01 May 2022

Standing Apart from the Crowd

Edited excerpts from a college commencement address we were honored to give on 8 May 2021.*

Receiving your diploma today makes you different as only 36% of adults 25 and older have a college degree.1 Yet—there's more. 

The goal is learning to live in community, which includes a sense of belonging while standing apart from the crowd.  As has been said, “The person who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.”2

Simply put, it pays to be different. That means possessing qualities such as integrity and perseverance--both sought-after employee traits.  

(C) Olivet The Magazine
Wisdom literature

From the writings of noted American Quaker and theologian, Dr. Elton Trueblood, here are three practices that contribute to being different:

First--“The cultivation of reverence.”  This comes from the continuous nurturing of our inner beings. It includes humility and self-discipline.

Second--“A life of service.”  Which is a healing ministry to individuals and social institutions.  

Third--“Possessing intellectual integrity.”  Leadership demands the price of rigorous thinking. To be uninformed (or ill-informed) is to live at the mercy of others. 

Let's summarize

Sameness, like the Dan Ryan, is a congested expressway.   

With an improving job market and similarity of talent, something must separate you from the masses. For example, being trustworthy; listening well, and cooperating with others to get things done.  Even if working from an apartment on Zoom.

An online survey of employers conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that candidates’ demonstrated capacity to (1) think critically, (2) communicate clearly, and (3) solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major. 

Those three proficiencies help define a liberal arts education.

What do positive behaviors mean for your career?  Combining personal qualities employers are looking for, with the right skills, helps a college graduate get off to an exceptionally good start. 

Final thoughts

Another benefit to standing apart--it helps keep bad company from corrupting good character.  As the late best-selling author and businessman, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, observed: 

“In five years, you will be the same person you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

The upside to developing strong moral qualities is to look in the mirror, know the person within, and like what you see.

It pays to be different.


U.S. Census Bureau, March 30, 2020.

Attributed to both Francis Phillip Wernig and Albert Einstein.


© Bredholt & Co. 

01 April 2022

An Employment Revolution

"Without labor, nothing prospers." 


Three industrial revolutions shaped how we live and work:

  • First Industrial Revolution. Water and steam are used to mechanize production. 
  • Second Industrial Revolution. Electric power is used to create mass production.
  • Third Industrial Revolution. Electronics and technology are used to automate production.
            (World Economic Forum) 

The transition to a fourth industrial revolution--physical, digital, and biotechnology--appears accompanied by a human phenomenon.

British economist, Dr. Charles Goodhart, describes the turnabout this way: "Since the 1990s, hundreds of millions of inexpensive Chinese and Eastern European workers pushed down wages and prices of products they exported to rich countries. Together with female workers and baby boomers the labor force in advanced economies more than doubled between 1991 and 2018." (The Great Demographic Reversal)

However, as the American economist, Dr. Herbert Stein once said, "If something can't go on forever, it will stop."

Supply and demand reversed

Keeping in mind Dr. Goodhart's concept of declining low-cost labor, and scarcity of help, it's safe to conclude that the global economy is now experiencing an employment revolution, something akin to a "worker's moment." In nearly all sectors, but especially manufacturing, employees are gaining the upper hand as employers scramble to retain and recruit a shrinking workforce. 

(C) Depositphotos

Worker shortages, clogs in the supply chain, and rising energy prices have resulted in 7.9 percent annual inflation in February, the highest in 40 years. In the U.S. average hourly wages in the private sector rose by one penny last month falling behind inflation. War in Ukraine, and pandemic outbreaks in Europe, U.K., and China, further complicate matters.

In a recent FORTUNE magazine survey, two-thirds of respondents put the labor market as the force most likely to disrupt their business this year.  

Speaking to the U.S. Congress, Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, underscored the nature of a highly competitive labor market this way: "What you have is 1.7 openings for every unemployed person. That's a very, very tight labor market. Tight to an unhealthy level," Powell said. 

An HR crisis

When it comes to people, here are five overlapping trends which help explain why management is facing labor shortages and employment conditions that will likely continue for some time:  

1.  Free to chooseThe "Great Resignation" is getting a lot of attention and rightfully so.  All told, over 38 million workers quit their jobs in 2021. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)  Surveys with exiting workers show the reasons for jumping ship include higher wages, better conditions, or different opportunities. Half of Americans who quit their jobs in 2021 made a career change. 

Indeed found that 92 percent of those who voluntarily left their jobs since March 2020 did so because "the pandemic made them feel life is too short to stay in a job they weren't passionate about."

