PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND FRAUD, UNETHICAL BEHAVIOR

THE PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND FRAUD, UNETHICAL BEHAVIOR AND THE HARD-CORE
WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL

 

–THE SYNTONIC SYNDROME–

Throughout 26 years of working with all levels of management in a variety of organizations and businesses around the world, I have discovered a pattern — a syndrome — that is indicative of whether an organization, whether a start-up or Fortune 500, is headed toward an “Enron” meltdown as the result of
unhealthy leadership. Enron, and the resulting fraudulent practices that were uncovered, was not the exception, just a symptom of a problem that all companies and organizations face, large and small, public or private, people-oriented or not.

 

 

 

“Unhealthy” leaders do more than use their power to serve their own self-interests. They exercise a certain combination of psychological and mental traits that lead them to their own undoing and, when the organizational culture permits, the undoing of everyone around them. I call this combination of traits the “Syntonic Syndrome.”

 

The focus of this article then is not the realm of accounting and business practices that is normally associated with corporate wrong-doing; rather, it is the exploration of a psychological syndrome that greatly impacts business conditions. It therefore is necessary to use psychological theory, research and
terms when explaining it, which I will liberally punctuate with true stories and examples to demonstrate the traits and manifestations of this syndrome.

 

Why exactly is this topic so important? As a client recently said, “We are not talking about flawed employees or managers; the Syntonic Syndrome refers to ‘fatally flawed’ people.” If executives are to prevent misconduct in those who work with or under them, then they must grasp clearly the psychological
and situational factors that invite a particularly dangerous type of problem into their organization.

 

Let’s begin with a true story about a small but growing brokerage firm brought to its knees by a syntonic person:

He seemed like a sure bet. CEO Bill and his executive team were very pleased with their new hire, a bright and talented broker we’ll call Gil who soon proved himself to be an absolute wizard at building new clientele. Bill believed in integrity and excellent customer service, which were the two key reasons his company was growing so fast. He also believed in a high profit margin, and soon he had Gil helping to train the other brokers.

 

Gil was happy to do so; he seemed to like the recognition. When he made suggestions at company meetings, people listened. Everything was going extremely well — in fact, so well that Bill and his executive team gave Gil a great deal of autonomy.

 

 

About four months later, problems began to surface. Gil felt that Bill should make changes (including changes in his commission structure). He also wanted a place on the executive team. Bill and the
executive team had already rewarded Gil twice, and were not willing at this time to go any further. Gil kept pushing. When Bill finally decided to take back some of the authority he had given Gil, he found to his horror that Gil had been doing a lot more than managing his own clientele. Over the months he had built a clique of brokers who were his “favorites.” Bill had been dimly aware that good brokers had left in the past few months but never really questioned why. Now he knew: they were not part of Gil’s group of favored brokers who got first pick of client prospects (after Gil) and they left.

 

 

Gil’s favorites also had been getting an earful about Bill for months and they now viewed him with great disdain. Thus, when Bill finally confronted Gil, the whole group of brokers walked. The company was crippled since brokerage services were still their bread and butter. The final blow came when the SEC called a month later with concerns over illegal trades. The company folded.

 

Over the years, I have encountered enough “Gils” and observed them over a sufficient period of time in a variety of situations to recognize three things:

 

1. There are not many of them (about 5% of a company’s workforce), but it only takes one to create complete havoc.

 

2. There is a pattern or syndrome in both their mental makeup and the resulting actions that can be found across this group of people.

 

3. The old saying “One bad apple will spoil the whole barrel” is especially apt for this group – destruction ranges from wasted time, money and resources, and generally culminates in the destruction of the company (Enron).

Traits to Look For

1. The person is ego-syntonic, meaning there is a central tendency to re-arrange external events so that they are continually interpreted in one’s favor, often at the expense of another.

2. The person probably has a personality disorder, a pattern of inner conflict and conflict with people that leads to great distress or impairment and is stable over time.

3. The person has a high IQ.

4. The person accords differential treatment to people within the company.

5. The person seeks to control decision-making and twist processes for their own gain.

In addition, there are certain factors in organizations that tend to encourage the Syntonic Syndrome, if the
person has it.

“Cowboy” or “gung-ho” culture, with compensation tied to individual performance

 

Dangerous performance reward systems

 

Laissez-faire style leadership

Develop emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills

 

Use 360 degree performance assessments to determine “managerial self-awareness”

 

A step-by-step process for managing the person out of the organization

First we will look at the Syntonic Syndrome in the person, and then the other two areas will be discussed.

 

Being ego-syntonic refers to the aspects of a person’s behavior, thoughts and attitude that are viewed by the self as acceptable and consistent with their total (American Psychiatric Glossary).

 

The term goes as far back as Freud and is often contrasted with “ego-dystonic,” which refers to aspects of a person’s behavior, thoughts and attitudes that are viewed by the self as repugnant or inconsistent with the total personality (American Psychiatric Glossary, p. ).

 

Being ego-syntonic is not necessarily a bad thing. If I help a little old lady to cross the street, I can feel proud of my altruistic behavior, and I see it as consistent with my core values, one of which is to be of service to others.

 

But what if the little old lady didn’t want to cross the street? If you are engaging in activities that you think are good for others but they do not feel are good for themselves, we have a problem.

 

Your deed might appear harmless at the moment and indeed your intentions might be good. But the outcome, because you missed important facts in the situation, caused you to think and do something that could come back to haunt you when the lady starts screaming at you and a police
officer happens to be nearby.

 

The vast majority of people would certainly stop at this point and apologize profusely, realizing that they had somehow missed important cues (i.e.: the lady seemed resistant when I took her arm but I really wanted to make that traffic light). In other words, you now shift to being ego-dystonic,
being mad at yourself (or feeling guilty) for not acting in accordance with both your and the other person’s wishes. Your values do not allow you to engage in behavior that would knowingly hurt another.

 

There are people, however, who would not be able to make this shift. It’s not that they lack a value for helping others, but they would not be able to stop, take stock of their behavior, see where they made the error in interpretation and take responsibility. Instead, there is a tendency to take
the data — the hard facts so to speak — and re-interpret them so that their original point of view is maintained. Thus, the little old lady screaming clearly that she does not want to cross the street is turned around in this dangerously ego-syntonic mind to mean that this old lady is the one who is confused or wacky, that it is she who has the problem, and that she doesn’t recognize that this is for her own good. In other words, this person can view their act as nothing but good, and if others don’t see it or the end results don’t warrant it, that is their problem.

This true story is an example of a person who exhibits signs of a borderline personality disorder. It is just one of ten different types of personality disorders officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association (See Table 1., pp. 5-6).

There is still a great deal of research needed to be done to accurately map out and define the extent of the disorder we will be discussing, but enough is coming to light that it demands to be considered in the business world.

I had done training for the finance department of a large retail operation located in the South for several years. This organization has one of the healthiest organizational cultures I have ever known. Not only do people love to work there, but it has achieved, and continues to achieve, phenomenal success in a relatively short period of time.

One woman in the department — I’ll call her Joyce — latched on to me during my first visit when she discovered that, like her, I came from the Midwest. She immediately confided that it was very difficult working for Southerners; they “iced” her out. Also, when she had to speak to people within the company for not doing certain tasks they were supposed to do, she received feedback
that she was too confrontational.

Joyce lived alone and did not seem to have made many, if any, friends during the 5 years she had lived in the area. I made several suggestions but, in each instance, she gave the same reason as to why the suggestion would not work: the Southerners’ unwillingness to have a “real” relationship. Further, she knew she came on strong, but did not show any inclination to want to change. She felt “they” should be the ones to change. Joyce also seemed resistant to moving back to the Midwest, although she continually talked about how much
better it was there.

A year later I went back to work with this group. The situation had deteriorated. Joyce had alienated most of her peers so that they were no more than civil, which of course she interpreted as further rebuff. She made the same complaints to me, and became cold when I disagreed with
her. She also decided I was not very competent. Coincidentally, this time the managers of the group asked privately for my advice, citing cases of
how she had blamed various people in the department for not treating her with respect. She also made mistakes in her work which, of course, were always the fault of others. Her direct manager tried repeatedly, and appropriately, to listen and mediate, and when coworkers tried to be warmer and more inclusive, she saw it as artificial. When the managers began to point out that perhaps she needed to consider her own behavior, she agreed.

Shortly afterwards, she went around them to the director of the department who did not know about the problem. She complained that people in other departments were not doing their jobs and, if only she had more authority, she could get better results. She was very enthusiastic, winning over the director who announced plans to promote her! The other managers were aghast. A few months later, the director retired and one of the managers, who knew all about
Joyce, took his place. Joyce immediately put in for a transfer, knowing the “gig” was up.

