Every Action You Make is a Statement


Every decision is a statement. Some are statements to the masses. Some are statements to the few. But all are statements to and about yourself.
– Hap Klopp, founder of The North Face

I’ve been learning a lot from Hap Klopp lately. I met, and interviewed Hap, the founder and former CEO of The North Face a few months ago in San Francisco. Since then I’ve re-read his book Conquering the North Face, and his unpublished book Almost. It’s unpublished because it has some insider disclosures that a certain big technology company and their lawyers are objecting to…. well, I’ll save that for when the book gets released.

The latest lesson I’ve been reflecting on is that from the perspective of everyone on the team, the boss’ actions are extremely visible, and hyper-analyzed. Like our 99.9% genetic cousins, lowland Gorillas look at their pack leaders every 15-20 seconds for social cues of how to behave – when it’s time to move on and forage, when it’s time to be alert and focused, and when it’s time to chill out.

Early in his work career, Hap was hired to help turnaround a ski shop. There were many things wrong – the inventory, the books, the customer service, even the simple layout of the shop to make equipment more visible and accessible. The most critical thing that needed correcting was the accounting and the vendor sourcing practices. But that wouldn’t be the most visible contribution he could make, so instead he focused his energy on working with the warehouse employees to clean, re-organize, and re-structure their entire warehouse.

What he could have done instead is focus on fixing the accounting and calling vendors to speed up their delivery. But no one would see those actions.

Hap standing up on a ladder reorganizing the warehouse with the team didn’t make the biggest dent in the bottom line immediately, but it did send a very clear and obvious message about work ethics, collaboration, and leading by example.

Later, when The North Face was rapidly taking off, they would often move into bigger office spaces every 6-12 months. They developed a custom that every time they took over a new space, they had a painting party. Hap would join these painting work days not only to demonstrate his willingness to work side by side with everyone in the company, but also to get to know people.

Every leader that I’ve encountered who is described by their peers and colleagues as “exceptional” or “remarkable” or “excellent,” lives their work life (and often personal life as well) in a highly visible manner. Not locked in the boardroom, or hiding in their office, but front and center, readily available and open to ideas.

This is another reason leaders need to reward transparency. Once everyone understands honest expression of opinion is simply part of the process, more people are likely to voice their ideas.


outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

A Culture of Constant Flattery Conceals the Truth

Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it but don’t swallow it.
– Hank Ketchum

It’s almost a cliché but it happens all the time. Your colleague walks in, says something smarmy and ingratiating, and then asks you to do something.

We know from research, people react positively to those who consistently deliver positive news. Flattery, even false flattery, is consistently effective in gaining favor with superiors in the organization. And as researchers demonstrated, consistent false flattery has the added effect of creating an intolerance for bad news.

As managers come to expect only good news, bad news becomes increasingly unwelcome. It creates a cyclical effect in which eventually only good news is tolerated, bad news get swept under the rug, and the real conversations about how people feel about work happen only in the parking lot or over a beer after work.

Flattery can be valuable. In fact, it can motivate people to action. An interesting study from years ago reveals that flattery is most effective when the request is larger and more difficult. In the study, when people were ingratiated with excessive praise and compliments they were more likely to complete harder and longer tasks than an easier one.

But be careful. Consistent false flattery can lead to complacency. If leaders don’t explicitly create an expectation that ideas be tempered with honesty around potential pitfalls, then honest fears won’t be shared, and potential invisible cracks won’t be revealed until they become disastrous chasms.

Consistent good news, even flattery, provides people with a dopamine hit, translating to a positive feeling about the person who provided the flattery. What’s more, even false flattery has been shown to have the same effect. If someone I know says I look thinner, healthier, or younger, despite the truth that I’m really not (and we both know it), I will still have a more positive reaction to their compliment, and think more positively of them.

Compliments are wonderful. Above all, the best compliments are sincere, specific, and come with no strings attached.

Start one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to build action into your life every single day.


Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Yes, We Can Ditch the Drama


“I am not a victim of emotional conflicts. I am human.”
– Marilyn Monroe

Few things are as disruptive as repetitive and negative emotional cycles. To find new results, we need to also find new ways of interacting with each other.