This doesn't mean that everyone will have a job. No job seeker is fit for every job. 

2.  Job flexibility--the holy grail. Returning to the office may look different. The past two years have given white-collar workers the chance to manage their own schedules. Even while being on Zoom. And they like it. This arrangement proved helpful to parents whose children were in school online. 

The tech industry, and professional services, may find that a hybrid schedule fits well with newly adopted habits. As for a negotiating chip, flexibility could mean the difference between attracting qualified candidates and not. 


Hiring will also be more geographically dispersed--removing the pressure to live in high-cost housing markets.    

Full-time remote work has a downside. As more employees gather in corporate spaces, those working from home will be at a disadvantage when it comes to mentoring, acquiring behavioral skills, and collaborating with experienced colleagues.  

Former Google HR chief Laszlo Bock said, " 'Googlers' who come into the office less frequently will be at a disadvantage for promotions, pay bumps, and desirable assignments." 

The idea that out of sight is out of mind, rings true.

3.  Baby boomer retirements. From February 2020 to March 2021 up to 2.6 million more boomers retired than expected. (U.S. Federal Reserve, St. Louis) This heavily populated cohort might have left sooner were it not for the Great Recession (2007-2009). 

There are two sides to that departure coin. It opens opportunities for next-generation employees but a good deal of corporate culture, history, and know-how walk out the door.

4.  Demographic shifts. The working population has started shrinking across advanced economies--the first time since World War II. That decline squeezes the labor force causing prices to go up, contributing to inflationary pressures. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that Germany is seeking to attract 400,000 skilled foreigners a year. China, says the Journal, is expected to see its workforce shrink by 100 million over the next 15 years. That's like having nearly one-third of the current U.S. population disappear.

5.  A drift toward idleness.  Absence is compounding the labor shortage. The labor force participation rate, which peaked at 67 percent in 2000, is now 61.6 percent, 1.9 percent below pre-pandemic levels of 63.5 percent. 

One in eight men is neither working nor looking for work. (Nicholas Eberstadt, Ph.D.) Male students now make up a smaller share of all enrolled students in the U.S. than ever before--just 41% of students enrolled in a postsecondary institution in the fall of 2020 were men. (Brookings Institution)

This inactivity, along with an aging population, helps explain why there were 11.3 million job openings in the U.S. in February. 

Be creative

This is a time to innovate.  That means solving problems. Differentiating from competitors. Keeping the business alive.

Rethinking process, like the hotel industry making daily housekeeping optional, is an economical way to maintain essential services. 

(C) USA Today

Even the smallest company can be innovative with feedback from customers and employees.

"The pandemic prompted a widespread re-evaluation of our lives," says Dorie Clark, who teaches at Duke University. One study reported that 54 percent of Americans are currently re-examining their life priorities.  The situation is similar in the U.K.  "More than three-quarters of Britons said they were considering major life changes, from moving to quitting their jobs, to ending relationships," according to Global Future. 

A 2021 Pew Research study showed that only 17 percent of adults now cite their job or career as a source of meaning--down 7 percentage points from four years earlier.  

To improve retention, Professor Clark recommends leaders understand what motivates employees. "Recognizing new forces shaping their own career ambitions may enlighten what's going on with others."  

The most cost-effective HR initiative is to keep recruiting your own employees. Show your appreciation, dedication, and commitment to existing talent as a way to retain and expand your base. (An Adobe Principle)

For a free subscription to StrategistBlog, send your request to rbredholt@strategist.com

© Bredholt & Co. 

01 March 2022

What Kind of Leader Are You?

"Never violate the sacredness of your individual self-respect."

--Theodore Parker

Leaders think differently.

About themselves, the organization, and the world around them.  Thinking alike seldom contributes to anyone's success. How one develops personally and professionally benefits greatly by being distinctive in some way. In the arc of life, it pays to be different.

Dissimilarity applies to ideas and people. "Leaders must bring together diverse ideas, which often means engaging with differing perspectives and those with diverse backgrounds." (Journal of Character & Leadership Development, Summer 2021)

To be clear when speaking about leaders we're not necessarily equating that term with a position. Untitled leaders are found throughout most structures.     

