Executive coaches are normalizing a demagogue. It’s time to stop.


This will ruffle feathers.

The field in which I work, executive coaching, faces an identity crisis. We claim to stand for better leadership. It’s part of our core promise to clients. Yet we often get mired in mushy talk about style, treating people as one big horizontal typology. So we blind ourselves and others to what leadership is most deeply about: not how a person talks, but for whose benefit.

Unfortunately, the “style” view of leadership dominates the field. This blinds us to history: tyrants and demagogues have ruled human civilization for centuries. More importantly, by ignoring morality, we shirk our responsibility to clients and society by ignoring the tyrants and demagogues in our midst.

I know we can do better.

Let’s start with this year’s U.S. presidential race.

It’s not about “Feeler” versus “Doer”

Clinton is a “Feeler,” whereas Trump is a “Doer.” That’s the opinion of a seasoned executive coach quoted last year in Inc. “No style is better or worse than the others,” she says. “And Doers can be extremely effective leaders.”

Pause the tape. Is this the biggest distinction between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Feeler versus Doer. Is this what we want to say when given a public platform?

Really?

I glanced at this coach’s web site. Her team includes people I know and respect. Her company runs women’s leadership retreats. She undoubtedly is familiar with the history of men getting hired over better qualified women and the dangers of cruel, autocratic leaders of any sex. So, I’m curious: why did she choose to focus on differences in style? Perhaps she was quoted out of context. Or maybe she criticized Trump’s moral character, yet the writer chose to omit this.

Either way, I think this coach let herself be used to normalize a dangerous demagogue. Normalizing. That’s what happens when we place a person like Trump into soft, familiar categories. He’s not an egocentric, deceptive bully who aims to dominate and humiliate others. No, he’s a “Doer.” Just like many readers of Inc. Just like you and me.

Is this the best we can do as a profession? Have we spent so many hours staring at 360 assessment instruments that we’ve forgotten about human history and moral character?

I hope not.

It’s not about “Collaboration” versus “Inspiration”

Yet the signs continue to come. Yesterday, I got an email from friends of mine linking to an article they just published in a major business journal. It’s about the election. It focuses on…yes…style.

Ugh.

They draw a distinction between “collaboration” (Clinton) and “inspiration” (Trump). “An effective approach,” they write, “balances directive and inclusive traits.”

Friends, it’s six weeks before the election. A impulsive and vindictive man is in position to have his hands on the nuclear codes.  He will be talking with, and probably lobbing insults at, leaders of other nuclear weapons states. Is this all we leadership coaches have to say about Trump? That he is inspiring and directive?

Really?

When my friends see this post, I imagine what they’ll say: “Amiel, chill out. We’re not going to vote for him. And we noted his low score from PolitiFact for truthfulness. We’re just taking advantage of a great learning opportunity. People can’t stop talking about the election. Shouldn’t we shed some light on what it means?”

Yes, but not that meaning. The core leadership lessons here are about character, not style. Moral fiber, not verbal communication.

It’s about levels of moral development in a nuclear age

What is the fundamental difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? It’s not about horizontal typology–the way they roll. It’s about levels of vertical moral development: who they are willing and unwilling to roll over.

A quick primer on moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard first articulated the theory, and Carol Gilligan applied it to women. Both outline three broad levels of moral development. As kids, we are egocentric. Then, most of us progress to ethnocentric. We identify with people who are like us. Finally, a minority of us progress to worldcentric. We identify with everyone. The higher the level, the more people we include in our own self-interest. In other words, the very meaning of “self” broadens as we develop through these levels. To summarize:

  • Egocentrism is about me
  • Ethnocentrism is about us, i.e. my family, my tribe, my race, my country
  • Worldcentrism is about all of us, i.e. all families, tribes, races, and countries.

“Me” to “Us” to “All of us.”

Hillary Clinton is not just a smart, experienced, and hard-working person. She embodies a worldcentric view. This doesn’t mean she is without flaws. It means that she can do real leadership work in spite of her flaws. For example, she has a penchant for privacy/secrecy that has hardened over time. But did this keep her from succeeding as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State? Not if you listen to the views of Republicans when interviewed about her while she was in office. They gave her high marks on her performance and universally agreed on her capacity to listen.

Where would you put Donald Trump? He’s been widely criticized for racism, xenophobia, and misogyny, so he’s ethnocentric, right?

I don’t think so. Donald is all about Donald. He is egocentric. Most of his outrageous and offensive talk is for the sake of himself. His poll numbers. His adulation from crowds. And, God forbid, his victory in November.

Trump lives to dominate and humiliate others, even those, like Chris Christie, who are his allies. (Take note, Vladimir Putin). He can’t stop talking about himself: his buildings, his money, his crowds, even his genitals. He lies so often to appear dominant that many people no longer notice. He even interprets terrorist attacks through the lens of his own pride (“I predicted it! Now my poll numbers will go even higher.”)

