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Tag: Fran Sardone

Diversity on Corporate Boards

Board diversity: Why what you see is what you get

Do you want the best person for the job? Perhaps subconsciously what you really want is the person who makes you feel the best about yourself, someone who reflects well on you. The type of person who will reinforce what success looks like, sounds like and most importantly, manages like. Since you are successful and you are in the hiring seat, this person will look a lot like you. Welcome to the very special tribe called Status Quo.

According to a recent article in Canadian Business, there continue to be too many corporate boards that have diversity issues. This is puzzling as there seem to be a number of reports that show board diversity has a direct impact on profitability:

Don’t corporations exist for the pure economic purpose of making money? Don’t they want to be more profitable? Or perhaps the better to ask is what these boards and their members have to lose? No matter how flat corporations become, they’re still hierarchical. Hierarchies allow some people to engage in assigning relative values to others based on perceived status and power. When you derive your self-worth from your corporate status then you’ve fixed the ‘ideal candidate’ for similar roles very narrowly.

In cases where board members are blind to how their power and influence place limitations on hiring and consequently profit-making abilities, corrective action in recruitment practices might be the key. According to Stefanie Johnson, David Hekman and Elsa Chan if there’s only one woman in your candidate pool, there’s statistically no chance she’ll be hired! Apparently when “one thing is not like the others” it signals that you’re different from the norm, that you’re different from the tribe. Instead the board needs a new norm, one in which a different candidate cannot be discriminated against so easily. This quick video explains how inclusive hiring can be facilitated:

So what do the boards of companies in which you hold shares look like, sound like, and manage like? Is there room for more diversity and consequently more profit?

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Performance Management and a Growth Mindset

This post has been co-authored by Carlos Davidovich and Fran Sardone

Carlos Davidovich, Optimum Talent’s Neuromanagement Coach, and I have been discussing the upcoming event Reinventing Performance Management on June 21. We’ve been reading some of Deloitte’s publications and swapping performance review stories – misery loves company!

For Carlos, whose first career was as a medical doctor, this topic gives him a chuckle:

I studied medicine at a public university in Argentina, surrounded by scores of students in each class and almost no contact with the professors. The only chance to succeed and progress was passing the yearly exam. We were very curious about how other educational models were dealing with this situation (Harvard, etc.). As students we heard that Ivy League medical schools started with 100 students and finished with 100 students! Then we were told that in those schools, in those models, there were no exams. The professor/student contact was so high that a final yearly exam was not needed. When the learner was having difficulties, the issues were addressed immediately, so that learning could advance and the stu-dent could progress.

This ‘leave no learner behind’ philosophy reminded me of my past job at a university teaching and learning department.

Fran: Deloitte seems to be making the distinction between summative and formative feedback, concepts well known in education.

• Summative feedback is quantitative:
Your assignment is graded as B- or 73%. It’s a judgement about a past event fixed in time (like an exam), consequently the stakes are high.

• Formative feedback is qualitative:
Your assignment strengths and weaknesses are reviewed and discussed. It’s an appreciation of the ongoing situation by both parties. Since feedback gives the opportunity to improve perfor-mance, the stakes are low.

Josh Bersin of Deloitte does a great job of explaining the myth of the bell curve approach to performance management. Like the 100% final medical exam, force ranking doesn’t do anything to help people grow and perform better.

So here’s the question I have for Carlos:

Fran: In a higher education setting, I’m willing to receive feedback from a professor because she’s an expert in the subject I’m studying. Why am I willing to accept feed-back from a manager who might be senior to me in hierarchy, but not necessarily in professional or technical expertise?

Carlos: One of the key components of a performance feedback process is trust, in both directions. The manager needs to trust that the employee is right for the role. The employee needs to trust that the manager is competent and supportive. They have to believe in one another and cultivate a growth mind-set. Together they can work on the potential inherent in the employee to get the job done on behalf of the organization. The way to provoke this is by leaving the ball in the employee’s court – the work belongs to him. But the only way the employee succeeds organizationally is through regular, continuous, supportive dialogue so that he stays on course.

Can organizations actually change gears sufficiently to cultivate this type of environment? Time will tell.

Red Pencil Standing Out From Crowd

You’ll Never Survive Working for a Narcissistic Leader – Here’s Why

Last month I took issue with the Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog post entitled “How to Work for a Narcissist”. This month I look for perspectives and insights from colleagues here at Optimum Talent to address this issue. In this post you’ll hear from:

When speaking to Larry, Carlos and Jocelyn they all began with the same question. ‘Are we truly talking about a Narcissist, which means a person with a mental disorder? Or are we talking about a self-centred person?’ Terms are important because they define the approach to the issue under discussion.

Larry who has over 40 years of experience in clinical psychology as well as coaching offers the following insights.

Narcissism is a clinical diagnosis. This means the narcissist is dysfunctional and that their behaviour is dysfunctional in a significant way.

The only reason for hiring a narcissist is because the hiring manager believes they need this specific person in the role, typically for a high stakes initiative or project. The hiring manager is dependent on the narcissist to achieve something she/he cannot.  Narcissists, who are extremely talented individuals, are the means to this end. The hiring manager will tolerate the narcissist as long as possible in order to achieve a goal. The cost will be that the most competent people will begin to leave the organization.

In reality narcissists are very unhappy people. In fact, they are incapable of being happy, have no self-respect and think they are losers because no one can stick with them for long. Yet, everyone experiences the narcissist as arrogant, intimidating and a person keen to make others feel incompetent and inadequate.

