01 December 2016

Wisdom for the Ages

"Any fool can know.  The point is to understand."

--Albert Einstein

Leadership is not for everyone even though development programs and offerings from higher education might lead us to believe the reverse is true.  In fact, many don't want to be leaders, or qualify, even as they are nudged in that direction and away from the much needed tasks of management.   

Why is this so?

One reason is that leadership, done right, is hard work.  There may be perks and occasional glamour which come with titles, but for the most part, heavy loads, especially for prolonged periods, exact a steep price--physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Another is that people tend to function in business without having developed a philosophy of life which centers on how to live.  About knowledge, truth and the meaning of life.

Answering these and other questions would seem to be a prerequisite for someone seeking a position of responsibility.  Few there are who take time to seriously consider this particular building block of character, are aware of its importance, or know how it becomes a reality in their lives.  There aren't many corporate universities offering a "philosophy" course in their curriculum. 

That's unfortunate.  

Associating with someone clear on their purpose and that of the enterprise makes for healthy relationships and a creative work environment.

What can we learn about philosophy, with a contemporary application, from those whose wisdom transcends the ages?

In their book, The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership, M. A. Soupios and Panos Mourdoukoutas, combine philosophical discernment with the pursuit of leadership in modern times:

Rule l:  "Know thyself."  (Thales)  Understand your inner world, your bright and dark sides, your personal strengths and weaknesses.  Self-comprehension is a fundamental precondition necessary for real leadership.

Rule 2:  "Office shows the person."  (Pittacus)  The assumption of authority brings out the leader's inner world.  It reveals whether the leader has undergone a process of honest self-discovery that allows for the productive application of power. 

Rule 3:  "Nurture community in the workplace."  (Plato)  Community development and positive group sentiment are virtues leaders must nurture by providing the right support, guidance, and incentives.

Rule 4:  "Do not waste energy on things you cannot change."  (Aristophanes)  Do not waste resources and energies on things you cannot control and things you cannot change.

Rule 5: "Always embrace the truth."  (Antisthenes)  Effective leaders should always embrace the truth, always encourage candid criticism throughout the organization, be skeptical of flattering appraisals, and never let authority place a wedge between them and the truth.

Rule 6: "Let competition reveal talent." (Hesiod) While knowledgeable employees can be hired in the marketplace or recruited from within, bringing their talent out and aligning it with organizational interests requires an environment that allows employees to compete with each other in a constructive rather than a destructive way.

Rule 7: "Live life by a higher code."  (Aristotle)  Dedicate yourself to a higher standard of personal conduct; don't hold grudges and ill will toward those who offend; be ready to assist those who are in need without asking something in return; remain calm in the face of crisis; dedicate yourself to principle without compromise; earn the trust, respect and admiration, of your subordinates through your character, not through the authority conferred upon you by the corporate charter; turn authority into power.

Rule 8: "Always evaluate information with a critical eye."  (The Skeptics)  Don't rely upon old premises, assertions, and theories.  Develop a critical mindset that accepts nothing at face value, certify the credibility and usefulness of critical information, analyze the context that produces critical information and the messengers that convey it, and never rush to judgments.

Rule 9: "Never underestimate the power of personal integrity."  (Sophocles)  Always set an honorable agenda; adhere to a code of professional conduct, never try to justify dishonesty and deceit; rather fail with honor than win by cheating.

Rule 10:  "Character is destiny."  (Heraclitus)  True leadership begins within, not without.

(Buy the book.)

Do we understand?

Do you have a philosophy of life, and leadership, which explains your purpose or sense of calling?  If so, what is it?  Do those around you know your philosophy?  Is it lived out for all to see?  Does it match the values and culture of your organization? 

Psychologist Lawrence Pervin, who wrote an authoritative textbook on personality psychology, framed the matter this way: "Is there a disposition to express behavior in consistent patterns of functions across a wide range of situations?"

Where do you need to improve? 

Basic beliefs--and behavior--matter, as wisdom in exercising the mantle of leadership derives from the qualities of our moral character. 


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 November 2016

A Season of Thanksgiving

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

If as someone has written "gratitude" is a state of being grateful while "thanksgiving" is an expression of that gratitude, then as we begin the holiday season I want to acknowledge the following:

Our teachers and professors

Those individuals who invested extra time in me, nurtured our intellectual development, curiosity, and creativity.   One stands out: Marian Bolhouse, my 1st grade teacher in Benton Harbor, Michigan, is an inspiration for much of our learning to this very day.   It was the first and last time I got all A's, or back then, +'s.   Too bad I didn't have a Miss Bolhouse every year.

Image result for image calvin britain school benton harbor mi
Calvin Britain School, Benton Harbor, Michigan (1954-1960)

College professors Gunnell Jordan, Joseph Nielson, Linford Marquart and Robert Starcher at Olivet Nazarene College combined character, academic achievement and critical thinking in the liberal arts tradition. 

Dr. Edgar H. Schein, Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus, MIT, for being a trusted shadow advisor.

Professors Gautam Kaul (finance), Scott DeRue and Maxim Sytch (leadership) from the University of Michigan are taking us to new levels of learning--online.

Our references

Our first real job in business was at General Motors.  That would not have been possible without a neighbor and friend of the family, Howard Johnson.  No, not that Howard Johnson.  This Howard was a general foreman at what is now known as Flint Metal, on Bristol Road in the city of the same name.

Most summer clerks who worked in plant offices were General Motors Institute students (Kettering University).   Or family members of management.  Neither applied to me.  But I could type.  Howard told my father he would do his best to get me an interview, and I was on my own from there.  He did follow up, and I got a job.  That's a lesson in the value of long-standing relationships and the strength of third-party referrals.  

Others would come along like Wendell and Jean Frerichs, Kankakee, Illinois, who also opened doors of opportunity.

All have motivated us to do the same whenever possible.

Our clients

Where would we be without our clients the past 37 years?   They are better to us than we deserve.  It's hard to state in words what it means to be allowed inside a business or nonprofit to work in some capacity.  The issue is trust--that they trust you with their thoughts, ideas, and plans for the future. 

It's a chance to contribute with the hope they get something from your advice which equals what you receive from their experiences.  Asking the right questions, exploring possibilities, and sharing what is learned from a wider community are a few ways in which an outsider can be of assistance.

A consultant sometimes proposes but a client always disposes.

I am grateful for engagements that have come our way as well as those that went in a different direction. There's a reason for what you have, and don't have. Understanding that truth comes only in retrospect.

Our readers

This is the 78th post since Strategist Blog was launched in 2009.  Thank you for making time to read and provide feedback.    

Our family

Nothing like having quality parents to set an example for your life.  My father, Russell Sr., was a pastor and theologian.  And our mother, Lydia, worked diligently inside and outside the home.  Both lived by faith--with compassionate hearts. 

Then there is the love and encouragement of my wife, Chris.  And a wonderful family.

Our support

From friends and neighbors. Doctors and lawyers.  Mentors and mechanics.  Even the kindness of strangers.  All make life and work possible.

Who has been helpful to you?  Do they know?

While not always easy to do, life's circumstances have taught us "to give thanks continuously," as a season without end.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

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.