When I conduct leadership seminars, I start by asking the participants who they think best personifies leadership. Most of the answers are predictable with familiar names of well-known celebrities. Presidents, generals and CEOs usually top the list. But the ultimate question is: Who would you like to be like?
It’s getting close to that time of year – the holidays — and of course the seasonal kick-off starts with that spooky-scary-magical day … Halloween. So let’s indulge in a little magic of our own. Imagine yourself in your own laboratory, because you — Dr. Frankenstein — are going to create the ultimate best version of yourself, using the best parts of other successful leaders to create the ultimate leader.
I think the perfect CEO would have the following qualities:
Charisma. It is easier to follow a leader you like and admire, even if you don’t agree with everything they think or do. I like Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan in this category. Both men had the ability to lead by leveraging their charisma. They assembled teams of friends and enemies, best in class for the betterment of the country and the world.
Intelligence. The top of the leaderboard here has Einstein and Edison. There’s also a couple of guys named Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. The key to their success as leaders was a direct result of not only their raw intelligence, but the ability to see the future, and use their intelligence for another quality – innovation. From these leaders came many of the greatest inventions in history.
Decisiveness. I had the privilege of serving with General James Mattis, our previous Secretary of Defense. While he is likewise extremely intelligent and well read, his success was also largely due to his ability to be decisive. Not all his subordinates agreed with his decisions – but I guarantee he made decisions with enough information to select a clear course of action, without the paralysis of analysis.
Courage. I was alive in the 1950s, 60s and 70s when the Civil Rights Movement was born. While the language and currency of racism has changed over the decades, the fallout is the same; it brought out (and continues to elicit) the worst in human behavior and treatment of others. Dr. Martin Luther King had to have huge amounts of courage to lead and energize the Civil Rights movement. He talked the talk. He walked the walk. That took real courage.
Humility and Heart. The above qualities are important, but your success as a leader pales if you lead without humility. Your accomplishments are just words and numbers on paper if you do them without heart. The world has a hero in Mother Theresa. She served a higher purpose. She accomplished great things at the expense of great personal hardship and sacrifice. And always with love.
While I’m waiting for the lightning to strike so I can breathe life into my FrankenLeader, I think I will just strive to be the best I can be with those five qualities in mind.
Michael Malone has spent more than 41 years in the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve. He has been a CEO and senior executive in several technology companies, and has been a Vistage Chair since 2005.
The Wall Street Journal/Vistage Small Business CEO Confidence Index rose for the fifth consecutive month, reaching 89.5 in September 2020, doubling the low of 44.7 recorded in April. The monthly gain of 11.3 points in the overall Index also signifies a gain in momentum after slowing in August. While all factors that comprise the Index improved from last month, the largest change was the decrease in pessimism about the U.S. economy; 83% of small businesses reported that the economy recently worsened compared to 88% last month.
Also significant is the 15-point gain in the proportion of small businesses that believe the economic conditions will be better in the coming year, growing to 56% after stalling at 41% in July and August.
As Dr. Richard Curtin, a researcher from University of Michigan who analyzed the data notes, “While the gains forecast a rise in third quarter GDP, the data also reflects the realization among many small businesses that substantial hardships remain, with survival dependent on additional aid and a vaccine that ends the coronavirus.”
Recovery progresses slowly
Data show that small business CEOs indicate that the timeline of recovery is improving slowly. Dr. Curtin cautions that, “Resilience comes from facing adversity, and after the longest expansion in history, this lesson was long overdue.” Just over half (56%) of small businesses reported that economic recovery would begin in six months to more than a year; last month that figure was substantially higher at 71%. Forty-five percent of small businesses reported that it would take at least six months to a year for their business to recover, down from 53% in August. According to the September survey, less than a quarter (23%) of small businesses expect revenue declines of 25% or more due to the pandemic, down from 28% in August.
Plans to return to the workplace vary
As different parts of the country have different restrictions in their reopening plans and industries have diverse requirements from workers, this has caused a great deal of variation in the proportion of small businesses that have returned to the office. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of small businesses have had all employees come back full or part-time. Just 6% of small businesses surveyed have gone fully remote.
For the 10% who reported plans to come back to the workplace in the future, the majority are waiting until 2021. Only time will tell if those plans stay intact as cooler weather and holiday gatherings bring people together inside.
Workforce expansion planned for next 3 months
With revenue expectations improving to levels recorded in March, workforce expansion is also on the rise. The proportion of small businesses that plan to increase their workforce has increased 11 percentage points in the past month, and 47% indicate that expansion will occur in the next 3 months. Even more significant is that just 8% of small businesses plan to reduce staff, a 4x reduction from 32% in April. With a broad range of applicants stemming from high unemployment, rigor in the selection process will be more important now than ever.
The September WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO survey was conducted September 8 – 15, 2020 and gathered 679 responses from CEOs and leaders of small businesses with revenues between $1 million and $20 million. Our October survey, in the field October 5 – 12, 2020 will continue to measure expectations of small businesses through the recovery.
Ever wondered how empathetic you are? Consider the advice of these five people who have spent their lives studying, understanding and practicing empathy.
By Emma Pattee
Ever wondered how empathetic you are? Here’s a simple test: Read the news, speak to your boss, ride public transportation, start a conversation with someone who has opposing political views, spend time with your child or spouse, sit in traffic or just spend 20 minutes on Facebook.
