01 October 2016

The Narcissistic Leader

"The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds." 

--Thomas Merton

Between the upcoming U.S. presidential election, and the social-psychological make-up of 83 million Millennials, representing more than one-quarter of the nation's population, are we witnessing an increased level of self-centered behavior?

Does this mean "narcissism" is on the rise among the general population?

According to an article in the October 2016 issue of "Psychology Today," the growing consensus among psychologists is--no.  It's estimated that narcissistic behavior, a term originating in Greek mythology when Narcissus fell in love with his image in a pool of water (see below), is found among only 1% of the population with the percentage remaining about the same since tracking studies began.

Image result for narcissus and the pool of water images
Narcissus viewing his own image.

So what exactly is narcissism?

Craig Malkin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of "Rethinking Narcissism," says, "it's the capacity to see ourselves through rose-colored glasses."   And Dr. Malkin makes clear that it's a trait each of us exhibits to a greater or lesser degree.    

That narcissism can be helpful is proven in studies.  For example, a healthy dose can fuel confidence which allows us to take risks, like seeking a promotion. 

It's feeling too special that causes problems.

Researcher, Sandy Hotchkiss, identified seven deadly sins of narcissism:

1. Shamelessness

2. Magical thinking

3. Arrogance

4. Envy

5. Entitlement

6. Exploitation

7. Bad boundaries

Personality traits

Writing in "The New York Times," Daniel Goleman, describes good managers as easy to spot.  He quotes Robert Hogan from the Tulsa Institute of Behavioral Sciences, who says, "Besides intelligence and a knack for strategic planning, they have enormous charm and energy."  That is, "they have charisma."

Dr. Hogan goes on to say that charisma has its dark side.  "Some top executives who look good to their peers and their bosses and who do well on most assessments, turn out to be terrible for their companies," he said.   "These are flawed managers, whose glittering image masks a dark destructive side, Dr. Hogan added.  "They end up being costly by creating poor morale, excessive turnover, and reducing productivity.  Sometimes they can ruin a company altogether." 

As author, Ira Chelaff, once observed:  "Arrogant leadership is toxic to an organization.   It looks like strength but is a debilitating weakness."    

How dark? 

Charisma can bring out the worst in subordinates:

Groupthink.  Workers feel they must censor what they say in meetings.

Distortions of the truth.  Twisting facts to please the boss.

Tension.  Employees don't feel like themselves in the boss's company.

Humorlessness.  The tone is grim, there's no joking around with the boss.

Blind loyalty.   Excessive demands made to show loyalty.

Source:  Wharton Center for Applied Research

Any hope?

Rebecca Webber, the author of the PT article, says, yes.

"If a fragile self is the true underpinning of narcissism," Webber writes, "one way to strengthen it is with self-compassion which leads to more stable feelings of self-worth, as opposed to self-esteem."  Webber is coming close to the idea of "grace"--from ourselves, and others.  Giving and receiving when needed.

Dr. Malkin, the specialist from Harvard, offers this insight, "By increasing security, narcissism drops." 

"Perhaps the difference between good and bad leaders comes down to a distinction between healthy and unhealthy narcissism," Daniel Goleman concludes. 

To achieve healthy leadership, should we add "humility" to strength of character?  Then maybe our reflection in the pool of water might begin dissolving, over time, into something less arrogant, more sincere and self-aware. 

That kind of arduous change, in behavior and spirit, would go a long way in clearing out "the rubbish of our minds."


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 September 2016

Hailing the Autonomous Car

Are you ready for self-driving cars? 

Are they ready for you?

On 22 August 2016 Singapore's nuTonomy, a business founded by researchers from MIT, said it had began testing a free taxi-hailing service in a local business district of about 0.8 miles surrounded by tech and biotechnology companies. 

The public road test, announced in The Wall Street Journal, supposedly beat Uber Technologies' U.S. trial using its own driver and a tech observer, to be conducted in Pittsburgh, PA, by a few days.

Articles on self-driving cars are beginning to increase not only in tech and automotive publications but also mainstream media, such as USA Today.  To illustrate, there was a recent Today editorial about the need for government regulators, like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to proceed with caution.  That agency is investigating the fatal crash of a driver in Florida who was operating a Tesla car with the Autopilot system. 

As we post the first of the month there's news that Google is moving into the ride-sharing market in the San Francisco area competing with what appears to be its former business partner, Uber.  Google is using the Waze app, which it owns, to pair fellow commuters for less money than it would cost to take Uber or Lyft.  

Stay tuned.

