Category Archives: Interdisciplinary

Put the Christmas List on Your Reading List

If you have read any of the other articles I have written, what I am about to suggest will be a bit of a surprise. I think you should read the Christmas List.


I write about leadership. The lessons I discuss are usually most applicable in the context of business. When I stray from the topic of business leadership, it is usually to talk about how to borrow lessons from the military (e.g.  Army Rangers or Navy SEALS) or politics in order to help you with what you face in your organization. So, my suggestion to read a Christmas book is a little different, but this book is different.

While setting up my Christmas tree,  I listened to the Christmas List. The book was written by New York Times best-selling author, Richard Paul Evans. It was Dickens meets modern life in a fallen world.


A businessman who doesn’t care about who he tramples in order to make a buck reads his own obituary in what turns out to be a case of mistaken identity. For the first time in years, he considers the harm that he has caused in the pursuit of profits over people. He makes a list of who he has hurt and he decides to right his wrongs. However, he finds that unlike what you see in a Hallmark Christmas movie, not everything can be fixed.

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityThe book was an emotional tear-jerker and I generally avoid this genre.  But I found it compelling for different reasons. The same man was the living embodiment of the best and worst leadership practices at different points in the book.

The book is inspiring and motivating. We see how forgiveness can lead to second chances. While everything cannot be fixed in this broken world, with the right motivation, we can move toward healing.

Again, everything does not work out perfectly in the end, but it does not work that way in real life either. Read the book. Let me know if you see the hidden lessons that I see. I would love to hear your thoughts.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

December 11, 2012


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University


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Filed under Books, Current Events, Interdisciplinary, Leadership, Motivation

The More You Know, The More You See.

What do you see in the pictures below?

If you are like most people, you see two men. If you are like most Americans, you probably see Middle-Easterners, but you may not be able to tell much more than that.  In Brotherhood of Warriors, Aaron Cohen, a former Israeli Special Forces counter-terrorism solder explained what he sees. He wrote:

There are different types of dress in various parts of the [Palestinian] territories. The red-and-white keffiyehs are dominant in some parts, black-and-white or green-and-white in still others. Red-and-white means the neighborhood supports Hamas; black-and-white means it supports Fatah; green-and-white, which can be seen much less frequently, means Hezbollah. We would know in advance which areas we’d be going into on a mission, and if the color of our keffiyehs wasn’t correct, we’d have gotten [expletive deleted] up quick (p. 148).

The point of this article is that the more you know, the more you see. Aaron Cohen saw enough to avoid danger.  Where we sees keffiyehs, he saw the equivalent of Palestinian gang colors.

By the way, a FBI agent sees something else. He would see Khalid Ibn Muhammad Al-Juhani (left) and Muhammad Sa’id Ali Hasan (right). The are both wanted by the FBI.

Example #2

What do you see here?

This time, you see an X-ray of a human body. Do you see a 70 Year old? Do you see the prostate cancer? How about the  hypercalcemia and diffuse osteoblastic bone metastases? Follow the arrows. Still don’t see it? Your doctor sees it.

The more you know, the more you see.

Example #3

Read the list below:

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

We all see this as a list of 10 items. Some will realize that it is a political agenda. Closer inspection will reveal that we have already accomplished #2 and #10 and we are actively working on #3, #5,  and #7.

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The political scientist or well-trained economist (or perhaps a sharp history teacher) will realize that this is directly from the end of Chapter 2 of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

Again, the more you know, the more you see. It works the same way in any field–the military, medicine, politics, or business.

Example #4

Sam Wyly was a serial entrepreneur who founded University Computing Company (UCC), owned Bonanza Steakhouse, bought Michael’s Arts and Crafts, and co-founded  Maverick Capital.

