Simone Biles, a gold-medal winning gymnast, said she was abused by Nassar.

Lesson from Michigan State University: Empathy Is a Key Leadership Trait

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on January 22, 2019

One of the most important skills of any leader is to know when and how to communicate empathy. The third senior leader at Michigan State University during the past 12 months, Interim President John Engler, has just demonstrated that he lacks this skill in remarks he made about the sexual abuse victims of Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar.

On Jan. 24, 2018, Nassar, physician to athletes at MSU and national team doctor for USA Gymnastics, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison (concurrent state and federal sentences) for sexually abusing young women. Around 150 women gave impact statements in court prior to his sentencing. It has been reported that there are at least 265 Nassar victims.

A Jan. 11 Detroit News article quotes Engler, speaking about those sexual abuse victims who were not personally in the news, as saying, “In some ways they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition…”

“Enjoying that moment … the awards and recognition?” Did Engler not understand how inappropriate and insensitive that sounds?

On Jan. 12, the chair of the MSU Board of Trustees, Dianne Byrum, commented in a Twitter message, “[Engler’s] remarks were ill advised and not helpful to the healing process, survivors, or the university.”

On Jan. 16, Engler resigned his position as interim president of MSU effective Jan. 23, after learning he lost the support of five of the eight MSU trustees and would be terminated if he didn’t resign. In his resignation statement, however, Engler did not acknowledge the comments that led his loss of MSU trustee support. He did not express regret that his comments were hurtful to the athletes who were abused by Nassar. He blamed politics as the reason for his loss of trustee support.

Understanding when and how to express empathy was an issue with the previous president of MSU, Dr. Lou Anna Simon, who Engler replaced, and the vice chairman of the MSU board, Joel Ferguson. I wrote an article about Simon and Ferguson in February 2018 headlined, “Viewpoint: Michigan State tone deaf to abuse by Nassar.”

In that article, I wrote that in the face of growing criticism from many of the students, faculty and staff at Michigan State on how Simon handled the accusations against Nassar, and after losing the confidence of a number of MSU board members, Simon resigned her position as long-time president of the university on Jan. 24, 2018.

In her resignation letter, Simon wrote, “To the survivors, I can never say enough that I am so sorry that a trusted, renowned physician was really such an evil, evil person who inflicted such harm under the guise of medical treatment.”

Simon added later, “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger.”

“Politicized,” Dr. Simon? I am not sure how the abuse of so many young women can be politicized.

Similarly, MSU Vice Chairman Joel Ferguson was also insensitive and tone deaf to Nassar’s victims. During an interview on a Detroit radio show before Simon’s resignation, Ferguson commented, “There are so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing.”

“Just this Nassar thing,” Mr. Ferguson? As someone who holds the same position as Ferguson at another university, I believe his remarks and attitude were completely inappropriate.

After being widely criticized for his insensitive comments, a spokesperson for Ferguson released a statement that in part said, “Mr. Ferguson deeply regrets his comment and apologizes to those he offended.” Amid calls for his resignation from the MSU board, he chose not to do so, and remains on the MSU board.

An important responsibility of an effective leader is to set the right tone at the top and nurture the right culture at their organization. What a leader says or doesn’t say in part sets the tone and culture. Your employees and other stakeholders listen to you. Be sensitive to what you communicate to them.

Your employees may make statements or act in a way consistent with your attitude or what you say. Show compassion to those that have been wronged or hurt. That’s what effective leaders do.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership, and is the former CEO of PQ Corporation. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Follow Silverman on LinkedIn here and on Twitter, @StanSilverman.

There is much to be learned from the traits of effective military leaders.

We Should All Possess the Leadership Traits of Col. Joshua Chamberlain

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on November 6, 2018

As leaders, how do we win the hearts, minds and confidence of the people within our organizations so that they are fully invested in the organizations’ mission?

There is much to be learned from the traits of effective military leaders. One such leader is Col. Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain.