Even the man’s charitable foundation isn’t about serving others. David Fahrenthold, a reporter for the Washington Post, has done tenacious reporting about the Trump Foundation. Every few days he turns up new evidence of Trump’s egocentric corruption. The latest: Trump used hundreds of thousands of “charitable” dollars to pay his legal bills.

So is Trump ethnocentric?

No, because he has not yet developed that far.

He is an egocentric demagogue in position to be Commander in Chief.

Nuclear weapons are not profit and loss statements

Why does this matter? Because the stakes are high.

The President’s most serious responsibility doesn’t involve profit and loss statements. It involves nuclear weapons. Losing your cool in diplomacy can have enormous implications. Forget the nuclear codes for a moment and consider the impact of words. What if the person Trump insults isn’t a reporter but the head of a nuclear weapons state?
Maybe my friends and the coach quoted in Inc weren’t thinking about this. We’ve gotten so used to seeing Trump on talk shows that we forget this is about the Oval Office.
The New Yorker just published a piece imagining Trump’s first term. Read it, and you’ll find all this talk about “style” to be trifling.

Take a smart stand

So, fellow leadership coaches, it’s time to stop describing Trump as a “Doer” who brings “Inspiration.” Please, no more of this tepid talk!

Instead, let’s take a stand that we are uniquely qualified to take. Let’s speak out as leadership coaches about the real difference between these candidates. How and where you do this is up to you. No need to sacrifice your career or friendships–most of the actions you can take will affect neither.

For an example, check out the open letter about the election that over 100 leadership coaches have signed. For many, it was a courageous act. One East Coast coach said, “NEVER would have done this via my professional network previously. MUST do so in this circumstance.”

We can do better.

Episode 46: Barrett C. Brown On Leadership For Conscious Capitalism [The Amiel Show]

This week, Barrett C. Brown joins me to talk about the connection between two topics near to my heart: leadership and conscious capitalism.

I invited Barrett for this conversation because he has been working in the field of sustainability for two decades and is an international expert on leadership development and vertical learning.

He brings a calm wisdom and peaceful passion to a topic of epic proportions.

Listen in and share with your friends.

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Highlights

  • 7:00 Developing inner capacities is the leading edge for sustainability
  • 13:00 Whispers from the future
  • 20:00 The power of vertical learning
  • 33:00 Highly conscious leaders are different from Level 5 leaders
  • 43:30 Later stage leaders who eject themselves from organizations–or reengage in new ways
  • 49:00 What kind of narrative are you choosing to create?
  • 51:30 Barrett’s practices: meditation, action inquiry and Bulletproof Coffee!

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“Leaders who are calm amidst change & ambiguity end up being more effective”

–Barrett C. Brown  Tweet this quote

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Episode 45: Deborah Helsing on Deliberately Developmental Organizations [The Amiel Show]

Let’s talk about how a DDO is different from CYA.

Most of us in the West know the term CYA. It means cover your, ahem, behind. As in: don’t give others any openings to attack you. Doing this is important to individual success in most organizations. So we watch what we say, hide our mistakes, and do whatever it takes to look good to the boss.

A DDO is different. DDO stands for deliberately developmental organization. It’s a place where you are expected to reveal your weaknesses and vulnerability rather than hide them. Really? Are you kidding me? Where giving and receiving feedback is part of everyday work and a path to personal growth and organizational success, rather than a dangerous landmine. Seriously? In a DDO, growing people is central rather than peripheral to the company’s strategy. Baloney. Your accountants must be high on something.

DDOs are different!

If you’re skeptical that it’s possible to work in a DDO, join the club.

If you’re curious what life is like in such a place, set aside an hour this week to listen to my conversation with Deborah Helsing.

Deborah is coauthor with Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Matthew Miller, and Andy Fleming of the brand-new book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. She also heads up Coach Learning Programs at Minds at Work, teaches at Harvard, and is a researcher at Way to Grow.

I’d never met Deb before this interview, yet we hit it off right away. Our conversation covered unusually powerful–and unusual–collective practices in three very different DDOs–and how these places contain relatively little CYA behavior.  (By the way, the term “CYA organization” doesn’t appear in the book, and I’m not sure it even exists).

Enjoy this provocative conversation!

Deb Helsing

Highlights

  • 9:30The second job nobody pays you for
  • 24:00 Getting feedback on your “backhand” at Boot Camp
  • 31:00 Talking Partners “meet, vent, and work” first thing every morning
  • 41:30 Using the Issues Log to express dissatisfaction—and respond
  • 45:15 The Dot Collector, a way to give real-time feedback to the person running a meeting
  • 51:00 DDOs feel really strange at first
  • 1:01:00 When employees aren’t a fit in a DDO
  • 1:03:30 A job for high school students unlike any other
  • 1:06:30 The pure business value of running a DDO

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In a typical organization, my second job is expending a lot of energy to look good.

–Deborah Helsing  Tweet this quote

 

Giving & receiving feedback is woven into the life of deliberately developmental organizations

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Episode 44: Carolyn Coughlin on Growing, Getting “Grabbed”, And Women’s Leadership [The Amiel Show]

The era of the one-trick pony in leadership development has ended.