In his book, 1000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire Sam Wyly  recounts the story of a skeptic who questioned how he could have made a 199% return on an investment. He wrote:

I answered, “I read a lot.” The questioner laughed. But I wasn’t joking. It’s true. I do read all the time. What I’m trying to say is that having good timing is a result of paying attention to the ideas and trends floating around out there, studying them, coming to some intellectual conclusions, and then, ultimately, listening to your own gut about how to apply your conclusions to the business ventures you elect to pursue (p. 224).

There is a reason that Warren Buffett is one of the richest men on earth. He is currently #3 on the Forbes list.

Buffett  famously quipped: “Some men read Playboy. I read annual reports.”

What Sets Some People Apart From Others?

There is no mystery or magic here. Insight comes from investigation. What do you need to see? What are you doing to learn about the subject?

Darin Gerdes

November 30, 2012


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University


Filed under Books, Economics, Effectiveness, Efficiency, Interdisciplinary, Leadership, Management, Military, Success, Vision

Complain, Complain Complain: The Top 5 Reasons Your Employees Are Complaining.

You know who I am talking about. You already have a picture in your head of the worst offender at the office. Why does he complain so much?

Here are the Top 5 Reasons:

1. You.  There. I said it. It may be that if you have treated him poorly, he is reacting to you. Often employees and their managers get trapped in a vicious cycle where one negative interaction prompts another.  Sometimes managers continue to unintentionally inflame the issue. As a leader, you must be very careful. Your attitude leaks. Others pick up on your attitude even when you believe it is carefully concealed. But for the sake of argument, let’s say you are not to blame…

2. Them.  The Arbinger Institute put out a great book a few years ago entitled Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the box.  It is a leadership fable like those written by Ken Blanchard or Patrick Lencioni.  I have used this book in an organizational behavior class for years because it gets right down to the heart of the matter.

Sometimes the complainer is the problem. But the fascinating thing is that he never thinks that he is the problem. Everybody else in the office knows that he is the problem, but the problem person–the self-deceived person–is blind to this reality (Jeremiah 17:9).

3. You. If the last point is true, it also means that you are vulnerable. You too may be unaware that you are the problem. Let’s circle back to the first point. I tell my MBA students that as a manager, if you are not hearing negative feedback, one of two things is happening: either you are leading perfectly or your people do not trust you. The statistics are not in your favor.

4. Them. Or, then again, Maybe your problem employee is just a chronic complainer. Some people just complain about everything. So, maybe it is them or…
5. Them. You thought I was going to say “you” for the sake of symmetry, didn’t you? It might really be them, but for an entirely different reason.  There are two types of complainers. We already discussed the chronic complainer, but the second type complain even more loudly about select critical issues. These people complain because they care. They are trying to protect the organization from difficulties you may not be able to see. Unfortunately, most managers never distinguish between the two and they treat these complainers as problems.

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Chronic complainers (#4) are like cholesterol. Over time, they destroy the organization by limiting capacity and destroying morale.  Acute complainers (#5) are like white blood cells. When these complainers complain, listen. What you are experiencing is loyal opposition. They see danger and if you are willing to listen, this complainer may save you from disaster.

What kind of complainer do you have and what is causing the complaining?

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

November 21, 2012


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University

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Filed under Books, Interdisciplinary, Leadership, Management, Organizational Behavior, Trust

Take the Trust Test

If you are a manager, do your people trust you? Would you like to know if you are the problem in your organization?

Here is a Simple Test:

1. How many of your people bring you problems? Think back over the last week or two and give yourself a ratio. For example:

Trust Ratio

  • If you have 10 employees and only 2 have brought you problems, give yourself a 2/10.
  • If you have 10 employees and 9 have brought you problems, give yourself  a 9/10.
  • Now add 20% to your ratio. Not everyone has problems all the time. The goal, however, should be to allow a free flow of information when problems arise.

Feel free to classify challenges, obstacles, and other difficulties as problems.

More problems would seem to be more an indication of bad management, but this is an illusion.