However, she did not get it. All of a sudden, she started getting along with everyone, as nice as can be. For the past six months she has been a model employee. As I have said, Joyce demonstrates a pattern of borderline personality disorder, that is, instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, affect (how the person expresses himself emotionally), and marked impulsivity. There are several other aspects of her situation worth pointing out.

First, it is important to notice how she continually blamed her problems with people on the culture, citing the differences between Northerners (or in her case, Midwesterners) and Southerners. People with personality disorders are often adept at pulling up one true fact and then generalizing it so that it now applies as the explanation to all their problems.

The second thing to note from a corporate standpoint is how much time and energy was spent trying to make Joyce happier. By the time she put in for transfer, the department, all the managers
— and many of her peers — had been pulled in. Finally, because Joyce happens to be very bright (see next section), she miraculously shaped up when she saw the handwriting on the wall.

How long this will last is anyone’s guess (It is rare that people with a personality disorder permanently change, but with age, it can soften.). In general, people with borderline personality disorders take up a great deal of other people’s time and energy, with little awareness or concern that they are doing so.

Personality Disorders

The formal criteria for all ten specific types of personality disorder are as follows:

A. An enduring pattern of inner experience and
behavior that deviates markedly from the
expectations of the individual’s culture.

 

This pattern is manifested in two (or more) of the following areas:
(1) cognition (ways of perceiving and interpreting
self, other people, and events)

(2) affectivity (i.e., the range, intensity, lability, and
appropriateness of emotional response)

(3) interpersonal functioning

(4) impulse control

 

B. The enduring pattern is inflexible and pervasive
across a broad range of personal and social situations.

 

C. The enduring pattern leads to clinically significant
distress or impairment in social, occupational, or
other important areas of functioning.

 

D. The pattern is stable and of long duration, and its
onset can be traced back at least to adolescence or
early adulthood.

 

E. The enduring pattern is not better accounted for as
a manifestation or consequence of another mental
disorder.

 

F. The enduring pattern is not due to the direct
physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of
abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition
(e.g., head trauma).

 

 

Personality disorders are also grouped into three
“clusters,” based on descriptive similarities.

 

Cluster A:
Paranoid Personality Disorder is a pattern of
distrust and suspiciousness such that others’ motives
are interpreted as malevolent.

Schizoid Personality Disorder is a pattern of
detachment from social relationships and a restricted
range of emotional expression.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder is a pattern of
acute discomfort in close relationships, cognitive or
perceptional distortions, and eccentricities of
behavior.

 

Cluster B:

Antisocial Personality Disorder is a pattern of
disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others.
Borderline Personality Disorder is a pattern of
instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image,
affect (how the person expresses themselves
emotionally), and marked impulsivity.

Histrionic Personality Disorder is a pattern of
excessive emotionality and attention seeking.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pattern of
grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of
empathy.

 

Cluster C:

Avoidant Personality Disorder is a pattern of social
inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and
hypersensitivity to negative evaluation.

Dependent Personality Disorder is a pattern of
submissive and clinging behavior related to an
excessive need to be taken care of.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is a
pattern of preoccupation with orderliness,
perfectionism, and control.

 

There is also a category for people who meet the
general criteria previously outlined but who do not
meet all the criteria of any one of the ten disorders
above, or who meet one of the other personality
disorders not included in the central ten. For
example, there is a passive-aggressive personality
disorder wherein the person shows a pattern of going
along with one’s wishes as a mask for resistance,
resentment or hostility.

Also, people can have more than one personality disorder; in fact,
it is very common to find combinations. Note that a person with a personality disorder generally will be at odds with their culture in some
way, will have difficulty functioning in it, and will have difficulty relating to others within it (Millon, with Davis, 1996; Livesley, 2001). Thus, the
distress and impairment can apply just as much to those who interact with this person, especially those who have ongoing contact (Mattia & Zimmerman,
2001). Also, it is very easy to see your obsessively talkative aunt or whiny sister — and anyone else you do not personally like — in some of these
descriptions, but you have to be careful. People (including you) often portray personality traits that may be similar to one or more personality disorders,
but it is only when a sufficient number of personality traits are inflexible and maladaptive, cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress, and meet further specific criteria that they constitute a personality disorder.

From 9-15% of the population in the United States is considered to have a personality disorder (Mattia & Zimmerman, 2001), which is a significant amount of people. The prevalence of any specific personality
disorder ranges from 1-3%, which are small numbers until you consider that most people with this problem have multiple personality disorders. While a person with any personality disorder can create problems for others in the workplace, the ones that seem to do so as part of the Syntonic Syndrome,
creating the most damage, are in Cluster B. This might be especially true because these people often seek leadership positions, especially when they are bright.

 

“What a horror story it was! This doctor was active in our association for quite a while and was so charming. In fact, even though we could see that he was slowly positioning himself to one day be elected president, we didn’t mind since he seemed like he would be great to work with. His fellow colleagues
seemed to feel the same way and eventually he achieved his goal as president of the association.

 

But once elected, everything changed. He immediately took control and started dictating to the Board how things were going to be. He told me how I was going to do my job and made it clear that I was to do whatever he wanted. He was like this with everyone. It became so bad that the Board, being made up of other equally successful and powerful people, pulled together, and for the first time in the history of our association, a president was booted out of office!  He thought he was the victim and that we were simply all jealous of him, and he immediately sued. He paralyzed the whole organization for a while there.

 

Even though we had just cause for removing him, we eventually paid a lot a money to shut him up and get him off our backs.” People with narcissistic personality disorder are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power and brilliance, and will often see the business world as the place to make those fantasies come real. They might also be obsessed with being admired by others and are prone to exaggerating their self-importance
and their accomplishments. It is not that this person cannot be a hard worker and actually accomplish a great deal. But if they do, you can bet they will make sure they are recognized for it early on by those
they care most about- others in positions of achievement, power and/or visibility.

 

They see themselves as superior to most others, and demand compliance in return from “underlings.” In American culture, it is not uncommon for people like this to move quickly in decision-making and taking action, and to gather
around themselves those who share similar traits. Anyone who expresses concern for the soundness of decisions being made is rejected.

 

As was seen by the example of the doctor, these people are capable of being quite charming and charismatic, which as we will see is also true for those with antisocial personality disorder. A person with narcissistic personality disorder might not be using their charm consciously to deceive, but they are very
sensitive as to whether others are impressed. It is easy to see how a person with narcissistic personality disorder ends up in positions of leadership- the visibility reinforces in their mind how exceptional they are.

 

The goal is to get what they want and if others are harmed in the process…oh well… They can be very seductive when it comes to getting others to believe in their schemes, mainly because they truly believe in them themselves. They have a great capacity for self-deception. Most people with personality disorders lack self-awareness. This is not however the case with the person
who has an antisocial personality disorder, who’s private goals are often to obtain complete control or to dominate others. The average person knows this person as the psychopath and many in the medical profession would consider this personality disorder as potentially the most dangerous. Why? They lack
remorse. Among other things, a person with antisocial PD is willing to break the law and/or deliberately hurt and deceive others in order to get what they want.

 

They can be irritable, aggressive, and impulsive and generally do not plan ahead. However, if they are bright, then meticulous planning and patience can
result in the most heinous crimes. In fact, there are passive and active psychopaths (Simon, 1996). The passive psychopath tends to be exploitative of others and will attach themselves like parasites, while the
active psychopath is the one who commits the major crimes. There has to have been signs of serious misconduct by the time they are 15 years old, and substance abuse is often a problem for these people (drugs and/or alcohol; Dolan-Sewell, Krueger & Shea, 2001).

 

Very few people in the psychiatric or psychological profession have written about the connection between the psychopath and the businessperson, though people in general make anecdotal comments regularly about ruthless business people who have no remorse in their business dealings. It is important to note that not all criminals are psychopaths. The actual percentage of people with this disorder are small (Community samples in the normal population indicate about 3% in males and 1% in females, but it is
growing; DSM-V), but these people may truly be “wired” differently. Peter Lang (1995) of the University of Florida, for example, has been able to show how psychopaths reflexively respond to visual stimuli the opposite of those who are not psychopaths. For example, when confronted with something
that is emotionally unpleasant, most people usually defend themselves against it unconsciously because it is unpleasant. When they perceive or experience something that feels good, defensive reflexes go down.
However, the exact opposite response occurs for psychopaths: they open up more to aversive experiences and defend themselves more against pleasant ones!

 

Consultants on leadership behavior have noted Machiavellianism (or “Mach”) could be a critical personality characteristics of leaders (Deluga,2001; Ferris et al., 1995), or on a less offensive note, that successful business leaders tend to not have many social needs and instead are more attracted to achievement and power. Deluga (2001) notes that “Mach” leaders often use charisma, and others have also noted the tendency of followers to confuse charisma and Machiavellianism.