Empathy is the ability to understand others’ perspectives, feelings and experiences from their point of view, rather than from your own. Research shows that when people are empathetic with someone else’s experience, they are more likely to have a positive view of that person or group.
It’s important to note that empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is caring for others by trying to share in their feelings and experiences; sympathy is caring about them by feeling sorry for or concerned about them.
In case you, like me, did the test above and found yourself in dire need of an empathy booster, I spoke to five people who have spent their lives studying, understanding and practicing empathy. Here’s their advice on how you can strengthen your empathy muscle:
If you’re struggling to have empathy for a friend or a family member, Nedra Tawwab wants to remind you of this: It’s not about you.
“People have their own story, and not everything they do is about you,” Ms. Tawwab said. “It just happened to you; it wasn’t about you.”
As a therapist and the voice behind a popular Instagram therapy account, Ms. Tawwab says it’s important not to label people as good or bad, but instead try to relate to the totality of their life experiences.
“People have a full story, and just because they did something bad or unfavorable, they probably have also done so many kind and good things in their life, too,” she said, adding that this is especially true when it is someone with bigoted views.
“I think it’s important to consider how that belief may have served throughout their life,” she said. “Like if your grandfather grew up in 1937, he may be using language that is appropriate for when he grew up. Is it serving him now? Absolutely not. Can you set boundaries? Yes. Can you set limits around what’s talked about? Yes.”
Empathizing with people who hold prejudiced views can be more effective at changing their minds than arguing with them, Ms. Tawwab said, because it allows you to expose them to a way of living or belief system that they may be unfamiliar with.
“We don’t realize how important it is to expose prejudiced people to things they might be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with,” Ms. Tawwab said. “I think the exposure can be more impactful in terms of changing people’s mind-set then arguing or creating a disagreement.”
She added, “Consider how exposure is a wonderful way to impact some change.”
One of the questions that Brené Brown is asked by students in her University of Houston course, “Shame, Empathy and Resilience,” is: “How can I be empathetic with someone who has experienced something I’ve never experienced?”
To answer this question, Dr. Brown, a well-known researcher and the best-selling author of “Daring Greatly,” asks her students to raise their hands if they’ve ever experienced grief. Then despair, hopelessness, love and joy. By the end, nearly every hand is raised. She does this exercise to show that empathy is not about sharing an event in common, but about understanding the shared experience of an emotion.
“I may not know what it’s like to be separated from my family at the border, but I know powerlessness and grief and rage and despair,” Dr. Brown said.
Over the course of 25 years, Dr. Brown and her team have studied shame and empathy by examining people’s lived experiences. What they’ve found is that empathy is a collection of four skill sets:
1. Stay out of judgment
2. Take the perspective of another person
3. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes
4. Communicate your understanding of what someone else is going through
Dr. Brown said it’s important that you don’t take on someone’s emotions to the extent that it becomes a burden, or that you co-opt their experience. “What’s the use of both of us both being in that dark place? There’s no help there,” she said. Dr. Brown uses the example of a friend calling with a marriage problem: “I have to touch in myself a place that understands that feeling, and then communicate back to you in a powerful way that you’re not alone without taking on and owning your pain.”
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As you practice your empathy skills, it’s guaranteed that you will occasionally miss the mark. Don’t worry, Dr. Brown said, since this can actually help strengthen your relationships: “Circling back and cleaning up an empathic miss is as powerful, if not more powerful, than getting it right the first time.”
Roman Krznaric believes empathy can change the world. Dr. Krznaric, an Australian philosopher and the author of “The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World,” has studied empathy for years, and he says we need it more now than ever.
“We are facing a chronic and growing empathy deficit,” Dr. Krznaric said. A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review in 2011 showed that empathy levels among U.S. college students had dropped nearly 50 percent in the previous three decades. Dr. Krznaric gave several hypotheses for this, including modern society meaning people spend less time engaged in social activities that nurture empathetic sensitivity, and that “digital culture has created an epidemic of narcissism and exacerbated political polarization that divides rather than unites people.” To counteract this, Dr. Krznaric is determined to help people understand and practice empathy.
One of the ways he’s doing this is through the Empathy Museum, a series of participatory art projects that he founded in 2015 to help people look at the world through other people’s eyes. Its best-known project is “A Mile in My Shoes,” a giant shoe box that travels around the world and is filled with rows and rows of other people’s shoes. Participants can wear someone else’s shoes, like those of an Afghan refugee or a sex worker, while listening to a recording of the person speaking about his or her life and experiences. The exhibit has been to nine countries, and has upcoming exhibits in Slovenia and Italy.
“Everywhere we go, we collect new stories and new shoes,” Dr. Krznaric said.
One of the best ways to develop our empathy in everyday life, according to Dr. Krznaric, is by developing our interest in other people by having conversations with people we otherwise might not interact with regularly. He suggests making it a habit to have a conversation with a stranger once a week.
Ever dreamed of having an empathy makeover? Karamo Brown is here for you.
As one of the members of the Fab Five on the Netflix show “Queer Eye,” Mr. Brown helps the subjects of the group’s makeovers find self-confidence and self-compassion by listening to them.
“I joke that I speak the least on ‘Queer Eye’ because I’m always empathetically listening,” Mr. Brown said. Empathetic listening, he said, is the reason strangers open up to him and share personal details in just four and a half days of shooting.