According to psychologist Stephen Karpman, there are three distinct roles, or personas, that we can adopt in any given situation. In their most extreme forms these three personas are presented in what he called the Drama Triangle:

  • The Persecutor: The persecutor is a bully who puts people down, blames others, and is driven by anger and resentment. The Persecutor points fingers at others and describes why they are inadequate, or stupid, or ruining everything. The persecutor is bossy and demanding. The Persecutor blames other people, circumstances and events as the cause of the problem.
  • The Victim: The victim is helpless, oppressed, hopeless, ashamed, and powerless. The victim feels constantly misunderstood. As a result, the victim will often refuse to make decisions and remain paralyzed in their helplessness.
  • The Rescuer: The rescuer is the savior, the hero. The rescuer is addicted to saving others, jumping in, and demonstrating how remarkably capable they are. In fact, the rescuer can even feel guilty and anxious if they don’t step in heroically to save another. The rescuer believes that others are lacking, or inadequate, and require the rescuer to save the day.

The interesting thing about these different personas and positions on the Drama Triangle is that once we adopt a particular stance, we often push our partner into an opposing stance. For example, a Victim position from someone may elicit a Rescuer reaction in another. Or a Persecutor may turn someone else into a Victim.

When we adopt one of these particular positions, we not only push our partners into opposing positions, but we also limit our own potential and capabilities. The trick is to first recognize that we are indeed becoming one-dimensional and limiting in our interactions with others, and then shift our conversation to be supportive and constructive.

For example, the Persecutor is a bully – constantly berating others and assigning blame. To move from a bullying position to a constructively challenging position, the Persecutor can shift their orientation and behavior:

From To
You need to stop making excuses. I am willing to listen to your story for ten minutes.
You will deliver the product on Monday. How can I help meet a Monday deadline?
You are a liar. I ask you to keep your word, or we will no longer have an agreement

Similarly, the Victim is paralyzed by their own fear and inadequacy. To bolster self-confidence and move toward a thriving and fulfilling dialogue, the Victim can shift their behavior and internal dialogue:

From To
Nobody cares or listens to my ideas. I will contribute 1  idea at each meeting.
No one will help my project. I will commit to asking for help.
I am alone and unlucky. I will journal things I am grateful for.

And finally, the heroic Rescuer is also trapped with the belief that only they can save the day, and only they are capable of righting the wrongs, and correcting the inept. This heroic savior is also trapped in a “poor me” pattern of always having to step in and fix the problem.

To move away from being addicted to saving others, the Rescuer needs to move to being a coach to others, instead of solving every problem himself or herself. Here is how the Rescuer can reframe their mindset:

From To
You always need my help. I’ll fix it. I care about you and you can do this.
Tell me all your problems. I’ll listen without making your problem my own.
Don’t worry about it. I got this. Let me show you how to do this yourself.

And the truth is that at any given moment throughout our days, we can find ourselves drifting toward one of these three different mindsets. That’s ok. That’s normal. What’s important is that we identify that disposition, and learn to move out of these destructive personas to more supportive and collaborative ones.

Yes, we can ditch the drama. It’s just a mind shift away.

outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Are you (or your boss) being poisoned by power?


Deborah Gruenfeld is a professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford. For years, she and her colleagues have been studying the effects of power – particularly the effect of power disparities in the workplace.

In one small, but powerful, example of her work, they brought together students in groups of three. Of the three students, one was chosen randomly to be the boss, the decider. The other two were asked to create competing solutions to various issues on campus – issues such as making the campus more environmentally friendly, or improving transportation and cafeteria services. The task itself was a distraction. What the researchers were most interested in was the role of power newly bestowed to one of the students.

During the session in which the “boss” is asked to evaluate the quality of the proposals from each of the two other students, the researchers bring in a plate of five cookies. After they each take a cookie, there’s two left. Every culture is aware of the social taboo against taking the last cookie so the cookie that the researchers are watching is the fourth cookie.

Consistently, the newly appointed “boss” was much more likely to take the fourth cookie, and to exhibit “disinhibited eating.” In other words, chewing with their mouth open and leaving more crumbs.

It’s an amusing story, but goes right to the point of what Gruenfeld calls the Power Poisoning Effect. That is, often those newly placed into power tend to:
• Give greater value to their own ideas and initiatives
• Give lesser value to the ideas and initiatives of those around them
• Think that the rules don’t apply to them
• Have greater difficulty controlling their own impulses

High-power individuals talk more, interrupt more, are more likely to speak out of turn, and are more directive of others’ verbal contributions than are low-power individuals.
– Deborah Gruenfeld

Does this remind you of any politicians or executives in the news headlines?

In a similar study about the intoxicating effects of unchecked wealth, professor Paul Piff and his graduate students discovered that people who drove fancy, expensive cars were far more unlikely to yeild to pedestrians at a crosswalk.

