Saul Alinsky. In his words: "Defining, demonizing, and making a mockery of one's opponents was one of Alinsky's main rules for community organizers. But community organizers, though often charismatic, can also be annoying jerks."

To say the least.

To say more we should understand that Obama's approach repudiates leadership by consensus formation. In fact, it involves playing out a dialectic where contrasts are sharpened, not conciliated, where disagreements become fighting words, and where the desired outcome involves class conflict.

Set people against each other, convince them that they have no common interest, produce enmity among the body politic, and sit back waiting for the revolution.

That is the Alinsky way. It seems to be the only way that Obama knows.

A Great Day for Women?

You may or may not know, but Iran has just been named a member of the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women. Link here and here.

What did the Obama administration have to say about this farce? Nothing.

Hillary Clinton was perfectly capable of going to Canada and reproaching the Canadians for their abortion policies, and she has insisted that her foreign policy would be especially attuned to women's issues, but her United Nations ambassador had nothing to say about putting Iran on a Commission about the status of women.

When it comes to offending the mullahs all that talk about speaking truth to power becomes just that, a lot of talk.

[For those who would like a more comprehensive and frightening article on the way Iran treats women, I recommend this story by Tim Cavanaugh at Link here.]

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coaching Lessons: What Does It Mean to Have Presence?

Woody Allen famously said that: "80% of success is showing up." And showing up means being present... when and where you are supposed to be. If you are present at 12th and Vine when you are supposed to be at 4th and Main, you are absent.

One's first experience of presence used to occur in the classroom. Your teacher called your name. You raised your hand and announced that you were present or here. If you respond present when the teacher calls someone else's name, that makes you too present, which means, present as a theatrical persona.

I wouldn't want to guess whether this practice is still in use, but it is a place to start. It is part, but not all, of what John Baldoni means when he says that you have to have presence if you want to be a leader. Link here.

Having presence, Baldoni says, means having good character. People who have presence work on building their character. How do they do it? By establishing a record of good behavior.

Good character will make you feel good about yourself, but feeling good about yourself does not mean that you have any character at all.

Presence is also your good name.

A child has a name. It designates him as a member of a group. He did not choose it. He may not even like it. Still and all, it is the means through which other people know who he is. And if no one else knows who you are, then you are not very likely to know it either.

An adult has a name that may or may not be good. When you show good character in your dealings with other people you establish your good name. When you defend yourself against slander and libel, you are asserting your good name. When you work hard to accomplish something you are building goodness into your names.

Obviously, presence is a good thing to have outside of the office. You do not want to enter a room filled with friends, family, or colleagues and have no one notice. You do not want people to treat you as inconsequential to whatever is going on. You do not want to be ignored or shunted to the side.

Above all that, you want people to respect your word. When you say something, you want people to listen, to pay attention, and to engage with you.

People who have presence are respected because they have accomplished things. Baldoni calls this kind of presence: earned authority. Your word about the project is respected because of your track record of accomplishment on similar projects. Your name is good because of your consistently good behavior.

Having presence means being able to get things done, to make things happen, to move the world. In order for you to be the one who makes things move, you need to be unmoved yourself. Whether or not Aristotle was right that the world was set in motion by an unmoved mover, the concept certainly applies to effective leaders. Emotional serenity, the ability to remain in control and composed when receiving criticism, contributes mightily to presence.

When Baldoni calls presence earned authority, he is distinguishing it from charisma. Someone who is charismatic is in constant motion, in constant emotional turmoil. True enough, he might get other people to do things, but most often he has to force them to do it.

Like our current charismatic president, he spends far too much of his time bad mouthing other people, calling them out, and treating them with disrespect. A charismatic leader uses his emotional intemperance as a means to draw other people into his drama.

A charismatic leader inspires love and devotion. He is not respected. He did not work his way up through the organization. He is far better at explaining why things go wrong than making them go right.

Presence involves achievement, but the achievement must be accompanied by humility. When you are present you have the quiet dignity that allows you to stand a little straighter, to speak more clearly and directly, to look people in the eye, to pay close attention to what they are saying, and to remain confident when faced by an emotional storm.

Presence requires self-control. Charisma involves emotional displays.

Presence matters for effective leaders because leaders are too often absent, remote, and distant. They act as though they are too good for the cafeteria, too important to rub elbows with the staff, too powerful to listen to the concerns of whose they lead. Moreover, their absence suggests that they are hiding from the world.

To offer examples of leadership presence, Baldoni writes of the CEO who eats lunch in the cafeteria, or who has a desk on the trading floor, or who spends time every day chatting with the workers on the shop floor. And he adds the telling example of the school principal who walks the hallways greeting his pupils by their names.

By making others present to you you make yourself more present to them.

If you are confident of your authority-- and this means, as Baldoni suggests, that you have earned it-- then you do not worry that lunch in the cafeteria will cause you to lose your aura. You will not think you are lowering yourself when you put your desk on the trading floor; you will know that you are elevating everyone else.

If a leader shows up once in the cafeteria he is not showing presence. He is looking like he is doing something someone told him to do.

If he shows up regularly, and establishes a rapport with his staff, to the point where they are comfortable talking to him, he will have asserted his presence, and he will probably have learned important things about his company.