Openness about difficulties  reveal trust. It is counter-intuitive, but the lower your ratio,  the more of an issue you may have with trust in your office.

2. Adjust your ratio for inflation:

Adjusted Ratio

  • For every problem that your people brought to you that they could have solved on their own (at their level of competence), adjust your ratio down by .5 per person. The odds are that they are covering their butts by getting your approval. This is time-wasting political behavior. Such activities evaporate in a climate of trust.
  • For every problem that your people brought you where they did not also bring you a solution, adjust your ratio down by .5 (if they trust you, they will generate solutions because they know you will listen).
  • For every new opportunity that your people brought you, adjust your ratio up by .5 (since they will be more likely to be proactive in an environment of trust).

How is Your Ratio?
Where trust is lacking, employees wait for managers to tell them what to do. After all, they don’t want to get in trouble for doing the wrong thing.  They avoid bringing bad news to the boss even when that bad news is exactly what the boss needs to hear. They rarely volunteer to take on additional assignments.

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In an environment of trust, your people will bring you problems. But, as you cultivate trust, they will also bring you solutions.

The Professor’s Recommended Reading:

So, what is the trust ratio in your office?

If you are a manager, how are you doing? Do your employees trust you, or is it possible that you have a trust deficit?

If you are an employee, how is your manager doing?

I would love to hear what you think about the trust test.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

November 17, 2012


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University

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Filed under Books, Interdisciplinary, Leadership, Management, Organizational Behavior, Trust

How to Beat a Bully: Lessons Learned from Chick-Fil-A

America recently experienced an odd skirmish in the culture war between the GLBT community and the traditional values crowd.  Chick-Fil-A was the focal point of the conflict. Those who paid attention witnessed a fascinating spectrum of bullying behaviors.

  • The LGBT community fabricated a crisis.
  • The Mayors of Chicago, Boston, and D.C. attacked Chick-Fil-A to score political points.
  • Roseanne Bar graciously tweeted “anyone who eats S— Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating antibiotic filled tortured chickens 4Christ.”
  • The “kiss-in” was a bullying event designed to inflict business losses on Chick-Fil-A.


It really does not matter if we are talking about a playground, the workplace, or a social movement, bullies are easy to identify. They may be individual tormentors or a mob. Yet, the principles are the same (as you will see below). defines bullying as follows:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Eliminate the line: “among school aged children,” and I would bet that you have worked with a bully at one time or another. Let’s look at that list again:

  • Unwanted, aggressive behavior
  • Real or perceived power imbalance.
  • Repeated or potentially repeated attacks
  • Making threats
  • Spreading rumors
  • Attacking someone verbally
  • Intentionally excluding someone from a group

Now that we know what bullying is, how does one beat a bully? We have three options.

  1. Hit back
  2. Forgive them
  3. Let them beat themselves

Hit the Bully Back.

The first school of thought is championed by Donald Trump, who writes, “When you hit a bully back, they always fold. I learned it in high school, you’ve got to hit a bully really strongly, right between the eyes.” (Trump, 2007, p. 190)

Taking Trump’s advice, those who embrace traditional marriage might decide to march on Ben and Jerry’s locations. But like most people, when I don’t like a social cause, I simply choose not to patronize the businesses that support it. I may go as far as telling someone that Ben and Jerry’s is fattening, but I do not drive to Vermont with a Bible and a bullhorn. Besides, I have to be home for dinner. After all, I have kids to raise.

First Prize

There were many displays of bad behavior last week including cursing, obnoxious exhibitions, and vandalism. However, first prize for last week’s bullying behavior goes to Adam Smith [Not the cool Adam Smith who developed classical economics and moved us away from the idea that “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen” toward the idea that:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them out of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chuses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens. Even a beggar does not depend upon it entirely.(Wealth of Nations Book I.2.2) But I digress.

Our hero, the other Adam Smith, decided that would take too much effort to drive to Chick-Fil-A corporate headquarters to confront his nemesis, Dan Cathy.