Paul and his students monitored hundreds of vehicles over many days, and recorded whether or not they yielded to pedestrians in a crosswalk. Fifty percent of those vehicles classified in the most expensive category (BMWs, Mercedes, Porsche, etc.) failed to yield, while meanwhile none of the vehicles classified in the most inexpensive category broke the law at the crosswalk.

This is not to say that universally only rich people are prone to break small laws, but rather Paul concluded in his research that we all have competing motivations throughout our days. In fact, it’s not wealth alone that prompts individuals to believe they are above the law, but rather the power disparity between themselves and those around them.

Power disparities in the workplace have been directly correlated with workplace bullying, pay inequities, and even sexual harassment.

Small psychological interventions, small changes to people’s values, small nudges in certain directions, can restore levels of egalitarianism and empathy.
– Paul Piff, Professor UC Berkeley

Paul suggests that little, but consistent, prompts, and positive social cues, can make a big difference.

He and his colleagues have discovered that small interventions such as showing a short video depicting childhood poverty reminds us of the existence of social inequity in the world and restores empathetic behavior.

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Shawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive awesome results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

The Secret is to be Valuable not Successful


On July 17, 1981 in a Hyatt Regency in Kansas City MO, two skywalks weighing over 70 tons collapsed on a party below, killing 114, injuring 216, and trapping many others for up to seven hours while rescuers tried to reach them under the rubble.

The skywalk collapsed because there was a flaw in how the walkways were hung from the structural frame of the building. However, the project engineer had formally written in his reports that the design had been checked for structural integrity. In truth, engineering contractors failed to follow the formal design-review process. In other words, they built without conscientiously reviewing the plans.

It gets worse. Seven weeks before scheduled completion, a worker noticed the top walkway was deformed and reported it to the architect’s on-site representative. The report was ignored. It probably would have been expensive and time-consuming to review. Within the following months two more observations, and reports, were made that the walkway was structurally deformed. Both reports were discounted and ignored.

This is what happens when somewhere in the line of communication, people fail to act. Maybe because they can’t be bothered, because they don’t care, or perhaps because in the cacophony of information and noise in our work, they simply fail to see disaster waiting.

Everyone has a boss. Everyone. You report to the Regional VP, who reports to the North American VP, who reports to the COO, who reports to the CEO, who reports to the Chairman of the Board, who reports to his wife.

Being a successful leader is more about the behavior of your followers. So the real question is: how do we build successful followers? How do we build successful followers who are confident and assertive in speaking the truth?

Strive not to be successful in the eyes of those around you, but valuable to those around you.

When I was a teenager I worked at a greenhouse, and had a boss who gave vague instructions like, “Go water the plants.” That’s pretty non-specific in a nursery which covers five acres. So I would disappear and go water plants for several hours never knowing how much water to give, or which plants required more or less water. In addition to the lack of direction, I found the whole thing pretty boring. I lasted about six weeks before I quit. I never questioned what I was doing or why.

When Suggestions Become Orders
Failure to speak truth to power can carry immense consequences. In an interview with Sue Mahony, President of Eli Lilly Oncology, she described one of the blindspots that leaders develop as they climb into higher and higher echelons of the company is that often people become increasingly unlikely to provide honest feedback to senior leaders. What happens instead is that suggestions become orders.

Lead With Questions
Sue described how she is very careful about making suggestions in meetings, and instead leads with questions. She composes questions that rely on the strength of the team members and allow their expertise to shine. Questions such as, “What would happen if we made this decision?” “What are the technical considerations if we build this?”

Have Listening Tours
Sue is responsible for almost two thousand people. Mis-information and poor behavior can cascade easily without her knowing it. Often, she seeks out individuals on her team to have “listening sessions.” In these meetings, her only goal is to find what people around her honestly think, care about and prioritize. Then she thanks them.

Get Closer to the Impact of the Work
Sue did admit that in the field of cancer drug research it is pretty easy to get team members excited and driven in their work. After all, their goal is to alleviate, or even cure, some forms of cancer. But Sue also admitted that in their day to day work, it’s also easy to build petty squabbles and get exhausted in the mundane.

Which is why Sue works to regularly remind people of why they are there. Real life people currently suffering, and recovering, from different forms of cancer specific to their work, are brought in to tell their story. And their story is not always about the nature of the disease itself, but also about the human side. When the researchers on Sue’s team hear about the human impact, it unites their sense of purpose and focus.

