Picking Leaders!


“Leadership is not a position, noun or an adjective, it is an action verb.”

Kwame S. Salter

Leadership is a very elusive concept to define. We know it when we see it in action. Similarly, we know when there is an absence of leadership. The mountain of leadership literature, notwithstanding, what we don’t know is how to identify and develop effective leaders. However, we still debate the age-old question of whether leaders are born or made. And, while we carry on this debate, the problems and challenges we face daily are becoming more and more complex and wicked.

Today, organizations are in the throes of a deep leadership crisis. Their process for identifying, selecting and developing leaders is flawed. Instead of substance, we place more emphasis on the individual’s traits, appearance (gender and ethnicity), and social personality. They assume that if a person possesses certain traits they will become effective leaders when placed in a senior level position. Sadly, too many people still think that a senior level position will unlock the leadership capabilities of the new incumbent. However, lacking the qualities needed for real leadership, many of these so-called “can’t miss” high potentials become experts on describing, rather than solving, the problems and challenges we face on a daily basis.

Real leaders don’t wait until they are promoted to exercise and demonstrate leadership. They become experts at expanding the solution space; they often “ask for forgiveness instead of permission”; they make things happen instead of sitting around “wondering what happened.” Most importantly, they take a position instead of waiting to be promoted to a leadership position. Yet, according to the pundits, the one thing that they are certain of is that managers are not leaders.

In fact, they imply that leaders aren’t managers and managers can’t be leaders. They resort to clever quips and quotes to suggest that leaders are qualitatively superior to managers. Yet, most, if not all, leaders evolve from the ranks of managers. Therefore, my premise is that leaders exist at all levels of the organization. Effective leaders are effective managers and good managers must be good leaders. The organization or enterprise that will not only survive, but also prosper, into the next decade will be intentional about developing leaders at all levels.

Over my many years of being in leadership positions and identifying leaders, I have observed 7 qualities, each beginning with the letter “I”, that potential leaders exhibit, regardless of their level in the organization. These qualities are combination of both innate and learned behaviors. The 7 qualities I have observed in people who make excellent leaders are the following:

  • Initiative:Readiness and ability in initiating action
  • Intuition:A keen and quick insight
  • Insight:Penetrating mental vision or discernment
  • Integrity: Adherence to moral and ethical principles
  • Intellect:The capacity for thinking and acquiring knowledge, especially of a high or complex order
  • Instinct:A innate impulse or tendency towards action
  • Introspection: The act or process of looking into oneself

Assessing talent using these 7 qualities will insure that you are improving the probability of successfully identifying future leaders–who are still in the pipeline, waiting to be promoted. As Michael Jordan once said, ” There is no ‘I’ in Team, but there is in Win.” I guarantee you that incorporating the 7 “I’s” listed above your organization will have a winning leadership team.

Keeping Score? The Ferguson Aftermath

“If we are playing for fun, why keep score?”

-Al McGuire, Coach

 I am saddened in equal measure by the Ferguson Grand Jury’s proclamation and the opportunistic reaction of roving bands of thieves and thugs bent on pillage, not protest. The nagging question for me is “who provoked whom?” Did the Grand Jury’s decision give the thieves and thugs the excuse they needed to break into businesses in their own community? Or did the video of Michael Brown in the convenience store pocketing cigarillos unduly influence the Grand Jury’s deliberations? What role did the media play in reducing a convoluted situation into a simplistic “white cop kills unarmed black teenager” scenario?  Having some experience with the media, I know that the media does not pick sides—it creates sides. Setting an antagonist against a protagonist sells more magazine copies, brings more eyes to TV and computer screens, and improves ratings and circulation. As Marshall McLuhan concluded, “the medium is the message.” Videos are powerful mini-movies that capture a point in time and can be interpreted by a skilled lawyer to represent the exact opposite of what it captures. For example, both Brown and Wilson were the same height—six foot and four inches tall. However, young Brown was much heavier.