Chamberlain was a 34-year-old commander of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the Union Army during the Civil War. He was previously a language professor at Bowdoin College, and one of many ordinary people who volunteered to serve their country.

Chamberlain was a modest, determined and understated leader with fierce resolve and intense will – qualities identified in successful leaders by Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great. Chamberlain’s honesty, integrity, ethics and sense of honor made him a very effective leader.

In his classic novel Killer Angels, historian Michael Shaara wrote a historical account of the Battle of Gettysburg extracted from the journals of those who fought in the battle.

Shaara writes of an incident in which Chamberlain is given custody of 120 Union mutineer prisoners just prior to the battle of Little Round Top. He was granted authority to shoot any prisoner who refused to follow his orders. Rather than threaten these soldiers, he took a different approach. He needed them to strengthen his regiment for the upcoming battle.

A prisoner tells Chamberlain, “They been tryin’ to break us by not feedin’ us.” so Chamberlain gives them food and water.

Private Bucklin from the group approaches Chamberlain and says that he was selected to tell him of the prisoners’ grievances. Chamberlain listens intently rather than ignore him.

In a reenactment of Chamberlain’s speech to the prisoners from the film Gettysburg, (YouTube video courtesy of Bill Toth) he says, “I’ve been talking with Private Bucklin. He’s told me about your problem. There’s nothing I can do today. We’ll be moving out in a few minutes, we’ll be moving all day.

“I’ve been ordered to take you men with me. I’ve been told that if you don’t come, I can shoot you. Well, you know I won’t do that. Maybe someone else will, but I won’t.

“The whole reb army is up the road a ways waiting for us… We can surely use you fellows. We’re well below half-strength and whether you fight of not, that’s up to you.

“You know who we are and what we’re doing here… This Regiment was formed last summer, in Maine. There were a thousand of us then. There’s less than 300 of us now. … [We came for different reasons.] Many of us came because it was the right thing to do.

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see [that] men fight for pay … or some other kind of loot. … But we’re here for something new. … We’re an army out to set other men free. …

“If you choose to join us, if you want your muskets back nothing more will be said. If you won’t join us, you’ll come along under guard. When this is over I’ll do what I can to see that you get fair treatment. … Gentlemen, I think if we lose this fight, we lose the war. So, if you choose to join us, I’ll be personally very grateful.”

The way in which Chamberlain treated and spoke to these men had the intended effect. He demonstrated his respect for them and gave them a purpose. All but six of the 120 mutineers chose to join him, significantly increasing the strength of his regiment, possibly making the difference in the July 2, 1863 defense of Little Round Top.

Holding their flank position at Little Round Top against attacks by the Confederate Alabama 15th Regiment was an imperative. Chamberlain was told by his commanding officer, “You cannot withdraw under any conditions. If you go, the line is flanked and they’ll go right up the hilltop and … [attack us from the rear]. You must defend this place to the last.”

A Union loss at Little Round Top could have changed the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War and perhaps the course of history.

Chamberlain’s Regiment held the high ground, which gave it an advantage over the Confederates, but they had suffered heavy losses and were running out of ammunition. They risked being overrun.

In an inspiring, spine-tingling reenactment (YouTube video courtesy of Zandalis) of the battle from the film Gettysburg, Chamberlain says “We can’t run away… We can’t shoot. So, let’s fix bayonets.” Chamberlain decides to take the initiative and go on the offensive.

Chamberlain tells his men, “We’ll have the advantage of moving downhill. [Captain] Ellis [Spear], you take the left wing. I’ll take the right. I want a right wheel forward of the whole regiment… We charge … swinging down the hill. Understand? Does everyone understand?” His officers respond in unison, ‘Yes sir.’”

Chamberlain screams the bone-chilling commands “BAYONETS” and “CHARGE!” With their swords held high, Chamberlain and Ellis lead their courageous men into a fierce bayonet attack down the hill. The Confederates fire at near point-blank range at the charging regiment, but, not being mentally prepared to face bayonets, are overwhelmed and either retreat or surrender. Through a valiant effort, Chamberlain and his regiment hold Little Round Top.