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Shawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive awesome results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

When You Close One Door, Another Opens

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell

In Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying she describes her years of experience working with patients in their finals days. As a palliative nurse she cared for those who had often lived a long life, and were reflective in their last days. As she recounts in her book, if any of her patients had regrets reflecting on their life, the themes were consistently of being authentic and true to oneself, daring to take on their dreams and challenges, and staying in close touch with friends and family.

The number one regret voiced was “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” It’s not laziness and indolence that holds us back. It’s an inability to overcome the fear of trying. Courage is not blindly facing the unknown and stampeding ahead anyway. Courage is instead carefully understanding and recognizing the risks, obstacles and opportunities before us, and proceeding in measured steps.

By carefully understanding, and preparing for each forward move, we mitigate risk and become stronger and mentally sharper with each step. But the stepping is critical. The starting means everything. When initiating a new endeavor we have never attempted before, it’s important to overcome fear and paralysis by making forward progress, however small. Action creates clarity.

Here’s what I mean: You can think and envision and ponder and predict what will or might happen when you start that new business, give that big presentation, run that marathon, or travel to Madagascar. But you won’t know, really know, what it’s like until you start. Experience is invaluable, and micro adjustments along the way are required, which is why action creates clarity.

Consider the acrobats in a Cirque du Soleil event. Their tremendous feats flying high above the arena are the result of hours and hours of careful and methodical training. You know this. But there was still a first time they leapt without a net. There was still a first time that an Olympic skiing long jumper launched off of a 90 meter jump. And there was also a first time you gave a presentation in front of fifty people, or gave a formal report to your executive team.

It’s often not fear of failure that hold us back, but rather fear of success. That’s right. Success is stepping out and doing something different, perhaps something different, or radical, from your peer group. We may feel isolated and alone in this new effort. And explaining where you have been, what you have accomplished may be looked on with scorn or fear or envy. You have stepped out. Accomplished something your peers and colleagues haven’t or aren’t interested in, and now you feel alone.

Fear of social and emotional isolation is the first hurdle to overcome on our way to taking on, and crushing, our own audacious challenges. Leaders recognize the fear of success, and then encourage and nurture bold thinking in others.

The greatest leaders, and our dearest friends, cheer us on when we try something new.

Demonstrate to others they are safe in following their ambitions. Cheer on and support your friends and colleagues when they step out and try something bold. True, they might bomb anyway, but make sure they don’t bomb because you made them feel like they don’t deserve to succeed.

Courage can be learned and courage can be practiced. The more we practice risk, the more we are able to take risks.

Innovation isn’t rocket science. It can be deconstructed and learned by anyone. Try our course Out•Innovate the Competition to build measurable innovation in your workplace.


Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Thank Outside the Box


The promotion you just got? A beautiful sunset with your family? That’s amateur stuff to be grateful for. The waiter just refilled your coffee? Oh, how considerate. You thank him. Now you feel warm and thoughtful.

Step up people. Try being grateful for losing a big contract, or your U12 soccer team getting crushed on Sunday. Good. Now go deeper. Your girlfriend just dumped you because the relationship was truly toxic. You write her a heartfelt letter of appreciation and gratitude. We’re getting there. See these events as precious gifts.

This is where the hard learning happens. This is where growth and development and renewal happens. My coaching friend Kirsten argues the greatest team bonding, life learning and development happens after the throes of humiliating defeat.

Did you know that both paraplegics and lottery winners – interviewed one year after their accident or winning the lottery, will both testify to the same personal level of happiness?

Robert Emmons, co-director of UC Berkeley’s Expanding Gratitude project writes, “It’s easy to feel grateful for the good things. No one ‘feels’ grateful that he or she has lost a job or a home or has taken a devastating hit on his or her retirement portfolio.”

If we can summon the strength to reframe a negative experience into a positive one, we can grow in our own self-development. If the relationship really was toxic and we have the strength to see through the emotional pain to be grateful that she was willing to confront it and end the relationship, then we can grow and move on.

The beggar on the street can show us how privileged we are. The cancer that infected our body can show us how grateful we are to be healthy. When we summon gratitude in the face of adversity, we turn meaningless cruelty into growth and strength.

Humor Heals

If the path to appreciating adversity is too great to surmount, or if the searing pain of defeat and rejection is just too powerful to be reflective and generous of spirit, let humor guide you.

Here’s what I mean. When you’re lost in the woods, have run out of water, and nightfall is approaching, tell a joke. Because humor heals. Humor combats fear.