“I’m talking to them for hours,” Mr. Brown said, “and all I’m doing is asking small questions and listening.”
Empathetic listening is a concept Mr. Brown is trying to bring into mainstream culture. It’s the practice of clearing your mind and listening to what another person is saying without any preconceived notions or biases.
“I don’t think we do that enough as human beings, as a country or as a society,” Mr. Brown said. “Most of the time, people walk into situations already wanting to solve people’s challenges.”
Mr. Brown credited his more than 11 years working as a social worker for his ability to listen without judgment.
“We all look at people and start to clump them together,” he said. “Working in social services, you learn to remove yourself, and learn to say: ‘You’re not the same as the last child who was in here. You have your own story.’”
Mr. Brown added that he first understood the power of listening when his grandmother told him, “You have two ears and one mouth, so you can listen twice as much as you speak.”
Leslie Jamison has worked hard to get empathy. In her 20s, she worked as a medical actor, impersonating people with medical issues and then evaluating how much empathy the student doctors gave her. She often played a woman whose seizures were caused by the traumatic death of her brother. The student doctors who displayed empathy and listened to her story got to the root cause. The ones who rushed her or made assumptions were stumped. The experience was the inspiration behind the title essay of her book “The Empathy Exams.” In her essay, Ms. Jamison makes an argument that even rote forms of empathy can have a powerful impact:
“Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us — a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain — it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow.”
Now a professor of creative writing at Columbia University, Ms. Jamison talks to her students about reframing empathy away from ideas of certainty and knowing.
“I’m approaching empathy as, ‘There’s so much I don’t know about the vast mystery of other people’s experiences, but what are the small ways I can act on that unknowing?” Sometimes the greatest extension of empathy, she said, is to tell somebody that you can’t understand what that person is feeling rather than to say something rote, like “that must be hard.”
While people may use the words “boss” and “leader” interchangeably, those who’ve made the journey from one to the other understand the key differences.
The differences may be best explained by Douglas McGregor, an MIT management professor. In the 1950s, McGregor drew on psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — people must feel safe, loved and have esteem before they can grow — to theorize two styles of management: Theory X and Theory Y.
Theory X-style managers assume that employees have little ambition, avoid responsibility, and are only motivated by individual goals. McGregor believed that this style of management hinders satisfaction, as it ignores employees’ higher-level need for growth and experimentation.
Theory Y-style managers assume that employees are internally motivated, enjoy their work, and want to grow. With Theory Y, McGregor believed that managers could motivate employees to reach their fullest potential.
These two theories created a clear dichotomy: the boss and the leader.
Theory X managers are bosses — they control, dominate and intimidate. Bosses fear that they’ll lose their position, so they rule with an iron fist. They often make decisions with little or no input from employees.
Bosses are also low in demand, easily replaced, and often the butt of the joke. It’s no mistake that Michael Scott, the clownish lead character of the U.S. sitcom The Office, highly values his “World’s Best Boss” mug.
Meanwhile, Theory Y managers are good leaders — they trust, teach and inspire employees. Leaders always aim for the team’s success but allow for experimentation, even failure. Leaders inspire employees to succeed and never take credit for their success — instead, leaders celebrate.
Leaders are in demand, both in life and business. To have an effective leader can make the difference between success and failure. Businesses now want true leaders who focus on how employees are led, managed and motivated. They want a leader who is part of the team, someone who creates a culture while improving the bottom line.
Are you a boss or a leader? Here are eight key differences.
1. Bosses deflect mistakes, leaders own mistakes
In “Extreme Ownership,” a leadership book by Navy SEAL officers Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, they write that the best leaders admit to mistakes, own those mistakes — even if someone on their team could be blamed — and develop a plan to recover.
“The most fundamental and important truths at the heart of Extreme Ownership: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders,” they write.
And this may serve as an alternative definition for boss: a bad leader. A boss will more often cast blame, while leaders accept responsibility. Bosses want to avoid the hot seat, but leaders thrive in the heat.
2. Bosses command, leaders teach and listen
Bosses have a “just do it” attitude. We don’t mean “just do it” inspirationally, like Nike, but rather an attitude of “I command, you obey.”
Leaders teach — they want employees to understand everything. But the best leaders realize that they’re fallible, just like everyone else, so they show humility and ask questions when they don’t know an answer. This creates a culture of two-way communication, allowing for employees to both teach and understand.
A culture of two-way communication makes leaders, employees and teams stronger. As Peter Drucker once wrote, “No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.”
3. Bosses micromanage, leaders trust
There’s a simple difference between trusting leaders and micromanaging bosses:
A leader trusts their employees to create and finish their own to-do list.
A boss will create their employee’s to-do list for them, hovering over their shoulder as they work through it.
4. Bosses rule by authority, leaders rule by influence
In his book “Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman wrote that “Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal.”
To persuade takes emotional intelligence, an ability to manage one’s own emotions, communicate effectively, have empathy with other people, as well as overcoming challenges and conflicts.
Leaders have great emotional intelligence, while bosses rule by authority. Authority may get some results, but it won’t allow employees to grow, learn and trust in the company’s mission — emotionally intelligent leaders will.
5. Bosses have big egos, leaders are self-assured
Bosses want to look good for their own bosses. Leaders trust that they’ll look fine. Instead, leaders focus on ensuring that the work is up to snuff, being humble enough to know that the next mistake, error or obstacle is always lurking.