Instead, with righteous indignation, he drove to his local Chick-Fil-A, ordered a free water and berated the cashier (You simply have to see this video to believe it). The next day, the Blaze carried the headline: COLLEGE LECTURER BERATES LOCAL CHICK-FIL-A EMPLOYEE AT THE DRIVE-THRU: ‘HORRIBLE CORPORATION’ Writing: “We offer the re-posted video for your viewing pleasure.”

Maybe we should march on Ben and Jerry’s after all. And they’ll know we are Christians by our ….love? (John 13:35). Perhaps there is a better way.


During the verbal abuse that Smith inflicted, Rachel (the cashier) was unfailingly polite. Her demeanor  provided a sharp contrast to Mr. Smith’s bullying behavior. Why was she so polite? In her own words, she said “I’m Christian and God tells us to love thy neighbor.” In an August 7 interview on FoxNews, she publically forgave him. Editor’s Note: This is the proper place for the: “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love” reference (John 13:35).

What happened during the “kiss-in” protest on Friday? Intimidating behavior was met by Chick-Fil-A staff who served water and mints in a number of locations. It is hard to be angry with someone who returns your anger with love. It is even harder to play the victim when the villains serve you water and mints.

Let them beat themselves.

When social bullies picked on Chick-Fil-A, the restaurant had its best single day ever as millions of average Americans went out of their way to defend cherished values.

What about Adam Smith?

We only know about this incident because Smith decided to tape his exploits. Apparently, he thought this was a good idea and that he would be some kind of champion for the movement—the king of the bullies. Proud of the tongue-lashing he gave to his unsuspecting victim, he promptly uploaded it to You-Tube. It was picked up by the news, and the next day he was fired from the Tucson-based medical manufacturing company where he was the Chief Financial Officer. He was also an occasional adjunct professor at Eller College (but his faculty page has been removed).

Why was he fired? I can only speculate, but my guess is that Rachel was not the first to feel Smith’s wrath.  People are consistent. The bully at work will be a bully at home or on the playground. If he was treating the cashier like this, just imagine what it would be like to work for him the quarter that you did not make your numbers. As I thought about this, I wondered whether this might have been just the opportunity the CEO needed to give his staff some peace. In the end, bullies don’t do well.


You can punch a bully harder, but that will only cause him to leave you alone. Or, you can forgive him and perhaps cause an existential crisis. If that does not work, just wait. Bullies tend to self-destruct.

-Darin Gerdes

August 8, 2012


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University


Filed under Current Events, Interdisciplinary, Leadership, Management, Poltics

Why the GLBT Community will Lose their Battle with Chick-Fil-A


I have been thinking about the controversy that the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Trangender (GLBT) community has engineered over Chick-Fil-A.  Like many family oriented, conservative Americans, I drove to Chick-Fil-A today to spend my money there in order to support the values I hold dear.

I could not get in. The place was packed. I took the picture above from my car on the side of the road (see the little red Chick-Fil-A sign). Apparently I was not the only one that had this idea.  Chick-Fil-A did not have this many patrons when they gave away free food last month on Cow Appreciation Day (I was there and my children were dressed as cows). Why such a reaction? 

The Cause:

It struck me that the faux-controversy that the GLBT community has generated will do something to excite their base, but it will also inadvertently have the unintended consequence of adding to Chick-Fil-A’s bottom line. How do I know this? I have read Sun Tsu. “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.” 

But what inflamed the GLTB community? Dan Cathy, son of the founder and COO made the following inflammatory, bigoted, and hate-filled remarks in an interview with the Baptist Press:

“Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. ‘Well, guilty as charged,’ said Cathy when asked about the company’s position. We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that” 

Chick-Fil-A has not done anything new. They have always held to biblical values–values that the elite thought to be foolish, like closing every Sunday. Yet, Chic-Fil-A’s profitability has continued to rise year after year.


