Volume 7, Issue 8
ã 2005 Hopkins and Company, LLC
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Former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers gets a stiff jail sentence for his corporate malfeasance, while HealthSouth’s former Richard Scrushy is acquitted by a jury and may want his old job back. The combination of those stories with reading the 6th Harry Potter book led us to thinking about the wavy, sometimes invisible line between good and evil in the workplace. There’s a line to be drawn, and many of the best executives take the lead in ensuring that all employees understand what behavior is unacceptable. Other executives can push for results, and come across as indifferent to how that success is achieved. Workers wanting to please sang along with Madonna, “Borderline feels like I’m going to lose my mind. You just keep on pushing my love over the borderline.” Maybe some singers replaced the words with “lose my job” and “pushing my team.” Continued success can evade scrutiny, and underlying behavior can be masked. Missteps lead to close examination, and lines are drawn precisely in hindsight. In this month’s issue, we examine a few recent stories in the news about the way some executives deal with drawing lines in the workplace. As you observe what others have done, reflect on your own situation. How can you improve the alignment of your organization to draw a line in the right place, one that will keep you and your organization out of trouble? When you push for results, do you convey the message that “anything goes?” When someone sings about you, will it be the blues?
Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. One book is highly recommended with a four-star rating; eleven books are recommended with three stars; two are mildly recommended with two star ratings, and one book has a one-star recommendation. Visit our 2005 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2005books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all books we’re reading or considering this year. With the twenty six new books added to the Shelf of Possibility in July, there are 264 books not yet read and reviewed. Only 60 of those will make the cut for our reviews through year end. If there’s something missing from the bookshelf that you think we should be considering, or if there’s a book lingering on the Shelf of Possibility that you think we should read and review, let us know by sending a message to email@example.com.
Readers who haven’t been sated yet by the many stories of borderline practices at AIG under Hank Greenberg’s leadership will enjoy a comprehensive story titled, “All I Want in Life is an Unfair Advantage,” in the August 8 issue of Fortune (http://www.fortune.com/fortune/ceo/articles/0,15114,1086177,00.html). The article opens with a story about a former AIG attorney who resigned in 1992 after just eight months on the job. Attorney Michael Joye heard from an employee that AIG was improperly booking workers’ compensation premiums and cheating state governments. Joye investigated, found out this was true, and discovered that CEO Hank Greenberg knew about it. According to Fortune, “Greenberg’s name—or his initials, by which he was known inside the company—kept coming up. In some 40 pages of handwritten notes, Joye scribbled down employees’ accounts, including such comments as ‘MRG knows the whole prog. & that he wants it this way.’ And ‘You should be aware that MRG knows about this and has approved it.’ According to Joye’s notes, one employee even described a meeting about the matter at which Greenberg had asked, ‘Are we legal?’ When an employee responded, ‘If we were legal, we wouldn’t be in business,’ Greenberg ‘began laughing, and that was the end of it.’” Following his investigation, Joye recommended that AIG “needed to end the illegal practices immediately, fire all those involved, report the violations, and make restitution.” Nothing happened, purportedly because Greenberg said it would be too expensive. Joye resigned, but kept his AIG files, and gave them to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in 2005. At the end of the article, new AIG CEO Martin Sullivan says, “In the future … AIG will prosper ‘with the right controls and checks and balances in place, and the right level of compliance. And candidly, they're not mutually exclusive.’”
may have thought “borderline personality disorder” when you read the page one
headline of this issue. The title story of the July issue of Fast Company asked, “Is Your Boss a Psychopath?” (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/96/open_boss.html)
Fast Company asks, “Are corporations fundamentally psychopathic organizations that
attract similarly disposed people? It's a compelling idea, especially given
the recent evidence. Such scandals as Enron and WorldCom aren't just
aberrations; they represent what can happen when some basic currents in our
business culture turn malignant. We're worshipful of
top executives who seem charismatic, visionary, and tough. So long as they're
lifting profits and stock prices, we're willing to overlook that they can
also be callous, conning, manipulative, deceitful, verbally and
psychologically abusive, remorseless, exploitative, self-delusional,
irresponsible, and megalomaniacal. So we collude in the elevation of leaders
who are sadly insensitive to hurting others and society at large.” The
article dwells on the hurting others aspect, and the easy time some
executives can have in convincing others that they reciprocate our loyalty
and friendship. Two suggested ways to avoid psychopaths at work:
psychological tests for screening, and building a “culture of openness and
trust.” Amateur psychologists at work will want to administer the self-test
to see if you or your boss fits the profile.