Humor has the power to disengage our fears, and relaxes us. Behind a nervous chuckle is the sentiment, “We’re gonna get through this!” Humor also reduces stress and boosts the immune system.

I’m suggesting that often an easier path to finding gratitude in the face of adversity, strain and setback, is to start by finding humor. Even dark humor might be just the right antidote.

Try what Erik Weihenmayer calls Positive Pessimisms. It goes like this:

“We’ll be sitting out in a raging storm. We’ve gone a month without showers. The wind is driving snow directly into our faces, and I’m wondering what insanity led me to this nightmare in the first place. That’s when Chris will look up with a big cheesy smile on his face and say, “Sure is cold out here…but at least it’s windy.” Another time, we had been moving through the cold for ten hours, and we were all wasted. Chris turned to our team and said, “Boys, we sure have been climbing a long way…but at least we’re lost.” In the Khumbu Icefall, as Chris was halfway across his first ladder over a giant crevasse, he came out with the classic, “This ladder may be rickety…but at least it’s swingin’ in the breeze.”

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!”  – Leo Buscaglia

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Shawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive awesome results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

You Will Feel Happier When You Appreciate Others


Expressing appreciation for someone in your life can change your whole outlook. That’s right. Simply telling someone else how much you appreciate them will improve how you feel.

Jeffrey Froh, professor at Hofstra University, did this cool study in which he and his colleagues tracked students in eleven different classrooms, and divided them into three groups. For just a few minutes each day they were asked to:

  • Group 1. write down things they were grateful for at home and school
  • Group 2. write down things they found to be a hassle and not fun
  • Group 3. a control group they asked nothing of

Here are a few things Group 1 wrote down:

  • “My coach helped me out at baseball practice,”
  • “My grandma is in good health, my family is still together, my family still loves each other, my brothers are healthy, and we have fun everyday,”
  • “I am glad that my mom didn’t go crazy when I accidentally broke the patio table.”

After two weeks, the researchers measured their school performance and engagement from both the student’s perspective and the perspective of their teachers. Essentially, they found these students to be happier (by their own account), having more friends, and more engaged in their school work (by the teachers account), and…wait for it… they got better grades – better in comparison to their own previous performance. That’s after only two weeks. The researchers checked in three weeks later after the study was over and found the effects to be still present.

It gets even more powerful when you share your appreciation with someone directly and personally. In a powerful follow up study, students were asked to write a letter to a someone in their life whom they feel they may have never properly thanked. It could be a teacher, a coach, or a family friend.

The kids worked on their letters three times a week, for two weeks. They were asked to elaborate on their feelings, and to be increasingly specific in their writing about what the benefactor did that they were grateful for.

On the friday of the second week, the kids set up a meeting with the person to read the letter, out loud, to that person face-to-face.

According to Jeffrey Froh, “It was a hyperemotional exercise for them. Really, it was such an intense experience. Every time I reread those letters, I get choked up.” The positive outlook, and heightened engagement was still present when the researchers checked in with the kids 2 months later.

Maybe you can’t easily get your kids to write a letter of gratitude to someone in their life? Here’s a small and simple trick I learned from Dr. Karen Reivich, author of The Optimistic Child. Simply finish these sentences:

  • Someone who helped me get through a difficult time is _______
  • Someone who helped me learn something important about myself is _______
  • Someone with whom I can discuss the things that matter most to me is _______

If you can’t get your kids to write letters of appreciation, you can. Model the way. Pick someone in your life and send them a note of appreciation. Be specific. Or even better, pick up the phone or track them down in person and share your message. You will not only make their day, you will feel better yourself.


outthink_bookShawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive awesome results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hi: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

How to Stop Your Boss From Ruining Your Work


I had several different bosses during the early years of writing ‘Dilbert.’ They were all pretty sure I was mocking someone else.
– Scott Adams

Every evening, all around the world, we come home from work, greet our partners, our kids, and have discussions. Discussions in the kitchen, at the dinner table, and before we go to bed.

Sometimes the topic is school grades, or upcoming trips, or what to bring to the Lowenstein’s barbecue. But often the subject of these discussions is the companies we work for, our colleagues, and our bosses. It’s long been known and understood that the quality of our work culture and our relationship with our bosses can affect our moods, our sense of optimism or despair at work, and even our health.

Toxic work environments, and in particular cruel bosses, have been linked to hypertension, elevated blood pressure, and even heart attacks. One woman I worked with in recent years had kidney stones clinically attributed to the stress of her work environment.

