Political Beliefs and CEO Pay

During the creation of my blog post on the next generation of women leaders, I’d expected the dawning of a new era for women leaders, and with this in mind, I wrote about the obstacles that women leaders face after they’ve made it to the top. But, despite predictions, our nation’s highest glass ceiling was not shattered last November. Of course, that post still applies to women CEOs around the world, even if not to our president-elect. Regardless of personal politics, it is obvious that the race to win the position of America’s CEO illustrated some intriguing differences between what Republicans and Democrats value in their leaders. If we wanted to drastically simplify the aims of each party, we could simply look to their candidates’ books. For instance, the title of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s It Takes a Village says it all: today’s Democrats cherish social justice and equality. Likewise, Donald Trump’s titles The Art of the Deal and How to Get Rich could provide a snapshot of what today’s Republicans prize: individualism and free markets. So while some of us were outraged when Trump’s response to Clinton’s observation that he had rooted for the housing crisis was, “That’s called business,” others of us thought such a stance denoted strong leadership.

According to Abhinav Gupta and Adam J. Wowak’s 2016 article “The Elephant (or Donkey) in the Boardroom: How Board Political Ideology Affects CEO Pay,” this diverging of ethos isn’t confined to the political realm. In fact, the business decisions made by a company’s board are just as tied to ideology. And when it comes to leadership and compensation, research shows that conservatives tend to hold the CEO responsible for a company’s success, and so they pay him or her in a way that reflects that perceived worth (i.e.: more). Liberals, on the other hand, tend to believe that the company’s success comes from a team effort—it takes a village—and the company’s spending, including the CEO’s paycheck, reflects that feeling (i.e.: the CEO is paid less). Perhaps this contributes to the fact that, according to CNBC, “the average pay for an S&P 500 CEO was $12.4 million in 2015, or 335 times the pay of a rank-and-file worker, according to a new report from the AFL-CIO,” a wealth disparity Trump’s proposed tax cuts would buoy if implemented.

This finding leads us to why conservatives might have assumed that Trump was the right man for the job: He’s rich (and he’s not afraid to brag about it. Though just how rich is still unclear). And surely he must be rich because he’s a good CEO (“good” as defined by conservatives), and if he’s a good CEO, he must be worthy of not just the corner office but the Oval Office.

Herein lies the double-edged sword—or the potential for just deserts, depending on where you lie on the political spectrum. Unlike liberal-leaning boards, which hold a CEO responsible but also take into account issues of social welfare and circumstances outside the CEO’s control, conservative board members tend to evaluate the CEO on delivery above all else. And since Trump claims that “[he] alone can fix it,” citizens will be expecting the new CEO to deliver on his promises—to make America strong again, to make America proud again, to make America safe again, to make America great again, and to make all of our wildest dreams come true.

President Hillary and the Next Generation of Leaders

No matter whom you vote for today, I think we can all agree that the next four years will challenge America’s perceptions about our country’s elected “CEO.” Today, November 8, 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton is predicted to shatter the most fortified and multipaned of glass ceilings in the United States, joining the ranks of such leaders as former Icelandic prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. Of course, this otherwise momentous occasion is in many ways just one step along what promises to be a very long and bumpy road. Clinton has already accomplished an extraordinary amount in her career, all while facing challenges that her male peers did not. As they say, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did “backwards and in high heels.” Likewise, women in leadership roles must run countries and companies while managing the extra work created by gender bias, such as navigating expectations around “niceness” or the seemingly never-ending scrutiny of their physical appearance and personal lives. Samantha Bee’s interview of former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, Marshallese president Hilda Heine, and Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović reveals a glimpse of just what female world leaders have to deal with beyond leading their nations.

Though the United States is a country rather than a company, there is no reason to believe bias would operate differently as our CEO and commander in chief interacts with Congress, a body whose demographics don’t vary much from the Fortune 500 in terms of female representation. On top of that, research shows that women get blamed more for corporate failures than their male counterparts. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports that, according to new analysis out of the Rockefeller Foundation and Global Strategy Group, the media cites the CEO as the reason for a company’s crisis 80 percent of the time when that CEO is a woman versus 31 percent when the CEO is a man. Clinton is all too familiar with the blame game, noting in the first presidential debate, “I have a feeling that, by the end of this evening, I'm going to be blamed for everything that's ever happened.”

