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?


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.


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?


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.

Staycations, laughs, and previews

Hi everyone,

How is your week going? My wife and I are doing some staycationing this week. In honor of that, the podcast is on vacation this week.

A great chance to catch up on past episodes–or take a nap (highly advised!)

While I have your attention, I want to confirm the rumors: I am getting back into stand-up comedy this fall and will use it as a practice ground for a new public speaking offer. Stay tuned for more on that early next year.

Coming next on the podcast:

  • Geoff Bellman on The Consultants Calling
  • Charles Duhigg on his new book Smarter, Faster, Better
  • Charles Feltman on the four forms of trust
  • Ari Weinzweig on Zingerman’s Deli, servant leadership, and managing yourself

See you next week!

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


  • 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

–Deborah Helsing Tweet this quote

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Which Jedi Leadership Trick do you want to learn?

This week, instead of a podcast episode, I offer a penny for your thoughts.

Specifically about Jedi Leadership Tricks, the 5-10 minute podcast episodes where I give you the lowdown on a specific leadership skill, like Help Me Understand, The Triple Perspective Combo, Own Your Own Emotions, and Disown Others Emotions.

I’ll be recording a few for the summer and would like your input.


Which of these is most appealing to your palate?

  • Find Out What Your Boss Really Wants
  • Assess Your Political Capital
  • See People As They Really Are
  • Five Tips For Retaining Your Best People
  • How To Renegotiate Promises
  • How To Practice Optimism
  • Or…something else

Shoot me a quick email and let me know. Thanks!

p.s. Stay tuned for another interview next Tuesday

Episode 43: Steve Drotter On Managing Managers & The Leadership Pipeline [The Amiel Show]

We talk a lot on the podcast about stages of development within adults–why they matter and what you find while transitioning to a new stage.

But what about levels within organizations? What new capacities does each call for? What happens when you’re not doing the work of that level–or haven’t developed the inner and outer capacities to do it well?

To explore these questions, I turned to one of the world’s top experts on succession planning: Steve Drotter. When I say “top,” I mean it. Steve has advised half of the Fortune 10 on CEO succession and decades ago helped build GE’s famous succession planning machine.

And then he wrote a book with Ram Charan.

In 2001, Steve partnered with Charan and Jim Noel on The Leadership Pipeline.  It filled a massive void in succession planning by defining six key leadership passages in organizations. And it sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

But that’s not all. In 2011, Steve wrote The Performance Pipeline, which identifies the work to be done at each level of leadership.

Recently, Steve and I chatted for an hour about these two books and how they are reshaping our view of leadership and organizational success. We explore:

  • How is managing managers dramatically different from managing individual contributors?
  • Why do function managers often feel like they aren’t accomplishing much?
  • What makes it important for business managers to bring together multifunctional teams?
  • Why is being a group manager less fun than you might think?
  • What are CEOs truly responsible for?

Leadership PipelineSteve DrotterPerformance Pipeline


  • 8:00 Steve’s work with John Reed at Citibank on succession planning
  • 12:30  Your first job out of school—learning time discipline and adopting company values
  • 15:30 #1: First line manager = 100% change in the work requirements
  • 18:00 #2: Manager of managers, another major transition
  • 32:00 The first question to ask when work isn’t getting done (as manager of managers)
  • 33:00 #3: Function manager—the first strategic layer
  • 42:15 #4: Business manager—ask how the business makes money
  • 43:45 #5: Group manager—connect all the businesses to the enterprise
  • 47:00 #6: CEO—setting enterprise direction, attending to culture
  • 54:30 The sweet spot with the pipeline model: $100M-$5B companies
  • 57:00 Coaching leaders using the pipeline framework
  • 1:04:00 Steve’s transition from top HR executive to external consultant

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“I can name ten Fortune 100 companies without high enough expectations for managers of managers”

–Stephen Drotter  Tweet this quote

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Peter Block interview – now up on iTunes

Last week, my interview with Peter Block, author of the seminal book Flawless Consulting, went live.

Or so I thought.

Actually, iTunes didn’t publish it until Friday. Thankfully, some of you noticed and told me.

It’s up on iTunes now. Take a listen. You’ll not only hear great stories from a wise man. You’ll also catch this famous consultant say, “You are amazing. You frighten me.”

Yes, it was yours truly to whom he was referring.

And, no, I was not “humbled” by this comment. I was fired up!

Now, here’s my note from last week in case you missed the email.


One of my favorites interviews of all time!

In the consulting field Peter Block is a giant. His book Flawless Consulting–now in its third edition–taught us how to show up in client relationships with authenticity, rigor, and an eye for potential pitfalls.

Peter also influenced a generation of managers with his book The Empowered Manager. Today, he brings his passion to building local community around people’s assets.

In this interview, Peter and I walk through the trajectory of his career–his earlier years as an ambitious internal consultant, the decision (unusual at the time) to start an external consultancy, how he learned to build relationships with others despite being a self-described “loner,” and the questions and commitments that have pulled him in and shifted how he works.

For a serious conversation about big ideas and a full life, this was a heck of a lot of fun.  Enjoy–and share widely!

1PBlock color 05


  • 5:00 Getting into the field by accident & influence of Chris Argyris
  • 12:30 A loner finds connection in Gestalt and T-groups
  • 16:30 Early years of restless ambition and almost getting fired
  • 22:30 The risks of being authentic
  • 25:30 Influence of Werner Erhard, language, and speech acts
  • 31:30 The Philippines—working with citizens and loving it
  • 37:00 Taking two years off to raise kids
  • 42:00 Peter tells me, “You’re amazing. You frighten me.”
  • 47:30 Why focus on gifts rather than deficiencies
  • 50:30 John McKnight’s work on asset-base community development
  • 58:30 Contracting in place-based communities

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Authenticity–putting into words what you see happening–is risky.

–Peter Block   Tweet this quote

As soon as you acknowledge your gifts, you become accountable.

–Peter Block   Tweet this quote

Explore Additional Resources

New to Podcasts?

Get started here

Subscribe to the Show on iTunes (It’s Easy!)

  1. Sign into iTunes using your ID and password
  2. Search the iTunes store for “Amiel Show”
  3. Click on the Subscribe button. It’s in the upper left corner of the screen.

Give Me a Rating or Review on iTunes (It’s Also Easy!)

  1. Sign into iTunes using your ID and password
  2. Search the iTunes store for “Amiel Show”
  3. Click on “Ratings and Reviews”
  4. Give it a rating. Bonus for a review