Lost in all of this kerfuffle is the avoidable death of an unarmed Michael Brown, Jr. and the rationalization or demonization of Officer Wilson’s action. As a parent, I am sure that Michael’s mother and father would rather have their son alive than an indictment of Darren Wilson for his murder. Whether you are a Black or White parent, somewhere in your heart you must empathize with the Browns. Michael Brown, Jr. is dead. He did not have a chance to explain, defend or justify his behavior or actions.

Tragically, Darren Wilson has become a pawn in a sinister game of racial finger pointing. Some will conclude that the Grand Jury’s refusal to indict him is tantamount to rendering him innocent. On the contrary, the effect of the Grand Jury’s decision was to raise questions about his innocence. Unfortunately, too many of us see the race issue as a game ball that we kick around. I still cringe at the now faded and grainy video images of blacks celebrating the OJ Simpson verdict. As the British would say, I was gob smacked.  I kept thinking about how OJ’s legal team was able to transform his image from a multi-millionaire golden boy celebrity without a racial identification into an oppressed black man being railroaded by a racist criminal justice system.

We Americans—all of us—are hooked on keeping score in this game of racial tag. We tend to socialize with people who agree with us, listen to and watch only the media pundits and solicitous politicians who reinforce our racial beliefs and stereotypes.  No pun intended, we see issues regarding race in terms of black and white. We do not want a drop of grey to seep into our black and white realities. We are trapped comfortably in our own perceptions of reality. The thick bands of insulation we have built up around our perceptions insure that no contradictions can enter our mental framework. However, only through contradictions can we grow and learn.

One undeniable contradiction is we have more in common than we are willing to admit. We are first and foremost human beings. We have the same physical design, the same emotional make up and the same physiological processes. Some of us are taller, heavier, faster or stronger. Still, we all feel pain, joy, fear and love—the color of our skin, notwithstanding. I remember reading an interview with a mixed race pro athlete who asked his black father why he married a “white woman”? His father replied, “I picked her. God painted her.” With this simple and profound response in mind, I submit that we must internalize the fact that our color is secondary to our humanity. The Michael Brown Jr. and Darren Wilson and the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman tragedies (along with too many more similar situations) should teach us that the loss of an innocent life and the demonization of another is a painful human experience that diminishes each of us. We must start the process of breaking free from our prisons of racial perceptions. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside.”

Let’s open these doors by 1) viewing each human life as having value, 2) looking at each situation from the perspective of our many roles such as grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, sister, brother, cousin, nephew or friend, 3) abandoning the score keeping mentality that racial hatred requires, and 4) having the audacity to operate out of love for—versus fear of—each other. I am sure that Michael Brown Jr. did not get up on that fateful morning planning to get into a confrontation with a white policeman. And, I also suggest that Darren Wilson’s To Do List did not include killing an unarmed black teenager. Yet whatever provoked the situation was not serious enough to result in killing another human being. This is why an open and transparent proceeding should take place so that we all can learn from this encounter. To be found not guilty is not to be found innocent.

To become so numb to the loss of human life for the sake of winning an argument is barbaric. My fellow Americans, we are better than this.


As a student and teacher of organizational behavior, I have always been intrigued by the role a leader plays in galvanizing people to rally around his/her vision. The literature on leadership is replete with examples of different styles, approaches and philosophies adopted by successful leaders. By inference, it is suggested that all one has to do is study, learn and adopt one of these styles to become an effective and successful leader.

We have been introduced to the Authentic leader, the Corporate Mystic leader, the Situational leader and the High EQ (emotional intelligence) leader. By putting forth Diamond Leadership (one who is both a directional and servant leader) as another effective style of leadership. I have added to this list in my book. All of these styles are legitimate and can be effective, if practiced with sincerity—and in the appropriate context. Still, to be truly effective, leadership must go beyond styles and dive deep into the area of substance.

Substance is built upon one simple, yet profound, concept, i.e., Trust. Regardless of what leadership style you employ, without trust that style will not be effective over the long haul. People, your employees, will eventually see through the style mask. If they conclude that your real essence is something other than the style you lead with, they will not commit to you or your vision. In a word, once they no longer trust you the gig is up. They will still hear you but will not listen to you. They will still work with you, but not for you. Trust is the industrial strength glue that bonds the leader with their people. Gaining trust takes a long time. Losing trust can happen in an instant. Regaining trust is a monumental undertaking. Trust is not a question of style. It is the result of being consistently truthful and impeccable with your word. Trust flows from character.