After the Civil War, Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor for his defense of Little Round Top. Chamberlain’s bayonet charge was pivotal in the Union’s victory at Gettysburg and the Civil War.

Why was Chamberlain’s leadership during the defense of Little Round Top so effective? He was a visible leader who led from the front. He communicated to his men the importance of the mission and their role in fulfilling it. His men respected and trusted him because Chamberlain respected and trusted them. They gave Chamberlain their loyalty and maximum effort.

Business leaders will never face the life and death situations that our military leaders do, but we can all learn from the inspirational leadership of Joshua Chamberlain.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Follow Silverman on LinkedIn here and on Twitter, @StanSilverman.

Why Emotional Intelligence Is a Key Leadership Trait

Why Emotional Intelligence Is a Key Leadership Trait

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on June 12, 2018

Is emotional intelligence (emotional quotient) more important than IQ in one’s success? Are street smarts more important than book smarts?

In a 2004 Harvard Business Review article, “Leading by Feel,” University of New Hampshire psychologist John D. Mayer wrote, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions.”

In a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes a Leader?,” Rutgers University professor Daniel Goleman wrote, “The most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as ‘threshold capabilities’; that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. But my research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”

Based on my own experiences, working for and observing both effective and ineffective leaders, I would agree with Goleman that “without … [emotional intelligence], a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”

In his article, Goleman identifies five components of EQ. These are:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others.
  • Self-regulation: The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods. The propensity to suspend judgment – to think before acting.
  • Motivation: A passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status.
  • Empathy: The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. Skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.
  • Social Skill: Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks. An ability to find common ground and build rapport.

How do these five components of EQ translate into a leader’s day-to-day interactions and effectiveness with the people they deal with? I would like to share with you, based on my experience interacting with others, seven EQ behavioral rules that will contribute to your leadership effectiveness.

1.   Recognize how others perceive you.

All individuals should perceive how their words, body language, verbal tone and actions are read by others. If the way they are being read is a way not desired or effective, he or she should change. One can tell how they are being perceived by other people’s subtle or not so subtle cues.

2.   Don’t communicate with others in a way that puts them on the defensive.

Communicate in a way so people feel respected and valued. Don’t criticize others in public. If you need to give them negative feedback, do it in private. Don’t waste your personal capital correcting individuals on minor irrelevant misstatements of fact. If a correction is necessary, do it in a way so that the individual maintains their dignity and you are not showing how smart you are.

3.   When a direct report shares an idea or proposes a new initiative, listen.

Don’t accept or reject an idea out of hand before vetting it. Show respect by discussing the idea with the direct report, asking them questions on how it might be implemented, its impact and if there could be any unintended consequences.

It’s better to have them reach their own conclusion through dialogue rather than you prematurely tell them what you think. After a dialogue, you both might have new positions, or discover an alternative that is more effective than the original idea.

4.   Base your decisions on what is best for the business and your customers.

Never make a business decision based on personal considerations. It undermines your credibility within the organization and might lead to a bad decision. You don’t want the organization to question your judgment or to think you are advantaging yourself of playing favorites by promoting people based on personal considerations.

When promoting or appointing people to leadership positions, ensure they have the requisite experience and skills to ensure their credibility and success. When you don’t, it’s a bad reflection on you.

5.   Take the blame if it’s your fault. Give credit where credit is due.

Everyone makes mistakes. Own up to yours. You will be a much more effective and respected leader if you do. Publicly acknowledge the successes of others. It will motivate them to continue to succeed. And, never throw people under the bus. It destroys trust and any respect people within your organization might have for you.

6.   Avoid being an imperial leader.

When negotiating with others, making threats to get what you want rarely works. People don’t like to be bullied. It strengthens their resolve. There are more effective ways to meet your objectives while maintaining good relationships, which is to your advantage in future negotiations. People have long memories, and you may need their support in the future.