“The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I.’ They don’t think ‘I.’ They think ‘we’; they think ‘team.’ They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.”
But this is the opposite of what bosses do — bosses want employees to fear failure. Leaders, on the other hand, know that errors, mistakes and failure will happen as sure as the sun sets.
Instead of fear, leaders work to build everyone’s confidence while staying on the right track. One big way leaders build confidence is simply accepting reality. When something has gone awry, leaders don’t hide from the problem, nor do they fear it. Instead, they own the problem as part of reality, working with team members to solve it.
U.S. Navy Admiral James Stockdale, a former prisoner of war, embodied this trait. He once said: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Good leaders drive out fear. They face the brutal facts of reality and keep going.
“She’s the closest thing to a superhero I know,” women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem says at the start of the film “R.B.G.”. Despite her tiny stature, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has become a larger-than-life-figure in recent years. She has been given a hip-hop moniker—the Notorious R.B.G.—that is featured on everything from coffee mugs to tee-shirts. She has become a recurring character on Saturday Night Live. She is a genuine icon.https://4cc14dbadba3f29f99de6f0d934c5f3f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0
However, if you study her life closely, there is no mystery or magic to her rise to the top of the legal profession. She got where she is today through quiet persistence and an unwavering commitment to making a difference in the world.
Later, as one of the first lawyers chosen to participate in the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, she was extremely picky about which cases she decided to take. She looked for strategic cases that would translate into a meaningful, lasting change in the law.
Similarly, business leaders should be picky and strategic when recruiting an executive team, working with collaborative partners, or acquiring companies. We can relate this to the Pareto Principle, which holds that we get 80% of our results from 20% of our efforts. Every choice we make involves a commitment of energy. We want that energy to yield optimal results.
As my former boss and mentor Steve Jobs put it: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
Focus is about being selective and strategic. It is also about filtering out distraction and creating an environment where we can commit fully to the task before us. Ginsberg has been a master of this art, sometimes under difficult circumstances.
While she was a third-year law student and already caring for a two-year-old daughter, Ginsberg’s husband fell ill with cancer. She recalls working wholeheartedly on her studies during long days at school, and then coming home and turning her full attention to her daughter and husband. Once her daughter was in bed, she worked late into the night not only on her studies, but also taking the time to type up class notes for her husband, also a law student.
In today’s collaborative and digitally-driven business environment, we must navigate a steady stream of communications and meetings as well as other demands on our attention. It can take enormous discipline to carve out distraction-free blocks of time.
As an advocate for gender equality under the law, Ginsberg did not try to overturn the status quo overnight. The first case she argued before the Supreme Court, about gender discrimination in military benefits, was seen as a relatively narrow matter. However, Ginsberg took the occasion to broadly criticize the prevalence of gender-based assumptions in the law.
Essentially, Ginsberg was making one massive argument—for total gender equality under the law—out of a series of smaller debates. A law school classmate commented that observing her make this argument, case by case, was like “watching someone knit a sweater.” She prevailed in five of the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court.
Although she holds strong opinions, Ginsberg also prizes good manners and the tradition of collegiality that is a crucial part of the judicial culture. For most of her years on the Court, she has been a consensus-builder.
Her unlikely friendship with ideological opposite Antonin Scalia is evidence of her skill at finding common ground. The two shared a love for opera and attended performances together.
Setbacks and disappointments are inevitable. We cannot control unforeseen difficulties, only our response to them.
After helping her husband through a cancer scare early in life, Ginsberg has weathered her own serious health issues over the past 20 years. She was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 1999. Soon after finishing her chemotherapy treatment, she sought out the physical trainer she still trains with today. She beat cancer a second time 10 years later. At the age of 86, she powers her way through workouts that would put a person half her age to shame.
These qualities all work to feed and support one another. When we are focused and strategic in service to a long-term vision, we can persist and meet tough challenges. When we maintain grace and humor and are always on the look for opportunities to create connection, we ensure that we will have others to share both our victories and our struggles.
Like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, we can both flourish and do good at the same time.
In the face of our new reality, many businesses remain closed or operate under restrictions. Business CEOs are thinking strategically about how they can keep their companies moving forward in the current environment while planning for the future. And the decisions leaders make now will define long-term success both for their businesses and employees.
As they look ahead, CEOs are asking themselves hard questions that shed light on their company’s biggest challenges and help form a plan for 2021. In conversations with current and former CEOs from organizations representing industries around the world, I’ve gathered five common questions CEOs are asking themselves in preparation for the year ahead:
1. How long will we be operating in short-term sprints?
In the midst of the pandemic, many companies have found themselves focusing on short-term performance metrics, so that they can quickly pivot and develop new strategies based on their results. When leaders focus on KPIs they can successfully measure and track in the near term, they are able to channel all of their resources toward driving key initiatives. Leaders are still referring to their long term strategic plans as a reference point that can be adjusted as needed, and adhering to their organization’s mission, vision, purpose and values as their North Star.
2. Where are there gaps in skillsets among members of my leadership team?
Many leaders are realizing how important it is to have a team who is comfortable with and can thrive in the midst of a great deal of change. Change is hard, and it’s coming everywhere. CEOs are actively working to ensure their teams are developing the capability to succeed in a constantly shifting environment. Communication is a big part of this. The most resilient leadership teams are in consistent communication with one another, rather than leaving what and how they communicate to chance. They also remain curious and open minded, listening to feedback from all levels of the organization as well as outside perspectives to inform their strategic decisions.