What happens in the next four years will undoubtedly influence the course of politics and business culture—and inform the lives of women and girls—across the globe. So, what’s HRC to do when “the toll we’ve paid” to get her there “has been the most graphically sexist election in living memory” according to the New York Times, an election too many of us are quick to put behind us? Well, she could continue to name the issue. She could call out the sexism of her colleagues, as former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard did in her famous 2012 misogyny speech. She could call out sexism in the media, as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer did. Of course, any of those things would be on top of just being a damn good president.

That’s why Clinton shouldn’t have to do it alone. We, as her delegates, must stand up against sexism in whatever realm we occupy, whether it’s a war room or a boardroom (or a courtroom or a newsroom or a classroom or a kitchen). This is not just the job of women, or of women CEOs and elected leaders, but of all of us. We can all say enough is enough, as Michelle Obama encouraged us to do in her New Hampshire speech. We can engage in self-reflection to ensure we aren’t piling on, criticizing anything less than perfection for our women as role models or in the way they choose to grapple with certain sexism. And, most importantly, we can keep appointing and electing women to leadership positions until it is normalized, until we as constituents, board members, or frontline workers learn to judge our leaders fairly, based on competency and character, and take the “nasty” out it.

Corporate Activism Heats Up in North Carolina

The onetime corporate leadership mind-set to “be seen and not heard” when it came to politics has undergone a rapid shift—hitting a fever pitch in this controversial election season. In March, North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill that would roll back the rights of LGBT people by allowing business owners to refuse service to LGBT individuals, force people to use restrooms that correspond with the biological sex on their birth certificates regardless of how they identify, and limit a spate of job protections for members of the LGBT community. Proponents of the law say that the intent is to safeguard religious freedoms and to protect women’s privacy in the restroom. But the growing list of vocal opponents claim that it’s nothing more than blatant discrimination and that it constitutes a civil rights violation. Since the bill passed, there has been a deluge of national criticism from community leaders, celebrities, and artists—musicians from Bruce Springsteen to Itzhak Perlman have canceled performances in the state. These are all folks you expect to hear from about social issues. But the cascade of corporate leaders who’ve spoken out has been extraordinary, with CEOs from Apple, Wells Fargo, IBM, Salesforce, PayPal, and the NBA denouncing the law. Over 120 national companies have now signed a letter condemning the law. The mayors of New York, San Francisco, and Seattle have banned government travel to the state of North Carolina. But for the already economically unstable state, this dissent is much more than a slap on the wrist, as CEOs of major companies are not just speaking out but making sure North Carolina faces major economic consequences. Most recently Pepsi—which was invented in North Carolina and still employs thousands in the state—came out against the law, and Google Ventures CEO Bill Maris has announced a boycott of funding to any start-ups in the state until the law is repealed. You can see a full list of companies that have come out for and against the bill here, and the differences between the lists—both in number and scope—are shocking.

And it’s not just talk and tweets. As a result of the bill, PayPal canceled expansion plans that would have brought 400 jobs to the state; Deutsche Bank froze creation of 250 jobs; A+E Networks, Lionsgate, and 21st Century Fox have all vowed not to film there until the law is repealed (joining Fox, Miramax, and the Weinstein Company in the pledge). Now, the Department of Justice is threatening to pull federal funds if the state doesn’t repeal the law.

It’s no surprise then that business leaders in North Carolina are worried about what effects the law might have on their bottom line. Bob Page, CEO of NC-based Replacements, Ltd., sent out a letter to customers ensuring that there would be no discrimination: “I want to make one thing clear,” he said in his eloquent statement. “Replacements, Ltd. affirms the dignity and beauty of each and every person. You will always be warmly welcomed.”

State leadership is anything but aligned on the subject, with Attorney General Roy Cooper calling the bill “a national embarrassment” and claiming it would set the state economy back.

With a who’s who of the corporate world putting pressure on the state, it remains to be seen whether state leadership will choose this hill as the one to die on (economically speaking): but one thing is certain, the power of CEO activism is real, and it’s likely here to stay.

What Trump Can Learn from Successful Organization Transformations

In my last book, Guiding Growth, I talked about what can happen when a company doesn’t have a coherent, effective vision. And I’ve found that before most managers can commit to growing an organization that is driven by vision, they need to recognize the characteristics of a company without vision. More importantly, they must recognize what happens when a company pushes forward into hyper-growth mode absent a cohesive vision. In an ongoing conversation regarding the characteristics of a leader, I thought it interesting that the current “missteps” in the Donald Trump campaign are illustrative of what happens when a leader—be they politician or CEO—cannot clearly articulate their vision, even within their own ranks, and execute the vision in the day-to-day operations of their organization.  