If he is too distant, remote, and absent, he might have to go on a show like Undercover Boss to connect with his staff, but it is probably easier to spend part of every other day chatting with staff, learning their names, listening to their observations and ideas.

The more presence the leader gives to others the more he will have himself.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Condom as Moral Principle

[Notice: some readers have expressed a preference for my positive, constructive posts. In truth, I prefer them myself. Nevertheless, today's post is not going to fall within that category. Forewarned is forearmed.]

In the beginning condoms were a reasonably effective contraception.

During the Great American Sexual Revolution they were touted for their hygienic capabilities. Under the mantra, Safe Sex, condoms were extolled for their ability to reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, STDs.

Finally, condoms became a moral principle. As more and more people accepted sex as a universal human right and a staple of a healthy lifestyle, adolescents were led to believe that sexual activities were morally acceptable if a condom was involved.

If we ask how all of that has been working out, the answer is: not too well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 19,000,000 new cases of sexually transmitted infections in the United States every year. We may well be declining as an economic power, but we are still one of the world leaders in STDs.

How can we explain this? According to Michael Weinstein, the reason is that we have such a negative attitude toward condoms. Link here.

You might give Weinstein credit for being counterintuitive, but we can also tax him for failing to appraise the situation objectively.

The Safe Sex message is pervasive in the culture. Whenever sex is mentioned on television, someone will add that a condom must be in use. [They really mean that if a male is involved in the sex act, a condom must be used.]

Condoms are widely available in drugstores and convenience stores. They are not hidden behind counters; they are not whispered about behind closed doors. Men carry condoms with them at all times. Women carry condoms with them at all times. If you dare say that condoms contribute to immoral behavior you will be quickly shouted down as a modern day Typhoid Mary, an enabler of contagion.

Condoms are everywhere, but so are STDs. Is this a puzzlement?

Not to Michael Weinstein. He explains that the epidemic of STDs has been caused by the Puritanical culture that systematically disparages condom use. Yes indeed, you heard that right.

Weinstein feels that there are not enough condom ads on television. And he adds, in his Huffington Post column, that our culture has failed because we do not openly distribute condoms in coffee shops, beauty salons, and barber shops.

In Weinstein's world, the next time you have lunch you can choose among soups, sandwiches, beverages, and strawberry flavored condoms.

One suspects that he will not really be happy until the Catholic Church finds a way to include condoms in the Eucharist.

You will be thinking that it serves me right for reading the Huffington Post. I will concede that you are partially right. But reading the HuffPost allows me to analyze cultural influences from all possible angles. Just because someone cannot write or think clearly does not mean that he does not exert a cultural influence.

Anyway, Weinstein continues that European cultures have lower rates of sexually transmitted infections. How does he explain it? Like this: "Sex positive European cultures... are sexually permissive but don't have the level of disease or unwanted pregnancies that we have. America-- moralistic in its attitudes, yet hedonistic in its behavior-- makes for a dangerous brew."

Do your best to ignore the syntactic muddle of that last sentence. I suspect that something got lost in the editing.

Presumably, European countries, with their more enlightened attitudes, make condoms more readily available. Do you think that this applies to Roman Catholic countries? Are condoms readily available in Parisian beauty salons?

And don't these countries have a rather moralistic attitude toward sexuality? How did it happen that these sexually repressive cultures, places like France and Italy, produced some of the world's greatest hedonists. I am thinking of the Marquis de Sade and Boccaccio's Decameron.

For all I know European countries have fewer STDs because they have suffered less of the influence of the Great American Sexual Revolution and had enough sense not to induce a generation of young people to practice the art of hooking up.

One strains to imagine how the culture that invented hooking up, Girls Gone Wild, and Bill Clinton is moralistic. Or how young people who grow up with a steady diet of pornography are guilt ridden because of our sexual past.

Is it fair to say that American youth do not talk about sex enough or that they talk about it too much? That they know too little or too much about STDs? That they have received too little or too much instruction in the proper use of the condom?

As I see it, condoms are as much the problem as the solution.

Once you tell children that only one moral principle defines whether sexual behavior is right or wrong-- is a condom in use?-- you are also giving them permission to do as they please. Supposedly, the condom protects them.

But, against what does it protect them? Against some, but most certainly not all, sexually transmitted diseases. That much is true. But it does not protect them against the emotional consequences of random, anonymous sexual acts. And it does not protect them against their own moral sense, against their intuitive understanding that some sex acts in some circumstances are wrong.

Think what you will, sexual behavior has always been subject to prohibitions and prescriptions. Some sexual acts are prohibited and others are prescribed. There is no such thing as a human culture that judges all sex acts as created equal.

Don't you get the impression that condom merchants like Weinstein are trying to lull young people into a false sense of security in order to induce them into becoming sexually active before they are ready?

Besides, if hooking up were such a natural and normal thing to do, why do young people need to get drunk to do it? Keep in mind that drunkenness is a primary reasons young people forget to use a condom.

Let's say that Weinstein is asserting his adult moral authority to encourage condom use. Why would young people take his word for it? Now that we have spent decades trying to disembarrass young people of their tendency to respect authority, why would they now respect the authority of someone who touts the virtue of condom use.

If young people do not respect your authority, then they are going to try to find out for themselves whether condoms are a good or a bad thing. After all, the parents who tell them to use condoms all the time must have had some experience of condomless sex... by definition.

