Category Archives: Organizational Behavior

The Saboteur of Effective Leadership: Are You “In the box”?

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a student who stayed to talk after class…

He told me how his perception of leadership has changed over the last year. Now, I had this student in a class last year where we discussed  an interesting book entitled Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the box.

I am not going rehash the contents of the book because I wrote about it in another article, but the basic gist was that you cannot fake leadership.

You will either treat people as people or as objects. When you objectify people, you treat people like things to be used.  You distort reality. You begin to justify yourself when things go wrong. You  blame others.

The authors refer to this as being “in the box.” Unfortunately, this condition spreads like an airborne disease.

As we approached the end of the semester, students were working on a group project that required some coordination.  Thomas  [not his real name] could see that his classmate was “in the box,” but more importantly, he could see how easy it would be for him to fall into the same trap himself.

Creative Commons Attribution to LifeAfterIEPs

Since he was the group leader, he could not afford to get pulled into the box too. He was at a fork in the road and this road was not easy to navigate.  He could react to her and objectify her, or see her as a person and help her out of the box. It would take some fortitude to continue to return kindness for another’s abuse.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:17-18).

Perspective and Consequences

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityBeyond the gratification that I felt that a student actually remembered what I taught in class, I was doubly impressed that he could articulate how he should think about leadership–particularly how he should think about his people. Thomas understood that leadership is not about him. It is about the people he leads.

To paraphrase Robert Frost, when the roads diverged, Thomas chose to view that person as a person, not as an object, and that made all the difference.

Darin Gerdes

November 28, 2012


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



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

To Those Who Seek To Lead Well

Leaders talk about openness and transparency. That is good. It is nearly impossible in this age of empowered social media to be successful as a command-and-control leader. But talking about openness is not enough. You must act on that openness too.

The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”  

-Patrick Henry

Openness Shrugged

 In the Obama team’s 2008 campaign book, Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama’s Plan to Renew America’s Promise, we find  a number of passages about what openness and transparency would look like under a future Obama Administration. They write: “When it comes to the corrupting influence of lobbyists on our politics, sunshine is truly the best disinfectant” (p. 149).

This is an ironic plagiarism of Justice Louis Brandeis’ 1913 quote “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” but we can all agree with the larger point. It is better to expose potential corruption than to cover it up.

In a more interesting passage about openness, we find this elaboration:

It means opening up our government with greater transparency so average citizens can access the information they need to hold their leaders accountable. And it means inspiring and calling on all Americans to engage as citizens.
Our government has an important role to play in this work, and every aspect of it should be under review. We’ll eliminate waste, streamline bureaucracy, and cut outmoded programs. An Obama Administration will open up the doors of democracy. It will put government data online, and use technology to shine a light on spending. It will invite the service and participation of American citizens, and cut through the red tape to make sure that every agency is meeting the highest standards. It will hold true to the obligations we have as stewards of our precious natural resources. And an Obama Administration will make sure that the doors of opportunity and community are open to all. We can’t begin to tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century without the hard work, creativity, and patriotism of every American (p. 146).

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityNow, these ideas are compelling. Who does not want a transparent government that is open to all? But campaigning and governing have turned out to be two different things. The promise of the campaign was not redeemed by the actions of the administration.

Openness is defined not by the leader, but by the followers.

If your followers say that you are not open and transparent, odds are that you are not. In all fairness to Mr. Obama, liberals said the same thing about George W. Bush, particularly as it related to the war in Iraq.

The First Rule of Leadership

The first rule of leadership is simple: Do what you say you will do. Your actions must be consistent with your words. In  The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner wrote:

Here are some of the common phrases people use to describe how they know credibility when they see it:

  • They practice what they preach.
  • They walk the talk.
  • Their actions are consistent with their words.
  • They put their money where their mouth is.
  • They follow through on their promises.
  • They do what they say they will do.

A judgment of “credible” is handed down when words and deeds are consonant (p. 40).

[Note: The Leadership Challenge is required reading for aspiring leaders.]

What Does This Mean for Those Who Aspire to Lead Well?

When it comes to transparency, what is true in politics is also true in business.

It does not matter if we are talking about a scandal like Benghazi or the rumors of layoffs at the office (the premise of the hit TV show, The Office),  failing to be open leads to a breach of trust. You cannot lead effectively when your people do not fundamentally trust you.

Is your organization transparent?

November 27, 2012


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


Filed under Books, Current Events, Leadership, Organizational Behavior, Poltics, Trust

Why Managers Need Humility in Order to Lead Effectively

In leadership, arrogance is the kiss of death because it is inherently self-limiting. Why? Leadership is about others; arrogance is about self. Many leaders do not understand this because they rose to their positions through sheer force of will. For them, a team is an obstacle to overcome rather than a source from which to draw strength.

The Self-Made Man carving himself out of the rock


Arrogance cuts the leader off from team input. It sends a message that you believe that you are better those you lead. This can be demonstrated in a number of ways–demanding perks, failing to listen, self-aggrandizing behaviors, etc.



In contrast, humility seeks to learn from others. I once worked for a Dean who, at the conclusion of nearly every meeting, would express how happy he was with the results of meeting before reminding us that “all of us are smarter than any one of us.”  Dr. George was humble enough to know that he did not have all the answers.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom”

(Proverbs 11:2)

The Difference between  Arrogance and Self-Confidence 

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityArrogance and self-confidence appear to be similar, but there is a simple test to determine whether a leader is self-confident or arrogant: Input. If the leader does not need or take input from the team, you are likely dealing with arrogance. In contrast, it takes a great deal of self-confidence to really listen to perspectives that may be different or even conflicting.

