In Search of a Code

In a recent meeting I had with some fellow students and the MBA Programs Director to discuss the our Code of Academic Conduct that had come under media scrutiny due to some unfortunate pranks by some of the students, one Canadian student related (with some relish, I might add) an anecdote about an international student (a member of her team) who had copied and pasted a portion of text from Wikipedia in contribution to a team project report. When questioned, the international student admitted with some puzzlement that it was indeed from Wikipedia, which, given its open-source position, he did not realize needed to be properly referenced in the document. This anecdote sparked off the subsequent discussion which quickly degenerated into a trading of similar stories of by the other (Canadian) students present, which, while carefully circumventing the actual use of the term “international student” quite clearly implied in the traded stories that these instances of ignorance or malfeasance most likely originate among them. Lax academic standards in their home countries, pressures to produce work of idiomatically and structurally acceptable quality for academic work in a foreign language (English), or simple downright laziness to pull one’s weight on a team project, were all cited as possible reasons for this rash of substandard work.

Yet, the whole stream of stories emerging from the first Wikipedia one seemed to miss the key issue which is that of ignorance: ignorance about the specific protocols of scholarship in a specific discipline and in a specific language. Some students (international or local) have until now, not been instructed on the specific rituals of bibliographic citation that are agreed upon by the scholarly community of the Western Academy. I choose my words advisedly here. There is a mistaken notion among some semi-educated students here that until The MLA Handbook, or The Chicago Manual of Style, the action of willfully passing off as one’s own, or borrowing without acknowledgment, the work of others (i.e plagiarism) did not exist. I find it hard to believe that for any sustained body of continued scholarship to exist, the theft of another’s intellectual capital must have been regulated in some way—it is after all the “capital” of the scholarship industry.[1] The protocols simply change over time, and we learn new protocols.

What constitutes plagiarism, and how to cite within the correct protocols for a given academy is to be taught by those who know (i.e. teachers, fellow students and colleagues) for the betterment of knowledge usage and creation among all of its participants. Therefore, the issue at hand seems to get those of us unaware of the protocols and citation requirements, up to speed. This is no major task: as a student Mentor, it took me perhaps a couple of 1-hour sessions to bring my mentees up to speed on the specific requirements of academic writing in the Canadian university. I am happy to say that they are both genuinely conscientious students, and once they learned the “rules of the game,” they played admirably well within them, roundly trouncing their colleagues over the bell-curve with straight As on their subsequent essays. This training (no different from Excel modeling sessions) is a practical and necessary skill for all students, but most especially to those most in need of the skill. However, the facility in use of Excel does not imply some sort of moral superiority of those who happen to have acquired it over those who have not acquired it yet. The same is true of these protocols of bibliographic citation.

Another student was histrionically appalled that his team mate (another international student) had suggested in a team meeting that Blackberry phones could benefit from having email as an added feature. The appalled student concluded that such an ignorant comment deserved having the offender being rusticated from the program. It is quite likely that the offending team-mate probably assumed that Blackberry was simply another branded phone. Asia’s mobile technology has outpaced that of North America literally by generations, so it is quite possible that someone used to advanced mobile technology arriving from that part of the world may be ignorant of the primitive intermediate steps that were emerging though the supposedly “cutting edge” technology from Blackberry. If anything, the ignorance could arguably be that of the accuser, rather than the accused. Would the accuser then apply such stringent to himself and rusticate himself from the program?

This is a school after all, and it would be instructive to remember that famous reminder that we are given when we joined the program that this is a safe learning environment in which we can make (and learn from) our mistakes in practicing the skills required of our professions—in contrast to a working world where such errors may come with serious consequences. Let us teach our students and one another by all means, but that gloating by those who learned these protocols over those who did not as yet, is as distasteful as a person with eye-sight mocking a blind person who obliviously walked into an obstacle. Having lived outside the familiar space of Canada for the past 15 years, I know only too well of how blind I can be of serious breaches in protocol in lands that are new and foreign to me. We can all be inadvertently blind in that foreign space; we can make mistakes out of ignorance (even where they may have potentially serious consequences), but through the goodwill and guidance of our local colleagues, we can learn and adapt. I would like to hope that the respect for the dignity each student, the comradely support, and the desire to collectively grow as a school community would be a defining attribute of our particular institution, exemplified in all of its students. That spirit of mutual growth, and positive cooperation should probably be the defining spirit of a code of academic conduct here, rather than one which merely sets out a prescriptive list of Dos and Don’ts. I, for one would be proud to belong to such an institution, and count myself indeed fortunate that I can call my fellow students also my colleagues.