Call this adolescent rebelliousness, if you like. Or say that children need to learn some lessons by trial and error. Do you really want them to learn the lesson of unsafe sex by trying it out?

And they are going to try it out.

Even if an adolescent understands the risk, he or she might also understand that greater risk produces greater pleasure. As Susan Walsh suggested on her blog, Hooking Up Smart, high risk behavior produces an endorphin rush that enhances pleasure.

If pleasure is the meaning of sex, as many enlightened critical theorists insist, then why would people not forgo condoms in order to have more pleasure. If pleasure is good for your mental health, isn't more pleasure better for your mental health?

Keep in mind that for Weinstein, among many others, sex is not really about reproduction. He writes: "The last tie between sex and reproduction was severed by the pill."

Sacre bleu! Whatever does that mean? We know, as a matter of scientific fact, that human sexuality distinguishes itself for the fact that it can take place without there being any possibility for reproduction. That does not mean that sex has nothing to do with reproduction, it means that human sexuality functions by a calculus that differs from that of other mammalian species where females experience estrus.

And, just because the experience is pleasurable, that does not mean that the meaning of the experience lies solely or primarily in the pleasure experienced. A simple analogy will explain this well. Eating sushi is a pleasurable experience; no one with a whit of sense would say that the purpose of the experience is to provide a new and different way to feel pleasure. The purpose of the experience is nourishment.

One might take the example of thumb-sucking. For an infant this activity might be pleasurable, and it probably does not provide much nourishment. But this does not mean that when the same infant suckles his mother's breast, he is just in it for the pleasure.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coaching Lessons: The Likeability Factor

How often do you think about what you need to do to become more likeable? Our culture wants you to think about what you need to do to be more loveable or more attractive, what you need to find true love or true lust. About likeability, it does not have too much to say.

And how often do we think about the simple fact that it is altogether possible to love someone without liking them very much. It is certainly possible to lust after someone you do not like at all. Beyond that, you are related to your family whether you like it or not, and whether you like them or not.

When it comes to friendship, however, you cannot very long be friends with someone you do not like. And you will not have a very pleasant work experience if you do not like your coworkers or if your coworkers do not like you.

Likeability is social glue. It is not the same as blood ties; it is not the love that consumes you; and it is not the lust that goes bump in the night.

And yet, the therapy culture has largely ignored likeability. Freud, to choose one of its major influences, did not really have much of anything to say about likeability.

For Freud it was all lust and violence. He wanted you to think of your life in terms of drama, and if you see everything in terms of lust and violence, you will be well on your way to a life filled with drama.

Likeability might give you serenity and contentment, but it will not give you the thrill you will find in a life of lust and violence.

Placed next to love and lust, likeability feels banal. Yet, it forms the basis for one of the great questions in recent American culture, Rodney King's: Why can't we all just get along?

King was not asking for very much. He was asking for a measure of civility, for friendship, for neighborliness. He was not requiring us to bare our souls, to lust after our neighbor's wives, to react to every injustice with extreme violence.

How can you become likeable? Simon Stapleton has some suggestions in this post (linked here), and I will add a few of my own.

Stapleton is talking about how to be more likeable on the job, but clearly, his advice applies well to the world beyond work.

Stapleton begins with the most obvious point, so obvious it must be underscored. The first step to being more likeable is to show other people that you like them. Note that I said "show" not "tell."

Being nice is a great place to start; it involves polite, courteous, and respectful gestures, especially small gestures.

What kinds of small gestures? Everything from salutations to smiles to links about topics you know interest the other person.

Showing that you know something about the other person and that you are thinking about him will make you likeable. Showing off your ability to think of no one but yourself will produce the opposite effect.

And you should be nice to everyone, indiscriminately. Some people will go out of their way to reject your gestures, but then, that will be on their account, not on yours.

Stapleton does not mention it, but calling people by their names is a nice gesture. You should try to make it a habit.

A second point, taken from Aristotle, not Stapleton, is that being nice involves seeing the best in other people and trying to ignore the worst.

In a culture based in celebrity, we are prone to gossip, to tell tales about people. And tales are not interesting unless they have a dramatic quality, unless they contain lust and violence. You do not gossip about the fact that the woman who just walked by has excellent manners and is nice to everyone.

This means that many of us have lost the art of finding the best in other people. We are often not even prone to put in the effort.

The next point comes from Stapleton. He recommends that you go our of your way to engage people in conversation. It is certainly a nice thing to do. He does not mean to say that you need to have a weighty topic on your mind. Anything can start a conversation: the weather will do, the quality of the coffee, the financial crisis, the World Series.

Once you start the conversation, you should work hard to keep it going for a reasonable period of time. A good and durable conversation is like a good and durable relationship: it lives on common ground. So, try never to contradict or criticize the opinion of your interlocutor. Try to agree, because agreeing is more agreeable... by definition.

Advanced conversational skill means having a discussion about politics with someone you do not agree with and keeping the tone civil while working to find something you can agree about.

Another point, not from Stapleton, but true nonetheless is this: If you want to be liked you need to be trustworthy. That means that you need to be good to your word, that your word must be your bond. When you say you will do something, do it. When you say you will be somewhere at a specific time, make it your business to be there at that time.

Trustworthy is likeable. Unreliable causes drama and passion. It might revive your flagging lust; it will not make anyone like you.