Many fast-growing organizations encounter a similar problem: the lack of an effective, embedded vision at the crucial juncture where scaling meets speed. The research I’m currently up to my eyeballs in focuses on the unique capabilities of firms that successfully transform themselves in response to market disruptions. These organizations are on the receiving end of disruption caused by start-ups—incumbents who risk becoming irrelevant if they do not adapt. We are finding—no real surprise—that a guiding vision is essential before the transformational process begins, and without it, the trauma of transformation can literally kill off an organization.

National campaigns are like start-ups in that their trajectories point to size but not necessarily longevity. Rather than formulating a robust vision, then implementing ambitious strategies that lay the groundwork for a sustainable, thoughtful platform, some of the political campaigns we’re seeing rely on drama and vitriol to exploit media opportunities, which until now has served Trump well. We’ve also seen (and I’ve recently written about) how business start-ups fueled by drama and emotion but no vision just end up in a fizzle.

Trump’s political organization needs (or, more accurately, needed) a transformation not unlike the ones he should know about as a CEO.

Nowhere is a lack of vision more apparent than in his campaign’s organizational kerfuffle. Just ask Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s campaign manager—a major player in disruptive politics, who was recently arrested in Florida for simple battery. And Trump himself—taking three different views on abortion in one day, angering and alienating constituents on both sides, and touching a nerve that just may be the undoing of his campaign. With accusations of misogyny still ringing from these scandals, the candidate supported, and then recanted, a view that should abortion become illegal, women deserve punishment.

Much like the development of a start-up, this transition of a reality TV star into a serious contender for the Republican nomination requires nothing less than a series of fundamental yet relatively seamless transformations. Well-articulated visions guide these transformations so they don’t include too many nasty surprises and errors along the way. Unfortunately, there are relatively few exceptional leaders with the capacity to conceptualize, articulate, and relentlessly manage with a clear vision and survive the steep challenges brought on by accelerated growth. But a direct correlation exists between the competency of vision management and the rate at which firms (and campaigns) can successfully grow and sustain themselves.

The one candidate with seemingly endless airtime to explain his views to the American people should give everyone, supporters and nonsupporters alike, pause as to his ability to lead.

Trump may even be a believer in vision. But he lacks the understanding of how to integrate “vision” in the daily demands of leading the race for, and then winning, his party’s nomination. The highs and lows of each day—the crises, the opportunities, the ever-evolving scandals—have clearly pushed vision to the back burner. Meanwhile, as the tension mounts during primary season, the Trump campaign seems less and less to agree on what they’re really about. “Make America Great Again” is neither a vision nor the raison d’être component of a vision. We need to hear a far more nuanced aspiration—perhaps closer to the existential level—of what this country can become, how he plans to achieve it, and the values that will undergird the executive branch, Congress, and the American people. The question, “What is your position on X?” elicits different responses from the campaign, and in short order, perhaps those who used to see him as a hero-iconoclast are left wondering, “What does he believe in?”

Is Hillary Mean?

As a follow-up to my last post regarding Donald Trump as the quintessential Mean Man, I did some thinking about Hillary Clinton and her rise to leadership. In today’s political climate, Mean Men abound, but what about Mean Women? In all my years working with high-powered entrepreneurs, I have never encountered women behaving in some of the psychotic ways I’ve seen men behave. Now, thanks to the antics of the Republican front-runners, what should have been a historic campaign of ideas between would-be leaders has morphed into a blazing rocket of tabloid fodder and idiocy. I’d argue that Trump and Cruz embody the Mean Man, and it got me to wondering again—Are there Mean Women? Is Hillary allowed to be mean? Would we put up with such behavior from the candidate who aspires to become the first female president of the United States, or is she held to a different standard? Every time I’ve posted on the gender expectations around mean in the past, my comments section is flooded with stories from women about the egregious double standard that exists in terms of what is deemed acceptable behavior for men and women. Research validates these anecdotes, offering that women are punished rather than celebrated for being mean. Is there a biological difference, or does outsized ambition just not square with our idea of femininity? Given the context of the 2016 presidential election, let’s examine the perception of women in roles of power, as well as the roles of women adjacent to power, the wives and girlfriends. As the latest scandals from the Republicans demonstrate—be it the Twitter wars between Trump and Cruz, or the National Enquirer story regarding infidelity—we’ll obviously tolerate outrageous behavior from male candidates. The misogyny on display from this side of the aisle, from Trump’s comments to and about female journalists, to the Cruz camp’s attempts to shame Melania Trump, is stomach churning.