Note: The subsequent report that the Programs Director did compile for the Dean was, to her credit, scrupulously attentive to the needs and limitations of all students. This is a laudable step in the right direction, and one hopes the first of many in quest of a better code.

Works Cited:

Gonzalez-Crussi, F. A Short History of Medicine. New York: Modern Library, 2007.

[1] I recently discovered the etymological roots of torcular Herophili (a clump of nerves in the brain), which I had mechanically memorized in the days of my abortive medical studies: apparently, it translates from Latin as “The Herophilus Press” named after its discoverer, Herophilus (c. 335 – c. 280 B.C.), and which have been scrupulously attributed through over 2300 years of scholarship. This is the real and immortal reward of original discovery or creation in scholarship that the taboo of plagiarism so strongly proscribes against (and rightly so). (Medicine, 6)

Banking on a Gentleman’s Agreement

The culture associated with Wholesale Banking (“get the deal,” Type A personalities) vs. Retail Banking (stable, relationship-based)  is common in North America. The former is well-illustrated in the character of Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street, summarized in his mantra of “greed is good;” The latter is your friendly banking advisor at your local CIBC branch where you go to have a chat about the mortgage, financing your kid’s college education, because, as their slogan says, “It’s worth a talk.” What struck me as interesting was the way in which this latter culture comes to dominate not just the retail segment of the market but also the wholesale segment in some other countries, such as for instance, Japan.

In the past 4 years before I came to Rotman I consulted to Shinsei Bank, helping their Japanese staff improve communication with their foreign managers. By way of background, Shinsei Bank was the former Long-Term Credit Bank (LTCB), which was formed in post-war Japan to finance the development of Japan’s industry and infrastructure that had been destroyed during the war. It was the most prestigious financial institution in the country, and its employees came from the elite universities of Japan. Following the crisis resulting from the burst of the bubble economy, LTCB had a huge amount of bad debt, which led to its bankruptcy and subsequent acquisition by an American Venture Fund (Ripplewood Holdings). The bank was reorganized, and one significant difference was that most of the top management came either from Wall Street or from other countries which share a similar ethos insofar at the Wholesale Banking culture was concerned. My job was to coach Japanese mid-level managers who had grown with the bank, suddenly having to not only effectively communicate with their foreign bosses, but who would also have to understand and wholeheartedly follow the ethos of their bosses.

That experience gave me some insights into how investment banking works in Japan. It is very much based on old-boy networks, relationships between individuals, relationships between institutions, and yet more of those relationships. The only way that it resembles Canada’s banks is in the retail sector where as we discussed today, the big Canadian banks have a “gentleman’s agreement.” The choice of words is not accidental, because it presupposes a social and cultural code of behaviour in which an unseemly fascination with wealth was so ruinous to one’s individual, family and professional reputation, that most CEOs would not have adopted the approach to pushing mergers for personal gain. The biggest challenge I faced working for Shinsei Bank is in finding a way to translate across that chasm: the chasm that separates the Wholesale Banker from the Retail banker in Canada. I have to admit that in all honesty, I was not very successful in effecting that translation, but it raised some questions that have shaped my MBA studies about the deeply-held values, and the reasoning processes that operate at such a sub-conscious level in the minds of people. It constantly amazes me how little control we have over those deeper thought processes which play such a significant role in the decisions and actions of those people we call employees, whether entry-level analyst or CEO. How does one distinguish one disposition from the other? That’s easy: by their actions shall you know them.

