Research About Befriending Your Boss

A Wall Street Journal article describes the positive and negative effects of being friends with your boss. Research shows that managers do give preferential treatment to employees they consider friends.

However, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology demonstrates that managers may favor others when decisions are public. To avoid perceptions of bias, Alex Shaw, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, offers three solutions for managers:

  • Recuse yourself. I’m skeptical about this because a manager’s job is to make such decisions, but I see the point: if you can get out of being the final decision maker, that might be best in some situations.

  • Make the criteria public. This is a good practice, anyway, to ensure transparency in decisions, particularly those that are sensitive and affect people personally.

  • Ask for opinions. This could work, for example, when peer feedback may be as relevant—or more relevant—than the manager’s point of view.

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Discussion:

  • Have you considered a boss a friend? How might the relationship have affected decisions?

  • What’s your view of the strategies suggested here? In what types of situations could each work or backfire?

Shirtless Video Calls

Child interruptions, toilets flushing, clinking ice—I’ve seen and heard it all on video and audio calls. The Wall Street Journal reports that more remote workers have brought more mishaps, like a coworker appearing shirtless, forgetting to turn off his camera. And who can forget the adorable kids who walked in on a BBC interview.

The article suggests signs outside a home office door to indicate when calls are in progress—”On Air” or “Do Not Disturb.” Double-checking your mute button is a good idea too.

I would also suggest being clear about whether a call will be video or audio. A job candidate was surprised to know that her interview was via video. The employer insisted that she turn on her video, and she wasn’t dressed for it.

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Discussion:

  • What mishaps have you experienced on audio or video calls?

  • What other ideas do you have to prevent embarrassing situations?

  • How does this story relate to the concept of authenticity?



Another Blackface Disaster

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Belgium’s Africa museum hosted an event for which people arrived in pith helmets, blackface, and other offensive and stereotypical clothing. Understandably, the Congolese community is upset. As one representative said, "Ethnic, exotic or African is not a costume that you can put on and take off.” You can read about Belgium’s occupation of the Congo to understand the history.

The party was organized by a separate company, Thé Dansant, and one organizer defended the party: “Even if one person painted his face black, it was not meant to be offensive. Many people of African origin were enthusiastic about the concept and were present.”

So far, the Royal Museum of Africa is trying to distance itself from the event and hasn’t issued a statement or apology.

Museum image source.
Party image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Thé Dansant’s response?

  • What is the museum’s accountability? What should the leaders do or say?

Republican Google Employee Claims Bullying

Google engineer Kevin Cernekee was fired because, as the company claims, he downloaded information and used software inappropriately, violating company policies. But Cernekee says he was fired because of his political views, particularly because he was outspoken and conservative.

Cernekee is an “outlier,” according to a Wall Street Journal article that describes how rare his beliefs are at Google:

“Some 95% of Google employee donations to candidates in the 2018 midterm elections went to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, citing public disclosures.”

Google contends that open dialogue is encouraged and valued, but some of Cernekee’s internal posts were deemed offensive. In one, Cernekee wrote that “many Googlers strongly disagree with Social Justice theory and even more Googlers are concerned about the ‘internet mob’ shaming and intimidation tactics employed in support of this agenda.”

This situation echos the 2017 case when another Google employee was terminated after his memo criticizing diversity and inclusion initiatives at the firm was made public.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of these situations at Google? After researching these two cases further, do you tend to side with the terminated employees or with Google management?

  • How do you think your own political views might influence your feelings about these situations?

Government Scandal in Puerto Rico

Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló says he will not resign despite protests about private messages that included personal attacks and crude language. With 11 of his top aides, Rosselló participated in chats via the messaging app Telegram. Almost 900 pages of text are now public, and we see insults about other officials with references to people’s sexual orientation, gender, and weight.

The news comes after government corruption chargers earlier this week. The governor admitted, “I committed inappropriate acts,” but also said, “I have not committed illegal acts.”