7.   Don’t self-aggrandize.

Avoid telling everyone how great you are, compared to your predecessors. Don’t blame them for their decisions that you disagree with for the purpose of boosting your own perceived standing. Narcissistic, insecure people do this. It does nothing to win the hearts and minds and earn the respect of your organization and the other people you deal with. It makes you look bad.

So, practice street smarts and perceive how others see you. Lead like you would like to be led and treat people like you would like to be treated. Follow these emotional intelligence rules for leadership and business success.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. 

8 Important Traits for New Hires

8 Important Traits to Look for When Hiring New Employees

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on April 30, 2018

What are the traits business leaders should look for in future employees? Based on my own experience as a former CEO and as a board member observing the hiring practices of other leaders, I offer the following advice. Hire people who:

1. Differentiate themselves from their peers. What has a job applicant accomplished in previous positions that differentiates them from other job applicants? Have they taken the initiative to do things that went beyond their job description? How have they moved the business of their previous employer forward? Are they a team player, and do they help others within the organization achieve their objectives?

These are the characteristics of employees who are your change agents. They will differentiate your business versus your competitors.

2. Have a proactive, can-do attitude. What is the applicant’s track record of accomplishing new things? In deciding to implement a new strategy, how did they go about assessing risk? Inquire about initiatives that the applicant has undertaken and that have failed. How did the applicant handle failure, and what did they learn from it?

People who have never failed have never accomplished what they are capable of, nor have they built the internal fortitude to move on after inevitable failures.

There are people who see a world of possibilities and abundance. There are others who see only limitations and scarcity. You want to hire the former.

3. Possess the skills to do the job or can rapidly develop them. It doesn’t help your organization or the job candidate if there is a significant mismatch in know-how or credibility to do the job. If you want to place a high-potential individual into a stretch position, ensure they have the needed resources and advisors available to help them be successful.

4. Will help you become the preferred provider to your market. This is the Holy Grail of any business: to become the preferred provider of products or services in your geographic market, that is, the provider everyone wants to do business with.

To achieve preferred provider status, employees need to be focused on providing a great customer experience. This builds repeat business and is a real competitive strength, as outlined in an October 2016 article, “Six ways to become the preferred provider to your markets.”

5. Have common sense and good critical judgment. Stories appear in the news and on social media about an employee who makes a bad decision while dealing with a customer, harming the company’s reputation. Hiring people with common sense and good critical judgment will minimize the likelihood of this occurring.

On occasion, an employee may need to violate an organization’s policy when it’s in the best interests of the company. In a September 2014 article headlined, “When an employee violates company policy for the right reasons,” I describe a situation when this occurred. You need to hire people with common sense and good critical judgment, so they know when to violate the rules. Celebrate these employees, rather than terminate them.

6. Are committed to continuous improvement. The only constant in life is change, and those companies that don’t embrace change and continuous improvement will fall behind their competitors.

Hire people who are committed to continuous improvement. You certainly don’t want to hire continuity people. They will stifle your business.

7. Are people of integrity. You and no one else within your organization will trust an employee who lacks integrity and ethics, regardless of the great results that individual has achieved in previous positions. Hiring such a person is a recipe for disaster.

Do your due diligence on a potential employee’s reputation. An April 4 article headlined, “Dealing with toxic individuals in the workplace” describes the damage that these people can do. Avoid hiring them.

8. Can develop other leaders. Even if the job you are filling is that of an individual contributor and is not a formal leadership position, that individual should still have leadership potential. When serving on a team, an individual with the needed knowledge and expertise may need to step up and serve as the leader for a particular initiative.

While this article shares advice to business leaders on the traits they should look for in new hires, the advice is also for those who want to improve their attractiveness to potential employers. For those seeking a new job, it will put you at a competitive advantage versus other applicants for any job for which you apply.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.