Character is whom you really are deep down inside. It is the combination of values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that define you at rest—when there is no audience or others to impress or manipulate. Character traits are revealing behaviors that expose your hard wiring. For example, a leader or person who likes to be in charge may have the following character traits: know-it-all, rude, pompous, conceited or bossy. Character is foundational for building trust. Flowing from a good character is Integrity.

Years ago, the New York Times newspaper had a one-page insert that proclaimed, “If you’re good when nobody’s looking, that’s integrity.” Integrity, according to the Dictionary is “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” Peter Drucker once said, “ There is no such thing as business ethics. Either you are always ethical or you’re not.” Clearly, integrity does not fall into the ‘situational’ category of behavior. Integrity is a constant. It is non-negotiable and immune to bribery or reward. Situational ethics is best summed up in an old Chicago political axiom—“if you accept the offer, it’s a reward. If you reject it, it’s a bribe.” A person with high integrity is rarely put in the position of having to accept or reject a shady offer. Still, if confronted with a questionable offer, they respond with the spontaneous right action—they reject it. Once you’ve rejected enough dubious offers, words gets around that your integrity is fixed and firm. Your reputation becomes both a sword and shield for dealing with the sly, the slick and the wicked.

Now, with your character and integrity firmly established, you are able to project an Authenticity that attracts people to you and that gives credence to your words. To be authentic is to be honest in thoughts, words and actions. In a word, to be authentic is to be genuine. Authentic leaders are dealers in truth. Sometimes, the truth is painful and, at other times, it is liberating. Yet, it is always a powerful communication tool. The truth minimizes complexity, eliminates needless drama, reduces cycle time and creates a culture of openness. If the leader can speak the truth, everyone in the organization is empowered to speak the truth. In other words, sales forecasts can be truthful, missed opportunities can be admitted and constructive criticism can be shared. If the leader lies to the shareholders and stakeholders about company performance, the employees will lie to the leader about his/her performance. Duplicity breeds duplicity. Authenticity breeds authenticity. Out of authenticity comes trust.

Trust is what we feel and accept about another’s real intention. Without trust there can be no peace or progress. Trust requires that we accept, unconditionally, that a person or group’s actions and intentions are honorable and supportive of our goals and actions. For one human to trust another human, one must be willing to believe that their interests are held harmless and will not be subject to trickery or be undermined. Trust is the byproduct of high character, integrity and authenticity. An untrustworthy person cannot trust another person. Untrustworthy means there is always that doubt, that question and that concern about another person’s motive. Most untrustworthy people see trusting people as naïve and gullible. They pretend to be trustworthy only to gain an advantage. Trust is a tool of deception for them. Yet, in spite of their skill at acting to gain the confidence of others, they are incapable of respecting those they dupe. Their reasoning is simple. They feel as though they are transparent and those who can’t see through them are slow and deserving of being exploited. In other words, they don’t trust themselves and are astounded when others trust them. Leaders who practice building ‘false trust’ are inevitably found out.

Trusted Leaders are static free, fair and even handed, comfortable in the own skins and clear (no BS) communicators, while always being truthful when speaking or writing. As former Presidential Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer once said, “Everything truthful need not be said. But everything said must be truthful.”

The Real Role of Middle Management

“People join a company and quit a boss.”

 After years in the business of being managed and managing people, I have recently had an epiphany. Simply put, the idea of middle management is either a contrived and bogus concept put forth to justify another level of oversight or a mechanism to keep the average employee on task–believing that they are irresponsible big kids who need ‘adult supervision’. The fact of the matter is that middle management is misunderstood.

Pure and simple, most so-called mid-level managers are ‘individual contributors’ or subject matter experts who, probably, deserve recognition for their contributions over time to the enterprise. Sadly, however, traditional career ladders are stuck on vertical. As a result, we tend to promote these hard working and competent performers to their “level of incompetence” as articulated in the Peter Principle.