Beyond getting the horse to water

Over the weekend I had lunch with two friends from Rotman, and we inevitably got talking about organizational design. I summarized to them the key concepts of contingency theory (strategy orients the structure of an organization), the dominant logics, decision rights and the concept of fit between task and individual. We were all familiar with the congruence theory (between the formal and informal culture of an organization), so we did not discuss it in much detail. Where reached a deadlock was in if organizational design was supposed to incorporate individual motivation.

In reviewing my blogs, I have found that I seem to have been circling around this idea. The tools of organizational design, especially the concept of fit between task an individual, and the alignment between the people and the informal culture of an organization seemed to incorporate in a sense the motivation of the individual. But, there is a difference, as the proverb goes between getting the horse to water, and getting it to drink. In reviewing the cases and discussions from my past studies at Rotman, I still see that these tools and theories are admirably suited to designing an organization that accentuates and aligns the productivity of its employees with the achievement of corporate goals (getting the horse to water), but not specifically focusing on how to get a de-motivated individual to maximize his/her capabilities within a well-designed organization, or for that matter, bringing everyone to a certain level of internal motivation to maximize all the possibilities available (getting the horse to drink the water). The closest we get is in decision rights where we empower the individual to make decisions over issues that are within that person’s abilities and span of control. To a certain extent we can argue that this is also there in designing for fit.

In Power and Influence in Organizations, a course taught brilliantly by Jennifer Berdahl (at Rotman), we explored conceptions of power, and the most satisfactory one was defined as power being the able to control others’ desired outcomes. We usually see the power the employer or the boss having power over employees or subordinates respectively, but rarely do we acknowledge the power the opposite direction. The disgruntled employee, the de-motivated employee, the indifferent employee are all able to perform actions that control the CEO’s desired outcomes, often for the worse (think Mizuho Securities). In some cases, it may be actually the motivated employee, the morally-motivated employee, who then becomes the whistleblower (think Enron). Therefore, given the tremendous power that the employee potentially wields in an organization, should we also be explicitly considering how we can make people happy in a way that ensures that we mitigate the possible risk associated with making money. Here I am contrasting with the more common Krugman-like belief that the goal of a CEO is to focus on how we make money for the company (and not just make people happy). Of course, it is possible to make people happy with a free-for-all squandering resources that is counter-productive to the company’s financial goals. The trick therefore seems to be how to get people motivated to want to do their best in the job. Drawing from my experience as a teacher, I would say it is comparable to motivating my students to enjoy and build on the learning experience, despite the rigors of study, so that when they succeed, they will feel they have achieved something…and indeed they have achieved something special: the motivation to seek and conquer greater heights.

Getting HR off the back burner

Silence. Drop dead silence after a presentation can mean only one thing: the general attitude among members of the audience is “You are on your own!” Two partner guest speakers from the HR division of a prominent Canadian bank came to speak to students at the Rotman School of Management. They trolled through their extensive bios, their poorly designed slide deck, and limped through an incomprehensible case study based on TD’s acquisition of VFC. It was in the questions from the audience that the key issues of the case study came out: Luke Earl: What are the strategic reasons why TD acquired VFC? Mathew Thomas: What is the corporate culture of TD like both internally and externally? Jack Xu: Did they consider the integration issue before actually acquiring the company?

The issues in the case could have been concisely summed up as: TD acquired VFC, which was a small finance company. At the time TD already had a business unit which also did the same business as VFC, so the resulting organizational design choice was one of three options: A) continue with the status quo B) integrate both into a single business unit C) create a separate subsidiary organization with its own brand, organizational structure and strategy etc. What are some of the pros and cons for each option? Let’s list them on the board, and then discuss what the best option. 3 crisp sentences and one directive could have been delivered in 60 seconds, and the subsequent period spent in that bubbling discussion that characterizes Jim Fisher’s class (to which the guest speakers had been invited).