 

But this is simplistic.
People with antisocial personality disorder certainly have used charisma to dupe others (as have any people who have any of the Cluster B disorders). Indeed, a whole separate field of study called “the dark side of leadership” has emerged in the field of psychology. Charisma can also be a positive attribute,
helping people through organizational turbulence and adversity for example (Bass, 1998), but in many cultures, it is not necessary.

 

Simon (1996) warns that it is important to make a distinction between professionals such as the entrepreneur, doctor or lawyer who often are required to be ruthless in the pursuit of business goals, and
the person with antisocial personality disorder who are motivated by their need to express hostile impulses or to get even. His perspective needs to be reconsidered, especially given recent developments in the business world in recent years. Tickle, Heatherton and Wittenberg (2001 in Livesley), three
researchers whose expertise is in personality disorders, believe that people actively select environments that suit their personalities and that support their basic behavioral tendencies (p.251). While I do not think every strong businessperson has the Syntonic Syndrome, clearly we are seeing many instances where business people are running companies into the ground using accounting procedures and many other tactics that they know are illegal. Of course, this has been going on for decades, as legal loopholes
(and cultural complicity such as maximizing short-term gains over long-term rewards) made it extremely enticing for people both with and without Syntonic Syndrome to take advantage.

 

 

Before we leave this section, it is important to note that a healthy person may also behave in ways that are harmful to others- we all have dark and devious impulses inside us that we sometimes cannot quell. But this person will have an opposite reaction: they will become ego-dystonic. They will:

 

1. experience the intense anxiety but they will also be repulsed by their own behavior,

2. be able to shun the limelight and embrace humility (Collins, 2001),

3. they will be able to step outside themselves, so to speak, and see how their behavior hurt others,

4. they will be able to take action to remedy the situation,

5. they will be able to gain awareness if this negative behavior is chronic, and

6. most important of all, they will work hard to change the behavior, especially if it is hurting loved ones or if it makes themselves a danger to the organization.

 

Also, many unhealthy syntonic people will feel very strongly that they have values and morals. Indeed, many can also feel genuine guilt and self-repugnance, though usually for much shorter periods of time than the ego-dystonic person. Some make a great display of “owning up”, almost always when caught and there no longer is any way out. The remorse and tears are often heartfelt for that moment only, and because their mental schema consists of changing the facts to avoid the pain of self-awareness, actual behavior change does not occur. As soon as there is a reprieve, the denial of reality once again takes precedence and there is simply an inability to take responsibility for their behavior.

 

Some will even take their battle-and blame- to the streets, not realizing that what they cannot see in themselves is immediately transparent to most others. Michael Orvitz, once the king of Hollywood, apparently became so difficult to work with that he eventually derailed (a common phenomenon for
syntonic people in the business world); no one wanted to do business with him anymore. That’s saying a lot considering the egos in Hollywood! Against the advice of everyone he consulted, he gave a complete sob story to Vanity Fair (August, 2002), pointing fingers and spilling dirt at the other big boys in the business. Did he point the finger at himself at all? Yes- he was mad at himself for not selling his business sooner when he could get more money for it!

 

 

In the long run, the person has to be ego-dystonic enough that they can truly see the harm their behavior is causing themselves and others, and can project into the future and hold the results of their current actions. If the end result of clearly self-recognized harmful behavior is not in behavioral change, then it is
important to ask if the person is ego-syntonic, at least surrounding their intentions of that behavior.

It was the first day of class in the new semester for my doctoral program in psychology. The course and the professor teaching it were both popular, and the class was full. The professor was talking about some theories when suddenly a tall young man began to disagree with him. The professor – we’ll call him Dr. Durston — patiently began to clarify the theory when the student became quite agitated, complaining of the professor’s bias towards the particular approach. The professor tried to explain his perspective, but the student became quite aggressive and accusatory, forcing Dr. Durston to simply listen and summarize the student’s concerns. It was apparent to everyone else that what the student was hearing was not at all what the professor was saying, but when the professor tried to say this, the student continued to attack. Finally, the professor became quite short, telling the student that he had a choice: to listen to the material being taught, or not. The student chose to leave, accusing the professor of forcing this choice on him.

 

 

Dr. Durston was not the only one who had this problem with this young man. Within a few weeks, the school asked the student to leave the doctoral program. He sued, and they reached a settlement out of
court. What was amazing to both faculty and administration, however, was how this student came to be accepted into a highly competitive program that turns down many applicants. Apparently he had scored extremely well on the entrance exams and also had done well in his interviews.

 

So far, the picture painted of a syntonic person makes one wonder if these people wouldn’t in fact be pretty easy to recognize — either during the job interview or pretty early on in their tenure. In fact, many of these people are transparent and thus never get hired, or they don’t last long on the job. Many end up in jail.  This all changes, however, when the ego-syntonic person has a high IQ.    Although there is much debate  over what exactly the IQ measures, extensive research does indeed support its connection with actual
intelligence. There are also signs that the IQ greatly impacts how ego-syntonic persons act in the workplace, for better and for worse. First, bright people generally interview extremely well, due to their ability to read the cues of interviewers and then tell them what they want to hear. Thus, right away we
can see a major difference between being simply ego-syntonic, and ego-syntonic and bright. The former will miss the cues, and when they repeatedly do not get hired or can’t perform if they are hired, will  blame society/HR/whomever. The latter will know they have to “play the game” and will learn the
game. As we have already noted, people with certain personality disorders will especially understand the  importance of this. They will tell you whatever they perceive you need to hear because it will serve their own ulterior motive. In fact, as long as they need you, they can be extremely charismatic. Once they no longer need you, or they perceive you as turning on them, you are dismissed, abused or blamed. What is  the ultimate strategy of the bright person with syntonic syndrome? They sue!

 

The bright IQ does a lot more than get the syntonic person in the door. Being bright also tends to increase the self-delusional quality of the syndrome; the person believes they can do all the things they say they can, and that belief makes them sound very confident and convincing. This belief that they can do
anything gets them far in organizations, especially if they have training in the field in which they claim expertise. Furthermore, bright ego-syntonic people can be quite gifted in some areas, and as we showed in the case of the broker Gil, they can often go quite far on their actual talents. As we saw with Joyce,
they can also behave themselves for a period of time if the personality disorder is not too severe.

 

Many successful, bright people who do not have syntonic syndrome (i.e., who are ego-dystonic) also take leaps of faith and try to innovate, to go where no person could go before. (They also are most vulnerable to being influenced by ego-syntonic people.) However, an ego-dystonic person will know when they are pushing the limits, either legally, morally or in personal ability. Most will stop at this point because they can perceive that the risks are beginning to outweigh the rewards, and that they are the ones who will be held accountable if they push too far.  But, the bright ego-syntonic person lacks awareness. Thus, they either will not recognize when they go  too far, or will believe they’re superior and will not get caught. The latter is true especially if success brings them greater prestige, authority or control. Ego-syntonic bright people have a way of blinding  themselves especially to anything related to financial risks since financial savvy brings the greatest  accolades in the business world.

 

Unfortunately, the society also reinforces criminal behavior in business:
Andrew Falstow, former CFO of Enron, negotiated his way to a short prison sentence and is making a  lucrative living selling his misdeeds to executives and more around the world. His latest gig as a good  Christian is to show how many other companies are doing the same things he did (a common ploy of
hard core white collar criminals- share the blame- remember, ego-syntonic).
I had done a lot of work for this one association in the past. Then they hired this new president, Carol.  Carol walked on water in their eyes: she was so bright, and had interviewed extremely well. Even though there were many other pressing, even serious issues that needed her attention, the first thing she did was fire a lot of vendors (and managers) and bring in her own people. I was out.

 

I found out later that my misfortune was nothing in comparison to the damage this woman did to the organization. She had claimed to be completely knowledgeable about matters of finance and budgeting as she had claimed to be able to do a lot of things the association wanted. But critical priorities were not getting done. After months of wrangling with this woman, the Board demanded to see her records. That took more months. To make a long story short, they eventually fired her for repeated incompetence, and
by the time they got a hold of the accounts, everything was in such a disastrous state it became clear she didn’t know anything about managing the finances either. It had all been a show.

There is yet a fourth mark of the person with the Syntonic Syndrome, and it often doesn’t begin to emerge until the person moves into a management position. Along the way this person changes his or her allegiances, focusing on those who can help them up the ladder. You might well say: “Isn’t this what
most people do to move up the ladder?” Yes, but in the syntonic person, there is a pervasive need to focus only on those who can help, and/or only on those who will agree 100% with him or her.

 

Thus, it is a common sign in the shifting of allegiances for the person to consistently chum up to those higher in the chain of command, and with those peers with whom an alliance might also be strategic. If there is someone at an upper or peer level who does not agree with the bright ego-syntonic person, because of their position or potential influence they will either work hard to win them over, ignore them, or go around them. Thus, a real clue to whether or not a manager has syntonic syndrome is to observe how he or she acts with
those who cannot help his or her career in any conceivable way.