In a news conference, Rosselló used the words “improper” and “shameful,” but didn’t agree with the reporter that the chats were unethical.

Discussion:

  • Should the governor resign? Why or why not?

  • What’s your view of the private chats? Should government officials be able to message each other freely? Why or why not?

  • How well did the governor respond to the reporter’s questions? Did he convince you?

Suicide Among France Télécom Employees

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Management couldn’t fire employees at France Télécom, so, according to critics, they harassed them hoping they would quit. But at least 35 committed suicide under the pressure, and some reports claim the number is closer to 60.

France Télécom was privatized and rebranded as Orange in July 2013. The company wasn’t keeping up with technological changes and, according to executives, were saddled with state employees, who are protected from termination. In 2007, Didier Lombard, the former chief executive of France Télécom, said they would get to their ideal number of layoffs “one way or another, by the window or by the door.”

A New York Times article describes the environment: “A grim universe of underemployment, marginalization, miscasting and systematic harassment was established at the huge company, according to testimony at the trial.” Managers tried changing job responsibilities for some workers, but employees were left without tasks or with tasks they couldn’t do.

With France’s high unemployment rate, employees felt they had few options. Union members, shown here, express their support during the trial in Paris. We’ll see whether the judges find company executives guilty.

Discussion:

  • How did management justify its practices? On the other hand, how could they have acted differently?

  • What experience do you have with international labor laws? Describe differences and how they might affect business decisions.

  • Should France reconsider its lifetime employment protections?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Kim Kardashian West Accused of Cultural Appropriation

Kim Kardashian West named her new line of shapewear Kimono and was accused of cultural appropriation. Kardashian West said the name, which, like her other brands, starts with a “K,” is “a nod to the beauty and detail that goes into a garment.”

A New York Times article describes the controversy over using the name of this traditional Japanese garment:

“But while traditional kimonos, which date from the 16th century, according to the Victoria & Albert Museum, have many associations, those tend not to involve lingerie, Hollywood celebrities or reality TV. Hence, the problem.”

Kardashian West is unapologetic and plans to continue with the line. She said, “I understand and have deep respect for the significance of the kimono in Japanese culture.”

The Times article mentions two other brands that haven’t received the same backlash: Kimono condoms, and Kimono Lash. The author considers whether the Kardashians’ use of social media made them both popular and vulnerable.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of using the kimono name for a lingerie line?

  • Assess Kardashian West’s response: on target, insensitive, or something else?

  • Do you agree with the author’s conclusion about the Kardashian fame? Why or why not?

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Rutgers Chancellor "Berates" Police Officers

The Chronicle reported that Rutgers Chancellor Nancy E. Cantor “apologized for berating campus police officers.” On her way to the airport, Cantor’s driver hit a parked police car. She was detained and said, “If I miss my airplane, you folks are in trouble!” When an officer asked, “I’m sorry, who are you?” she yelled, “I’m the chancellor!”

The episode, which happened in March, was recorded on the officer’s body camera. Part of the debate is about whether Cantor needed to be detained because she entered the vehicle after the driver hit the other car.

Regardless, the video became public, Cantor apologized, and the Rutgers-Newark police chief responded:

“I appreciate Chancellor Cantor taking the time to review the video. I along with the RUPD are appreciative of her kind words and support. The sentiment is extremely appreciated, and we look forward to continuing a positive working relationship with the Rutgers-Newark chancellor’s office.”

Discussion:

  • Watch the video exchange. What’s your view of the chancellor’s behavior with the police officers?

  • Should the officers have done anything differently in this situation? Why or why not?

  • Assess the police chief’s response. How well does he demonstrate forgiveness?




Harvard Rescinds an Offer

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Harvard withdrew an admissions offer after discovering racist comments by the applicant online. The applicant, Kyle Kashuv, posted his version of events, including Harvard’s withdrawal and his responses before and after the final decision.