3. How will my team want to work in the future?
The reality is many companies, including your suppliers, partners and customers, will likely be in a virtual environment at least in some aspects for a long time. Vistage research shows that many leaders are offering flexibility to their employees, with 55% of companies allowing their teams to work remotely during the pandemic. We all now know that for companies in many industries, it’s possible to successfully work remotely. Now leaders are focused on how to maintain the energy and connection in a long-term remote or hybrid work environment. They are also looking ahead and thinking about how their team will want to work long term, and what that means for recruiting and retaining talent, as well as for their business and work environment.
4. How do I bring more value to customers to over-deliver?
One thing hasn’t changed during the pandemic: The most successful leaders are laser focused on staying close to their best customers and understanding the strength of their relationship with them. Just as the best leaders have constant, clear communication with employees, they do the same with their clients. Leaders are taking these key questions into consideration: What specific challenges are my customers facing? How will my company adapt our resources to address customers’ current and future needs? What are coverage plans for servicing customers? The strongest leaders are determining how they can add more value and consistently over deliver.
5. How do we maintain/revive culture in 2021?
From an employee perspective, it is clear when a company’s culture is driven by its mission, vision, purpose, values, and most importantly, demonstrated by executive teams. It can also be apparent when culture has been strained or when values have been pushed to the side. Effective leaders are transparent and consistent in communicating with employees; they don’t resurface only to share the good or bad news. It is so important for leaders to keep their teams engaged and informed on challenges that lie ahead in order to maintain the culture they’ve built.
To be a CEO or a leader does not mean you must be omniscient. In a period of change, like the present, there will be bumps in the road. But adaptable CEOs are leading right now with commitment, transparency and flexibility. They are forming a team of people who are comfortable with change. And they are examining their leadership styles and asking key questions to identify necessary changes to propel their companies into 2021.
Our desire to fit in with others means we don’t always say what we think. We only express opinions that seem safe. Here’s how the spiral of silence works and how we can discover what people really think.
Be honest: How often do you feel as if you’re really able to express your true opinions without fearing judgment? How often do you bite your tongue because you know you hold an unpopular view? How often do you avoid voicing any opinion at all for fear of having misjudged the situation?
Even in societies with robust free speech protections, most people don’t often say what they think. Instead they take pains to weigh up the situation and adjust their views accordingly. This comes down to the “spiral of silence,” a human communication theory developed by German researcher Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in the 1960s and ’70s. The theory explains how societies form collective opinions and how we make decisions surrounding loaded topics.
Let’s take a look at how the spiral of silence works and how understanding it can give us a more realistic picture of the world.
How the spiral of silence works
According to Noelle-Neumann’s theory, our willingness to express an opinion is a direct result of how popular or unpopular we perceive it to be. If we think an opinion is unpopular, we will avoid expressing it. If we think it is popular, we will make a point of showing we think the same as others.
Controversy is also a factor—we may be willing to express an unpopular uncontroversial opinion but not an unpopular controversial one. We perform a complex dance whenever we share views on anything morally loaded.
Our perception of how “safe” it is to voice a particular view comes from the clues we pick up, consciously or not, about what everyone else believes. We make an internal calculation based on signs like what the mainstream media reports, what we overhear coworkers discussing on coffee breaks, what our high school friends post on Facebook, or prior responses to things we’ve said.
We also weigh up the particular context, based on factors like how anonymous we feel or whether our statements might be recorded.
As social animals, we have good reason to be aware of whether voicing an opinion might be a bad idea. Cohesive groups tend to have similar views. Anyone who expresses an unpopular opinion risks social exclusion or even ostracism within a particular context or in general. This may be because there are concrete consequences, such as losing a job or even legal penalties. Or there may be less official social consequences, like people being less friendly or willing to associate with you. Those with unpopular views may suppress them to avoid social isolation.
Avoiding social isolation is an important instinct. From an evolutionary biology perspective, remaining part of a group is important for survival, hence the need to at least appear to share the same views as anyone else. The only time someone will feel safe to voice a divergent opinion is if they think the group will share it or be accepting of divergence, or if they view the consequences of rejection as low. But biology doesn’t just dictate how individuals behave—it ends up shaping communities. It’s almost impossible for us to step outside of that need for acceptance.
A feedback loop pushes minority opinions towards less and less visibility—hence why Noelle-Neumann used the word “spiral.” Each time someone voices a majority opinion, they reinforce the sense that it is safe to do so. Each time someone receives a negative response for voicing a minority opinion, it signals to anyone sharing their view to avoid expressing it.
An example of the spiral of silence
A 2014 Pew Research survey of 1,801 American adults examined the prevalence of the spiral of silence on social media. Researchers asked people about their opinions on one public issue: Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of US government surveillance of citizens’ phones and emails. They selected this issue because, while controversial, prior surveys suggested a roughly even split in public opinion surrounding whether the leaks were justified and whether such surveillance was reasonable.
Asking respondents about their willingness to share their opinions in different contexts highlighted how the spiral of silence plays out. 86% of respondents were willing to discuss the issue in person, but only about half as many were willing to post about it on social media. Of the 14% who would not consider discussing the Snowden leaks in person, almost none (0.3%) were willing to turn to social media instead.
Both in person and online, respondents reported far greater willingness to share their views with people they knew agreed with them—three times as likely in the workplace and twice as likely in a Facebook discussion.