But how does this apparently low bar for “presidential behavior” apply to the female candidate who is the most likely nominee for the Democratic Party? What might we hypothesize are the larger cultural perceptions of a woman who seeks power?

Slate tackled this recently in a fascinating piece concerning Hillary’s “likability.” The writer noted that she had “come to believe that saying nice things about Hillary Clinton can be a subversive act.” And noted the disproportionate number of personal attacks on her personality when compared with her male peers. Likability is always an issue for candidates, but we’re well versed in men being able to display power and forcefulness while still finding them likable (think Obama, Reagan, the other Clinton). But women? It’s trickier.

Many female leaders likely find much to relate to in the double bind Hillary finds herself in when it comes to the public’s perception:

Hillary Clinton absolutely cannot express negative emotion in public. If she speaks loudly or gets angry or cries, she risks being seen as bitchy, crazy, dangerous. (When she raised her voice during the 2013 Benghazi Senate committee hearings, the cover of the New York Post blared “NO WONDER BILL’S AFRAID.”) But if Hillary avoids emotions—if she speaks strictly in calm, logical, detached terms—then she is cold, robotic, calculating.

Simply put, male politicians can get angry and they’re being passionate. Female politicians? They’re being bitches and harpies.

Why is this? And what are we asking of our leaders and ourselves? Is it contradictory to say that there really are no Mean Women? Or do our perceptions of female archetypes run so deep as to define Hillary primarily on personality attributes rather than her vision and goals for our country? Is Hillary really mean? Based on what’s trending in and driving our national discourse, it seems that leadership and femininity remain sadly incongruent. This despite study after study showing that qualities such as empathy (a trait more frequently associated with female leaders, and women in general) is one of the most crucial traits for a leader to possess.

As we examine gender roles in leadership, we must recognize the bias that guides our decisions. And now we must ask ourselves, as this campaign continues to spiral into the absurd, are we so myopic as to overlook behavior one wouldn’t tolerate from a nine-year-old in our leaders?

Don’t Let Trump Finish First

Donald Trump continues to perplex the national media and the collective whole of reasonable Americans with his seemingly unstoppable momentum in the race for the 2016 GOP nomination. In the wake of his failure to disavow the support of white supremacist groups and violence at his rallies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and elsewhere, it begs a few questions: Is this really what leadership looks like to some Americans? What’s going on here? Is this the backlash of a middle class who feel genuinely disenfranchised? The recent and alarming rise of xenophobia and frantic nationalism left by the vacuum of leadership from the Republican establishment seems only to be growing. Are we willing to face the consequences of allowing “mean” to define leadership and success in both the private and public sectors? Do we clearly understand the vision and goals of the man who’s bullying his way through our political system in his quest to become our commander in chief? Sadly, the underlying irony may lie in the fact that even his most fervent followers could not explain how we will “Make America great again” in a cohesive, singular vision with realistic and reasonable goals. The reason Trump is eliciting a response is both deeper and more subtle.

The Monster We Know

In the tumultuous 1960s, Hannah Arendt caused national outrage by suggesting that some of the greatest evil the world had ever known boiled down to a Nazi war criminal’s inability to think for himself. Over fifty years later, we are in another time of political and economic upheaval, searching for original thinkers, visionaries, heroes to show us the way. With America preparing to hire its next CEO, we are telegraphing daily to the world our collective values surrounding leadership, power, and the price of success. At the very least, no one would disagree that Donald Trump represents “the ugly American” in its illogical extreme, that boorish, gun-toting, face-punching, self-entitled, narcissistic loudmouth. Is this really who we want to be on the world stage?

We are at a pivotal crossroads: If we blindly follow in the footsteps of mean, that culture will come to define us, crippling our creativity, warping the next generation, and producing demagogues instead of leaders. When these leaders stoke the fears and underlying prejudices of an already angry electorate, the consequences become very real.