But we may be getting ahead of ourselves

Perhaps the place to begin is with a definition of terms, NHTSA's defined five levels of autonomy based on how many car functions are computer controlled.  There are five levels, 0 to 4 and the goal for most auto companies (GM, Ford and Tesla) is to reach level 4 approval.

Here's a description of each level with examples provided by Bloomberg Business Week:

Level 0--1972 Chevrolet Vega 

Driver:  The driver is in complete control of the car at all times

Vehicle:  Automatic transmission optional

Level 1--1998 Mercedes S5000

Driver:  Driver can regain control or stop the car more quickly than when driving without the automated function or functions

Vehicle:  Automation of one or more specific control functions, such as assisted braking                

Level 2--2016 Tesla Model S

Driver:  Driver shares control as an intermittent operator; you'll want to take your hands off the wheel, but you shouldn't

Vehicle:  Partial automation of at least two primary control functions working together (e.g., adaptive cruise control with lane centering) to relieve driver of tasks

Level 3--Uber, Google

Driver:  Professionally trained operator for ride-hailing service cedes full control during certain conditions

Vehicle:  Steering, throttle, braking, and other critical functions are automated; the car can monitor changes in road conditions (e.g., construction) that might require the human to retake control

Level 4--JohnnyCab (a 2084 robot taxi from Total Recall)

Driver:  Driver selects destination, doesn't control car functions

Vehicle:  Fully automated; designed to perform all safety-critical functions and monitor road conditions for an entire trip; responsibility for safe operation rests solely with the vehicle


There'll be more hype from innovators and investors as well as concern from consumer safety researchers as this new way of driving or riding unfolds.  Certainly regulators and politicians will be weighing in as well.

Who will lose, and gain, employment as Silicon Valley moves to the Midwest and other areas?

While only a foolish mind would try to predict the outcome, one thing is sure--there are big businesses (Apple, GM, Ford, Tesla, Toyota, Google, Uber, Lyft, Intel, Mercedes Benz, Honda, Delphi) making big bets (nearly a billion dollars in 2016) that autonomous vehicles are the future. 

At what point will consumers, government regulators, insurers, and Wall Street, agree? 

Russ Bredholt, Jr.


(C) Bredholt & Co.


01 August 2016

Why Good Paying Jobs are Elusive

Good jobs, like good people, are still hard to find.  This despite the current unemployment rate of 4.9% the end of June 2016 (versus 9.5% in June 2009). 

The struggle for many is simply not having the right skills, experience and education to match jobs which are in demand.

Here are the top ten job categories in terms of earnings growth, inflation adjusted, from 2004-2014 (average annual income, 2015):

  1. Physicians assistants ($99,270)
  2. Occupational therapists ($81,690)
  3. Financial managers (($134,330)
  4. Marketing managers ($140,660)
  5. Medical and health-services managers ($106,070)
  6. Computer- and information-systems managers ($141,000)
  7. All other computer occupations ($87,310)
  8. Sales engineers ($107,160)
  9. Administrative-services managers ($94,840)
  10. Family and general practitioners ($192,120)
Most in the workforce don't fit these and other occupations where above average pay and benefits create higher disposable income.   

The job situation helps explain why seven in ten surveyed adults believe the U.S. is on the wrong track, according to Real Clear Politics average of eleven polling firms.  That number reflects, in part, a high level of anxiety and resentment from those with little or no formal education and training. 

A new analysis by McKinsey Global Institute shows that 81% of the U.S. population is in an income bracket with flat or declining income over the last decade.

To see where job growth is taking place take a moment to read, "The Short List of Jobs with High and Rising Pay."   It's an eye opening look at the U.S. economy and America's growing divide in the standard of living...

Job and Employment Source:  Indeed, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Have a safe and renewing summer.

Russ Bredholt, Jr.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 July 2016

What Makes a Good Life?

"True happiness is not attained by self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."

--Helen Keller

From TED Talk archives... 

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it's fame and money, you're not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you're mistaken.

As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.  Over nine million views to date.

Click here to view Dr. Waldinger's presentation.

Have a safe and renewing summer.

Russ Bredholt, Jr.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 June 2016

Summer Reading

"No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to chosen ignorance."  


It's summer time and the living isn't so easy anymore. 

Years ago there used to be a break in the schedule.  September through May tended to be full.  However, June, July and August offered a lessened pace. 

Not any more.  Conference and meeting schedules now fill the calendar year round.  And those who remain after much restructuring are thankful for the work. 

Rest, recreation, and reading are victims of a quickened pace. No downtime eventually takes its toll.