Many argue that mid-level managers are responsible for “organizing, directing and controlling” work. Yet, too frequently, these managers are the very reason that work is unorganized, chaotic and out of control. To avoid taking the fall for a work unit’s performance shortfalls, middle managers often introduce complexity, drama and politics into the workplace. Rarely have I seen a mid-level manager’s job description that emphasizes the importance of strategic goal setting, people development and performance management. Their role, simply put, is to deliver output –with little more than ‘lip service’ being paid to how important it is to the bottom line to bring about employee ownership, engagement and development.

Now is the time to ‘re-purpose’ the role of mid-level manager. We need a new type of mid-level manager. We need someone with high emotional intelligence or EQ, with the ability to connect to people and transfer knowledge–while spotting and developing talent. We need middle managers that recognize their responsibility for both business results and people development; we need to acknowledge that the middle manager is the real human resources professional; we need to promote the ideals of real servant leadership versus rewarding the undercover mentality of a ‘snooper visor”.

So, exactly what is the role of middle management? Is “middle management’s” role to show people how to do the work correctly or to monitor the work that is being done—or both? ? Both these tasks are necessary, but not sufficient, to develop talent.

Development of talent should be the most important role of the middle manager. Development of talent involves honing and enhancing the technical skills of the employee, creating a climate of performance accountability and being responsible for sharing insights regarding on the right way things should get done within the larger organization. The middle manager should be a role model for how to work cross functionally in a cooperative and collaborative way. Unfortunately, the middle manager is the “keeper of the gate” for their functional silo. In spite of the lofty statements printed on laminated cards and posted on bulletin boards, middle managers intuitively know that they will be held accountable for one thing—measurable unit outcomes. How they treat, grow and develop their direct reports is, often, of secondary concern.

Rarely does the middle manager want or get upward feedback from their direct reports. As I have been told and observed, most middle managers are ‘stuck up’. In other words, they are concerned only with how their boss perceives them. And, what the boss wants are cold, hard and measurable results. Pity the middle manager that goes to their superior and says, “Morale is low.” In fact, if they want to get the attention of the superior regarding employee engagement, they would say, “productivity is low.” In the minds of too many middle managers, the people part of the equation is completely outsourced to the Human Resources function. Instead of giving struggling employees constructive feedback, they call in their HR hit man/woman. The HR hit man/woman, who by the way has not observed the employee’s performance, parrots what they have been told by the middle manager. Consequently, when the employee is placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP), he/she is told. “HR made me do this to you.” This failure to own up to the performance management part of their job is the critical disconnect between the manager and the employee.

For any organization to go from ‘Good to Great’, the middle manager must be viewed as the key variable. Now is time to move the manager from being ‘stuck up’ to becoming a bit more ‘stuck down’. Put another way, let them know and reward them for not being a custodian of talent—but, more importantly, becoming a developer of talent. The successful organization will re-calibrate for the middle manager the tasks that are vital to its survival and success—that is an engaged, empowered and developed workforce.



Who Plays The Race Card?


The Growing Trust Gap

By Kwame S. Salter

Robin Williams, the brilliant late actor/comedian, once remarked, “Reality! What a concept.” When the discussion comes around to race relations in America, we seem to have a difficult time dealing with the reality of race. On both sides of the racial divide, opinions seem to be set in quick drying concrete. Many whites feel that any mention of race is an attempt by blacks to justify or excuse some action or reaction. On the other hand, too many blacks believe that no white person can be trusted to be fair and objective in encounters between the races. In reality, the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. Clearly, not every compliant by blacks is frivolous or a blatant attempt to obfuscate by playing the so-called “race card.” And, in spite of the sordid history of social injustices, political disenfranchisement and state sponsored terrorism in the guise of the Klan and other white supremacist groups, many brave and courageous whites have stood up for both our civil and human rights.