Leadership styles

Much that's written about leaders has to do with "style."  Author, Joseph Garvey, reminds us of three from social-psychologist, Kurt Lewin:

  • Authoritarian Leadership (Autocratic).  The leader dictates policies and procedures and decides what objectives are to be completed.  Control is a major theme.
  • Participative Leadership (Democratic).  Here the members participate in the decision-making process. Team morale is higher and members are more engaged. Unfortunately, this style is noted for an absence of clear communication.
  • Delegative Leadership (Laissez-Faire). Team members receive little or no guidance from leaders and they are free to make their own decisions.  Tools are provided along with processes to make good decisions.  The groups solve problems on their own.
Max Weber and Bernard Bass add to the list of styles:
  • Transactional Leadership.  This style focuses on the role of supervision, organization, and group performance. Employees perform well when there is a clear chain of command in the organization.
Professor Bass expands the work of James MacGregor Burns with another concept:
  • Transformational Leadership.  This style enhances the motivation, morale, and performance of followers.  The traits of transformational leaders are energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate. 
Styles can fluctuate depending on the circumstances such as a crisis or restructuring. Nevertheless, they generally return to a predominant pattern of behaving.  

Leaders' personalities have a direct impact 
on behavior and corporate culture.

Leaders' personalities have a direct impact on behavior and corporate culture. Attributes such as integrity, courage, maturity, and caring for others have been found to support and promote strong executive and managerial effectiveness. (European Scientific Journal, July 2016) 

Being self-aware is the secret to better decision-making.

(C)  Mark Sanborn

Program evaluation

The Training Industry Report estimates that approximately $70 billion is spent annually on helping individuals to learn, grow, and change. With such a large expenditure of time and money, why do so many programs come up short?  

Areas of deficiency:

No long-term measures prove the permanency of training (Kivland and King, University of Illinois); lack of support from upper management; decoupling reflection from real work situations (Gurdjian, Halbeisen, and Lane; McKinsey & Company); and the absence of interest on the part of employees. (Panopto, Inc.) 

Where programs may need greater emphasis:

By taking a more deeply person-centered approach the cultivation of character can help leaders to successfully engage the opportunities and challenges of leadership in our complex and uncertain times.

Intellectual virtues, such as truth and understanding, are what we need for good thinking across situations combined with moral virtues which are at the heart of a well-lived life. (Edward Brooks, University of Oxford) 

Full disclosure 

Where does the burden of learning rest? Largely with the participants. Here's why:

1.  You are ultimately responsible for your own development. Even if you attend corporate-sponsored programs, with instructors, relevant courses, in off-site settings, the application and practice are up to you. The pursuit of knowledge is a personal decision.

2.  There's a need to acquire clarity on who you are. "The number one issue in leadership today is a failure of nerve to define oneself more clearly," wrote Edwin Friedman.  He goes on to say, "Self-differentiation is the ability to be in charge of self, even when others are actually trying to make a person different from how the person really is." 

Styles don't exist on their own. They emanate from who we are or are emulations. Family backgrounds have some say about who a leader is, how they relate to colleagues, and how they conduct themselves on the job.
Remember, you have to know who you 
are to be true to yourself. 

Remember, you have to know who you are to be true to yourself. 

3.  Leading means taking personal responsibility for your actions. "Freedom and responsibility--two faces of a single coin--are philosophical and theological, even political concepts but not really scientific ones. And before you can use them they must be clear to you," offers Dr. Peter Koestenbaum. 

4.  Are you willing to follow? "He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander," said Aristotle. 

5.  Seventy percent of leadership development requires the right kind of experience.  We don't always know what the right experiences are and therefore need guidance. Our life has the potential to become a deep well of past performance, good and bad. What do we take away from those experiences? That's what counts.

What makes up the 30 percent?  

Teachers. Networking. Peer learning. Reading. Continuing education. Colleagues and trusted friends. 

Employees don't work for an organization, they work for a supervisor. Having someone to properly observe us, help interpret our experiences, and offer wisdom about life is invaluable.  A supervisor with the right temperament can be one of the best things that happen early in one's career. Retention begins here.

And good mental health results from these kinds of personal, not remote, interactions with colleagues.  

Regardless, raising the level of maturity in associates, which is what mentoring is about, is a gift that keeps on giving.  


An extensive study of millennials (1980-1996) by Gallup gives us a closer look at a cohort that will be 40 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025. (U.S. Department of Labor)

What are those findings? Here are four:

--Millennials don't just want a paycheck, they want a purpose.

--Millennials are not pursuing job satisfaction, they are pursuing development.

--Millennials don't want bosses, they want coaches.

--Millennials don't want annual reviews, they want ongoing conversations.

Millennials differ in a few significant ways from their older counterparts, especially when it comes to using mobile technology. Yet, Gallup finds that millennials have plenty in common with Gen-Xers, baby boomers, and traditionalists. 

Demographic labels aside, there remain shared generational values plus the enduring nature of human need, including the honor and dignity that come with self-respect.