Toxic bosses are also responsible for the disposition of entire teams when they single out individuals for criticism. When a boss quietly and privately pulls someone aside to deliver critical or disparaging feedback, that individual absorbs the critical evaluation and then infects the rest of the team. According to recent studies replicated with teams in China and the United States, each individual criticized then becomes toxic and divisive to other team members. It’s true that asshole poisoning is contagious.

Seven in ten Americans say bosses and toddlers with too much power act similarly. In one study, 345 white-collar office workers described the most abusive and disruptive bosses in their lives as self-oriented, stubborn, overly-demanding, interruptive, impulsive, and prone to throwing tantrums.

Jujitsu: the use of the strength or weakness of an adversary to disable him.

If you work for a bosshole, try a few jujitsu tricks to use their own power against themselves.

Give Them Credit
If you have a boss who needs to be ‘right’ all the time, let them. I don’t mean to suggest you let them sabotage the project by pushing it in a ridiculous direction, but rather practice deep listening. Listen carefully to their ideas, and reiterate them back carefully to clarify what you heard. In the retelling they may, or may not, understand the fallacy of their reasoning. But either way, they were heard and acknowledged.

Bring Them Down to Earth
If you have a boss who paints grand visionary ideas without understanding the detail and the effort involved, ask them to get granular. Let them understand how their great sweeping vision plays out at the execution level of technology, marketing, and product re-design. Ask them who, specifically, they envision doing this work? What resources might need to be made available to cover contingencies, or hire outside help? By helping them understand the real effort involved, they will likely either abandon their idea, or roll up their sleeves and help. Probably the former.

Help Their Incompetence
It happens. Probably too often someone gets promoted to their level of incompetence. They are in over their head and resort to low level management tactics like examining the smallest detail, or scheduling meaningless meetings with no agenda. They are in the weeds. Help them. I know it hurts to think about it, but if you help guide their efforts, communication and help refocus their time and energy they will become an ally, and likely support your initiatives next time you suggest something.


outthink_bookShawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive awesome results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hi: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

An Amazing Story You Won’t Believe


Most people don’t have that willingness to break bad habits. They have a lot of excuses and they talk like victims.  – Carlos Santana

Last week I heard the most amazing behavioral science story. I goes like this:

Several years ago researchers working with monkeys confined five into a single enclosure. Each day they placed a banana at the top of a ladder. The monkey who first climbed and attempted to retrieve the banana was sprayed with cold water. And then the rest of the monkeys were also sprayed with cold water. Miserable.

After a few days, the monkeys started grabbing, holding and biting the monkey who attempted to get the banana, because of course everyone else would get doused with cold water. Pretty soon no one attempted to get the banana. They learned that they would get both sprayed with cold water, and attacked by their peers if they tried to climb the ladder. Both miserable outcomes.

Then one day the researchers removed one of the monkeys and brought in a new monkey. The very next day the new monkey raced to get the banana but was immediately set upon and attacked by the other monkeys who refused to allow him to reach the banana. WTF? What’s wrong with you monkeys?

After several days of repeatedly being held back, finally the new monkey succumbed to the culture and stopped trying to reach the banana each day.

Over time the researchers would remove one of the older monkeys and introduce a new one. And each time the new monkey was taught by his peers not to go for the banana. Until finally, all of the original monkeys had been rotated out and only newer monkeys, trained by their peers, remained in the cage.

And still no monkey attempted to get the banana each day. Yet no monkey in the cage had ever had the experience of being doused with cold water. There was no monkey in the enclosure who could ever explain or understand WHY nobody tried to get the banana. They all complied with this “rule” that had no logical origin.

The story is amazing, a poignant metaphor for our everyday lives. Immediately I started looking for the original study to read it, and write about it. It has fascinating implications for us, our teams, our workplaces, and our inability to question why we participate in the habits and rituals we do every day without even questioning them.

Here’s the thing. The story isn’t true. The experiment never existed. The study never happened. It was originally described in a business book twenty years ago, and repeated over and over by many others. I was disappointed but not surprised. The story is so plausible and compelling it begs to be told.

Like the banana story, we can easily get trapped into repetitive behaviors without ever asking why we do what we do. But like the banana story itself, we can sometimes find stories so compelling that they become folklore and repeated over and over until they become gospel truth without anyone ever questioning the origin.

Often we believe that if we try something new – attempt a novel experiment at work to improve a process or develop a new product – we will be met with rejection by our bosses and peers. So we stop trying.

Try something new today. Go out on a limb. Smash a barrier. Break taboo.