Next, from Stapleton, you should go out of your way to involve others, to invite them to events outside of work, to include them in activities you are planning. It could be a trip to the movies or a group dinner at the sports bar. Whatever it is, the more people you include the more likeable you will be.

Treat people as members of your group and they will treat you as members of theirs. Everyone wants to belong and if you are the agent of belonging you will be liked.

Addicted to Texting

Granted, therapists have gone a bit overboard handing out the label of addict. Case in point: accusing Tiger Woods of being a sex addict. My thoughts about that misplaced diagnosis here.

Of course, addictions do exist. They are bad habits and they are very hard to break. The best known treatment for addiction is a 12 step program, and, it must be noted, most therapists do not make a living from 12 step programs.

When therapists seem to over-diagnose addictions, it is not reasonable to infer a venal motive.

Given the nature of a bad habit you cannot overcome it by discovering its hidden meaning or ferreting out a childhood antecedent. Since most therapists engage in precisely such discovering and ferreting, they see addictive behavior as existing at the limit of their professional ability.

And, as of now, there is no pill that will stop an addiction. So the diagnosis of addiction is not making pharmaceutical manufacturers richer either.

All of this to introduce an interesting experiment, performed on Middle School pupils at a private school in Riverdale, New York. As Susan Dominus reported in the New York Times this morning, a school counselor asked pupils to forsake electronic media for two days. That meant: two days without texting, IM-ing, Facebooking, and the rest. Link here.

The counselor, KC Cohen had reasoned that children were texting their parents so often during the day that they were losing their independence. They were not granting themselves the opportunity to deal with their social challenges with their own resources. Being too connected to Mom and Dad, they were losing the chance to make their own decisions and suffer the consequences.

In the old days when texting did not exist the maturation process was different. Recalling the past Dominus explained: "If school had any universally agreed upon upside, it was that it gave a 12-year-old much needed space to revel in independence or struggle with rejection-- space in which, presumably, that 12-year-old could start to figure out who she was, or how he wanted to navigate the world."

Is it fair to call 12-year-olds addicts? The results of the Riverdale experiment suggest that they are not yet there. As Dominus described the outcome: "This text-free Sunday, the Riverdale students said, was unusually relaxing. They were shocked at how quickly they finished their homework, undistracted by an always-open video chat. or checking in on Facebook or responding to the hundred messages they get typically in a day."

Why were they so resilient? Perhaps because they were children,living with their parents, having immediate access to people who could assert some adult authority and discipline. Thus, these children found their voices and were able to adapt relatively easily.

The same seems not to have been true of a group of University of Maryland students who were subjected to the same experiment. When these students were abandoned their social media for 24 hours they showed immediate symptoms of withdrawal, the kinds of symptoms you would expect from an addict. Links here and here.

Apparently, the extra half-dozen or so years of texting has an effect. In that period of time students had made social media their primary way of connecting, with their friends and even with the world. Not only did they keep in touch with their friends by texting and Facebook, but they used social media to keep informed about the world. They did not get their news from television or the newspapers, but from social media.

Thus, when they were deprived of their electronic fixes, these students felt radically disconnected, confused and disoriented. They did not have the resilience and/or the parental supervision to guide them to finding their voice.

Social media has its use and its value. But, once it becomes the primary mode of communication and connection it induces children to live in a virtual community, one where the pleasures of human contact, the sound of someone's voice are repressed. As I have suggested, the truncated form of communication called texting provides less pleasure and less satisfaction than a conversation, and thus, those who rely on it find themselves using it more and more often, compulsively to try to gain that satisfaction.

Excessive texting seems to cause people to lose "emotional fluency," the ability to experience emotion and the ability to respond to the cues that other people communicate through the sound of their voices. Link here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Woman in a Man's World

Last week Becky offered a comment on this blog that set me to thinking. In her words: "If women communicate so well, how come so many women prefer to work with men? I have heard numerous times from women that they would rather work with men, and never heard one say that they would rather work with women." Link here.

I had heard the same thing myself, so I was not completely surprised. Now, however, I have discovered that the point has been researched. Recent studies show unambiguously that women prefer male bosses and prefer to work with men. Sources as diverse as the Huffington Post and Forbes draw exactly the same conclusion. Links here and here.

As it happens, everyone who conducts these surveys or reads them expresses the same surprise. What happened to sisterhood, what happened to female solidarity, what happened to women's much-touted ability to communicate so well?

I would venture that the level of our shock reveals the extent we have bought into the mythology about male/female relationships promulgated by the therapy culture.

Take a simple example. Psychologists have noticed that women communicate better, share feelings better, talk more, and presumably form more durable relationships. They have concluded that if more women enter the workforce harmony will naturally ensue.

Apparently, working women beg to differ. The article I linked from the Huffington Post reports an informal survey of women attending business school. In their view women managers, and perhaps even colleagues, are like the "mean girls" in high schools. They evince what I called in a past post, on rather a different topic: Women's inhumanity to women. Link here.

Why then are we so surprised to find that the more communicative gender has the most trouble working together? The simple reason is that those who have analyzed and interpreted the findings made a basic mistake. They have assumed that the social skills that women use to forge intimate relationships are the same as those that go into working together on a team.

They are not. And any woman who tries to bring to the workplace skills that would best remain within the private sphere is going to cause trouble.