The implications of the spiral of silence
The end result of the spiral of silence is a point where no one publicly voices a minority opinion, regardless of how many people believe it. The first implication of this is that the picture we have of what most people believe is not always accurate. Many people nurse opinions they would never articulate to their friends, coworkers, families, or social media followings.
A second implication is that the possibility of discord makes us less likely to voice an opinion at all, assuming we are not trying to drum up conflict. In the aforementioned Pew survey, people were more comfortable discussing a controversial story in person than online. An opinion voiced online has a much larger potential audience than one voiced face to face, and it’s harder to know exactly who will see it. Both of these factors increase the risk of someone disagreeing.
If we want to gauge what people think about something, we need to remove the possibility of negative consequences. For example, imagine a manager who often sets overly tight deadlines, causing immense stress to their team. Everyone knows this is a problem and discusses it among themselves, recognizing that more realistic deadlines would be motivating, and unrealistic ones are just demoralizing. However, no one wants to say anything because they’ve heard the manager say that people who can’t handle pressure don’t belong in that job. If the manager asks for feedback about their leadership style, they’re not going to hear what they need to hear if they know who it comes from.
A third implication is that what seems like a sudden change in mainstream opinions can in fact be the result of a shift in what is acceptable to voice, not in what people actually think. A prominent public figure getting away with saying something controversial may make others feel safe to do the same. A change in legislation may make people comfortable saying what they already thought.
For instance, if recreational marijuana use is legalized where someone lives, they might freely remark to a coworker that they consume it and consider it harmless. Even if that was true before the legislation change, saying so would have been too fraught, so they might have lied or avoided the topic. The result is that mainstream opinions can appear to change a great deal in a short time.
A fourth implication is that highly vocal holders of a minority opinion can end up having a disproportionate influence on public discourse. This is especially true if that minority is within a group that already has a lot of power.
While this was less the case during Noelle-Neumann’s time, the internet makes it possible for a vocal minority to make their opinions seem far more prevalent than they actually are—and therefore more acceptable. Indeed, the most extreme views on any spectrum can end up seeming most normal online because people with a moderate take have less of an incentive to make themselves heard.
In anonymous environments, the spiral of silence can end up reversing itself, making the most fringe views the loudest.
Keeping Your Business Going May Mean Both Growing and Shrinking
Article by Paul Sullivan
For some companies, like Mike’s Organic Delivery, embracing higher demand without changing their core strategy is the key to survival.
This article is part of Owning the Future, a series on how small businesses across the country are coping with the coronavirus pandemic.
Mike Geller spent the better part of a decade tweaking the focus of Mike’s Organic Delivery, which he founded in 2009. Early on, the model was similar to a community-supported agriculture program, or C.S.A., where customers agreed to receive whatever food was in season.
By the third year, the company was up to about 200 deliveries a week: in Fairfield County in Connecticut and Westchester County in New York. Access to organic produce was more widespread and customers wanted options other than a preselected basket. So he created an online organic market, to allow people to pick the fruit, vegetables and meat that they wanted in advance.
In 2018, facing stiff competition from Peapod, FreshDirect and other online food services, he pivoted yet again, renovating part of the company’s warehouse in Stamford, Conn., and added a market a year later. Private parties, community events and cooking classes followed.
“It was a challenge to grow,” Mr. Geller said. “The business hadn’t reached a level I wanted to get to.”
Then, this March, the stay-at-home orders in New York and Connecticut were enacted, and his business changed again. With the massive increase in demand for deliveries and shortly thereafter, pickups, it boomed in a way he never imagined nor was equipped to handle. He went from having 200 to 250 orders a week to 5,000. He also became one of the main outlets for a half-dozen farms that had been selling their meat, breads and produce to high-end restaurants, which were now closed.
“It’s not that you don’t want to say you’re doing well,” Mr. Geller said. “But myself, my whole team, we’re not jumping up and down. We’re just thrilled to be busy, and we’re happy to be helping small farmers.”
The biggest issues for many businesses is what the economy will look like when they reopen. But the companies that are surviving — some, indeed, growing, like Mike’s Organic — are the ones that have pivoted, either within their existing business or to a new line of work, said Wendy Cai-Lee, president and chief executive of Piermont Bank, which lends to small and medium-sized businesses. “The ones who have a single source of revenue have more challenges,” she said. (Mr. Geller, of course, began with an advantage, since grocery stores are considered essential businesses.)
Pivot, if you can — even if that means shrinking to the core business.
Do more with less, at least for now. Mr. Geller is keenly aware that his business could quickly fall back to what it was before. He hasn’t added staff or expanded his space.
Spend money carefully. The company did buy two new vans to keep up with delivery requests, but it has resisted expanding its physical space.
Adapt on the fly. Letting people log into the Mike’s Organic website and shop when they wanted to was inefficient — it created shortages and made inventory management difficult. So Mr. Geller moved all ordering to Friday at 8 p.m. and now spends the week delivering those orders.
Know your employees. While he is running his company with social distancing protocol and protective equipment, Mr. Geller has been reluctant to add additional people for fear that they could infect his staff and shut down the business.
Understand that this moment, too, will end. Mr. Geller admits the current pace is unsustainable, but he and his employees are focused on providing food for as long as the stay-at-home orders last.
Many of the farms and bakeries that Mike’s Organic works with fell into that category: They were focused on restaurants who bought large quantities and were predictable customers. Now they have to look to retail outlets to survive.