Here are three books to consider for summer that may edify some of your leisure moments:

The Power of Habit, by Pulitzer-prize winning author, Charles Duhigg.  A best-seller that focuses on this idea--the key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work.   Looking to change yourself or the organization? Read this book.  Or better yet, listen to an audio version.

Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, by Douglas Rushkoff.  Protesters shattered windows of buses carrying Google employees to work.  But their anger was misdirected, says Rushkoff.  The true conflict, we are told, isn't between the unemployed and the digital elite.  Or the 99 percent and the 1 percent.  It's that technological improvements have spun out of control leaving humanity out of the equation. 

They Told Me Not to Take that Job, by Reynold Levy.  At some point businesses and nonprofits require turning around.  Therefore, it's helpful to include case studies in our management library reminding us just how complicated it can be to move individuals in a different direction.  Levy is a skilled story-teller bringing the reader into descriptive daily conversations and decisions required to take the venerable Lincoln Center in a new direction.  This book is not just about a cultural icon.  It's also about the time-consuming effort required to keep people informed and motivated about the need for change.  And to follow through on its implementation.

Have a safe and renewing summer.

Russ Bredholt, Jr.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 May 2016

Calculating Risk

"Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled."

--Howard Stevenson
Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

Recently someone asked the following question:

"What three things should an entrepreneur do once they decide:  Okay, I'm starting a business." 

Getting started 

The few who start businesses and succeed don't take risks.  They take calculated risks.  Having started two businesses since 1980 (consulting and research) my first thought was to reduce financial exposure by making sure, to the extent possible, there was a reasonable chance of succeeding. 

For example, in selling market research I asked for a 50% deposit and worked off of other people's money (OPM). Then required the balance upon delivery of the final report.  In the digital age those transactions could all be online. 

The deposit approach came to our attention while reading about the creation of Encyclopedia Britannica, first published in 1768, Edinburgh, Scotland.  To get working capital founders Colin Macfarquhar, Andrew Bell and Archibald Constable used deposits from customers to provide cash flow. 

This illustration of accessing capital by sharing risk seems quaint by today's "unicorn" investment standards ($1 billion market value for tech start-ups), but it was a business model right for the times.

Entrepreneurship in decline

According to The Washington Post research shows the U.S. rate of new business creation, which peaked about a decade ago, plunged more than 30% during the 'great recession' and has struggled to regain its footings.

That's going in the wrong direction since the 25-55 age category, a prime demographic for starting new businesses, is rapidly expanding according to the Kauffman Foundation.

Fewer start-ups means fewer new jobs.

To back up these trend lines look below at business closings:

One more chart. 

This time tracking long-established businesses which are an increasing percentage of U.S. firms.  Those in business for more than five years account for just over two-thirds of companies.  The proportion of companies of every age from one to five years old has decreased over the past 35 years, based on the Post report.

Kauffman believes that Millennials have the best opportunity to turn these numbers around, but they aren't starting businesses.  Their demographic, 20-34, shows a sharp drop in new formations since 2010 even though they have higher levels of education than previous generations, says Kauffman.

A survey by Hewlett-Packard Enterprise of 13-17 year-olds found that the entrepreneurial drive for Generation Z sets in around 29, the average age which 79% of teens expect to be ready to lead or found their own company.

What to do

Back to our checklist of three things someone might consider doing if they are dead set on moving ahead:

1. Study the definition of an entrepreneur at the top of this post.  Come to terms with the reality that you're not likely to have all the resources at hand when you launch a product or service, yet you still move ahead.  If you need full funding up front then you're likely a bureaucrat, not the venturesome type. 

The definition from Professor Stevenson is a reminder of how little control you'll have over the start-up process, and beyond.

2. Look at yourself carefully.  Who are you?  Entrepreneurship is about people, first, and ideas, second.  Investors look closely at background and character, investing as much or more in individuals with promise as ideas on paper.  There should be flexibility in your human wiring as the need to adjust and transition is ever-present. 

As someone once said, "If you don't bend, you'll break." 

3. Be accountable from the beginning.  To someone or some group.  I created an advisory board and had several mentors who, over time, exhibited wisdom and good judgment.  A corporate attorney and CPA were essential to starting and managing the business.     

Even though this new enterprise should be fun, entrepreneurship can take a toll physically, mentally, and financially.  Take care of yourself, family, and employees.

The power of incubation

I include in No. 3 the possibility of getting into an incubation program sponsored by a nearby university, state, or nonprofit association. 