 

I recall one manager – I’ll call him Sam — who traveled to conferences (on the company’s dime) 50% of the year and then attended meetings with his peers and superiors another 20% of the year. When his subordinates tactfully brought up their one request, that they needed him to be present and available
more frequently, he blew up at all of them. He blew up at me, the facilitator, for allowing them to “abuse” him. Sam showed signs of having Avoidant Personality Disorder, and his frequent excuses for travel conveniently allowed him to avoid facing any sensitive issues of any kind in his department.

 

In the meantime, upper management may not know what is going on. Or, they hear about “Sam’s temper,” but minimize it. They think “Sam is wonderful; he’s fun, he’s bright, and he certainly gets the job done!” What upper management hasn’t noticed is that there is also a higher turnover in Sam’s area.
But, even if they did notice and actually said something to Sam, there is a strong desire (because, gosh, Sam is really productive!) to believe whatever Sam tells them. They like him and they don’t really want the glowing perception of reality Sam has painted for them to be changed. So when he tells his bosses the reason for the turnover is because it is harder to find and keep qualified people, but it’s not a problem, they believe him without checking further or monitoring the situation more carefully.

The individual seeking to commit fraud or a business crime will often place themselves in line for positions where they will have decision-making authority over areas that they know they can mine for gold, so to speak. This breaks down into two arenas. First, they may surround themselves with people
they can control, and second, to take positions where they know of policies and procedures that are poorly followed and directly or indirectly can lead to fraudulent behavior. We will look at each part separately.

 

People with syntonic syndrome want people around them who will agree with them or that they can mold to their way of thinking. One of the challenges I have found over and over again when we do catch a hard-core white collar criminal is that it takes a while for those in the 95% who had gone along with his or her lies to realize how deeply they compromised their moral values and practical thinking skills. In some companies it takes as long as a year for people to gain perspective on what happened to him or her self, and it is usually a painful journey back to who they were beforehand. While there has no research done on those who got caught up with the criminal’s collusion, my observations indicates all the earmarks of brainwashing. These people need treatment akin to those rescued by force from a cult.

 

On either a conscious or unconscious level, the criminal profiled in this paper knows this. Thus, he or she has a tendency to surround themselves with:

 

1. other syntonic people who are equally deluded,
2. syntonic people who privately disagree but are going along because they plan to take the limelight once
the current leader crashes and burns
3. mediocre workers who are too afraid to speak up and too afraid to look for a job elsewhere.

 

This all leads to groupthink and collusion in decision-making, unless the syntonic person simply makes the decision without input at all.
Groupthink occurs when group members go along with the leader even though they know he or she is wrong. They fear the consequences of speaking up. An excellent example of groupthink occurred a few years ago when a pilot with Singapore Airlines mistakenly steered the plane at night down a lane closed for repairs, crashing the plane when he tried to take off. Others in the cockpit saw that he was making a mistake, but two powerful cultural forces came together to keep them from speaking up. First, in the aviation world, the pilot is king (or queen). Traditionally, you do not oppose him. Secondly, Chinese
Singaporeans belong to a collective culture, where seniority is king (or queen).

 

You do not dare to speak out against the elder if you are a part of a group, as that would cause a serious loss of “face.” As a result, the others in the cockpit were willing to take the risks rather than break groupthink Losing face in front
of people you care about is a big issue in most societies. Collusion is when people truly feel their perspective is correct, especially because others feel the same  way. Thus, if I perceive Millie to be moody and unreliable and you perceive Millie to be moody and  unreliable, then that confirms my opinion is correct. Collusion can often arise quite sincerely. After all, I  have confirmation that others see the situation the same way.

 

There are two major problems with collusion. First, confirmation from others often leads to behavior that fits my opinion. We all agree Millie is this way, and this increases the chances that we will in turn treat her rudely, and feel justified to do so. Secondly, collusion tends to cause people to do less research into
why that behavior is occurring and instead to jump to conclusions. We see Millie as “difficult,” which is why we now are being less than civil to her. It could be that Millie is normally quite a happy person, but for the past few months she has had to work for a syntonic boss. Not being one to gossip, she keeps her
problems to herself, but her unhappiness is apparent. Meanwhile, the bad news about her boss hasn’t leaked out yet, so we don’t understand the root of the problem.

 

Bright, syntonic people often manipulate other people’s opinions of yet various other people, taking advantage of collusion. It is not uncommon for a web of deceit to be built leading in many directions as the syntonic person increasingly needs to cover up their tracks. In meetings, a “we vs. they” mentality is often cultivated, so that many people get caught in the trap. It is only over time, when the facts begin to fit the syntonic leader’s assertions less and less, that people begin to question the person.

 

In the long run, a person with full syntonic syndrome is generally going to want to be the final authority (the exception is the psychopath, who might deliberately set the trap for someone else to take the fall) and
take the recognition. All of the above indicates that senior management must monitor how critical decisions that impact the whole (or a critical part) of the organization are being made. It might be necessary to even sit from time to time in meetings where critical decisions are being made in order to
watch how people interact in the meeting. You need to see if the managers under you are dominating the decision-making, or conversely, letting another person dominate too much. Does that person actively encourage and explore new ideas? Can you see that decisions that the group eventually come to are the product of several people’s ideas and active discussion, or is there little debate, with the person with the most authority continuously taking over? It is always senior management’s responsibility to know how critical, major decisions were made, and to seek alternative opinions when the actions being decided are particularly risky. But does the syntonic criminal always want to be in authority? Do they always need recognition?

 

Absolutely not. Much harder to catch are those who prefer to hide in the woodwork and slowly drain the company of their money and/or reputation, or whatever it is they are after. In fact, the criminal who can
make themselves relatively insignificant to the company and work “behind the scenes” over a period of time are usually the smartest criminals of all. The person will almost always be a psychopath with loner tendencies and no desire to toot their own horn. Or, if they need recognition, they find other, harmless
ways to do it that never gives away their true identity.

 

Two true examples illustrate this. The most well-known is that of (Chinese-American Accounting executive who worked with Andrew Falstow) who had no desire for recognition but a very big desire to get really, really rich. As was pointed out in the documentary “The Smartest Guys in the Room” on the
downfall of Enron, this man was as involved in the criminal activities as Falstow, but saw the handwriting  on the wall a year before the collapse and left the company with millions upon millions of dollars. He has since “retired” to Colorado where he lives on an estate worthy of a king and lies low. How it is that he hasn’t gone to jail with the others I do not know, except that the documentary made clear that he left as little a paper trail to his existence as possible. If there weren’t for a few pictures that were captured of
him at company functions, you would not know he existed at all.

 

Another example which is much more insidious has to do with an embezzlement of millions of dollars uncovered at a major university in the US. A female supervisor, “Ada”, of the drop and add classes of the college created a scam where when new and “green” students dropped a class, instead of recharging the fee back to mom and dad’s credit card, she would charge it back to an account she had set up for herself. Ada knew that students rarely tell their parents about reimbursements to look for; in fact, some students studiously hide their schedule from their folks for a number of reasons. She was caught not by the auditors who had just given them a clean bill of health after auditing the area, but when she got sick with the flu and was out for a week. One of the students Ada had swindled had been using his own credit card (which she somehow missed) and had noticed that the refund for the dropped classes had not shown up. He happened to ask about it the week one of Ada’s employees was covering for her in her absence, and of course, that was the trigger that opened the whole can of worms.

 

It is also important to note that while Ada stayed out of the limelight in terms of advancement at the university, she cultivated a close relationship with each of the six women who reported to her. Until she was caught, they thought she was the cat’s meow. After she was caught, a psychologist had to brought in

 

THE ORGANIZATION: KEY SITUATIONAL FACTORS

Tone at the Top- Biggest Critical Success Factor: Spaced Repetition for introducing, implementing and maintaining High Results, Highly Ethical organizational cultures.

CSF: Spaced Repetition as the model for ethical change in orgs.
One of the most frequent questions I am asked is whether or not the Syntonic Syndrome is genetic or learned. The old nature vs. nurture question, and of course, it is not solely one or the other, but both.

The Syntonic Syndrome is tied to the combination of our unique traits that make up our personality, and situational factors help determine what aspects of our personality we choose to express at any given time.

Tickle, Heatherton and Wittenber (2001) write: “Though there is evidence that some personal aspects change over time, there is general support for the stability of trait factors over the life course (p. 248). These researchers and experts in the area of personality also wrote: “There is ample evidence that personality is determined in part by genetic mechanisms… environments support continuity by reinforcing tendencies and dispositions (p. 251).”