As Shaunti Feldhahn explains in a recent post, a man's world is defiantly oriented toward business, and, for a man, that means that personal matters, emotional matters, private matters have no place in it. For men in business the wall that separates public and private is as strict as the wall that separates church and state. Link here.

The second reason we find these results surprising is simple: we have been acculturated to view male-female workplace relationships through the optic of feminist mythology. If you only know what the media presents, you would imagine that when a woman enters a man's world she is immediately assailed by sports metaphors, forced to contend with a hostile work environment, assaulted by sexually suggestive language, and rendered anxious and defensive by men prey to frequent testosterone rushes.

In the feminist view the male workplace is designed to exclude women, to keep them in their place, or better, to keep them at home. Businessmen who pass the time exploiting the poor and disadvantaged are terrified that the softening influence of morally superior will cause them to become more fair and just... and to make less money.

If that is the way you see the man's world of work, you will be shocked to read that a vast majority of women would rather work for a man than a woman.

Perhaps the reason is simple. When men form teams or work groups they tend to define the rules of interaction clearly. They define the roles and the responsibilities precisely. You know your position; you know your responsibilities; you know how you will be judged. Teams are not based on communicating feelings; they are based on knowing your role and fulfilling your duties.

If emotion does not enter the picture, then each participant is judged according to merit and results, not how someone feels about them.

Is it really a surprise that women would be happier working in an environment where everything is designed to facilitate their ability to do their jobs, and where they know that they will be judged and compensated fairly, according to merit.

Funnily enough, anyone who has suffered the influence of feminist acculturation will believe that a workplace that treats people fairly is a fiction and that a workplace where everyone is involved in the war between the sexes is the fact.

The studies show that real women beg to differ.

Another reason merits discussion. Many of the women who were asked about their preference noted that women become mothers, and that being mothers makes them less present, and thus, less effective mentors. I realize that this is controversial, and that feminists will tell us that motherhood is yet another social construct, but women in business seem to know better.

Feldhahn observes that in a man's executive world there is no punching the clock. In her words: "The Male Culture defines the workday as 'whatever it takes,' and the unwritten rule is that a team member who is not present during the entire ordeal (however long it takes) is not a team player and is less committed to the organization."

Does this rule disadvantage mothers? Doubtless it does. Does it mean that mothers are judged by a different standard? Not at all.

Was it invented to keep women out of the workplace or prevent them from advancing in their careers? Unless you are a true believing feminist, you probably know that it was not.

Women have different priorities; they have different life options. Groups will make some allowances for them, but it will not change the rules for them.

You cannot change the rules for those who have conflicting priorities without undermining the cohesion and functionality of the team.

Most of the women surveyed have understood that clearly. Given the media presentation of the workplace we all feel some level of surprise. But if we are surprised, doesn't that mean that feminists have led us to underestimate women?

That Giant Sucking Sound

In 1992 Ross Perot coined the phrase, "giant sucking sound," to describe how the North American Free Trade Agreement would send American jobs scurrying off to Mexico.

Well, we have NAFTA now, and the migration that is worrying people today is not the jobs that are being lost to Mexico. It is the Mexicans who are coming to America looking for work.

Be that as it may, there is another giant sucking sound we need to be worried about: the high tech jobs that have been migrating overseas to China and Singapore. Today, as Intel opens a large semiconductor factory in China, its CFO offered some thoughts about why the plant was located in the Middle Kingdom and not the Middle West. Link here.

CFO Stacy Smith pointed out that when the Chinese government enacted fiscal stimulus, its aim was to encourage and facilitate capital investment. It offered tax incentives-- read, tax cuts-- for manufacturers to offset the cost of investment.

When the American government passed a stimulus bill last year it focused on public works, and especially, paying the salaries of public sector unionized workers.

Economists will argue about these points. For now I will not.

I am more interested in CFO Smith's observation that the American educational system is not producing graduates who know enough science and math to qualify for jobs in these new factories. That got my attention, and it should get yours.

For some time now the educational establishment in this country has chosen to emphasize self-esteem over academic achievement. It has downplayed science and math where there are right and wrong answers, and emphasized expressions of personal feelings where, after all, each child is the leading authority about what he feels. No teacher can downgrade you because she knows what you feel better than you do.

If you are trying to enhance self-esteem in children, regardless of whether they have earned it or not, you are going to find the scientific ethos inimical to your values.

The scientific method allows reality to prove or disprove your working hypotheses. And we know that no small number of our education gurus are allergic to reality testing and trial-and-error thinking. They want to inculcate the values of idealism, where reality is never allowed to get in the way of your love affair with an idea.

Children compete in math and science; some do better, some to worse. Those who do worse feel worse about themselves. That motivates them to work harder to do better.

American educators have found that to be unacceptable. In place of technically competent workers our schools are producing well-rounded happy-go-lucky individuals who excel at having a good time and who feel good about themselves, no matter what.

I was especially struck by this passage, where CFO magazine summarizes the views of Intel's Stacy Smith: "Even entry level positions on Intel's factory floors require some advanced technical training, and the plants also employ PhDs in material science and physics. But math and science curricula in primary school systems in the United States are comparatively weak, he said, and the population of university students pursuing math, science, and engineering has dropped."