The Business Literature on Humility

It is no wonder that Jim Collins in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t  suggest the best leaders are a combination of humility and will. He dubbed these leaders “Level 5 Leaders.”

Level 5 Leadership = Humility + Will

[By the way, Good to Great is required reading for anyone serious about business management.]

Kouzes and Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, Echo this notion that humility is essential to leadership. They write: “Humility is the only way to resolve the conflicts and contradictions of leadership. You can avoid excessive pride only if you recognize that you’re human and need the help of others” (p. 347).

[The Leadership Challenge is required reading for aspiring leaders.]

Not surprisingly, humility is also one of the drivers of exceptional leadership in social media. Charlene Li wrote about this in Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead.  

She wrote, “In my research, people use two words over and over again to describe what was unique about open leaders: Curiosity and Humility” (p. 168).

As it turns out, humility may be even more important in the world of social media where sharing another’s idea is often more important than generating your own.


Are you seeing a pattern yet? How humble are you? Your employees already know the answer.

If you really want to know,  have a neutral third-party ask them if they feel listened to, respected, and valued by their boss. You might be surprised by the answer.

November 24, 2012


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

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Effectiveness, Leadership, Management, Motivation, Organizational Behavior, Success, Trust

How to Gain Good Will While Increasing your Business Revenues

Sometimes businesses do stupid things. Sometimes they are incredibly smart. This article is about the incredibly smart business decision that will gain good-will and increase revenue.

Texas Roadhouse has been a serial supporter of one of my favorite Charities, Christy’s Legacy of Hope.  The Charity was named for Christy DePriest Wright, one of my former students at Liberty University.

Christy earned her business degree in order to more effectively meet the needs of orphaned Children in China. She had worked in orphanages short-term, and she planned to go back to China full-time, but she was struck down with a rare form of cancer in 2010.

Her family incorporated a 501(C)3 to carry on her work.

Texas Roadhouse has been a great help from the start. I recall a fundraiser in 2010 at a local restaurant (to defray medical expenses for her illness) and Texas Roadhouse has come through again.

Christy’s Legacy Card

Christy’s Legacy Card

Gift Cards have become trendy holiday gifts. Most gift cards exchange equal value (e.g. $50 dollars in exchange for $50 dollars of value on the gift card). Some offer a slight discount.  This one gives 10% of the proceeds to Christy’s Legacy of Hope to provide for the needs of orphaned children in China.  Additionally, the customer who uses this card will get a free Baby Blossom with the purchase of a entrée for an entire year.

Sounds Like an Expensive Proposition for Texas Roadhouse

Is Texas Roadhouse losing money? They are giving away a lot of free food and foregoing 10% right off the top. It seems like they are leaving a lot on the table, but I would bet they will make it back in free publicity, new customers, and return trips.

Get your MBA at Charleston Southern UniversityFor example, I am pretty sure that I would not have written this article for the sake of maximizing the profits of Texas Roadhouse. But because they are contributing to a great cause, I am contributing my time to write about it. And now you know about it. It is a virtuous cycle and you can join in. Buy a gift card, pass this along to a friend, and keep the cycle going. Tweet about it.

Here is the short link:

The Lesson

Texas Roadhouse created value by contributing to a good cause (creating good will) which will increase their revenues (increased traffic and free marketing from people like me) leading to further good will and increased traffic.

What can your company do to create such a virtuous cycle?

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

November 23, 2012


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


Note: The gift card will be available until Christmas 2012. The 10% donation will continue to stream until Christmas of 2013


Contact Jessica Ericson of Texas Roadhouse at (734) 788-1410 or

A $0.40 fee will be applied for shipment of the card.


Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Effectiveness, Efficiency, Leadership, Management, Organizational Behavior, Profitability

I Would Tell You What I Really Think, But…

Have you ever been in a boring meeting where you thought  to yourself, “I would tell the boss what I really think, but I don’t want to get fired.” As a consequence, you reign yourself in. The boss feels free to say whatever he wants, but you can’t. It is unfair. It is a double standard.

So, you zone out and fantasize about the day when you can tell your people whatever is on your mind—a time where they have to sit there and take it from you.

Be careful. This fantasy is a subtle trap.

While it is true that you cannot speak your mind without consequences, it is also true that your boss cannot either. When he disallows your opinions and thoughts, he has cut himself off from the very thing he needs. He needs your ideas, your motivation, and your heart.

The Cost of Arrogance

Why would anyone limit himself in such an absurd way?

Maybe he thinks the he already understands what you do. If he did your job before he was promoted to his job, perhaps he thinks that since he had the answers then, he has the answers now. It does not matter that the times may have changed.

Or, perhaps he simply does not value you because he is the superior type. Limiting your input is a less-than-subtle way for him to show you who is boss.

Either approach stems from insecurity.

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityAn effective boss is humble enough to know that he does not have all the answers and he is secure enough to let you speak your mind.

What other consequences occur when your boss does not make it safe for you to speak up? I would love to hear what you have experienced.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

November 23, 2012


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

Leave a comment

Filed under Leadership, Management, Organizational Behavior, Trust

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.

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern University

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

Leave a comment

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.

Get your MBA at Charleston Southern University

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

Leave a comment

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