If this is so, what might particularly attract this type of people to a particular organization, or a particular group within the organization? In what type of organizational cultures do Syntonic Syndrome people flourish? While a number of factors have an influence, I have found three to be especially important:

A. “Cowboy” or “gung-ho” culture
B. Dangerous performance reward systems
C. Laissez-faire style leadership

Cowboy cultures tend to exist in more wildcat and adventurous types of industries where the risks (and payoff) are very high, and where managers are there not because they know how to manage, but because they like the glamour of the industry, present or past, and they have gotten results. Oil companies, brokerage firms, airline industries are examples of three such industries in the U.S. that usually have at least pockets of the cowboy culture within their company, if not corporate-wide. Many dot.com companies used to fit this profile, and many in the field of entertainment can fall in here due to the
constant need for creativity, change and action required. However, contrary to misconceptions in these industries, it is not necessary to be this way to be successful. On the positive side, there is usually a pervasive “high energy” in the organization, which can make it a fun place to work if you can stand the
pressure to perform.

 

So why should senior management be concerned? First, since there is little planning or monitoring, problems crop up and an increasing amount of crisis management occurs, which eventually becomes the modus operandi for management. Second, the organization is reinforcing people’s external motivations without equally reinforcing more intrinsic ones. Thus, people are loyal to the company only as long as it keeps giving them more money/power/ recognition (external motivators), which don’t bring long-term
satisfaction, and thus require continual replenishment, especially if the work itself is not intrinsically rewarding. There is little loyalty to the organization itself.

A second concern is that people with syntonic syndrome tend to be especially attracted to these types of cultures and, remember, these people can be very bright. Thus, you may find more syntonic leaders in these and related industries. Or you may find syntonic people with narcissistic personality disorder attracted here because the flamboyant aspect of their nature fits the more flamboyant culture.

 

Having said this, it is important to note that your organizational culture can be very ethical and conservative and you will still have syntonic people knocking on your door. However, they will tend to be noticed much more quickly, as the incongruencies of their behavior

An airline decided to bring in a consultant to address some customer service problems, specifically delays that reduced on-time departures. Executive management for the most part did not get involved, but there were a number of middle managers and front-line employees who welcomed the opportunity to get a clearer picture of where they were going wrong. What was uncovered not only addressed the customer service problems, but it went much further.

 

Briefly, the cause for the poor customer service had to do with extremely poor communication between various departments that had to work together in critical functions on a daily basis to get passengers to where they needed to go. But, why were these departments not cooperating with each other, especially when it resulted in the complete breakdown of core business processes for moving passengers through the terminal? The reason was that each blamed the other for the problem.

 

But wait! Is this just ego-syntonic behavior on a collective level? As it turned out, not at all. Rather, assigning blame was a requirement! “You, and your department’s performance, will be measured by the number of delay codes on your record.” In other words, the party found guilty for any plane delay was
assigned a “delay code.” You did not want a delay code on your record. For one, your boss’ performance bonus was based on how few or how many delay codes your department had! Thus, individuals and departments alike fought hard behind the scenes to avoid anything that would cause them to stand out
and take responsibility, while passengers fought to make connections, and planes tried frenetically to get off the ground. Given the amount of delays that occur on any given day, you can imagine what life wasfrequently like for these people.

 

It gets worse! One senior manager decided to take advantage of what was apparently a well intentioned but defective performance reward system. He made it clear to the subordinates in his department that they would not be found responsible for causing a delay. The threat was never explicit, but it was
obvious to every employee in that area. And, the manager did not want to know what they did to avoid those delay codes. Thus, they took “shortcuts” that bordered on compromising safety. In the meantime, their boss got all sorts of positive recognition for the fine job he was doing in his area. His people, meanwhile, kept their mouths shut.

 

One’s first response to the above situation is to think that it is an anomaly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Individual performance systems that are not monitored and do not equally emphasize collaboration are deceptively and silently menacing. As seen above, in the hands of a syntonic leader, they can cripple an organization.

 

Equally as crippling is an organization that has no performance management system. How many of us work in companies where mediocre people are promoted out of the department only because it is too difficult to get rid of them! A proper performance management system does not have to be the albatross that many make it to be, and it is critical in order to differentiate within a reasonable period of time whether a particular person is suitable for the position or not. It also keeps an organization focused on the right goals, catches unreasonable risk earlier, and forces management to do one of the key jobs they are paid more money to do: give constructive feedback to people and build a team that, together, will synergistically give a higher level of performance than any one individual could do alone. Excellent managers consistently know and do this. (FOOTNOTE-IOMA).

This leads us to a special type of manager that is particularly ineffective, and tends to encourage syntonic syndrome behavior. Laissez-faire managers are usually considered extremely ineffective when it comes to actively managing their people and staying on top of problems (Bass and Avolio, 1994). They tend to let people manage themselves because they do not want to face anything that is unpleasant.

 

Thus, even if they are not actually absent a lot, they are emotionally and mentally absent. They are often fence-sitters, afraid to make a decision, putting it off until the people requesting one finally give up. A syntonic
syndrome person who falls into this situation will be quick to take advantage. They will quickly start taking charge or at least try to (how they do so and the degree of success depends on the type of personality disorder and degree of intelligence), and start surrounding themselves with those who will
agree with them. The cliques and “we vs. they” attitude we saw with Gil, the broker who had been granted a lot of freedom, emerges in this situation too.

 

The laissez-faire manager is secretly delighted because someone else is taking charge and doing their job for them. I was facilitating a two-day workshop with a group of engineers and their laissez-faire manager on
improving work performance and noticed increasing resistance whenever the topic of cross-training came up. On the afternoon of the second day, an engineer in the group exploded. Seated at the end of the “U”
shape of the tables, he stood up, pointed his finger at a man, Phil, who was sitting smack in the middle of the head of the “U”, and made it clear that cross-training- nor anything else- would occur because Phil did not want it, and Phil ran the show. He went into great detail pointing out all the ways Phil had taken
over running the department, as well as indicating the other select few in the group who were Phil’s cronies (and therefore got the plum job assignments) and who were not. The cronies all radiated out from Phil along the back of the “U”; those not in “the inner circle” were relegated to the sides. When I
asked Phil if he wanted to speak in defense of himself, he looked me straight in the eye and quietly said, “He’s right.”

 

Amazed at his brazen response, I turned to the shocked manager and said to him, “Well?” At first he said nothing, but I simply waited until he knew he had to respond. Finally the clueless manager threw up his hands and said, “I thought people wanted Phil to run the show.”

What Can Be Done?

 

Recognize that it is possible a person with syntonic syndrome is knocking on your door or is already operating in your organization. This person would be ego-syntonic, meaning he or she has a central tendency to re-arrange external events so that they are continually interpreted in their favor, often at the
expense of another; he or she probably has a personality disorder; it is very likely that he or she is extremely bright, exhibits a pattern of according differential treatment to people in your company; and seeks to control the decision-making process.

 

The most frequent question I am asked at this point is a simple one: what can be done once I suspect a person with syntonic syndrome is operating in my organization? There are two ways to answer this question. First, there are some tools that capable people can use in their organization that will help detect this person earlier rather than later. I will discuss these first.

 

Finally, I also give a step-by-step process for actually managing this person out of the organization.  Plaster Ethics, training in ethics, access to completely safe person/place to report wrongdoing.

Literally advertise on back of name tags and consumer and internal websites. Talk to functions where there is a tendency to not report wrongdoing because it would be in conflict with their own interests. For example, did you know
that your customer service function(s) define success- and bonuses- based on how quickly they close out complaints? There is evidence of many who do not report wrong-doing, because they get points for how quickly- and how often- they can calm an upset customer. They do NOT get points for getting to the root cause of ongoing

Teach and highly promote emotional intelligence and critical thinking
skills There may be two factors that could prevent upper management from getting sucked in. The first is in the field of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence has received a great deal of interest from then academic and psychological communities in the past decade as a potential means of understanding people’s behavior on other factors besides IQ.

 

While there are differing theories on what emotional intelligence actually encompasses, the most accepted theory (put forth by John Mayer, Peter Salovey and David Caruso) postulates 4 core aspects that make up EI:

 

1. The ability to perceive an emotion (to know when you and others are experiencing a particular emotion);

2. The ability to consider problems from different emotional frameworks to make the best decisions

3. The ability to properly interpret what an emotion means, what complex emotions mean;

4. The ability to manage emotions effectively in yourself and others.

 

In addition, Mayer and Salovey (1995) argue that emotional intelligent people should be able to forgo short-term benefits for long-term benefits, strive for proindividual and prosocial emotions, and treat individuals as unique human beings. Marie and Ashkanazy (2002) argue that a leader high in emotional
intelligence will be able to better determine the sincerity or deceitfulness of other people’s behavior more accurately, due to their greater ability to pick up on and properly interpret emotional cues.