For a free subscription to StrategistBlog, send your request to rbredholt@strategist.com

© Bredholt & Co. 


01 February 2022

The Power of Belief

 “Some things have to be believed to be seen.”

--Madeleine L'Engle

An overlooked competitive advantage is a deeply held, empowering belief--in oneself, the enterprise, and its purpose. Shared belief makes execution possible. 

Beliefs, or principles, when embraced by a critical mass of employees (members, volunteers), have a far greater impact on your success than a plan. Why? A document seldom matches reality and tends to be outdated before it's implemented.  

The right ideas or beliefs inspire, they are motivational and a form of differentiation. Beliefs create vision and clarify purpose. They are characterized by their simplicity. One can begin to understand them when one hears them. And they can be explained to others. 

Plans are the opposite--verbose, and filled with complexity. 

"If your business beliefs are solid, you will quickly find a way to create new solutions when the old systems break down," says Bedros Keullian, writing in Entrepreneur Magazine.  "Innovation and pandemic economies will make your operations look completely different.  None of us can afford to get stuck on how we do business today. Hacks and quick fixes are going to become outdated almost as soon as they appear," notes Keullian.  

Loyalty is a two-way street

It wasn't that long ago employers made a practice of handing out pink slips to employees, often the result of restructuring a business undone by management mistakes.  Now, the reverse is underway where employees are handing out pink slips to employers.  

The number of U.S. workers who quit their jobs reached a new high in November 2021, when 4.5 million people resigned.  That's up from 4.2 million in October of the same year.  

According to the Society for HR Management (SHRM), workers are taking advantage of strong demand to look for jobs with better pay or working conditions.  Flexibility, not remote work, is becoming a driving force for departing associates.

The other side of strategy

What else should job seekers be looking for in their next employer?

A business with a strong sense of purpose at its core.

The more admired small and medium-size workplaces among millennials (NerdWallet, Better.com, Evergreen Loans) or larger companies (Cisco, Salesforce, Red Hat) long ago moved away from outdated strategy-structure-systems which were created at the turn of the last century.  That design made people irreplaceable parts, especially in manufacturing.

In 1994, Christopher Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal published an article in Harvard Business Review and described purpose-based cultures this way:
  1. First, they place less emphasis on following a clear strategic plan than on building a rich, engaging corporate purpose. 
  2. Next, they focus less on formal structural design and more on effective management processes. 
  3. Finally, they are less concerned with controlling employees’ behavior than with developing their capabilities and broadening their perspectives. 
Bartlett and Ghoshal show that adaptive organizations "have moved beyond the old doctrine of strategy, structure, and systems to a softer, more organic model built on the development of purpose, process, and people."

The research reveals that employees don't just want to work for a company. They want to belong to an organization. 

The redemption of Delta Air Lines 

In 2020, U.S. airline travel plummeted by 90%. 

When Covid made its disruptive appearance, Delta Air Lines lost 95% of its revenues in 30 days. The steep fall was more than financial. Leading up to that moment, Delta was the best-performing airline in the world. 

"While we were seen as the leaders in the industry, as the champions in our own sort of way, Covid leveled all of that. It took all of our advantages away, and we had to start over again," said Ed Bastian, Delta's CEO, in an interview with Chief Executive Magazine.

"We're emerging on top with an even stronger brand, a stronger company, a stronger passion and purpose for where we're going.  That comes from the fact we've had to learn.  We had to listen to each other, we had to rely on each other, we had to follow our instincts, and we had to keep very focused," Bastian added.  

Consider the backdrop for this current turnaround--9/11; a 2006 takeover attempt by US Airways; Delta files for bankruptcy in 2007; and a 2008 merger with Northwest. 

(C) Delta Air Lines, Inc.

Within that historical context, Delta's leader let it be known there are more questions than answers in a global pandemic.  

The CEO offered this candid appraisal of the circumstances facing Delta--

"Leaders are looked to for direction and guidance, and there's a vulnerability and authenticity to letting people know that I'm just not sure where this is going, but having the confidence to know we're going to figure it out."

Consequential decisions 

"I set out the principles, right in the second week of March 2020, that we were going to focus on protecting each other. We didn't know how the business was going to come back, but we were going to do our very best to protect our people, our customers, their safety. We were going to protect our cash, but also protect our future. And those were the guiding principles all throughout the pandemic," Bastian emphasized in that same interview.

The reward?

In The Wall Street Journal's 14th annual ranking of nine major airlines by operational performance in 2021, Delta Air Lines came out on top.  Delta took the top spot in five of seven categories, with a cancelation rate of just 0.6% in scheduled departures.