Interestingly enough, Jim Fisher did manage to turn that around in the last 30 minutes of class. The most interesting question he raised was about if Mr. Joe Manager (one of the guest speakers) would stay up at night worrying about organizational design issues. Probably not, and why not? Dawn-Marie King observed that given the relatively de-prioritized position of HR within an organization, perhaps that passivity is inevitable. Jim’s position is clear: “If I am running the organization, then I organize it; HR can come in afterwards and do the paperwork.” Ed Clark seems to be the organizer, as is evident in his statement on TD’s website: “Our mission is to be a better bank, and we believe the measure of our progress is not just our financial achievements; it’s whether or not our employees are proud to work for us, our customers are satisfied with the service we provide and the communities in which we work value us as a good neighbour and a positive contributor to their development and well-being.” Jack Welch also organized GE by empowering HR to take an active role (Assertive and committed statements start with “I believe we should do…” and they are dangerous because you are going out on a limb; you are taking a stand). How is this possible? I think it comes from taking ownership over your job, whether as CEO or as HR executive. In the case of Welch’s GE: team matters, culture matters, and winning matters. As we read from his books, Welch and his HR team DID stay up at night worrying about it. And maybe that is why Jack is Jack, and Joe is Joe.

The mechanized human or the humanized machine?

John Chambers’ recognition that Cisco “was designed for the industrial age of the past century when capital was the scarce resource, interaction costs were high and hierarchal authority and vertically integrated structures were the keys to efficient operations” (Bryan et. al. 12) probably lead to his desire to transform the company into its current “councils” and “boards” format which replicates the advantages of a matrix organization without its limitations (e.g. the diverse priorities associated with dotted and multiple reporting lines, figuring out the “unwritten” rules of the organization etc).

One major learning objective I took away Jim Fisher’s course in Organizational Design at the Rotman School of Management was that complexity exponentially increases with the number of employees assigned to different functions. This complexity lessens the “perfect” design of the organization largely because the communication between the different functions (e.g. design, procurement etc), and therefore the optimal decision-making ability in the actions associated with each function (e.g. whether to procure available materials instead of required materials would be based on design, quality control, sales etc). In a nutshell: optimal communication between different functions, and optimal decision-making at the relevant point (decision rights). This is precisely what Chambers is attempting to do through his culture of collaboration, replicable processes, and eating of one’s own dogfood.

While I applaud Chambers’ intentions, I have some concern about his implementation methodologies (30% of managers’ bonuses depend on their team interactions, their 5-year strategy, their 2-year vision and their 10-point execution plan) largely because they utilize external motivators, encourage homogeneity in communications processes, and may inadvertently encourage managers to develop expertise in their 5-year strategy, 2-year vision and 10-point execution plans over actually perfecting the art of decision making. Furthermore, despite the optimism of Bryan et. al. that digital technology will “promote efficient, effective and large-scale collaboration” as well as being able to “measure each person’s ‘assists,’” I do not believe (as they conclude) that such measures will “motivate employees to collaborate in ways that were not possible in the past” (16) to the expected or desired extent.

Abraham Maslov’s famous “Hierarchy of Needs” posits self actualization at the top of the human pyramid of needs, and I believe that as long as there are people working in these organizations, organizational design will have to consider these human factors affecting motivation. While Chambers’ revised matrix organization improves the process (as does Bryan’s digital technology), one needs to consider that the people’s strongest motivations are often internal rather than external: witness the advent of open sourcing and wikis as a 21st century example of people collaborating because of individual self-actualization. Thus I would see Drucker’s aspiration of “liberation and mobilization of human energies” as a timely reminder to Chambers’ objectives, with a strong emphasis on the human. This is not to imply that we somehow relativize all processes under the umbrella of recognizing the “human” component, but instead that we rigorously study how human behavior impacts their ability and motivation to engage in profitable activity. The weakest assumption of the industrial age was in assuming that humans were homogenous, programmable robots, well exemplified in the metaphoric connotations of the expression “command and control.” As we know from personal experience (e.g. managing families, friendships, politics etc) humans are infinitely more complex than that. In organizational design, we need to consider if we are going to unleash that fecund potential or tame it to a less complex, more-mechanized output.

Do Nice Guys (and Gals) Finish Last?