So, cultural values matter. You can wax poetic all you want about high tech jobs, but if the school system devalues math and science you will simply not have the qualified workers to fill the positions.

Our counterculture values, translated into school curricula, have produced a giant sucking sound that is taking high-paying high-tech jobs to Asia.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Psychiatry and Psychotherapy Today

I hope you do not take my views of the state of psychotherapy today as gospel truth. I don't, so why should you.

However well informed my analysis, it needs to be tested against reality. There it will either rise or fall, be affirmed or be revised.

For this reason I was very interested to read the essay that psychiatrist Daniel Carlat contributed to the New York Times Sunday Magazine today. Link here.

Carlat practices psychiatry. Of late he has grown dissatisfied with the rote nature of his professional activity. As he describes it, psychiatry consists of physicians conducting impersonal interviews, running through a checklist of questions, marking down the answers until they arrive at a diagnosis. Then they write a prescription.

As Carlat explains, he was not trained to establish a dialogue or have a conversation with his patients. They were clusters of symptoms, not people with lives.

In his words: "Psychiatry, for me and many of my colleagues, has become a process of corralling patients' symptoms into labels and finding a drug to match."

He continues: "...psychiatry has been transformed from a profession in which we talk to people and help them understand their problems into one in which we diagnose disorders and medicate them."

In the old days when psychoanalysis ruled the profession, mind was more important than brain. According to Carlat the profession seems to have overcompensated for his love affair with psychoanalysis: now it is brain over mind, often to the exclusion of mind. And also to the exclusion of the person.

And yet, we must note that psychoanalysis is not about establishing dialogues. It is about refusing dialogue. Nor is it about getting to know the person. Psychoanalysis is about treating disembodied minds.

Psychoanalysis insisted that you could solve your problems by understanding them. When I speak of therapy in this blog, especially in its title, I am referring to a form of psychoanalytically influenced treatment that believes the symptoms and other emotional problems are meaningful experiences, expressing unresolved childhood traumas or deficient upbringing.

Given this presupposition, treatment consisted in recovering these past traumas and finding better and more constructive ways to process them mentally and to express them verbally.

It was an interesting theory; it had a compelling narrative structure. Unfortunately, it did not work in practice.

In consequence, I would say, psychiatrists gave up doing therapy and began writing more and more prescriptions. Carlat is acutely aware of the factors influencing this transformation. He counts the perverse incentives that insurance companies create to favor medication. A 20 minute session with a psychiatrist pays about as well as a 50 minute session with a therapist.

If you had the choice, what would you do?

But Carlat also notes that patients have been voting "with their feet" for medication over therapy. It is cheaper, less time consuming, and has become more effective.

The point is worth underscoring, and not merely as a corrective to the kind of paranoid thinking that sees insurance companies conspiring with pharmaceutical firms to push drugs on unsuspecting patients. It may simply be the case that the American public has had enough therapy, and has shifted its trust to medication.

Could this be the reason why psychopharmacologists enjoy a higher status within the mental health profession than therapists?

Carlat makes this point, and it is important to underscore it. Within the mental health profession there is a status hierarchy, with psychiatrists at the top. Psychologists and social workers, the ones who do most of the talk therapy, are of lower status.

In Carlat's words: "The unspoken implication is that therapy is menial work-- tedious and poorly paid." If therapy were effective, would it have been consigned to this demeaned status?

Carlat does not say it, but psychiatry also remains a more male profession, while psychology and social work have more female practitioners.

Nevertheless, Carlat does distinguish one form of therapy for its effectiveness: that being cognitive behavioral treatment. I agree him here, and would emphasize that when I speak about having enough therapy, I am NOT referring to the cognitive behavioral variety, which is, I would say, currently ascendant in the field.

This form of therapy does not see symptoms as meaningful experiences, but sees them as bad habits. Thus, they can be controlled or removed without your needing to find out what they really, really mean or what they really, really say about you. Aristotle would have said that bad habits should be replaced by good ones, and this concept, which is at the basis of cognitive therapy, does not involve dealing with your deeper issues.

To me this means that cognitive therapy is closer to coaching than it is to psychoanalytically inspired talk therapy. And would say the same of what Carlat calls "supportive therapy."

Carlat's article chronicles his movement away from the impersonal check-list way of dealing with patients toward "supportive therapy." He describes it as: "... a technique favored by many therapists and involving basic problem solving and emotional support. It's a bit like what a friend would do for another friend offering advice in time of trouble, but more elaborate and with an accompanying raft of studies showing its effectiveness in psychiatry."

To me this is another term for coaching.

Supportive therapy is distinguished from insight oriented therapy for its emphasis on problem solving. And it is distinct from any therapy inspired by psychoanalysis because it emphasizes giving advice to someone who is being treated as a friend.

So, when Carlat is now working with a woman who was given an impossible assignment by her boss and who was then criticized for failing to get it done, he explains to her that her distress is not a function of an unresolved infantile trauma, but is a normal reaction to her boss's bad behavior.

He does not assign her any fault or blame. He does not attempt to help her get in touch with the guilt that presumably makes her vulnerable. Instead, he offers a series of mental training exercises to perform whenever she is tempted to blame herself for her boss's failings.

When we get into the realm of training exercises we are closer to coaching than to psychoanalysis.