Excellence takes many forms and comes through a myriad of paths. That’s because leaders are human beings, and humans are complex.

Really complex.

That’s why conversations about leadership are more practical when they cover more territory.

Let me be clear. This is an argument not for eclecticism but for integration.

Not mismash, but mesh. For example:

  • What happens when we look at adult development through the particular experiences of women (or men)?
  • How do we think differently about women’s leadership when we consider the power and challenge of self-authorship?
  • How do we answer both of these questions differently when we look at the human body and how it can get “grabbed” or triggered?

To explore these questions, I had a great conversation recently with Carolyn Coughlin, cofounder of Cultivating Leadership, teacher of Growth Edge Coaching, and business partner with my guest in episodes 3 and 14, Jennifer Garvey-Berger.

Take a listen and enjoy!

Carolyn Coughlin

Highlights

  • 9:30 Making the body “object”
  • 13:00 Carolyn dodges requests with her body
  • 20:30 Getting confronted with a very different way to coach
  • 23:00 Reducing stress using a centering exercise
  • 25:30 Practicing getting “grabbed”
  • 28:30 A leader who gets grabbed, then anxious, then crazy with her team
  • 35:30 Women’s leadership through the lens of adult development
  • 37:00 Where everybody speaks male
  • 51:30 Carolyn’s biggest growth arena: her three teenagers

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Women growing into self-authorship is a way to grow out of the pain they feel

–Carolyn Coughlin  Tweet this quote

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Carolyn’s articles on developmental coaching and leading in complexity

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Episode 39: Elizabeth Doty On Making Only Promises You Can Keep [The Amiel Show]

Elizabeth Doty is on a mission to focus leaders on their most critical commitments. In Episode 39 of the podcast, this seasoned consultant, author, and frequent contributor to Strategy + Business joins me to ask:

  • What if we were to take our commitments to each other so seriously that we made only the ones we knew we could keep?
  • What if companies recognized that the reliability of their promises to customers and society was central to their success?
  • What if teams stopped waiting around for new leaders to define direction and instead said, “Here’s a proposal for the next three months. Can you support this?”

I think you’ll get great value from this invigorating, high impact conversation. Please share with your friends!

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Highlights

  • 5:00 “The company made me a liar.”
  • 7:20 When businesses drift from their promises
  • 13:30 Why scapegoating CEOs or “rogue employees” doesn’t improve outcomes
  • 16:30 Creating shared maps of different parts of the system
  • 18:00 The peril of new leaders ignoring existing commitments
  • 27:00 The measurable benefits of companies keeping commitments
  • 33:00 A “no harm” diamond company commits to a simple rule
  • 41:00 What teams can do during leadership changes instead of waiting for direction
  • 46:30 Why keeping your head down is risky
  • 48:00 The power of “irrational generosity” during downward spirals
  • 52:30 A hopeful story about promises, money, and career trajectories

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There is an art in crafting commitments and being clear what we’re committing to.

–Elizabeth Doty   Tweet this quote

A recipe for stalling: change your leaders often or put your strategy into question.

–Elizabeth Doty   Tweet this quote

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Liberating structures, a concept introduced by Bill Torbert
Strategy maps—articles by Robert Kaplan and David Norton in Strategic Finance and HBR

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Episode 38: Dr. Keith Witt On Creating A Marital Love Affair [The Amiel Show]

For the past few years, I have identified a “personal hero of the year,” someone who has inspired me to be a wiser, more loving, and more courageous person. In 2015, my personal hero of the year was marriage expert Dr. Keith Witt.

Dr. Keith is an integral psychotherapist, author, big thinker, and “therapist in the wild.”

In this rich and entertaining interview, we talk about about creating marital love affairs, improving sex, and developing the skills of a self-regulating adult in relationship. Get ready for a very valuable hour!

Dr Keith Witt

Highlights

  • 5:00  How healthy marriages improve happiness, physical health, longevity, and children’s lives
  • 9:45 Why it’s not surprising that marriage becomes less passionate over time
  • 14:30 Why cheating on your spouse can seem to “appear out of nowhere”
  • 18:30 When commitment shifts to “I’ll do what it takes”
  • 20:00 Why some marriages get better after kids
  • 24:30 White knuckle monogamy
  • 29:00 Defensive states and the role of self-regulation skills
  • 37:30 The role of sex in mending relationships
  • 39:30 Getting in touch with you masculine and feminine core
  • 45:00 How your attachment style as an infant affects your adult relationships
  • 48:30 Using differentiation to improve sex
  • 50:00 Improving sex – different advice from five leading relationship experts
  • 56:00 Dr. Keith’s “two rules for guys” and “two rules for women”
  • 1:00:00 Makeup sex

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Couples are not taught about defensive states or how to self-regulate

–Dr. Keith Witt   Tweet this quote

 

The martial love affair requires conscious attention

–Dr. Keith Witt   Tweet this quote

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