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 57: Servant Leadership At Zingerman’s With Ari Weinzweig [The Amiel Show]

Ari Weinzweig

In 2003 Inc magazine called the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses the “coolest small business in America.”

Step inside the Zingerman’s Deli or any of its other businesses, and you’ll quickly see why. There is a buzz in the air. An aliveness. Customers and employees alike seem genuinely happy to be there. It’s as though there are secret air ducts bringing dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter”) into the building and taking cortisol (a stress hormone) out.

And the food? Well, it is amazing. And world famous. In 2007 Bon Appetit gave its Lifetime Achievement award (an honor rarely bestowed—past winners include Alice Waters and Julia Child) to Zingerman’s cofounders, Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw.

From a financial perspective, Zingerman’s pulls in $50 million a year. As my father would say, “not too shabby!”

Zingerman’s has a special meaning to me. It’s in my hometown, Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Deli opened during my teenage years when trying to fit an overstuffed roast beef sandwich into the mouth became a thrilling challenge. Today, every time we go back to Ann Arbor to visit, I take my sons there two or three times–even if the visit is only a few days long!

As a customer, I’m satisfied. As a student of leadership, I’m curious: what goes on behind the scenes to make this business so special? How do the leaders treat employees? How do employees interact with each other? What are the rules of the game that make the outcomes so extraordinary?

Cofounder Ari Weinzweig has explored these questions in a series of books called Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading. The latest just came out and is called A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to the Power of Beliefs in Business.

In this week’s episode, Ari and I talk widely and deeply about all of this–and share some laughs along the way.

I think you’ll enjoy Ari’s clarity, energy, and Chicago accent. Please do the show a favor and share with friends who love food, care about leadership, and/or enjoy feeling alive.

Highlights

  • 18:00 Treating staff like customers – each one is different!
  • 23:00 Ari pours water for thirsty employees
  • 27:00 Peer-to-peer versus parental relationships
  • 34:00 Anarcho-capitalism
  • 40:00 Energizing the workplace
  • 46:30 Front-line employees know the numbers and manage the business
  • 52:00 Determining who will manage is a peer-to-peer decision
  • 1:00:00 Ari uses daily journaling to stop ruminating
  • 1:02:30 The Three Good Things exercise

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The more we use authority, the less effective it is.

–Ari Weinzweig, Co-founder of Zingerman’s  Tweet this quote

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Episode 56: Charles Feltman On The Four Kinds Of Trust [The Amiel Show]

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When you say that you “trust” someone–or that someone else “trusts” you–what exactly do you mean? We toss the word “trust” around left and right. We make major life decisions based on it. But what does the word actually mean?

If you want to improve relationships and outcomes at work and beyond, a simple unified view of “trust” just doesn’t cut it.

According to this week’s guest, Charles Feltman, there are four different dimensions to trust: competence, reliability, sincerity, and care.

What happens when you trust someone’s reliability but not their sincerity? Or how about when someone trusts your sincerity but considers you incompetent at a particular activity?

The distinctions that Charles offers in this interview–and in his wonderful book The Thin Book of Trust–can literally change how you make sense of your leadership. And life.

Please listen in and share with friends.

Highlights

  • 9:30 Who gets to decide how trustworthy you are?
  • 16:30 The big problem with the trust/distrust distinction
  • 18:30 Four assessments of a person’s trustworthiness
  • 22:30 What if you’re competent and sincere, but not reliable?
  • 28:30 Drive by requests
  • 40:00 Enemies of trust in sincerity—telling probable truths
  • 51:30 Let key people know where you are not competent
  • 56:00 Approaching someone you don’t trust
  • 1:02:00 What if you sense someone doesn’t trust you?

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Trust is making something I value vulnerable to another person’s actions.

–Charles Feltman  Tweet this quote

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Episode 54: Geoff Bellman on The Consultant’s Calling, Money, And Power [The Amiel Show]

Geoff Bellman pic

This week I speak with Geoff Bellman, author of The Consultants Calling: Bringing Who You Are To What You Do.

This was the first book that told me — when I read it in 1993 — that it was OK to be myself while working. What a novel idea!

Geoff has seen a lot and has a folksy reflective manner I think you’ll enjoy.

Join us for this conversation about consulting, money, friendship, and power

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Episode 51: The Manly Apology, A Jedi Leadership Trick [The Amiel Show]

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Women apologize too often. Men apologize too little. Not just at home, but in the workplace. Maybe even more so in the workplace.

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In this episode, I challenge men to give more apologies, to do it in a real way, and to stop making lame excuses for not apologizing. I also weave in clips from my interview last year with Robert Augustus Masters, author of To Be A Man: A Guide to True Masculine Power. Robert spoke movingly and compassionately about the power of apologies, and how apologizing requires power. I riff off of his comments.

This is a Jedi Leadership Trick, so you’ll also get the Five Steps to a Manly Apology.

This episode is 15 minutes long.

Highlights

  • 5:30  Five lame excuses for not apologizing
  • 10:20 Five steps to a manly apology: Get Clear, Get Still, Get In Touch, Get Real, Get It Done

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“I’m sorry if this made you angry” is not an apology. It’s the opposite of an apology.

–Amiel Handelsman  Tweet this quote

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Episode 49: Ed Schein On Humble Consulting [The Amiel Show]

How do you help employees become more engaged? How do you retain your best people? How, on any organizational challenge, do you provide real help faster?

Ed Schein answers this question in his brand new book, Humble Consulting.

Ed Schein

One thing you don’t do, he says, is conduct six-month assessments of an organization’s problems or culture. That takes too long. Instead, have a real conversation with the person you’re trying to help. Don’t just give them what they ask for. Find out what really matters to them. Sometimes it’s simpler than you think.

And Ed Schein has a pretty cool resume. An Emeritus Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, he invented the notion of organizational culture. Yeah, that was him! He also was the first person to describe what process consultation looks like. That was him, too!

So if you work in and around organizations, you’ve been influenced by his work–whether you know it or not.

To understand what he means by “humble consulting” and how it can add value to your work, listen in to this week’s episode.

It was an honor to talk with Dr. Schein. I hope you enjoy it!

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Highlights

  • 6:30 Why do we need humble consulting?
  • 12:00 In a professional relationship, the client often mistrusts you initially
  • 15:00 Evolution from process consultation to humble consulting
  • 21:00 The most extraordinary gift a consultant could be given
  • 27:00 Trying to fix an unruly group at Digital Equipment Corporation
  • 33:00 Staying overnight with the Ciba-Geigy CEO and his family
  • 41:30 Are you a track team or a soccer team?
  • 46:00 A company dies but its culture survives–is that success?
  • 50:00 Ed is described as a “terrible failure” for overpersonalizing a committee
  • 54:30 Ed’s new partnership with his son

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Doing an organizational diagnosis & making recommendations is much too slow

–Ed Schein  Tweet this quote

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