"If employees are to put out extraordinary efforts to realize company targets, they must be able to identify with them. It's fine to stress what to aim for, but people also need to know what the company stands for," Bartlett and Ghoshal conclude.

Delta's redemptive story makes the point.

Headwinds remain

Any comeback for the travel industry faces turbulence. In addition to Delta, other carriers such as American Airlines, United, and Southwest are looking at a potential loss of highly profitable business travelers, though what percentage is an educated guess. 

Face-to-face still makes a difference. As someone observed, "The beauty of communication is found in the nuance that's only felt with in-person conversations." How true that is.    

As a friend and global traveler, Bobbi Smisko likes to say, "In order to know you got to go."  

Covid variants, unruly passengers, and 36% higher jet fuel costs than a year ago, according to Aviation Weekly, require confidence to "figure it out." 

Look in the mirror, first

"The level of success you see in your life is a direct result of your belief system. What I mean is your belief in your ability to succeed," advises Lyn Christian.  

Christian goes on to say, "Believing in yourself means having faith in your own capabilities. It means believing that you CAN do something--that it is within your ability. When you believe in yourself, you can overcome self-doubt and have the confidence to take action and get things done."

After two harrowing years, Delta Air Lines team members can testify to the power of belief--in leadership, themselves, and above all, a reason-to-be.  

*I am a long-standing Delta SkyMiles member. 

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© Bredholt & Co. 

01 January 2022

Making the Most of 2022

 "Don't miss out on something that could be great just because it could also be difficult."


How well are you positioned to take advantage of the next 365 days?

To sort through that question, here's an outline for thinking about 2022. 


In calculating risk our preference is to identify "assumptions" since they have to be updated less often than predictions.  

Here are three to consider:

1.  Even with vaccines and newer medicines, COVID-19 remains as a variant of interest (VOI) or variant of concern (VOC) like Delta and Omicron for another year.  If the coronavirus moves from a pandemic (spread is exponential) to an endemic or flu-like status (consistently present in certain areas), how will that transition affect government policy, business practices, consumer behavior, and civil liberties?    

2.   It's costing more to live and operate a business.  Energy costs continue climbing though gasoline declines for now. Food and major purchases such as housing, new and used vehicles are experiencing significant price increases. Returning to offices raises the cost of operating buildings (cleaning and air filtration systems). The poor and middle class are most directly impacted by price inflation.  Flush with cash higher-income households are keeping segments of the economy going strong, especially real estate.

3.  The hunt for talent heats up. Professional workers are gaining the upper hand when it comes to salaries and benefits. Work-from-home (WFH) is still up for grabs. Changes in compensation are squeezing small businesses and nonprofits with larger companies finding ways to adjust.  Hiring the right people was challenging before the pandemic and has only gotten worse with Baby Boomer retirements in the past two years. In the U.S. more than 24 million people have left their jobs since April 2021. Most are still in the labor market but looking for greener pastures and less stress in their careers. 

No matter the unemployment trends, good people (character, work ethic) are hard to find.  

Five propositions
  • It pays to think ahead. Incrementalism is influencing strategy as the private sector responds to changing consumer demands and government mandates. For the longer term, the discipline of thinking two steps ahead should find its way into thought processes and decision-making. Constantly reacting exacts an emotional toll. Those who are most likely to do well in 2022 have an idea where they want to be in 2023, 2024, and 2025--even if they can't know the details ahead of time. Those fighting for survival need to keep the future in mind. Struggling to stay alive is often motivated by a strong sense of livelihood and imagining what could be.  
  • Reduce the noise. Questionable values are vying the hardest for our attention. Too much of what's allowed in our minds is morally suspect. Media and technology capture and sell personal data offering little in return. Most of what we hear are loud and unpleasant noises. And the clamor is a nemesis to clarity.  "Noise is the unwanted variability of judgments," writes Nobel prize-winning author, Daniel Kahneman and Olivier Sibony. Screens of all sizes are like thieves stealing our most valuable possession--time and the potential for improving what we do. How to fit moments of silence and reflection somewhere in busy lives. Why? To increase self-awareness, have greater discernment about people, and carefully consider the opportunities before us.
  • Don't borrow trouble. That short phrase recalled by Grammarist is an idiom that means don’t worry about something before it's time to worry about it. The idea is that worrying doesn't solve anything, and we often worry about things that never happen. The editors say that this kind of worrying wastes time and energy and distracts from things that should command our attention today. Whenever possible, don't make an issue critical before it's time.
  • Justified concerns need attention. Another incentive for not appropriating trouble is that it frees up time for scrutinizing and solving the more serious problems. Identifying and making these concerns a priority could save your business. Not responding promptly to real trouble endangers lives. As someone once observed, "Disasters are most often an accumulation of events." The fatal Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986 comes to mind.  
  • Courage triumphs over fear. Wisdom and courage make it possible to do something demanding--like running a business, college, medical practice, house of worship, or charity--in the middle of a pandemic. An important lesson about fear and courage comes from "The Wizard of Oz"--Don't be a victim of disorganized thinking, which is a principal source of fear. "You have plenty of courage, I am sure," answered Oz. "All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty."  
So don't miss out on the good that 2022 has in store-difficult though the times may be.