Kashuv became an activist for gun rights after he survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. He joined Turning Point USA, which The Chronicle describes as “a right-wing organization with chapters on many college campuses.”

Despite his explanation and apology, Harvard decided to rescind the offer. ]

Harvard College image source.

Discussion:

  • Read Kashuv’s account of what happened as well as news articles. What’s your view? Did Harvard make the right decision? Why or why not?

  • What, if anything, could Kashuv have done to prevent the withdrawal? Could he have been more persuasive in some way?

Mets Manager Admits Mistake

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Mets manager Mickey Callaway admitted that an “administrative” error of switching pitchers “probably cost” the team the game. According to reports, the admission was unusual. As one news outlet explained, “His postgame press conferences can get combative, and his unwillingness to admit to any wrongdoing hasn’t played well with the New York media.”

Fans and players seem to be responding positively to the Callaway’s apology. One example is the response from first baseman Pete Alonso:

“Having a manager that’s not straight up and honest, that’s tough to play for a guy like that. But I’m fortunate enough to play for a guy like Mick. I love playing for Mick and all of the other guys love playing for Mick because he’s been honest and straight-up.” 

For years now, corporate stakeholders have expected more humility from leaders. Seeing an example in sports is refreshing.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Callaway’s admission?

  • Not everyone likes this approach. I haven’t seen the clip, but a friend tells me local sports commentators said they want to see more “leadership.” Is admitting failure not part of demonstrating leadership?

  • What other leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this example?







Restaurant Owner Forgives Manager for $4,710 Mistake

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The manager of Hawksmoor Manchester steakhouse accidentally served a $5,000 bottle of wine when the guests ordered one priced at $290. The owner forgave her publicly, on Twitter.

Naturally, the conversation doesn’t end there. Jokes abound, one announcing that the manager has since been placed in an “on-site incinerator.”

Others pounced on the expensive wine and criticized the restaurant, to which the owner responded in a tweet:

I’m sure you’re all getting tired of this now, so one last thing, to the people who put homelessness in Manchester next to ‘£4500 wine?!’ and suggesting we have no values: we’ve raised well over £1m for @ACF_UK, work with @WoodSt_Mission and @notjustsoupMCR. We have values.

Discussion:

  • What leadership character dimensions are demonstrated by this story?

  • How well did the owner respond to criticism?

Leadership Challenge at Uber

A New York Times article describes discomfort among Uber’s leadership as the company plans to go public. Founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick wanted to join the company to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, a tradition for IPOs. Kalanick still holds a seat on the board and, as founder, he wanted to participate in the company’s joyous moment—and to bring his father.

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Current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi denied the request. For two years, Khosrowshahi has been trying to shed negative public perceptions of Uber, partly attributed to Kalanick’s leadership style and the company’s “bro-culture.”

The article describes a fractured board that didn’t fully support Khosrowshahi and a company that has yet to turn a profit, losing revenue on almost every car ride. Uber follows Lyft’s recent IPO, which has lost about $26 per share since its IPO in March.

Uber image source.

Lyft image source.

Discussion:

  • Did Khosrowshahi make the right decision? Why or why not?

  • Consider Kalanick’s perspective. What’s his point of view? Should he have asked at all?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Whistleblowers at Boeing

On The Daily podcast, a former quality manager at Boeing describes safety concerns and efforts to report them. He is one of more than 12 employees the New York Times reporter interviewed who had raised issues internally and with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before the 737 MAX crashes—and dating back to the 787 Dreamliner, which was introduced in 2007.

Employees complained about debris left inside aircrafts, even as planes were going on test flights and getting ready for delivery, and about missing and doctored defective parts. The reporter describes a company under pressure taking serious safety shortcuts. 

According to U.S. Department of Labor data, whistleblowers have little success. This chart shows a very small percentage of government-reported cases considered of “merit,” although in the table below the chart, the author tells us that cases that are “settled” or “settled other” (a nonstandard procedure) should also be considered winners. Still, it’s a small percentage in light of what it takes to come forward to file a complaint.