If you can survive long enough to get out of the house or garage, having an office in an incubator, where you can mix with peers, develop a disciplined work schedule, and gain access to professional resources, is all for the good.

Something to read

Finally, I would consider reading, Breakthrough Entrepreneurship, by entrepreneur and teacher, Jon Burgstone and writer Bill Murphy, Jr.  What you learn is how to find and fill unmet customer needs. 

For as Peter Drucker once said, "The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer."    


(C) Bredholt & Co. 

01 April 2016

Is Leadership Overrated?

Question during Dutch TV interview to management Professor Henry Mintzberg: 

"What would you recommend for leadership in the 21st century?"

Answer from Professor Mintzberg:  "Less of it." 

When you Google "leadership" and 735 million responses show up in 0.41 seconds it's safe to say that is a topic of great interest.  Yet leadership is not just a subject to explore or a position on an organizational chart.  It's an industry, and sometimes a self-serving one at that.

Consider the following

Almost $14 billion is spent annually by U.S. firms on leadership development programs.  Global expenditures make that enhancement cost go much higher. (Leadership Development Factbook 2012) 

Colleges and universities offer hundreds of degree courses on leadership with customized programs from elite business schools costing as much as $150,000 for each participant.

Those funds are often expended, reports the McKinsey Quarterly, without regard to context (one size fits all), understanding the root cause of behavior, or measuring results from the significant financial investment in programming. 

An inversion

As Daniel Askt wrote in the Bookshelf column of The Wall Street Journal, "There appears to be an inverse correlation between the growth of the leadership industry and the quality of the leaders we've seen in business as well as public life.  Perhaps instead of reading books that purport to instruct on leadership--offering up more cliché than wisdom--would-be leaders would do better to delve into books about individuals who have grappled with the challenges and ordeals of guiding an army, a nation or a daring enterprise."

The late historian and Pulitzer prize-winning author, James MacGregor Burns, once observed:  "If we know all too much about leaders, we know far too little about leadership."

We make lists

Too often leadership is reduced to a subjective list of traits (honest, forward-looking, competent, inspiring) none of which show up equally in any one person, and seldom include anything having to do with wisdom or clear thinking.  Along with traits come management concepts (just-in-time inventory, core competence, excellence, zero defects) and jargon to reinforce behavioral norms (buy-in, empower, move the needle, alignment). 

An example of adapting jargon from other industries comes from General Electric.  An article in the current Bloomberg Business Week Magazine draws attention to CEO Jeff Immelt's use of the word "pivot" when it comes to reorienting GE's strategy toward industrial information technology.  Pivot, a term borrowed from Silicon Valley, replaces "idea jams" in the GE management team lexicon.

Speaking of, what's the relationship between leadership and teams?

Is it a coincidence that The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni, has been on a variety of best-seller lists for 18 years? 

The upside of leadership

We believe that leadership, with noble character and strong moral principles, is a valued quality.

The right leadership at the right time in the right place makes a big difference in the climate, progress, health, and success of any organization.  However, those at the top often have limited impact on the everyday practices of their firms. 

Perhaps the greater impression on subordinates is found in a leaders symbolic role such as inspiration and motivation.  Indeed studies show that middle managers who worked for a company whose CEO seemed more determined and better at communicating and articulating a sense of mission and vision, were more committed to their companies. 

There's a direct correlation between a CEO with self-transcendent values and how employees respond to uplifting moments.   

When a CEO secretly harbors selfish values (i.e., high on self-enhancement), and it doesn't take long for hidden thoughts to be revealed, middle managers were not much motivated and committed to the firm whatever the CEO said or did.  (Academic Journal Science Quarterly)

If leadership is overrated, what's underrated?

Where's the imbalance?  There are three distinct areas which are underrepresented by proponents of leadership:
  • Management performance (getting things done)
  • Marketplace (customers have a big say in your success)
  • Followership ("Whither wilt thou lead me?"--William Shakespeare's Hamlet)
Management visionary Peter Drucker blamed the excesses of corporate America on the "bloated concept of leadership."   He believed businesses have more than enough leaders; what they really need are competent managers who can do the hard work of decision-making, planning, and coaching.

What's missing in the conversation?

Writer Joshua Rothman explains in greater detail why the focus on leadership dominates our discussions.  His essay is worth reading if you aspire to improve your organization's culture, working relationships, and operational balance.

Below is a link to Rothman's thought-provoking article about the potentially dangerous obsession with leadership, and why, to quote Professor Mintzberg, we may need "less of it" in the future: 


(C) Bredholt & Co.