Bringing Civility Back

All’s not lost. Accountability, authenticity, relationships, true empathy, and the power of social capital can move us toward a better and brighter future. We as a nation can be both strong and compassionate, both to our fellow Americans as well as our fellow world citizens. Just because the outrageous behavior of characters like Trump takes up all the air in the room, we mustn’t accept his ways as the norm, or believe there is no further “air” to breathe. By owning our actions, clearly communicating alternative scenarios, and cultivating honest, authentic interactions, we begin to reject the cult of personality that rewards poor behavior.

They don’t make the news as often, but they’re there, the nice guys who finish far from last. What does authentic leadership look and feel like in action? Perhaps it’s Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister who publicly demanded a gender-equal cabinet simply “because it’s 2015.” Or Mauricio Macri, the wealthy businessman-turned-president of Argentina who plans to decrease inflation, debt, and the international isolation that has stunted the country for decades. Can we shift our popular and workplace culture to celebrate the true leaders among us? How do we want to define leadership for the generations to follow? What does being an American success really mean?

Regardless of political leanings, we all share the responsibility to own this personal change. It starts now, and it starts with us.

Why Christie’s Meanness Will Be His Undoing

Chris Christie returned to his hometown of Livingston, New Jersey, this past week to make an announcement that many saw coming despite his recent troubles. In the gymnasium of his former high school—scene of Christie’s youthful glory days as president of his class three years running and captain of the baseball team—he took the stage to throw his hat in the ring and join an almost absurdly crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls vying for the 2016 nomination.

In his admittedly rousing speech, he flayed not only President Obama and his “second mate” Hillary Clinton (yawn) and presumptive opponents like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but the government at large for its utter lack of ability to compromise and get things done. It was stirring stuff, but no one’s ever criticized Christie’s skills as an orator. Will his inarguable charisma be enough to get him back in the good graces of the American people in time to make a serious bid for the White House?

Governor Christie of New Jersey rose to fame as a brazenly incautious politician. He was the “straight talker,” defined by his blistering rants, searing insults, and perennial public feuds—all of which he labels as “harmless theatrics.”

But Christie’s meanness may be what does him in before the 2016 presidential election, something he spent much of 2014 and 2015 to date getting ready to throw his weight into. Bridgegate, the New Jersey lane-closing scandal rooted in a ruthless act of political retribution, promises to be a visible narrative of the belligerence he’s so known for and which can as easily work against him as it does for him. In early May 2015, two of Christie’s most loyal and trusted lieutenants were indicted. Brigid Harrison, a professor at Montclair State University, says it’s probably the death knell for Christie’s national aspirations. “Even if he is not directly connected to the indictments,” she noted, “he is guilty of creating a political culture in which corruption was allowed to flourish.” In other words, the polar opposite of what he vowed to accomplish with all of his “straight talk.”

There’s backlash too for Christie throwing his trusting staff under a bus in the wake of the scandal, as Christie and his minions are infamous for punishing any who cross him. When times get rough and you need friends, that kind of turncoat behavior makes others nervous. “Exoneration of the man is not exoneration of his leadership style,” commented The New York Times in the wake of the indictments.

During his meteoric rise, as he won hearts and minds during a series of town hall style meetings throughout New Jersey, Christie was the envy of the Republican Party for his savvy branding as a tough-talking but likeable, relatable guy with heaps of New Jersey swagger. His popularity was such that certain Republican insiders are rumored to have begged him to run instead of Romney in 2012. But in a post-Bridgegate world, Christie’s path to the presidential nomination is buried in the underbrush.

As it stands, a mind-blowing fifty-five percent of Republicans polled couldn’t imagine voting for Christie. In fact, the only Republican candidate less popular at the moment is America’s favorite bloviating buffoon, Donald Trump. And even The Donald was told “you’re fired” by NBC, his syndicating partner for beauty pageants and The Apprentice. Might it be more than a coincidence that the two loudmouths with the lowest polls going into the Republican nomination process have a worldview that the best way to influence others is to bully them?

Americans have historically shown considerable forgiveness for personal scandals (there was a little kerfuffle with the now-beloved Bill Clinton, if you’ll recall). But the public sees Bridgegate not merely as Chris Christie’s scandal but as a singular case of public betrayal, an event notable for its bullying quality and indifference to the thousands of people who were impacted by it. Extraordinary rhetorical skill notwithstanding, meanness is what threatens to take Christie down.