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Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Boeing? Some employees say they felt proud when they first worked at the company, and now they are embarrassed. How, if at all, does this news change your perception of the company?

  • What does it take to be a whistleblower? What is at stake, and what are the potential rewards?

  • Assess the chart. Who is the audience, and what are the communication objectives? How could you change the chart to improve readability? For example, consider how the 3D effect might change how we interpret the data.

Walking Meetings: "Take a Hike"

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According to a Wall Street Journal article, employees have had enough of “walking meetings,” typically initiated by a manager who wants to get some exercise. Employees cite exhaustion, bug bites, overcrowding, uncomfortable height differences, crashing into things, and losing people along the way.

On the plus side, people say it boosts creativity and energy, as this infographic shows. Some say it reminds them of college, when their professor held class outside in nice weather. (Do people still do that?)

Comparisons to “The West Wing” abound, but it’s not quite the same without the cameras following you.

Walking meeting image source.

Infographic image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of walking meetings? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

  • Should managers be more sensitive to people who have physical challenges or just prefer to meet inside? How should managers handle these situations?

Don't Ignore Email

A New York Times opinion piece by Adam Grant warns us not to ignore emails because it’s rude. He compares ignoring email to not acknowledging someone who says hello when walking by you in a hallway. He cites a survey that, on average, employees have 199 unread messages in their inbox.

But Grant addresses people who say they’re “too busy” to answer emails, and he makes several exceptions:

You should not feel obliged to respond to strangers asking you to share their content on social media, introduce them to your more famous colleagues, spend hours advising them on something they’ve created or “jump on a call this afternoon.” If someone you barely know emails you a dozen times a month and is always asking you to do something for him, you can ignore those emails guilt-free.

I wrote an article last summer encouraging people to respond to any email, including the type he says we can ignore. I’m not Adam Grant, so I’m sure I don’t get his volume of messages. I see responding to an inappropriate or misguided request as a learning opportunity for the sender. For most of us, a short response doesn’t take too long and, as Grant says, is the civil thing to do.

Cover image source.

Discussion:

  • How do you handle emails such as those Grant describes? How many do you receive?

  • Describe an email you sent that was ignored. In retrospect, was it appropriate to send? Why do you think the receiver didn’t respond?

More About Failure Resumes

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Two years ago, a Princeton professor’s “CV of Failures” went viral, encouraging all of us to admit our misses and view them as learning experiences. This week, The New York Times popularized the idea in an article, “Do You Keep a Failure Resume?

The author advises a strategy:

“When you fail, write it down. But instead of focusing on how that failure makes you feel, take the time to step back and analyze the practical, operational reasons that you failed. Did you wait until the last minute to work on it? Were you too casual in your preparation? Were you simply out of your depth?”

Of course, what he’s proposing is self-reflection. But the approach is rationale: to think through what happened. Research tells us that a more emotional approach—allowing yourself to actually feel negative emotions from a failure—leads to greater learning and makes it less likely that you’ll make the same mistake in the future.

We may avoid failure because we feel shame. The graphic above shows the difference between failing and “being a failure.” Experiencing failure instead of feeling like a failure helps us be vulnerable instead of feeling what could be debilitating shame.

Quote image source.

Being a Failure image source.

Discussion:

  • How do you typically view failure? Do you try to forget about it? Are you harsh with yourself? Or something else?

  • Do you have a process of regular self-reflection? What could you do on a daily basis to learn from both your successes and your failures?

Updates on the Virginia Govenor

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Whether Virginia Governor Ralph Northam resigns just got more complicated. If Northam steps down because of racist photos in his yearbook, the lieutenant governor would replace him. But Justin Fairfax faces his own challenges: a woman accused him of sexual assault.