 

The research to confirm or deny either of these premises is only just beginning. However, it makes sense that a person who is in touch with their own emotions, and who has the ability to observe accurately how another person might be manipulating people’s emotions, would be able to detect incongruences between promises made and actual results more quickly as Marie and Ashkanazy predict. There is also research developing trying to show that an emotionally intelligent person will have empathy (Mayer, Salovey & Caruso, Date).

 

If this turns out to be true, then it is likely that a person who is high in emotional intelligence will have a strong enough moral code to sidestep the syntonic syndrome.

 

Critical thinking skills should be useful for similar reasons. Here, people are taught how to use logic, procedures and factual information to make the best decisions, amongst other things. Critical thinking should allow a person to think through quickly how they might be the cause of their own pain, thus
preventing them from being ego-syntonic, and helping them to maintain an ego-dystonic stance. Branch Banking and Trust, one of the largest banks in the Southeastern part of the United States, puts a strong emphasis on both emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills (See Table 2, p.–). An extremely successful company (and one of the best-kept secrets in this country), executive management puts a strong emphasis on personal development and integrity in general.

Use 360 degree assessments called Management Self Assessments to determine “managerial self-awareness”, groupthink and potential corruption

 

Most people in the workplace have been exposed to 360 degree assessments, where not only a manager rates him or herself, but direct reports, peers and one’s boss rate the manager as well. Some use them in
teams, where team members and the leader rate each other. Most people in the workplace groan when they hear of 360 degree assessments, mainly because they have been so badly administered in the past.

 

However, used properly, 360 degree assessments have a particular usefulness for not just targeting incompetent and reconfirming competent workers, but also our syntonic syndrome person.

 

First, look at how the scores of each group differ from the person who is rating him or herself, which is what is typically done. Atwater and Yammarino (1997) studied differences between how people (especially managers and other people in leadership positions, such as in the military or an academy)
rated themselves and others rated them, and if leaders rated themselves higher than their raters, they were not labeled incompetent but instead, as overestimaters lacking self-awareness. Those who’s ratings were
in agreement with others regarding their performance were seen as self-aware.

 

This information is very useful; it can tell us the degree of managerial self-awareness (MSA) of a person in positional authority (or anyone, but the we are most interested in our managers being as effective as possible).
A manager with high MSA has the ability-or desire- to compare their leadership behaviors against the information they received from others about their behaviors, especially subordinates (Sosik and Megerian, 1999). This has similarities to the ego-dystonic nature of healthy individuals mentioned in this paper.

 

Meanwhile, Atwater and Yammarino (1997) have found that the more a leader is in sync with their raters, the better their job performance. Overestimaters are associated with poor performance, possibly due to ignoring negative or critical information necessary for their self-development. They may not see the need for their behavior to change.

 

We are not talking about incompetence anymore, but lack of awareness, a totally different issue. Remember, bright seemingly competent ego-syntonic people with personality disorders lack selfawareness. Sosik and Megerian also found that overestimators even lacked public self-consciousness and
did not monitor their impact on people very much at all (remember Michael Orvitz?). This fits with the fact that even the brightest syntonic person cannot stay aware of and monitor their controlling behavior either well, or indefinitely. Eventually, their true nature leaks out. Even if the syntonic manager surrounds himself with a bunch of “yes” men and women, it is impossible to suck everyone in.

 

Extremely divided (polarized) scores amongst direct reports will be the results, and should be explored further. Next, look at the difference between scores between the different groups of people who responded. If the
person has the syntonic syndrome, you might not only find polarized (or just bad) ratings from subordinates, but there will also be usually rave ratings from upper management (remember, the higher up you are, the more likely you will be subjected to this person’s charms and none of their ills until it is too
late.). Peer ratings can go either way; it depends on how the syntonic person feels he needs to act with his colleagues to get what he wants.
Managers can also underestimate their performance. Underestimators, a leader who consistently underestimates her performance in comparison to her raters are found to have mixed performance results.

 

They will rarely have the syntonic syndrome. In fact, a manager who gets lower ratings from upper management but strong ratings from subordinates and peers is being overlooked when perhaps they shouldn’t be!

 

In summary, more research is needed, but so far MSA has promising insights to offer. For now, I would suggest that if the following patterns show up when analyzing your 360 degree assessments, you may want to explore further whether or not a syntonic syndrome exists in the person being rated (the leader):

1. The leader tends to overestimate his ratings.

2. The ratings from her subordinates are significantly lower than her self-ratings. Or, they are polarized.

3. The ratings of his peers are either good (he needs these people to get what he wants so he treats them nice) or polarized.

4. The ratings from his or her boss and/or management above this person are high.

 

Also, check with vendors and customers. Vendors especially will tend to be treated as subordinates, for better or worse, depending on whether or not they go along with the game. But remember: the above only holds if raters, especially subordinates, vendors and peers, feel confident that their specific ratings will be kept confidential. If they believe the syntonic person will somehow find out how they rated him, they will most likely lie.

Example of how an ego-dystonic manager constructively handled feedback from his 360 degree assessment

Ten years ago, Jack was a manager of the loan review operations at a local prominent bank. He was personable and friendly, and the people who reported to him really seemed to like him. So did senior management. When an opening came up for Director, Jack seemed perfect for the spot. He was tapped
to see if he was interested, which he definitely was. All he had to do was go through a 360 degree performance assessment, considered a formality but required at that time for advancement.

The results were not a clean sweep. Jack got rave reviews from upper management and from his own workers, but he was roundly scorched by his peers. They saw him as a “silo,” not at all cooperative in working with other departments and his peers. Senior management was surprised, but no one could have been more shocked than Jack- and more upset. He met with senior management and together they decided on him working with a coach to see if that might help resolve the issue. Jack did even more. He went, paper and pencil in hand, to each of his peers and asked if they would provide further feedback on how they saw him and what they needed from him to change. He also went for personal therapy, realizing that something was wrong if he had missed something that obvious. Eight months later, Jack went through another 360 degree assessment at the suggestion of several of his peers. This time he
passed with flying colors on all levels. Interestingly, though he now had his promotion, he continued therapy for six months afterwards. Today, he is a senior VP in the bank and a greatly respected individual.”

A step-by-step process for managing a person with the syntonic syndrome out.

 

1. Don’t hire these people! There are legal and fairly effective ways to get around companies’ reluctance to give out real references. Use them.

 

2. Make the effort to develop a system for managing people’s performance, and use it. Learn how to give “bad news” (as well as positive feedback to good employees). This includes clear organizational goals, performance feedback meetings and/or 360 degree assessments, but it really means having a yardstick to measure people’s technical and collaborative performance against. It’s also important because it is a means of giving objective feedback to good employees as well.

 

3. USE YOUR HR FUNCTION. HR needs to be overhauled, and these people need strong training in interviewing skills.

 

4. Beef up your audit and fraud examiners departments. Combined with an ongoing mission to communicate a zero tolerance policy on fraud, it will reinforce the message and also give a place for whistleblowers to go to. They will rarely use hotlines or HR.

 

5. Notice if there is high turnover (or absenteeism). Always conduct exit interviews. Even though the people will not tell you everything, they will tell you enough that you should get the message.

 

6. Barring this, if you see signs of Syntonic Syndrome, make other people aware of it.

 

7. Review recent work/projects they have done and decisions they have made; set them up on a performance improvement plan that monitors results, how they obtained their results and how they handled people in the process.

 

8. Never meet alone (e.g., an HR person and the person’s direct boss is a legally acceptable combination) with this person.

 

9. If they have not changed their behavior after three months, actively work to manage them out, even if it takes years. If necessary, follow the Japanese method: reduce their job responsibilities so that they can’t inflict more damage. Many bright syntonic managers will see the handwriting on the wall and simply leave.

 

10. Talk to customer service and mandate that they track complaints. The goal is to find groupings of complaints on specific people or departments. Your vendors and customers know where the crime and vulnerabilities are.

 

11. Do not pay off fraudsters. Re-education is needed for the public to know that companies that report problems- and that they are taking care of them- are GOOD. Follow Tylenol model.

 

12. Do not promote or otherwise get rid of bad seeds in your department to other departments. The ones with lower IQs are pretty easy to see, and when they are not managed out, it reduces morale for everyone. It is highly toxic to the company.

 

13. Do not keep criminals because they bring you in more money. The foundation is poor and there will be consequences. If you do keep these people for short term gain, then you are either a hard core criminal yourself, or the guilt will be overwhelming. You need to know it is possible to be highly
successful and ethical.

 

14. Finally, document everything everyone does to manage this person and situation from the moment the problem becomes apparent.