Over the past year I feel I have been co-opted (or perhaps co-opted myself) to be a “cultural relativism” iconoclast intent on examining many of the business models taught here for their resilience under the disintegrating hammer of US-centric assumptions. That “allowing for cultural differences…” sort of perfunctory acknowledgement by the researchers who create these models is perhaps perfunctory precisely because a more genuine engagement with the importance of how things are done differently elsewhere in the world, might otherwise thoroughly destroy the published (in HBR, no less!) triumph of such researchers’ models. This idol of glitter and gold would perhaps crumble if one were to direct attention to the culturally relativistic clay feet on which it has been erected, as is my intention in commenting on Barbara Tannen’s “The Power of Talk: Who gets Heard and Why.”

“The Idea at Work” précis which helpfully summarizes her argument in the form of useful advice points to a list of Donts (with the associated unintended consequences for those who engage in such career-assassinating behavior): don’t share credit, don’t act modest, don’t ask questions, don’t apologize, don’t “sandwich” negative feedback with positive reinforcement buffer, and some Dos: do aggressively challenge others’ ideas, do toot your achievement horn with your superiors, and do bluntly give orders to those below you.  Her paper (and complementary video) operates on a simple binary, one which is familiar to all of us if only as a simplistic stereotype of the aggressive Gordon Gekko man and the “feelgoody” Pollyanna woman. Women, in particular are victims of their innate feminine “niceness” that apparently emerges from their childhood instincts to “talk” while their masculine counterparts learn assertiveness from childhood instincts to “fight.” Apart from the benevolent sexism inherent in such positioning, it will no doubt come as a surprise to my daughters whose inherent instinct is to fight one another over toys (or primacy or whatever), that my wife and I are trying to socialize out of them by encouraging them in more civilized behavior and attitudes.

On the contrary, I propose that we view the evidence of her anecdotally, confirmation-biased, data through a different lens, one that doesn’t view men (or masculinity) as rude, self-promoting and selfish, or women (or femininity) as weak, unassertive and conflict-averse. The same objectives of being credited for ones work, being confident in one’s abilities (and enjoying that same confidence from one’s colleagues), and being clear in one’s feedback can also be achieved by BOTH men and women through friendly, civil and self-confident behavior. Yet, especially in North America, self-confidence is often considered an external attribute that if one does not already have, can be remedied by enrolling in “Assertiveness Training” courses in which machismo (rather than masculinity) is beaten into poor Pollyanna souls on their journey up the corporate ladder.

Interestingly enough, these sexist stereotypes of both women and men gave rise to a backlash in popular culture in the 1970s but were never properly explored for their specious assumptions. Thus, Carol Gilligan, Camille Paglia, and later John Gray (of Men are from Mars… fame) seemed to tacitly imply that on some level if women were to shed their “submissiveness” the only option open to them was to engage in chest-pounding machismo in all its glory. Consider an example from the popular culture: the popular entertainment of that period in the stand-up comedy of Eddie Murphy in particular. This feminine=submissive and masculine=aggressive underwent an interesting transformation in the sphere of sexual orientation, where the butch-and-femme or pitcher-and-catcher slang assigning sexual roles for homosexual women and men respectively began to be associated with this aggressive vs. submissive behavior.  It is also about this time that ethnic stereotypes began to enter the popular discourse associating aggressive behavior with African Americans, and submissive behavior with Asians (think of TV & Media of the time like A-Team, Shaft, etc). These stereotypes existed long before featuring in the pop-psychology books, in entertainment (including pornography), and sometimes in scholarly research from the 1980s onwards, which may have been responsible for their entrenchment in the North American popular imagination. However, with the increasing crossover of cultures through the economic development (e.g. Japan, Korea, India, China etc) Western researchers have had ample opportunity to examine how other cultures do things differently, and if these differences may be a useful opportunity for us North Americans to revisit some of our most deeply held sub-conscious assumptions about preferred social behavior.