“We’ve picked up the slack,” Mr. Geller said. “We’ve gotten recommendations from our farmers. Our tomato sauce guy told us about this great mushroom guy, who just sold to restaurants.”
From consumers, the uptick in interest in Mike’s Organic was intense and immediate. In March, when the stay-at-home order began, the company’s website crashed three weeks in a row, something that had never happened in the previous 11 years.
“We had a huge burst of orders in the middle of the week, and we ran out of product,” he said. “Then what happened was people said we can’t get a slot on Amazon or FreshDirect.”
Being able to pivot and sell to companies like Mike’s Organic when the restaurants closed has been a lifeline, but it hasn’t been without its complications.
“On March 13, 90 percent of our business was restaurants, in the city and the Hudson Valley,” said Marc Jaffe, who owns Snowdance Farm in Livingston Manor, N.Y., which produces beef, pork, chicken and other meat. “Thank God we had some retail or we would not have had a label that was already approved by the U.S.D.A.”
While Snowdance did not have to go through the time-consuming process of getting approval to sell its meat to retail customers, it did have to change its production methods. Whereas a restaurant might take 10 whole chickens in a box or 40 pounds of beef, no consumer is likely to buy that much.
Shifting operations to retail for the providers means extra costs that make their businesses more of a break-even operation — though none are complaining.
Mr. Jaffe said the farm’s sales to Mike’s Organic have increased twentyfold in the past two months, but the farm’s revenue is down. “I can’t exactly quantify it,” Mr. Jaffe said. “But my costs are more because they’re cutting everything up and packaging it, and my sales costs are more because of the effort. There’s no normal pattern.”
Tim Topi, the owner of Wave Hill Breads, a bakery based in Norwalk, Conn., that is ranked one of the top 100 bakeries in America by Food & Wine, lost 60 percent of his business when restaurants closed. He went from baking 2,000 loaves a day to 400, with the same 25-person staff to support.
Yet by the beginning of May, thanks to an increase in retail sales and a new home delivery option, the bakery was back up to 2,000 loaves and he said he hasn’t had to lay anyone off.
“We’re down 20 to 30 percent” this year compared with the same period last year, Mr. Topi said. “The labor has increased. We have to pack individual orders, and expenses have gone through the roof. To the restaurants, it was just a big box of bread.” He says he believes that the bakery can continue to break even for about six months with this reimagined setup.
Both owners noted that keeping their operations going was more important for the moment than returning their revenue to previous levels.
Mr. Topi said hiring and training a new group of bakers would have been costly and expensive, and potentially hurt his business’s viability after the crisis passes because all of his breads are handmade on the day they’re sold; they wouldn’t have enough bread to bake.
Mr. Jaffe said his fear was greater: slaughtering animals without a buyer. “It’s 14 to 20 weeks to get started up again with chickens, if we stopped, so we kept going,” he said, noting the lead time was even longer for cows and pigs. “So we leveraged our existing retail.”
The looming question is what happens when restaurants reopen and grocery shopping in a store is not such a hassle.
“You don’t know what the future holds, more than ever,” Mr. Geller said. “It’s so hard to predict out two months let alone 12 months.”
Mr. Geller is hopeful, though, about an expanded customer base. “It’s pushed a large number of consumers to try our food, and the reaction has been good,” he said. “I think a number of consumers who were forced to shop online will stay there at least for some of their stuff.”
Growing your business is never easy. With apologies to Aristotle, Richard Franzi likes to say: “The whole effort of CEOs working together is more than the sum of those same CEOs working separately.”
I recently had breakfast with Franzi, author of Critical Mass: The 10 Explosive Powers of CEO Peer Groups. When Franzi could not find a book on the power of CEO peer groups, he decided to write one based on his experience as a member of one.
Franzi, a professional CEO peer group facilitator, says the idea for peer groups took off in the 1930s with the publication of the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The book introduced the concept of master mind alliances. Business owner roundtables, executive forums and peer groups have been growing ever since.
Some of the most successful organizations offering this peer-to-peer learning include Vistage (formerly known as TEC, for The Executive Committee), Renaissance Executive Forums, Inner Circle, EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) and TAB (The Alternative Board). Typically, the groups meet monthly and contain 10 to 16 business owner members.
Personally, I have belonged to many CEO peer groups and have derived great benefit. Here are Franzi’s 10 reasons why a business owner or chief executive should join a CEO peer group:
1. Safe Haven
Confidentiality allows each member to be totally open about issues. It provides a safe environment where a CEO can work through topics that he or she is unable to discuss with others directly associated with their business.
2. Solid Reasoning
When a CEO peer group is working on a challenge for one of their members, having diverse perspectives can pay huge dividends for the quality of the discussion and the depth of the exploration undertaken.
3. Real Feedback
When a peer member asks for unfiltered feedback, he or she gets just that. Truth can be hard to swallow sometimes, but it is good for business leaders to have their ideas challenged sometimes.
The CEO peer group allows the executive to create their own personal guidance system. This steering committee of seasoned pros can be helpful when charting a course through difficult waters.
The element of accountability can be underestimated by members when they are new to a CEO peer group. Everyone, from time to time, can benefit from having a respected peer hold their feet to the fire.
The power of a CEO peer group includes the ability to focus the collective awareness of many executives on one specific issue. The result is an intensity of thought capable of delivering much greater mental energy.