© Bredholt & Co.

01 December 2021

Can You Be Trusted?

 "No virtue is more universally accepted as a test of good character than trustworthiness."

--Harry Emerson Fosdick

The year 2021 is a milestone having now spent 50 years in business.  Nine years working for closely-held companies; 41 years in private consulting practice with corporations and nonprofits.  There was a concurrent 21-year collaboration with The Gallup Organization as well.

Adding summer employment during college years expands the mix to include practical experience gained at General Motors in Flint, Michigan.  My principal assignment at GM in the 1960s, thanks to Howard Johnson and Richard Wirsing, was that of an office clerk.  

I served plant superintendents when full-time clerks went on vacation.  Typing letters. Screening phone calls. Scheduling meetings with union representatives. Make sure company-provided white dress shirts got sent to the laundry each week. And most importantly, keeping a superintendent's confidence.

Our time at GM was priceless.


According to the website, thebalance.com, there were six U.S. recessions since the early 1970s:  1973-75; 1980-82; 1990-91; 2001; 2008-09 (Great Recession); and 2020 (the worst since the Great Depression).

Covid-19 and a global pandemic (March 2020 to the present) caused the U.S. economy to contract a record 31.4% in the second quarter of 2020 with a loss of nearly 21 million jobs in April of last year.  A strong recovery is underway but it's uneven among businesses, households, and communities.

It's always a shock to the system (ego) when, in a crisis, variables we think we control and manage are found to control and manage us.  Think about how much we don't know. 

Last year's initial exposure to a global pandemic, subsequent lockdowns, with cries for help (from businesses and nonprofits) should have humbled everyone. But humility is rare and fleeting.     


A lot happens in five decades. Thus our observations and formal studies of leaders and leadership (they're not the same things), allow us to draw some conclusions.  

What have we learned?

... Like vehicles from the auto industry, effective leaders (executives, managers, supervisors) come in all makes and models. Consistent performers offer an assortment of styles complemented by healthy dispositions. 

Dynamic personalities make good copy but introverts make great leaders. "They are calm, good listeners, don't like to micromanage, and tend to resist self-defeating impulses," according to a Great Place to Work analysis.

... Not far from any successful leader is an executive or administrative assistant who helped that person function well under tight deadlines. Assistants make an executive's promptness and preparedness possible by serving with a diverse set of skills.  The ones we met knew how to hold trust.  

... Employees gravitate not to politicians but to leaders who know who they are, and what they believe.  Who let everyone know what they will and will not do. Those values and clarity give voice to moral authority and create boundaries for acceptable behavior. 

... A chief executive role is hard.  From 2003 to 2013 about a quarter of CEO departures from Fortune 500 companies were involuntary, according to the Conference Board.   

... What contributes to any leaders' problems? Poor hiring decisions; postponing decisions; avoiding conflict; lack of truthfulness; and the economy. 

Mercurial temperaments are not necessarily controlling but they tend to make people unreliable.

... Someone to watch carefully is Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO since 2014.  His company priorities of creating clarity, energy, and success regardless of the circumstances, are secondary to family commitments.  Known for empathy and a relational style, the India-born Nadella is leading Microsoft to a new level of success. Close to 90% of Microsoft's value has been generated under Satya Nadella's leadership. 

Satya Nadella, Microsoft Chairman and CEO
(C) Microsoft

... "Where are all the women CEOs," was a February 2020 headline in The Wall Street Journal.  The article went on to ask why when women earn the majority of college degrees and make up roughly half the workforce do so few occupy the chief executive job.  Women today lead 167 of the U.S.'s top 3,000 companies. That's more than double the share a decade ago, but still under 6%, the paper reported.  

What explains this imbalance?

... Wanting to improve their performance, leaders sometimes chased fads, imitating celebrity CEOs like Steve Jobs of Apple and Jack Welch of G.E.  More recently, Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame.