Summary

 

So, you say, this doesn’t sound so simple? You’re right. But it is truly what needs to be done. You are not responsible for saving them or “making them better,” except to provide the appropriate working environment and opportunities as outlined by law (and you can suggest counseling, which they rarely will follow up on. After all, it is not their fault!). And don’t try to hide them in the organization, or move them to another department unless you genuinely think they will turn around there. Your responsibility ultimately is to the true health of the organization, to all people who work there, and to the external
customer. Remember, ultimately these people are building a foundation of sand; the longer you keep them and the more you have, the farther your organization will fall.

Practical Opportunities & Innovative Actions We Can Take


The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of fear, and it is having a trickle-down effect that has been unlike anything seen since WWII. The COVID-19 pandemic is real. The panic is real. As we all know, the panic is triggering yet more panic. Some of the consequences we cannot prevent, such as social distancing, distance learning and so forth. This in turn is leading to business and economic downturns at all levels.

 

Our continued reaction to give into our fear and make decisions only based in fear creates more fear. It creates it more in ourselves so that the way we talk, act and even the words we use and tone of voice projects fear to others, who then in turn believe the fear (because they feel it, too) and thus project it yet on to others.  And our fear, which is good in that it motivates us to take appropriate action, then begins to lead to even more long-term negative consequences.

 

The fear and COVID-19 are both happening in tandem. We need to control our emotional reactions and beliefs resulting from them, just as the CDC and other physical health experts are telling us what to do to control COVID-19. I see folks taking great measures to lower the risk of COVID-19 happening to them and their loved ones. But I also see a LOT of doomsday thinking, some of which is getting worse. Not better. This especially impacts those most vulnerable: your children, the elderly in your family, those who are already dealing with fragile health conditions, and those more susceptible to anxiety.

 

CONTACT US:  Admin@JPA-International.com ~ (310) 892-0210

 

There are going to be long term effects to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here’s the deal: 

 

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”   Albert Einstein

 

 I suggest that this be our key mantra as we all muddle through this. 

 

So what does this mean? As a psychologist and huge believer in developing critical thinking skills, I know that when we are in a place of ongoing and recurring fear and panic we immediately put blinders on our eyes and ears so that we hunker down into a rut of feeling and thinking that is circular, and is based in feeling the victim of a situation.  Again, some fear is healthy: it is after all causing a very extroverted American culture to actually step back and settle down (or in)! Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would see this in our country and around the world.

 

And, everything else we do focuses on one question: 

 

How do I elevate my own thinking so that I can contribute really innovative and useful ideas to increase my own well-being and that of my family, my employees, and my community?  IMHO, this may be the greatest opportunity of COVID-19: to expand my brilliance (brilliant ideas are there!!) and reduce suffering.

 

In my next blogs I will introduce just how fast- and often subtle- our brain can be in moving to the worst case scenarios, which only reinforces and builds on already existing problems.  Case in point: fears from politicians ranging from embarrassment, denial and arrogance have prevented scientists from being able to share research and information fast and globally. This has been a big issue for scientists for decades.  Maybe after this the United Nations will make it formal that politics should not supersede science sharing critical and factual information.

 

I suggest that each of us listen to Einstein and choose one or two ways we can “elevate our attitudes and actions”  so that we can gain a higher perspective on ourselves and our situation. I promise that by doing so, brilliant ideas and innovations will emerge that you never thought possible.  I guarantee that coming from a higher perspective and from the best part of you will have an immense positive impact on everyone around you. It will. 

 

Since a human being cannot solve all the problems of the world, I also suggest that we each pick 1-3 areas where we intend to make a positive difference. I’ve chosen three.  

 

  1. I am very concerned for those hard hit financially, and will address my business experience to individuals and companies on how to strategize and take action in times of massive change.
  2. I also have lived with and managed ongoingly a (self-disclosure) life-threatening genetic illness most of my life; perhaps the perspective I have had to develop will be of assistance to others who fear germs and illness.
  3. Finally, I see this as a real opportunity to teach young people that there is something beyond fear, scarcity and negativity, especially children who are watching and learning from us grown-ups. They need to see that in the toughest of times, the good in people prevails over the not so good.  Indeed, the children need to see the not so good in people (and in ourselves; we are human and not perfect) AND know that the good prevails. In my next blog I will give a great example of how we want to behave in front of our younger population at this time so that they can begin building a foundation of optimism and willingness, which is the lifeblood for building a great life, family and world.

 

CONTACT US:  Admin@JPA-International.com ~ (310) 892-0210

The above is all IMHO.  Please do respond and dialogue!  I will jump in and respond at times and continue to write more psychological and business-based blogs with the focus on practical and real-time solutions. 

Loyalty in the workplace (slideshow)

Instilling Loyalty in the Workplace



How do you motivate employees to dedicate themselves to high quality work? How do you create a work setting in which loyalty is a natural byproduct? Does it sound difficult? Well, it’s not impossible and the solutions have nothing to do with wishful thinking. To instill loyalty in the workplace, you must follow a few hard and fast rules.

Effective Facilitation

Effective Facilitation – Interpersonal Radar


During risk assessment facilitation training sessions, people often ask me:  “Do I have what it takes to be a good facilitator?”  This is an important question, and it applies to managers or anyone who runs meetings and gives presentations.  The response is actually simple; for just a moment, throw out all the models, the facilitation techniques, and the psychological tests.  Knowing who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and using them to your advantage is the key behind being an effective facilitator.

Learning to facilitate can be anxiety provoking, because it calls on so many internal and external faculties that must be used simultaneously.  Facilitating can be equated to a juggling act; one must listen to ideas being offered, animate quiet people, contain dominant participants, and think about what question should be asked next—all at the same time!

 

When asked, I offer this comprehensive definition of what it means to be an effective facilitator:  “A great facilitator weaves overriding strategies with specific facilitation tools, while monitoring the group process using interpersonal radar.”  “Fortunately, you don’t have to do it perfectly to do it well!”

 

The idea in this last sentence usually provokes a reaction.  Most people argue:  “If I’m going to the trouble of standing in front of a group of people, I need to do it perfectly!”  In fact, this sentiment often echoes inside the heads of new facilitators during the workshop process:  “You idiot!  Why did you ask them that question?” and “Oh no!  No one is talking!  What should I do?”  That mean little voice can be quite effective at letting us know when we are performing at a less than “perfect” standard.

Perfect vs. Effective

 

Perfection in facilitation isn’t necessarily the same thing as effective facilitation, however.  As a result, one of the first major factors in becoming an effective facilitator may simply be to learn how to ignore that negative voice, the voice that demands some vague standard of perfection in facilitation.  Effective facilitators develop techniques and strategies for making that inner voice work for them instead of against them.

 

No standardized test consistently determines who will or will not be an effective facilitator.  The answer lies in how you interact with people; your willingness to keep practicing, make mistakes, continue practicing; and your ability to trust yourself, as well as the people you are facilitating.  Taken together, proficiency in these areas will create effective facilitators.  What psychological and other inventories can help you with is achieving greater understanding of your personal facilitation style—your own unique approach to working with others, effectively infusing all of who you are into the facilitation.

 

But I’m Too Introverted to be a Good Facilitator!

 

For example, there are tests that can determine if you are more introverted or extroverted. A person who is introverted by nature is one who becomes energized through his or her own ideas.  The extroverted person, on the other hand, gains energy from interaction with other people.

 

Based on this simple distinction, it appears at first glance that the extroverted person would be the better facilitator.  After all, one of the ““golden rules” of facilitation is to demonstrate good interpersonal skills.  An extroverted person would tend to focus more on the group participants and listen more closely to what they have to say, instead of retreating inside themselves to their own thoughts.  Although this theory may be true, it has never been proven; there is no data to suggest that introverts can’t also be exceptional facilitators.

 

Indeed, a person who is too extroverted may not be a good listener at all.  They might make a good keynote speaker, but that requires a very different skills set (some of which are used in facilitation) in order to be successful.

 

The Unlikely Facilitator

 

One of the best facilitators I ever observed—

someone who originally thought she could never be a good facilitator—was a quiet, introverted young woman I will call “Carol.”  When facilitating, Carol would position herself between the flipchart easel and the group, a “cardinal sin” of facilitation.  She would ask the group a few intelligent, provocative questions to get them started and then simply record the discussion on the flipchart as the participants took off on her creative questions.

 

She would also sense when the discussion on a topic began to wane.  Politely, in a quiet voice, Carol would jump in and ask the next question, once again eliciting a round of responses from the group.  She would then turn around to the flipchart, writing with her back to the group, instead of maintaining eye contact with the participants.  Once again, Carol broke another important facilitation rule:  always maintain good eye contact. Interestingly, Carol’s tactic had the effect of forcing the group to talk to each other, which was needed at this particular point in the meeting.  As she wrote with her back to them,

Carol would continuously nod her head as they made pertinent points, occasionally turning to the group to interject a question or clarification.  She did this just often enough to let them know she was still present.  It was the combination of both turning her back while still maintaining contact in these other, subtle ways that made her facilitation so effective.