Tannen mentions an Air Florida airline crash, whose black box recordings indicate that the co-pilot did discreetly indicate a few times of possible danger to his captain, but was ignored. Tannen’s response to a Japanese student who pointed out that perhaps a good learning objective from the Air Florida disaster would be to “train pilots to pick up on hints” is delivered in ringingly reprimanding tines that “people in powerful positions are likely to reward styles similar to their own” which is a not-so-subtle assertion that in the US (which is assumed to be the pinnacle of business power) if one were to get ahead, one had better ape the typical obnoxiousness of typically male business leaders. Really? Consider an interesting counter-example. In 1989 following the burst of Japan’s economic bubble, Lawrence Summers visited Japan on numerous occasions where he hectored away his opinions at Japan’s government and entire financial industry. They politely listened but essentially ignored him, for his whole personality and behavior was perceived to be immature, ignorant and fundamentally uncivilized—a conclusion many of the Harvard faculty came to over a decade later. Howell Raines in the New York Times debacle is equally instructive.

In many of the cultures of Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe substantial emphasis has been placed on modesty in describing oneself, and courtesy to others often through a sophisticated use of language to convey one’s meaning without giving offence, and thus to participate in society as a mature individual. Such people are neither considered aggressive boors, nor are they unassertive doormats: one only has to look at respected leaders to have emerged in history from Julius Caesar, Jesus, Ashoka, and Tokugawa Ieyasu to Nelson Maldela, John Paul II, Meg Whitman and Aung San Suu Kyi. Their self-confidence was an internal attribute and achieved through learning, experience and self-actualization, not through an assertiveness training seminar that timid souls might hasten to join to ease their discombobulating dismay arising out of reading Tannen’s article.


Tannen, Deborah. “The Power of Talk: Who Gets Heard and Why.” Harvard Business Review OnPoint. Product Number: 9977.

The Power Dynamics of Dad

Treading that fine balance between authoritative coercion and empowerment of our children is a challenge for most parents. On the one hand there is the deployment of coercive power (“Do it because I said so!”) and the reward power (“There is ice cream for you if you do so!”), but at some level both options are fundamentally disempowering the children, as well as encouraging undesirable future behaviour (possibly encouraging lying to the parent: “Yes, of course I did it,” and demanding the reward as payment “I’ll do it if you give me an ice cream” respectively). While I have been often tempted to resort to coercive or reward techniques simply out of convenience and comfort, I have at some level felt a sense of failure as a parent when I did so. After much trial and error, I did develop a system with my daughters to get them through chores they were unwilling to do, which I call the “good and better” system.

To illustrate by way of example, our daughters have to brush their teeth and get into bed at a certain time. The going-to-bed rituals also involve ONE of the following:  reading a bedtime story, playing “I spy,” making a jigsaw puzzle, picking out clothes for school the next day etc. Sometimes when they are unwilling to brush teeth and go to bed, I offer them the “good” or “better” option, where I get to frame the “better” option and they can frame the “good” option. So, my option would go along the lines of “A better idea is to brush teeth, and do X (where X is one of the ritual activities) because … (and give a reason why it is particularly fun to do X today instead of any of the other ritual activities).” They can each choose a “good” option which is along the lines of “A good idea is to brush teeth and do Y because….” Thus we agree on if they want to do a “good” or “better” activity, both of which are deliberately worded in positive rather than negative language. In either case the desired outcome for me (them brushing teeth & getting to bed) has to be a part of the options. If they skip out on the “brushing teeth” then it cannot qualify as a “good” option. Having run through this system for a number of tasks my daughters now use it with each other as well when they have to negotiate options as they play. They also occasionally use the system with me to negotiate in special cases a desirable result for them which I may not be inclined to accede to under normal circumstances e.g.  buying an ice cream for them after we come back from the park.

I prefer this system to the coercive/ rewards approach because it not only empowers them to make decisions, but also makes them engage in an analytic process and provide sound reasoning for why they choose either option X, or Y. While my wife and I can use reward & coercive power in addition to legitimate power, to get them to perform certain actions, we run the risk of reducing their sense of power in the relationship. If, in the interests of convenience (or frustration) we engage in coercive procedures, we run the risk of causing them to feel a sense of “increased threat, punishment, and social constraint, and [which] thereby activates inhibition-related negative affect, vigilant, systematic cognition, and situationally constrained behaviour” (Keltner, 265). To a certain extent one can argue that both the “good” and “better” options are manipulated by myself and thus reinforce the power dynamic under a different guise, but I would argue that the children perceive themselves to be in a position of power: first, to frame a “good” option and then, second, to exercise the right to choose between a “good” and “better” option. Furthermore, the children are encouraged into systematic cognition when they are framing their reasons for their option Y, as well as when evaluating the merits of my option X, before making their final decision. Such systematic cognition is not such a bad thing (especially when compared with automatic cognition that arises out of elevated power positions, despite the supposedly “heuristic” convenience implied there).