The recent phenomenon of rewiring racial injustices to be viewed as something other than reality has been aided and abetted by the talking heads of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh et.al. Some whites have a problem with Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and, even, President Obama injecting themselves into race issues. However, more blacks find the right wing rants of the Fox commentators both insulting and a gambit—as they, not so subtlety, use race as both sword and shield to boost their ratings and line their pockets. Jon Stewart, the insightful and comic genius anchor for the Dailey Show (http://youtu.be/n-cfi-zzNzM.) assembled and dissected a block of videos from these media agitators. After viewing the Stewart video, I am sure you will agree that facts to these guys get in the way of their goal of whipping their fan base into frenzy. While selected and isolated so-called facts are introduced with glaring graphics and amplified by angry guest commenters, the objective reality doesn’t support their position. In their worldview, the only race that counts and should be acknowledged as legitimate is a NASCAR event. Yet still, they raise issues that must either be countered or addressed– not only by blacks, but also all of America.

Issues such as black on black crime and the scourge of vicious black criminal cartels loosely referred to, as gangs must be faced up to and discussed. Approximately 12%-13% of the American population is African-American, making up 40% of the almost 2.1 million male inmates in jail or prison (U.S. Department of Justice, 2009). Crime, whether committed by blacks or whites, has become pandemic in our large urban centers. What are the contributing factors; why is our criminal justice system so efficient in the capture and incarceration of black offenders; and, how many are in prison due to being targeted in the putative War on Drugs? “Too many,” as George Wallace was said to have quipped when asked, “how many blacks are there in America?” But, why are we so protective of so many of the truly bad guys who live in and terrorize our black communities? Is it that we don’t trust the police? Many of the police patrolling these black communities are themselves black. Are these black officers quid pro quo better or fairer than their white counterparts? Some are and some aren’t.

Just recently, a highly commended black Police Commander in Chicago was stripped of his badge and gun while facing two felony charges. This top cop allegedly put his gun in the mouth of a black suspect. DNA test verified the presence of the gun in the suspect’s mouth. By the way, this cop, over the years, had been the subject of many citizen complaints. What comes of the complaints from black citizens against these black cops? According to records, only two citizen complaints resulted in discipline. Is this behavior by a black cop surprising? No, not if you consider that during WWII the Nazi’s used Jewish prisoners as “Kapos” or prisoner trustees to watch over and brutalize their fellow Jewish prisoners. The more brutal these Kapos the more rewarded by the SS Guards. As I pointed out in my piece of Ferguson, what we need is not, necessarily more black officers—but better officers. Attracting, developing and retaining better police officers is the key to tamping down some of the potential of violence by and against police. Having a close relative that was a police officer who was shot and blinded in the course of duty, I know their job is not an easy one. Every split second is over loaded with information and data that must be correctly deciphered—their life and the suspect’s depend on it. This is the reality of the situation.

Having discussions aimed at bringing about positive race relations appears to be a topic that America is not eager to put on the table. America, we have a problem. This is not a new problem; it is not even an isolable problem; still, it is a wicked problem. According to the Australian Public Commission, a wicked problem is one “that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The term “wicked” is used to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil.” Improved race relations in America can be achieved by applying our unique American “can do” attitude. We have a blueprint. That blueprint is the Kerner Commission formed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 to understand the root causes of the urban riots that plagued our cities from starting in 1964. Johnson rejected the Commission’s recommendations. Still, the Commission’s findings, known as the Kerner Report were spot on and prescient. The Commission stated that the nation was “moving toward two societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal.” Moreover, the Report warned our country faced a “system of apartheid in its major cities.”

Obviously, we have not heeded the warning. Today, the concentration of blacks in the inner cities remains more fixed than fluid; the predicted racial divide has widened; and, poverty is more structural than generational. We need President Obama to issue a call to action, much like President Johnson did over 40 years ago. Thus, my modest proposal is for the President to create the Biden Commission on race relations. Joe Biden, our straight shooting Vice-President has both the street cred and needed gravitas to lead such a Commission—his 2007 primary gaffe, notwithstanding, of describing Obama thusly: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” Biden said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” I’ve heard worse and Biden has more than atoned for that politically incorrect statement.

Finally, I would also highly recommend that Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh be invited to join this august body. Why not? They always seem to have the right answers.