When coaching a person reporting to a narcissist Larry offers three possible outcomes:  leave, get fired, stay and become ill. Do you really need this particular job?  The best course of action for employees is to stand up for themselves. The narcissist will either fire you or respect you enough to tolerate you.  The employee is taking a 50/50 chance. If the narcissist needs the employee then there will be no leadership as the relationship will be one of indifference.   Essentially the employee will be ignored and will have to get on with the job the best they can.  In Larry’s experience narcissists don’t remain in their roles for more than a couple of years as the organizational cost is too high.

Symbol Of A Narcissist Without Head And With Pawns In The Hands

Carlos
, whose first career was as a medical doctor and is now following developments in neuroscience, reinforces Larry’s perspective with insights for the employee.

The advice in the HBC post is too simplistic and therefore not realistic. This is a bandage solution and any bandage is fragile. It doesn’t fix the problem, just covers it.

The psychological impact of a narcissists is profound. The narcissist garners results from an organizational point of view, so why change what works? A person who works for a narcissist must have a very strongly developed personality. People need validation for what they think. The narcissist gets this from others who benefit from them and want to be like them. No one can work for a narcissist without damage to their self-esteem.  A narcissist will never provide any validating feedback and the employee will be psychologically affected.

In order to cope the employee needs supporters within the organization, including HR.  We are always checking ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) through others. The problem is that a healthy person will be in a power relationship with a narcissist, creating a Catch 22 situation for the employee.  If the employee stays then they will be damaged or their career will be damaged.  In either case their life is no longer a reflection of reality.  If they leave then they often feel like a failure because narcissists can deceive many people.

A person needs to be mentally healthy enough to say that, while the boss is a high performer the boss is also a narcissist, therefore the only positive outcome in this situation is for one of us to leave. Ultimately an employee must be mentally healthy enough to self-validate their decision to leave.


Jocelyn offers a different perspective. As a narcissist is incapable of being coached, his advice is based on an individual with narcissistic characteristics.

The HBR post is missing a big component regarding the role of leadership and HR in the organization.

Some senior leaders can also report to leaders with narcissistic tendencies, we all report to someone – but where is this person’s leader and where is HR in this scenario? A person with narcissist tendencies is a personality derailer. What can appear to be strengths or attractive ‘high performance’ qualities can be too much of a good thing. It’s essential that HR and leadership recognize that this person needs help.  HBR has forgotten that someone has to intervene because this behaviour results in negative consequences.

What needs to be done to address narcissistic tendencies?

A problem can only be fixed if it is recognized as such. Narcissistic personality traits have an impact on others. While people recognize this person’s positive characteristics, it can’t be all about “Joe”.  There are other people who need to be recognized too.  Derailers in this case can lead to attention-seeking and it’s their self-awareness that needs to be increased in relation to the resulting negative consequences. A method of raising self-awareness is with a powerful/rigorous psychometric assessment, paired with feed-back from others, such as a 360 assessment.  The goal is to ensure that perceptions and consequences are clearly understood and articulated.

What can we do?

This is about changing a person’s behaviour and that’s not easy.  The person needs to do things differently.  In this case examples of behavioural change might include:

  • Not speaking first in meetings, letting others talk
  • Including others by praising them, highlighting their contributions and accomplishments
  • Asking more questions, getting input, thoughts, etc.

This feedback and coaching must be limited to a few key behaviours so that the person isn’t overwhelmed or becomes frustrated.  This has to be achievable.

This person needs constant and consistent encouragement and feedback in order for this program to work.  It also requires ongoing recognition of derailing behaviours and their consequences in order to reinforce good behaviours.

Can you work for a Narcissist? No you can’t. No one can and remain healthy.

Different Business Thinking

The Banality of Management Advice

On April 1 Harvard Business Review (HBR) published a post entitled How to Work for a Narcissistic Boss.  Given both the date and the title I was prepared for a prank.  Like the HBR cartoons I hoped for a little erudite satire on the self-perpetuating vanity of corporate culture.  Nope.  It’s a post offering advice on how to subordinate yourself to someone with a mental illness.  An illness described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5.

Does the post suggest you might want to “Get out!”? Yes it does, but I think most people can reach this conclusion on their own. There are also pros and cons to weigh, principles to remember and two case studies.  The first is about managing your stress so you can take another person’s abuse. The second is about catering to a narcissist’s needs, until you can’t take it anymore.  Again, you’ll need to get out.  Why do you need to get out? Simply stated, “Research shows there are a large number of narcissists who become leaders.”  You are not a leader, you are a subordinate. It’s not your place to rock the boat.  After all, status quo is very important to people with status.  For companies that find their status reflected in the magic mirror of P&L statements, spreadsheets and pie charts, well let’s just say these entities aren’t eager to hear you express concerns over a golden goose, especially a ‘high performer’. 

What’s truly disappointing is that at no point in this post do we learn how to approach Human Resources with concerns that an employee is suffering from a mental disorder.  Yes, a narcissist suffers, along with everyone under their control, bearing the brunt of the consequences.  Many would find the thought that HR can facilitate a helpful and healthful outcome to this situation sadly humorous.

Subordinates, by definition, occupy a lower class, rank or position; submissive to or controlled by authority.   Bullies need power and so do leaders.

Is HBR so enamoured of its leadership focus that it cannot distinguish between the two?  No wonder there is a pervasive employee engagement problem.