Conversely, a rewards-based approach effectively places them in a position of elevated power, involving as the name implies, a “reward-rich environment,” which “triggers approach-related positive affect, attention to rewards, automatic cognition and disinhibited behaviour” (Ibid). Again, my “good and better” approach does give the children a sense of power which then translates into positive emotions, but which are constrained enough to discourage a sole focus on rewards, lazy cognition and disinhibited behaviour, none of which are desirable behaviours. It is important to underscore that neither option X or Y are “rewards” but simply one of the regular options that would take place under normal circumstances. Thus, by giving the children a sense of controlled empowerment, I am able to give them a feeling of the positive emotions associated with elevated power, without excessive latitude to encourage in them the negative reactions associated with such elevated power. On the other side of the coin, I am able to encourage them in the one positive attribute of reduced power (i.e. systematic cognition) without having them fall prey to the many negative consequences of reducing their power.[1]

None of my actions came from prior analysis or reflection on the scholarly research done or literature written on the subject. However, after reading Ch 10 from Pfeffer on framing, I began to see how the framing of the options for my children did have a significant effect on the desired result. I wanted this journal entry to be focused on framing until I read the Keltner article[2] which made me re-evaluate the power dynamics inherent in such framing, as well as the consequences for both myself and my children (both in the short and long term). I am not using Keltner as a scholarly endorsement for a claim to have invented the best parenting tool since (if you pardon the colloquialism) sliced bread, this being after all a mere slice and not the whole loaf. However, this reflection has made me more aware of the consequences of both elevated power and reduced power. In this particular case, it has helped me become more aware of the delicate balance between empowering someone (my children) without disempowering another (myself), being well aware that it is in the balance between them that one can reap the benefits of both. At the end of the day, one may finally argue that I never really relinquished power over my children so to speak, and that one way or another they still had to brush their teeth and go to bed, without having any real democratic choice in the matter. To this claim, I turn to the words of the incomparable Kelpner, “Dominance is behaviour that has the acquisition of power as its end, yet power can be attained without performing acts of dominance” (my emphasis, 266). My wife and I may for a short while have coercive/reward power over our daughters, but the less we use (or abuse) it, the better relationship we will have with them over our lives, and the sweeter the satisfaction I will have of hearing them say that “Daddy is cool” over the years even as they, at the ripe old ages of six and four, dexterously manipulate me with the tools of my own devising.


Keltner, Dacher et. al. “Power, Approach and Inhibition.” Psychological Review 2003. V.110.2, p. 265-284.

Kipnis, David. “Does Power Corrupt?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1972. V.24.1, p. 33-41.

Pfeffer, Jeffery. Managing with Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations. Boston: HBS Press, 1992.

[1] In my understanding of the reading, I feel that systematic cognition is a preferable option to automatic cognition given the dangers of stereotyping, and specious heuristics that occur in the latter, and which are well underscored by its other name, “lazy cognition.”

[2] Kipnis article while important in its pioneering work was much better contained and refined in Keltner.

A Japanese Lesson in Leadership

Popular business folklore (oxymoronic as it may seem) in Japan has it that there are only three styles of leadership, epitomized by three of Japan’s most famous leaders in history: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokygawa Ieyasu. The three leadership styles are illustrated by the parable of how each of the three would approach the challenge of getting a silent nightingale to sing. Oda Nobunaga, the first, would threaten “Sing! Or die!” Toyotomi Hideyoshi the second, would exclaim, “Perhaps you don’t know how to sing. Very well, I will teach you.”   Tokugawa Ieyasu, the third, would simply smile and remain silent. If pressed for his response to this recalcitrant bird, he would quietly reply, “I will wait until the nightingale is ready to sing.” Invariably when this story is told, the third option is considered the most sage, with the justification that the greatest leader is one who is able to recognize the natural flow of things in the universe, and is self-disciplined enough not to force his petty will on things unless absolutely required, especially if he is ignorant of the consequences that may arise out of such a disharmonious disruption. In this context the Zhong article and the Ghosn case study provoke an interesting reflection of Ghosn’s actions in Nissan, and their subsequent outcomes.