However, any time someone moves from their natural state they run the risk of losing their genuine identity.  Comparing oneself to others produces what results?  It's a practice that makes it harder to discover our inner self--the only one that can be improved.  

"Be like me" was an enticing message for those climbing the corporate ladder. Most pied pipers offered formulas that proved difficult to replicate as organizational culture and competencies are seldom transferable. Buying ideas and clothing have this in common--both should fit properly.

... Publishers took advantage of the next big thing by selling millions of books now available on eBay or sitting on shelves in the basements of public libraries. The exceptions may be "Good to Great," by Jim Collins, (four million copies), and "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," by Patrick Lencioni (three million copies).  

(C) Canberra Weekly

... Several management concepts spread quickly over the past 50 years, including "teams."  A few theories have proven themselves such as execution, a learning organization, and having the right corporate values. On the flip side 360-degree feedback, business process reengineering, and management by objectives are long past their prime.  

Nevertheless, organizations are faced with a troubling inversion--the more leadership is promoted the less there is of it.  CareerBuilder survey of 3,625 workers in the government and private sectors found that only 34% of respondents have the goal of moving into a leadership position. 


What does a half-century career bring to mind about leadership? The missing component of a larger whole is wisdom.

Having experience in finance, marketing, or operations is a given.  People skills and an ability to communicate are musts.  Add to that an understanding of how to deploy technology to compete in a digital economy. 

However, our interest in this post is examining the attributes that support or the deficiencies which detract from those leadership skills. 

Here are five:  

  • The importance of character and trust. No matter the nature, size, or structure of an enterprise, nothing substitutes for having trusted leaders, those with strong moral character.  The goal is consistency, not perfection, as human beings make mistakes.  Can a person with significant responsibility be trusted to acknowledge and correct their errors?   It's difficult, if not impossible, for someone who betrays trust to remain in a position of authority and responsibility.  
  • Being self-aware, with an awareness of your surroundings.  How many leaders have you worked for who have no conscious knowledge of their own character and feelings? That condition is a cause of failed leadership. Not knowing who you are or what you believe is a serious affliction. Some have self-awareness but are oblivious to the conditions around them.  Holistic leadership requires internal and external awareness, especially when the environment for a business or nonprofit is changing and everyone knows it but you.   
  • Leadership development is self-development. Programs to improve the quality of leaders have more success when built upon this idea--that everyone is ultimately responsible for their own development.  Managing oneself is essential to personal and professional improvement.  The company may provide an in-house university of courses and instructors but that design only bears fruit if the persons enrolled are learning, growing, and changing.  Maturity is an overlooked strength. Getting the right experiences is the best school to attend.    
  • Most leaders don't want feedback. It's rare for someone to seek your opinion and really want it. By the time an idea is on the table, it's close to being approved.  A leader with a full measure of wisdom seeks counsel and knows how to use that advice when thinking about anything.  It may be worth asking those who have to execute a change in hiring practices what they think. Offering a good question (have you considered this?) may be more valuable than a quick answer.
  • Leadership at the top is over-rated. While leadership across the organization is underrated.  Associates don't work for a company, they work for supervisors.  Those on the front lines who possess great communication skills help create a positive attitude with customers and employees.  Studies show that staff who have a good relationship with a supervisor or manager enjoy their job more and stay at the company longer.  What's that worth in a season where a record-high number of people are quitting their jobs? 

We have arrived, now, where we began, with this virtuous thought--can you be trusted?   

Regardless of background or station in life, and setting aside anxieties and doubts which only serve to undermine, may it be said that one of the distinguishing qualities of your character is that you are trustworthy in all things.  


© Bredholt &  Co. 

01 November 2021

Quiet Generosity

"You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you."

— John Bunyan

In 2020, a year in which a global pandemic caused the world to stand still, financial giving to charitable organizations in the U.S. reached a record $421.44 billion. These contributions came from individuals, bequests, foundations, and corporations.

This information, reported by Giving USA, shows that total contributions for a variety of causes grew 5.1% measured in current dollars.

Laura MacDonald, chair of Giving USA Foundation, says "2020 represents the highest year of charitable giving on record."  A strong year-end stock market, Covid-19, and racial justice concerns all contributed to this generous response.  

The donors

Here's a look at giving by source--

+Giving by individuals totaled an estimated $324.10 billion, rising 2.2% in 2020.

+Giving by foundations increased 17.0% to an estimated $88.55 billion, reaching its highest-ever dollar amount.