This approach is both constructive and therapeutic. It should not be the end of the story. But it is an excellent way to start. This patient might still need counseling about how to deal with a hostile and incompetent boss... further steps that coaching might provide... but her psychiatrist has set her on the right road.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Coaching Lessons: How to Respond to Criticism

The day before yesterday I wrote a post about persuasion in psychotherapy. Link here. Today I was reading John Baldoni's article on how best to respond to criticism in business, and I saw again that those of us who do coaching or therapy have much to learn from business coaching. Link here.

Baldoni is talking about leadership skills. He wants to help people develop theirs and to learn how to recognize them in other people. If we recognize that coaches and therapists also exercise leadership skills, we will have taken a step forward. And if we compare the right way to lead and to manage, then we will also understand why psychoanalysis has set such a bad leadership example.

Baldoni does not just address the way an executive or manager leads. He is thinking of the staff member who presents a new idea or plan in a meeting and receives a good dose of criticism. How he handles the criticism will show everyone whether or not he is ready to advance up the ladder of executive success.

Baldoni's point is simple: a good leader knows how to handle criticism. He can defend his idea without being defensive.

In his words: "Maintaining an even keel in the face of skepticism or even criticism is a vital attribute to leadership presence, the kind of aura you need to radiate if you ever hope to instill followership."

Everyone knows that you do not just lead by giving orders. You need to instill followership, the willingness of others to follow your lead. You project the aura that tells everyone that you are in charge by retaining your equanimity when being criticized.

Of course, being criticized is not the same as being insulted. Criticism casts doubt on your proposal; an insult attacks you. You must respect those who disagree with your ideas; you should not respect people who are trying to diminish your person. For now I will leave the question of dealing with insults aside and limit myself to the terms of Baldoni's article: you are presenting a new proposal and others disagree with you.

A good manager expects his staff to disagree, to criticize, and to challenge his proposal. An aspiring manager should show that he is comfortable hearing criticism. Without an exchange of opinions a manager will never be able to inspire others to do their best when they are called on to implement the new policy. If the staff or your colleagues do not participate actively in formulating the policy they will not have a stake in its successful implementation.

How does a manager deal with criticism?

First, he does not take it personally. He does not take it as a personal insult. He does not take it as a rejection of him as a person. If he does, he will become defensive. Even if he does not believe that he is taking it personally, if he acts defensively, everyone will understand that he is taking it personally. This will tell everyone that he is thinking of what is good for him, not what is good for the company.

Second, he does not let them see him sweat. He maintains his composure. He does not act as though he has never considered alternate points of view. He must maintain his composure even when receiving strong, blunt criticism.

And he does not hide under the table. A manager who is struck dumb, who has nothing to say when faced with criticism, is not a leader.

As Baldoni says, a leader must first show that he is in control of himself. If he cannot do that he will never be allowed to control others.

Often we believe that when someone responds to us with passion, we must counter his passion with our own.

And yet, if you walk into a meeting and see that one person is calm and focused while everyone else is lathered up or scared, then you will know who is in charge.

Third, a leader does not dismiss criticism out of hand. If you imagine that disagreement is illegitimate you are producing dissension, not comity. If you imagine that disagreement is a sign of mental illness, you had too much psychoanalysis

Confidence that does not respect different opinions is arrogance. It will try to bully others into acquiescing, but will end up producing drama, not teamwork.

Fourth, a leader must be willing to modify parts of his proposal to reflect the good points that are contained in the criticism. You cannot say that you are a great listener if you never change your mind.

Now, how do you develop your capacity for leadership? Baldoni recommends: preparation, generosity, and patience. As he says, these involve character building, and they will easily serve you in different contexts.

First, be prepared. It is not sufficient to have a great idea and to believe passionately in your idea. You need to have considered the possible objections and you need to be prepared responses to them. You do not want to look as though you have never given any consideration to alternative points of view.

This means that you need to put in the time and effort, not only to develop your proposal but to consider all of the alternatives.

Second, be generous. I have often made this point, and it cannot be made often enough. When you hear criticism you should make it a habit to express appreciation and to find some value in the objection. If you dismiss it out of hand, if you consider it to be illegitimate, you are saying that the person who offered it is worthless. Insulting your staff and colleagues does not advance teamwork.

Third, be patient. Do not expect everyone to agree at once. If your idea involves a disruption of the normal way of doing things, you need to realize that we tend to gravitate toward the familiar and away from the strange. You must be willing to give people time to think through your proposal and to make necessary mental adjustments.

This process involves negotiation, but, then again, all effective leadership and management does.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Case of Phoebe Prince

Clearly, South Hadley High School student Phoebe Prince was bullied to death. Just as clearly, those who were responsible, both the bullies who tormented her and the authorities that ignored her plight, should be subject to appropriate opprobrium.

Now, as the story of Phoebe's last months and days is revealed in the press, other issues come to the fore. See articles by Donal Lynch in the Irish Independent, here and here, and Emily Bazelon's most recent essay in Slate. Link here.

It's one thing to be subjected to bullying. Another is not possessing the psychological resources necessary to deal with the situation. From reading about Phoebe Prince I am struck by her lack of what I would call psychological capital.

Some would call psychological capital self-esteem but this term has been brutalized beyond recognition. Others would call it self-confidence, a person's ability to stand firm in the assertion of her own value. It is created and supported by social relationships, by the sense of belonging to a group, by contributions to the good of the group, and by the feeling that one's membership is solid and inviolate.