Liberals have come out of the woodwork to condemn Chick-Fil-A. The Mayor of Boston, in a generous display of liberality, stated he would prevent Chick-Fil-A from opening a restaurant in his city because of “prejudiced statements” and “Discrimination.”  Yet, he does not seem to notice the irony of his statement.

He fails to recognize that his own position is deeply prejudiced against anyone who holds the Biblical position that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.  What the Huffington Post labeled as anti-gay, the rest of us call traditional marriage.Chick-Fil-A is the epicenter of a proxy-war against those who hold Biblical values.

The Mayor of Chicago also took a hard line against Chick-Fil-A, though he has no qualms about working with Louis Farrakhan (you simply must see the video here) in spite of Farrakhan’s blistering denunciation of President Obama on gay marriage. But that is different. Farrakhan is Muslim. Somehow, that makes it OK.

The good news is that this tactic is going to backfire.Take a good look at this map of the 2010 congressional election.



Notice that the distinctive Democrat Blue is pronounced in the North East and the rim of the Left Coast. Now, let’s compare this with a map of Chick-Fil-A locations.




Do you notice any pattern? Chick-Fil-A is a largely Southern  and mid-western enterprise, frequented by families. Yes, the GLBT community plans to show up on August 3rd to kiss in Chick-Fil-A restaurants.I suppose this will gross out  people who eat there, but assuming that they have paid for their meals before they lose their lunch, it will not hurt the bottom line. It might have a minor effect on revenues on the 3rd, but they were already covered today.


Now, you may have noticed that I have called this a faux controversy throughout this post. That is because  it is. Dan Cathy has not gone out of his way to offend, but the GLBT leadership has made this an issue.This was a tactical error. The GLBT leadership has overreached. 

In 1989, Marshal Kirk and Hunter Madsen wrote After the Ball: How America will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 1990s. The tactic was simple: position yourself as the oppressed minority and you will gain acceptance. This tactic worked brilliantly for the last 20 years. In this case, however, the GLBT leadership got off message.  

Now, Chick-Fil-A is being attacked for being anti-gay (or perhaps we should say pro-Biblical values). The majority of those who eat at Chick-Fil-A believe that they are the victim.  Moreover, Chick-Fil-A does not depend on its one restaurant in New York or the 2 stores in Massachusetts for revenue. The franchise was born and raised in the Bible-belt. Yet GLBT leaders are attacking their enemies on the metaphorical high ground. As a result, the GLBT community will sponsor Chick-Fil-A’s best quarter ever. To paraphrase  Sun-Tsu, their battle was lost before it was fought.

-Darin Gerdes 


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University.


Filed under Interdisciplinary

The Intersection

ImageA short drive from my home there is an interesting intersection known as the “Four corners of the Law.” Charleston City Hall sits on the Northeast corner. The former Capitol Building (now the County Courthouse)  sits on the Northwest corner. Below it sits the Federal Courthouse and across the street is St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. These 4 buildings represent the laws of the city, state, federal government, and God. 

On a carriage ride through the city a few months ago, I found this intersection intriguing. In some ways, this is blog will utilize a similar metaphor. Here I will write about leadership. 

Leadership, however, can be found in many areas such as business, politics, education, and the church. Sometimes I will deal with leadership in one sphere. At other times, leadership will span boundaries. The student of leadership will always find a lesson in the posts contained within. 

One final thought:  I write with perspective. I am an Evangelical Christian. My analysis should reliably filter events and musings through a Christian lens in the same way that Ted Kennedy’s moral compass always pointed left.

Some posts will discuss current events; others will simply be musings or abstract ideas I have been pondering. All will contain a lesson on leadership. Some will be obvious. Others, may take time to register. Here is the first lesson: Leadership is an interdisciplinary, interchangeable skill. You can learn from one field and apply the lessons to another. The best leaders do this all the time. 

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

N. Charleston, SC


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