+Giving by bequest was an estimated $41.91 billion and grew 10.3% from 2019.  This is a category that fluctuates from year to year. 

-Giving by corporations is estimated to have declined by 6.1% in 2020 to $16.88 billion.

The recipients

Who were the top beneficiaries?

+Giving to religion grew slightly by 1.0% between 2019 and 2020 with an estimated $131.08 billion in contributions.  Adjusted for inflation, giving to religion was flat in 2020.


+Giving to education is estimated to have increased 9.0% to $71.34 billion.  Education giving includes contributions to K-12, higher education, and libraries.  This category benefited from a strong year-end stock market.

(C) College of Charleston

+Giving to human services increased by an estimated 9.7% in 2020 totaling $65.14 billion.


+Giving to foundations is estimated to have increased by 2.0% to $58.17 billion.

(C) Foundation Group

An uneven picture

There are other aspects to this nearly half-trillion-dollar story.

Ms. MacDonald, the Foundation chair, adds that while the totals are record-setting, individual households and certain charities may look different with many facing hardships.

"In some ways, 2020 is a story of uneven impact and uneven recovery. Many wealthier households were more insulated from the effects of Covid-19, and the ensuing economic shock, and they have had a greater capacity to give charitably than households and communities that were disproportionately affected and struggled financially," said Amir Pasic, Ph.D., Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Motivations for giving

The Lilly research briefly highlights why people gave. Donors responded to urgent needs in a pandemic ravaged 2020. Individuals stepped up their support for charitable organizations through mutual aid efforts and person-to-person giving. 

"Nonprofit leaders and fundraising professionals helped themselves by showing innovation in fundraising methods and donor outreach in raising financial support under difficult circumstances," Lilly notes. 

For most, pre-existing relationships provided a base of support while making new connections was harder to pull off.  

A spirit of generosity

The Giving USA report for 2020 focuses on financial giving.  However, there are other ways people can give that don't require wealth such as donating to local food banks and volunteering time feeding the homeless.  

The University of Notre Dame's Science of Generosity initiative provides an insightful look at the concept itself.  In its roots, generosity meant "of noble birth." Over time that meaning began to change. Generosity evolved from family heritage to a nobility of spirit that would be found in people everywhere.  It no longer depended on family history but whether a person actually possessed a spirit of generosity.   

"Generosity, properly understood, could call any given person to a higher standard," the Science study concludes.

An up-to-date definition of "generosity" refers to the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.

The Notre Dame research offers plenty to think about--

  • Generosity is a learned character trait that involves attitude and action.
  • Generosity is not a random idea or haphazard behavior but a mature form, a basic, personal, moral orientation to life.
  • Generosity also involves giving to others not simply anything in abundance but rather giving those things that are good for others.
  • What generosity gives may vary--money, possessions, time, attention, and encouragement, emotional availability, and more.
  • Thus generosity, like all the virtues, is in people's genuine enlightened self-interest to learn and practice.
Gratitude makes a difference

There may be times when for good reasons lead gifts in a financial campaign come with naming privileges.  Or major donors give publicly encouraging others to do the same. What's notable in a culture of self-gratification, is that the vast majority of the $421 billion charitable dollars in 2020 were given unobtrusively. Those donors being grateful for what they have and willingly share with others.

And who gives might be surprising.

Sociologists Christian Smith, Michael Emerson, and Patricia Zell Herzog looked carefully at giving and broadened the social character of those who give generously.  They found a reservoir of value in the giving of time, emotions, and energy through volunteer work.  

"Volunteering is, in fact, a consistent bright spot among researchers," they wrote.  "People who do it tend to do it often and support thousands of institutions, nonprofits, and other groups that would not exist without this free work." 

In a 2000 person Internet survey conducted in 2010, the authors found that some 60% of the people surveyed who live below the poverty line gave something, versus 32% of those above the line.

Developing cheerful givers

Looking for teachable moments? Here are four from "American Generosity:  Who Gives and Why:"

1.  Seasonal giving helps build a habit in busy lives. 

2. The amount of time, energy, and money that people give go up if it's routine.

3. A huge predictor of giving is exposure to generosity as a child.  

4. Most people who participate in giving as kids, especially as volunteers, continue that habit as an adult.  

What else do we need to know? 

The writer, D. L. Hope, suggests that giving is best carried out by not mingling motives.

"If you want to call attention to your good deed then it isn't a good deed, it's a self-serving one."

(C) 123RF

From Notre Dame's study on the science of generosity to 2020's record results, there's much to be said about the practice of cheerfully giving good things to others, freely, abundantly--and quietly. 


© Bredholt & Co.