You lose psychological capital when you are cast out of a group or treated like a pariah. But you also lose it by being too vulnerable and too exposed. A child who barely feels that she belongs will feel vulnerable to rejection and will lack the confidence to assert herself as a member of the group. The situation will be worse if she is new in town and does not know enough of the social codes to know what she should do to make herself fit in.

I daresay that a child does not have that much psychological capital to begin with. She will need to buttress her own developing resources by borrowing capital from her parents and family members. The better her relationships with them, the more capital they have, the more she will have.

As an outsider, a new arrival in South Hadley, a girl living only with her mother and sister, Phoebe was vulnerable. Her primary emotional support, her father, had stayed back in Ireland. Bullies sense out vulnerability and weakness. Once they find it they exploit it mercilessly.

Given the difficulties adjusting to a new culture, why was Phoebe Prince in South Hadley anyway? Why did her mother take two of her five children to America, leaving the older ones in Ireland with their father?

Here there are two conflicting reports. One suggests that Phoebe's mother, Anne O'Brien wanted her youngest children to see America. Anne's sister lived in South Hadley, so that was the logical place to go.

For my part I would dismiss that reason as a transparent attempt at dissimulation.

Others have suggested that Phoebe had been bullied in her high school in Ireland. If so, it would make some sense for her parents to believe that it was imperative to remove her from an unhealthy environment. The greater the distance, the better.

If that is true, then Phoebe's parents may simply have made a well-intentioned mistake. The worst part of the mistake was separating Phoebe from her father. From reading one of Phoebe's high school class assignments we get the impression that she was very close to her father. Link here. He was her rock and her refuge; he was her most important social contact. He would comfort her and protect her.

We do not know whether Phoebe's father could have protected her from the South Hadley bullies, but surely his presence would have given her the feeling that she was protected, thus, less vulnerable to the abuse that had become a painful part of her everyday routine. And this feeling of being protected must increase one's psychological capital.

In moving to South Hadley Phoebe lost her best conversations and found that life in an American high school involved manic texting and twittering.

In an essay where she extolled the value of her relationship with her father, she also described the shortcomings of "today's impersonal electronic society." In her words: "We no longer appreciate simple conversations now that we have twitter and facebook. Personally I can't believe that reading an email would have the same effect as speaking with someone face-to-face, making a moment."

If psychological capital is built by an accumulation of gestures that signify social connection, the "impersonal electronic society" would diminish psychological capital while creating a false sense of connection.

Feelings of solitude and anomie, not merely not belonging, but not even knowing how to belong, must be more powerful for a child who has been dropped into an alien community and alien culture.

Emily Bazelon offers a slightly different explanation for Phoebe's move to South Hadley. She says that Phoebe's parents had separated... which could mean that they were living separately, but which seems to mean that they had separated as a prelude to divorce.

Could it be that Phoebe's mother was so distraught over her separation that she wanted to have a fresh start for herself in South Hadley? Even if it cost her daughter her most important social tie, her conversations with her father.

Next we must ask whether the school contributed to Phoebe's loss of psychological capital by making her feel even more vulnerable and exposed, even more threatened with social oblivion.

I find something strangely disquieting about Phoebe's touching essay on her father and her iPod. It feels too personal, too intimate, emotionally too raw and vulnerable. Keep in mind that this essay was posted on her blog, for all to read, for all bullies to exploit.

A child who is developing psychological capital should become more thick skinned, not more exposed. Those educators who believe that their job is to provide a kind of rough therapy by helping children to get in touch with their feelings are doing them a serious disservice. Seeing the way it worked for Phoebe Prince confirms my judgment.

Perhaps this happens in all American high schools. If so, American high schools should get out of the therapy business and return to the three Rs.

While the school was encouraging Phoebe to expose her feelings, she was writing that what made her happiest about talking with he father was their discussions of politics. Would it not have been better if Phoebe was assigned essays on politics and history than on her intimate emotions?

Phoebe also posted a second essay on her blog. It is a book review of a book by psychotherapist Stephen Levenkron about girls who self-mutilate by cutting themselves.

Maybe I am just revealing my age, but has anyone asked whether it is appropriate for a child to read books about disturbing psychological conditions? Especially when she is likely to identify with the girls who tell there stories of depression, anomie, and self-abuse. Do we really want a high school girl to find herself among that group? Do we want her to discover a new way to deal with her anguish?

I hope that no one believes that such reading materials will be therapeutic, or that they will help a troubled girl get in touch with her feelings. Do we really want a girl who is lost and disconnected, subjected to psychological abuse, to hear some of her own darkest feelings echoed in the words of girls who self-mutilate. You build psychological capital by accentuating your good qualities, not indulging your darkest moods.

I am assuming, charitably, that her teacher did not assign this book. But I must assume that if it was the topic of a book review the teacher approved Phoebe's choice.

Think about it. If a child asks to review a book about self-mutilation would you not take that to be an alarm. In my view the minimally acceptable adult behavior would have been to refer the girl immediately for counseling.

From the evidence we have up to now, no one seemed to understand that a fifteen year old does not have the emotional capacity to deal with issues like self-mutilation. Nor, I would add, does a fifteen year old have the emotional capacity to deal with the aftershocks of hooking up.