 

At the end of a ten-minute session, she turned away from the flipchart and back to the group, showing them what she had captured from their discussion.  The group was astounded at the amount of information she had collected in such a short period of time.  In addition, she had been so unobtrusive that after a while they almost forgot she was present during their discussion.

 

When the group is so involved in carrying out the task that the facilitator exists almost solely to capture their ideas, it represents facilitation at the highest level.  At these moments, the whole group experiences a synergy that feels energizing, highly creative, and purposeful.  To the facilitator, it feels effortless.

 

 

Interpersonal Radar

 

What we are witnessing in scenarios like this one is the ability of a person to take a potential liability or “imperfection” for facilitating—Carol’s introverted nature—and turn it around for everyone’s benefit.  In other words, Carol used her interpersonal radar to detect what would and wouldn’t work in the facilitation.  Her innate talent for creative thinking framed ideas and questions that kept the conversation on track.  She took advantage of her quiet, less social nature basically to stay out of the group’s way, maintain her neutrality, and act as a conduit between the group’s ideas and the flipchart.

 

There was yet a third obstacle that Carol used to her advantage.  Carol is very short in stature, and research suggests that short people command less power and authority in managing a group’s dynamics than their taller counterparts.  Once again Carol broke the “rules” using her height to her advantage.  Because she was so short, she was able to pull the flipchart very close to the group to hear them better in the slightly noisy room.  Later, when her proximity to the group was brought to their attention, group members either did not notice it; or if they did, they did not feel that it was obtrusive.  In fact, they felt a closer bond to her, because it seemed to balance her otherwise more distant nature.

 

 

The Effective Facilitator

 

Instead of trying to present herself as something she was not, Carol decided to use all of herself in the facilitation to as much advantage as possible.  She broke some rules, but because she trusted that her group had the knowledge to provide the needed information, she was able to latch onto the value of their ideas instead of her own.  This was not easy for her to do; it took a concerted effort to focus outward.  Because she focused on the group’s ideas, however, it became easier and easier as time went on.  By the end of the facilitation course, she was beginning to develop an effective facilitation style that was uniquely hers.

 

A week later, Carol’s director called me to express his surprise.  He had sent Carol to the course because he knew she was an excellent auditor, despite her reluctance toward presenting information to groups.  The director noted that since her return, Carol had co-facilitated a portion of a company-wide audit conference to rave reviews.  I last heard that she and other co-workers who attended the training were taking turns facilitating the department staff meetings to keep their skills fresh.

While it appears that this is an isolated example and a unique event, the fact is that it could hold true for any other facilitator.  Carol was bitten by what I call the “facilitation bug,” and she definitely isn’t the first.  Many technical professionals become quite dedicated and skilled at facilitation and begin applying its principles to many areas of their lives.

 

In my opinion, these people are effective because they are committed to developing and refining their facilitation skills.  They practice, practice, and practice.  Effective facilitators are also supportive co-facilitators, who do whatever they can to make their partners look good and make their partner’s job easier when they work together.

 

Effective facilitators are risk-takers, willing to stretch as they apply their facilitation skills and previous experience to a variety of group situations.  For example, a number of organizations that have been running facilitation workshops are beginning to facilitate all types of meetings in their organizations, often at higher levels.

 

Many facilitators find that as they broaden their endeavors, they need to increase their understanding of organizational culture and dynamics to handle the more challenging situations they encounter.  Facilitation requires practitioners to use all dimensions of their personalities.  As the situations become more challenging, growth must occur to meet new opportunities.

 

Anyone—introvert or extrovert—may have what it takes to be an effective facilitator.  It is more an issue of personal interest, dedication, and willingness to meet a substantial challenge.  It doesn’t always require extensive technology, though knowledge of technological options is always useful.  It doesn’t take an advanced degree.  Effective facilitators believe in the value of facilitating and, most importantly, they have fun with it

 

Originally published in the association magazine of the Institute of Internal Auditors.

© 2019 JPA-International

Succession planning

Succession planning – walking a tightrope


For over a year I’ve been working with a not-for-profit organization on its board-level governance and related issues. As with many organizations, its board has been weak, and needs to be strengthened. An additional challenge with this NFP is that it operates more like a family business than a typical NFP. This brings succession planning into mind – something with which we have great concern.

The organization was founded in the late 1940s by an individual for the benefit of a particular ethnic community. The founder managed the operation until his death in the late 1970s, when his protégé and the protégé’s wife took over the operation. At this point, the husband (CEO) is nearing 90 years-old and the wife (administrator) is in her later 70s. They are reticent to turn anything over to someone else because they can’t tolerate losing control; strategy is not their forte and they have missed the boat on a number of opportunities; they have also been weak in protecting the revenue stream.  They’ve enjoyed good health, and have an incredible work ethic and dedication to the organization. Their only child, a son in his 50s, has no interest in the organization in the full-time sense, but he is very dedicated to it and would likely be willing to take responsibility for an aspect of overall management. However, many in the organization are not comfortable with his competencies, and his wife, who exerts a lot of influence over him, is toxic to the organization.

The wife/administrator has a huge role in the organization, wearing (too) many hats. I expect no one in their right mind would be willing to take over her role as it currently exists, but there are a few folks in the organization that might take on 2 or 3 of her various roles – some are actually chomping at the bit to do so. Coaxing her to see these people as successors, and having her give them responsibility, accountability, and coaching has been difficult.

 

The struggle is getting the wife/administrator to accept the need to plan for succession. Trust is a big issue; for one thing, I must be careful not to push too hard or she will lose trust, AND she needs to trust the people that might take over her various roles.  As with many NFPs, there isn’t a lot of money to pay people so the idea of attracting people from outside likely won’t work. The people that will take on these roles do so out of love for the organization.

 

This is where succession planning is as much about psychology as it is about good business. In this case, whomever is leading the effort has to tiptoe around the incumbents, while also ensuring that the successors are developing appropriately. It’s further complicated when the incumbents are not open to change because only they know best. And we need to be mindful that the incumbents will still be around after they retire and could undermine (even unknowingly) the new leaders.

 

Summary

I continue to tread carefully here, taking opportunities to make points about succession whenever I can. Following are some key messages from JPA Board Governance that are important for the board and management to act on:

 

  • It is absolutely vital to have a succession plan to ensure continuity of an organization.

 

  • The board should hold management accountable to have regular succession conversations. Maybe it’s as simple as an annual touchpoint with management. Maybe a semi-annual discussion. Frequency will depend on the organization, but it should be done on some regular basis. If succession planning is embedded in the organization’s way of doing business, the “threatening” part of the discussion goes away and everyone becomes more comfortable with the topic.

 

  • Cross-training supports succession planning. Cross-training keeps colleagues educated, interested, and able to cover for each other when needed. The same could be said for collaborative management – developing a team by sharing challenges and seeking their input into solutions.

 

  • It’s important to make succession a process, not an event. When someone takes on a new role, give them time to get comfortable with the role, and then coach them to think about their succession. Make succession something people address regularly. At JPA Board Governance, we teach that succession planning begins when you develop the job description, right through recruitment, hiring, performance management, development, goals, etc., to ensure on-going job fit.

 

  • If controlled/owned by a family, the family element needs to be addressed. Family leaders should have regular, open conversations with family members about succession. To avoid doing so will cause business as well as family problems.

 

  • Think beyond the immediate successor. At the NFP I expect the husband’s successor will be in his 50s or 60s, so I am thinking they also need to recruit someone in his 30s to be the successor after that. In the meantime, the 30-something can be learning all facets of the NFP, and develop strong relationships in the community served. This will help the 30-something be a strong and trusted leader when the time comes.

 

  • Patience. Many people can talk about succession planning but few actually do it. Whether it’s facing their own mortality, or believing no one else can do what they do (or as well as they do it), or maybe they feel threatened by a rising star – succession is hard for an incumbent to address. Relatively speaking, being the consultant is easy (except for the being patient part).

 

Succession planning has long been a hot button of mine, and I am continually perplexed at how companies ignore it. This is especially true of public companies, and I fault the boards for not holding management accountable for the need to plan succession. By not having such a plan CEOs are derelict in their duties because that’s not in the long-term best interest of the company. And while I can accept the need for confidentiality, I cannot accept boards (some of them at very large companies) that don’t have a succession plan for the CEO – they too are derelict in their duties.

 

Help Needed?

The Board Governance Services team @ JPA is ready to help you manage through all board assessment challenges. You can reach us through our website, through LinkedIn, or by calling John Morrow on 908/432-0576.

Want to Share Your Views?

If you want to share your views on this blog please write to john@jpa-international.com.