In essence, Zhong argues that while, “power increases goal-directed behavior…Western and Eastern cultures differ in their salient and enduring goals,” where in Western cultures, “the experience of power leads to assertive action” and in Eastern cultures, “power may promote restraint” (55). In this context, the Japanese preference for the third leadership style discussed above makes sense, as does their typical disapproval of the first leadership style.  How does this play out in the case of Carlos Ghosn were he arguably takes an aggressive approach, and yet is hailed in Japan as one of its great corporate leaders, and is unquestioningly its greatest non-Japanese leader by any reckoning?

The key point, I would argue lies in Zhong’s astute observation that “the default orientation of an East Asian is not to take action unless the situation requires otherwise. This contrasts with the Western concept of individual agency, or tendency to take action unless the situation prohibits it” (my emphasis, 63). So, while Ghosn’s actions are radical, his underlying argument is that they are absolutely necessary (“we have no choice and the fact that we have no choice is the strength of our plan”), which is further consolidated by Nissan President Yoshikazu Hanawa’s assertion that “the plan is tough, perhaps even severe, but then our situation is severe” (quoted in “Redesigning Nissan,” 8). On the other hand Ghosn is equally insistent that no action be taken on issues that were not absolutely relevant to the task at hand: “We are not missionaries…. We are going to fix Nissan, that’s all. Any issue that does not contribute to that is of no concern to us” (Ibid, 2). Finally he clearly took responsibility for his actions, especially accepting the whole responsibility if things were to fail, and sharing the responsibility with everyone for any successful outcome.

Still, despite the resounding success of the NRP, and Ghosn’s consequent reputation, he did come under fire from the press in November 2005, when one of Nissan’s consolidated steel suppliers was unable to meet demand at one of its factories. Having cut off the majority of regional suppliers as a part of the 1999 NRP, he was unable (or perhaps unwilling) to go back to them, cap in hand, to ask for their assistance in this emergency. The bulk of the media criticism, with its proverbial 20/20 hindsight vision, castigated him for the radical policies he had instituted, the consequences of which were coming back to haunt him now.

Having lived in Japan during those tumultuous years , the figure and actions of Ghosn were enormously influential to my developing cross-cultural consciousness. While I initially exhibited the traits that Zhong suggests are more typical of a Western response to power, I learned through my mistakes that patient assessment and avoiding grandiose (if seemingly justifiable actions) was more effective in successfully achieving my goals in Japan. This insight, (which I internalized more though instinct than conscious reflection) served me well, whether in negotiating a favorable agreement when I started my own consulting company, courting the lady who was to become my wife, or even throwing an opponent in karate: no action unless required, but keeping a constant vigilance of the situation while developing a strategy based on necessity, which, when executed at the most needed moment, produced not only a successful result, but also appreciation from both the participants and observers.

The learning experience that arises from my readings this week is therefore a value judgment. While I have consciously avoided making value judgments based on cultural differences, in this case, I will go out on a limb and consciously attempt to model myself on the so-called “East Asian” reaction to power, which I find more aesthetically and morally satisfying. What is specifically useful to me about the Zhong article (and the perspective it offers on the Ghosn case study) is that I am now more conscious of exerting more patience and discipline on myself, and ensuring that my actions are more governed by responsibility to the collective, as I hopefully assume positions of increasing power in the course of my professional career and personal life.

(900 words)


Hughes, Kathryn.“Redesigning Nissan (A): Carlos Ghosn Takes Charge.” Fontainbleu, France: INSEAD, 2003.

Zhong, Chen-Bo, Joe C, Magee, William W. Maddux and Adam G. Galinsky. “Power, culture and action: considerations in the expression and enactment of power in East Asian and Western societies.” Research on managing Groups and Teams, Vol. 9 (53-73).