Fairfax denies the claims and refers to the incident at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston as consensual sex. To complicate matters further, Fairfax has accused Northam’s supporters of a “smear” campaign:

“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this uncorroborated smear comes out?”

Fairfax also questioned whether Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond may have been involved in the accusation to which Stoney responded, “The insinuation is 100 percent not true, and frankly it’s offensive.”

For its part, Eastern Virginia Medical School is investigating how the racist photos got into the 1984 yearbook.

Justin Fairfax image source.

Election night image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Fairfax’s response?

  • Should a 2004 sexual assault charge prevent Fairfax from replacing Northam?

  • Should the replacement issue drive whether Northam resigns?

  • What is the medical school’s responsibility in this situation?

Governor's Racist Yearbook Images

Virginia State Governor Ralph Northam is facing calls for his resignation when images from his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced. After Northam was in the news this week for supporting women’s rights to an abortion, a conservative group posted the images on the website Big League Politics.

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Two people appear in one image: one in blackface and the other wearing a KKK outfit. Northam responded to the controversy with this statement:

“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.”

For some, the apology isn’t enough. Several democrats who recently entered the 2020 presidential race have weighed in: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), and Julián Castro (former mayor of San Antonio) all called for Northam’s resignation. He has been in office about 13 months.

UPDATE: Governor Northam now says he did not appear in the photo, and he refuses to resign:

Discussion:

  • What do you think Northam thought when he ran for office? Did he not remember the photo, or did he not think it was a big deal, or was he hoping that people wouldn’t find out? You have to wonder.

  • Should Northam have done or said anything in addition to the apology to garner more support? Would it have made a difference in the public response?

  • How do you interpret Northam changing position?

  • Should Northam resign? Why or why not?

Emails to International Duke Students Sparks Controversy

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Faculty at Duke University Medical Center have been criticized for asking international students to speak only English. The controversy started when an administrator of the biostatistics program sent an email after hearing complaints from faculty members that Chinese students were speaking “VERY LOUDLY” in their native language in “student lounge/study areas.” The faculty expressed concern that students “were not taking the opportunity to improve their English and were being so impolite.”

Also in the email, the administrator said that faculty asked for students’ names so that they might deny them job and project opportunities.

Students took offense and started a petition. In response, the administrator of the program stepped down from her position, and the university posted a letter to students in the program.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of international students speaking in their native language at an American University?

  • Was the administrator out of line? Why or why not?

  • How do you assess the university’s response to the controversy?

  • What leadership character dimensions are at play?

Law Firm Faces Backlash About Diversity

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When a law firm announced its 2019 partners, they didn’t expect such a strong reaction. A photo shows the 12 members of the new group—all white and only one woman. Paul Weiss is an elite firm in midtown Manhattan and claims that this year is unusual.

The firm has since removed the photo from LinkedIn, where it drew attention. About 170 lawyers across the country wrote an open letter to express their wishes for a more diverse legal community.

Paul Weiss leaders took quick action to address the controversy and held a town hall meeting for employees. Firm leaders also say this group is unusually not diverse. In fact, the firm was recognized by a Microsoft initiative that offers bonuses to diverse law firms. In addition, 23% of the firm’s partners are women compared to about 18% of other law firms’ top leaders. The firm’s website boasts additional awards for diversity, including being ranked #16 in The American Lawyer’s 2018 Diversity Scorecard.

An email to Paul Weiss employees shows the words “diversity” and “associate professional satisfaction” in quotes, and a writer for the website Above the Law warns,

“…maybe there’s still some work to be done in mastering how to talk about these subjects. In general, don’t put anything in quotation marks that you wouldn’t be willing to sarcastically put air quotes around in conversation. That’s my advice.”

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the photo and the reaction: should the firm have avoided the composite, did people overreact, or something else?

  • How do you assess the firm’s response? What else, if anything, should the firm leaders do to improve its image?

  • What persuasive strategies do the attorneys use in their open letter? Which are most and least effective for the situation?