When do certain qualities of personality become disorders? What behavior are you willing to overlook when results are being achieved? How tolerant are you of behavior at work that hurts others? Does your culture attract individuals with personality disorders? Does your screening include psychological profiling that may assist you in avoiding hiring those who will wreak havoc at your organization?
All executives set a tone for what personal topics are taboo and what ones are appropriate for sharing in the workplace. Sue Shellenbarger’s Work and Family column in the July 21 issue of The Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB112190387436791556,00.html) explores what personal topics some individuals choose to disclose or keep quiet about at work. According to Shellenbarger, more workers seem to be opening up at work about topics that had been taboo. While “Sharing information is required to build trust,” and “…in a few good workplaces, employees already are able to break all the rules,” it’s probably wise for most workers to keep quiet about medical issues, intimate matters, and anything that is “so deeply emotional that they risk offending someone who might feel differently.” “Today's new openness has done more than confuse people, however. Down the road, as we figure out case by case where to draw the line, it will have major benefits, breaking down old prejudices and expanding the potential for constructive change at work.”
What personal topics are taboo in your workplace? What personal topics do you encourage others to tell you about? How sensitive are you and others in your organization to the challenges faced by the fellow human beings with whom you work?
How does your workplace deal with slurs? Would someone who overhears inappropriate remarks know what you expect them to do? Do you know what you would expect them to do? What do you do when you hear an inappropriate remark? What actions does your organization take in monitoring and enforcing appropriate computer use? Is your organization at risk for accusations of a hostile work environment because of offensive images? What have you done to communicate what is offensive and unacceptable at work? Where have you drawn a line? What lines may need to be drawn?
Here are selected updates on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:
examined Lance Armstrong and the
Tour de France in the August 2004
issue of Executive Times from a variety
of perspectives. Now that he’s won Le Tour for the record seventh time, and
is retiring from professional cycling, we’ve found out one reason for his
success that we hadn’t mentioned earlier. We happened to read in The
Journal of Applied Physiology (http://www.edb.utexas.edu/coyle/content/armstrong%20article%20JAP.pdf)
that University of Texas Human Performance Laboratory researcher Dr.
Edward Coyle has measured Armstrong over eight years, and recorded growth
in the size of his heart (which started out larger than usual) and concluded,
“It appears that an 8% improvement in muscular efficiency and thus power
production when cycling at a given oxygen uptake is the characteristic that
improved most as this athlete matured from ages 21 to 28 yr. It is noteworthy
that at age 25 yr, this champion developed advanced cancer, requiring
surgeries and chemotherapy. During the months leading up to each of his Tour
de France victories, he reduced body weight and body fat by 4–7 kg (i.e.,
7%). Therefore, over the 7-yr period, an improvement in muscular efficiency
and reduced body fat contributed equally to a remarkable 18% improvement in
his steady-state power per kilogram body weight when cycling at a given V˙O2
(e.g., 5 l/min). It is hypothesized that the improved muscular efficiency
probably reflects changes in muscle myosin type stimulated from years of
training intensely for 3–6 h on most days.” We’ll be real disappointed if
after years of negative drug tests, it turns out that Lance crossed the line
and used some performance enhancing drugs. This article shows that Lance’s
large heart beats real fast while cycling, and rests in the range of 32 beats
a minute. With a large fast-pumping heart, and lighter weight during the
Tour, Lance sent consistent and enduring power to his legs proving his
success as a superb and unique endurance athlete.
In 1943, Mary T. Washington became the first
African American woman to become a Certified Public Accountant (the second was
in 1968). She started her own accounting business in her basement while a
student. “Her first business partner, Hiram Pittman, once described it as an
‘Underground Railroad’ for aspiring black C.P.A.'s, who came from across the
country to work there because they needed the experience to earn the
accounting credential.” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obituaries/chi-0507140293jul14,1,667928.story)
“’Mary was a very driven woman but also very conscious of people and their
feelings,’ said Frederick Ford, vice chairman of the board at Draper and
Kramer Inc. He cut his accounting teeth as a staff auditor with her firm in
the late 1940s and early '50s. ‘She was a stickler for details and for
getting it right, and, for me anyhow, it was a wonderful place to get a
start. I learned how important it was to do as nearly to
perfect work as you could.’” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obituaries/chi-0507140293jul14,1,667928.story)
Her firm went on to become one of the largest black-owned accounting firms in
the country. Thanks to her leadership, there were more black CPAs in
Latest Books Read and Reviewed:
(Note: readers of the web version of Executive Times can click on the book covers to order copies directly from amazon.com. When you order through these links, Hopkins & Company receives a small payment from amazon.com. Click on the title to read the review or visit our 2005 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2005books.html).
2005 Hopkins and Company, LLC. Executive
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