An ever present challenge for CEOs is to continue to discover information previously not known to them. When a member receives new information from the group, it is as if a light goes on for them and they can see clearer.
The power a CEO peer group creates in its members a new structure for gathering fresh insights The groups not only help solve problems, they help members grow as a leader and as a person.
Most businesses, even successful ones, can develop organizational inertia that is hard to overcome. A CEO peer group can give members “escape velocity” to free them from earth bound issues (at least for half a day each month).
The majority of new businesses fail. By sharing in the wisdom of others, the CEO can increase the chance of the firm to survive and thrive. By taking this one simple act, CEOs begin to turn the odds in their favor.
“Most executives who join a CEO peer group stay in the program,” says Franzi, who estimates the renewal rate to be 80%. “The reason they remain are as varied as the individual members. But the power of the process is undeniable.”
Going Back To Normal When Normal No Longer Exists: A Guide To Inclusive Planning
After spending what feels like a year adjusting to our new way of life, I can’t stop thinking about what returning to the office will look like. Besides being remarkably different from the way we left it, I expect the transition back to “normalcy” will come with many of its own pains.
We aren’t returning from a long vacation; we’re returning from a global and life-altering health crisis. As Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said: “Opening isn’t going to be an event, it will be a process.” The working world will change, so here are four things leaders should consider when making plans:
1. Make a plan that provides adequate options for every employee.
Some employees will embrace returning to a physical workplace more quickly than others. Many schools and daycares are closed for the remainder of the school year and summer activities have been suspended, so working parents may not be able to jump immediately back into work. In larger cities, inevitable concerns about using public transportation will impact commutes. Some people are caring for parents or relatives and won’t want to risk coming in contact with others and for individuals in good health, there will certainly be lasting anxiety that remains prevalent for months — perhaps even years — to come.
Not to mention the “one in four Americans [who have] some form of disability, and…are among the most vulnerable population for Covid-19,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “In some ways, the virus only amplifies for others what the experience of having a disability has always been,” Damian Gregory, a 46-year-old consultant and advocate with cerebral palsy, told WSJ. Although stay-at-home orders have seemingly provided an equalizer for the time being, when those orders are lifted, disabled populations will only be put at a greater disadvantage than before.
In industries where remote work isn’t possible, leadership needs to clearly articulate what is being done to protect employees’ health. Make plans so that employees who feel comfortable going back to work can do so, but come up with solutions to accommodate those who aren’t ready or need to take care of others. Prepare managers, HR and IT departments for every employee response. Even then, issues will still arise that you didn’t foresee so it’s vital to remain open to conversations.
What accommodations employers are legally obligated to make is a major consideration, but beyond that, there are moral and health decisions that employers never imagined they’d have to make. And what impact will these decisions have on morale and corporate culture? Balancing everyone’s needs with business decisions isn’t simple, but in a knowledge economy, employee job satisfaction is highly correlated with productivity and business outcomes.
2. Managers may need to get personal and offer emotional support.
For the past few months, and foreseeable future, employees are bringing their entire selves to work because they have no other option. They’re working from home, managing children, struggling to keep their mental (and physical) health in check, taking care of relatives, and sometimes taking on additional work as layoffs and furloughs ripple through industries.
On top of that, employees will be coming back from months of experiencing high stress and anxiety and will likely confront symptoms of burnout (if not already feeling burnt out).This isn’t the time to refrain from asking employees what they’re feeling. It will be particularly difficult for people – like myself – who try to compartmentalize their personal and professional lives. If employees feel comfortable opening up, you can better manage expectations on both sides. You may have to work harder at earning individuals’ trust, but it will be easier if your plan is transparent and you offer empathy throughout.
3. Don’t expect things to return to what they used to be.
Many workplaces will be returning with fewer employees than before, but with continued health, business and economic stressors. The entire workplace dynamic may become more complex as certain employees return to the office and others remain remote. When everyone works remotely, all workplace relationships are equally distant, providing everyone with the same challenges and opportunities. When a handful of employees go back to the office it’s going to take extra effort to ensure that remote employees are still included in meetings, conversations, and generally kept “in-the-know.”
There’s also the physical element of returning to workspaces. How can you rearrange office layouts to accommodate for additional space between employees? Leaders may need to think about staggering the days when people come into the office and consider hiring additional cleaning crews (whose safety they also need to keep in mind) to keep things sanitized.
Finally, there are hundreds of thousands of employees who don’t work in traditional offices and will face different challenges. What will happen to clothing stores where multiple people can try on the same item? Or factories where workers stand close together on an assembly line? The scale of change that we’ll need to manage is staggering.
4. Evaluate what worked and what didn’t to prepare for the future.
Take time to reflect on what you learned, both about your employees and company. Every business and industry is going to deal with its own set of challenges, but what should unify every leader is a desire to plan for the future. While no one knows what will happen next, every company should start planning for the worst. It’s clear that few were adequately prepared for a global pandemic. Smart business leaders will take this catastrophic event and conduct a post-mortem on what happened to learn from any preventable mistakes in the future. For many this will lead to a lean cash-culture and for others more flexible work environments.
When we return to “normal,” it’s likely that none of us will be the same, so we can’t expect the workplace to stay the same either. If we want an end-state that preserves the diversity and rich tapestry of human talent in the workforce, leaders must act intentionally to make return plans that account for everyone.