[Infographic] PsyCap as a resource for leaders

(Click on the picture to the infographic)

Note: Although Psychological Capital (PsyCap) can be a useful resource for developing leaders, research also shows that PsyCap is a domain-specific. This means that to maximize the potential of PsyCap, one has to adjust this concept to fit with a specific context, which in this case is leader development.

We have recently published an article on Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, “Psychological Capital for Leader Development.” We discuss in detail of how PsyCap can be applied to the leader development context. If you are interested to learn more, please follow this link (Pitichat, T., Reichard, R. J., Kea-Edwards, A., Middleton, E., & Norman, S. M. (2017). Psychological Capital for Leader Development. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 1548051817719232.).


About the author

Poom is a research associate at LeAD Labs. He is currently a doctoral student at CGU in positive organizational psychology program researching leader development and e-leadership. He is also a member of the coaching community and practice. He developed logos and other digital materials for the LeAD Labs. He is the administrator of the website.

The Journey Back: 4 Simple Steps to Recover from Burnout

  • Do you walk into work and feel instantly besieged with the number of projects and people that need your attention, social, and emotional support?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed by the decisions you have to make and responsibilities associated with your current position?
  • Has this left you feeling incompetent and overextended to where you feel emotionally and physically depleted?
  • Do you resent your subordinates or your organization because they do not give you recognition for the work you do?
  • Has this fatigue and under appreciation caused you to begin to have a “to hell with this job” mentality?
  • Have you begun to emotionally and mentally withdraw?
  • Are you, currently, thinking of leaving your organization?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you could be experiencing the symptoms of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism, and detachment (Laschinger, Borgogni, Consiglio, & Read, 2015; Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Because of the tremendous demands placed on leaders, burnout eventually results in lower productivity, performance, and motivation, as well as increased levels of depression and anxiety (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Baltes & Clark, 2009; Laschinger et al., 2015; Maslach et al., 2001). Some of the best evidence-based cures for burnout are modifications to the work environment, for example, redesigning work to increase motivation and work engagement. Examples include implementing flexible work hours to promote work-family balance or decreasing your workload. Other suggestions include enhancing the comfort of the workspace by adjusting temperature, noise, and crowding (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Laschinger et al., 2015; Reuter & Schwarzer, 2009).

But what if you don’t have the power to put those changes in place? Leaders with limited resources, such as those in the non-profit sector or smaller businesses, often cannot take advantage of these evidence-based strategies because they require dramatic changes to the organization. However, one thing everyone can do is engage in a recovery process. The recovery process centers on disengagement, defined as a separation from the emotional, mental and physical stresses of work. You can think of the recovery process as building up a temporary wall between you and your job. Doing so entails the four simple steps of psychological detachment, relaxation, mastery, and control (Sonnentag, Mojza, Demerouti, & Bakker, 2012; Fritz, & Sonnentag, 2005). Each step has easy-to-use strategies to combat burnout.

These four strategies may seem like common sense, but these techniques are under-utilized. Why? For the very reason that people do not engage in recovery activities – they believe it is a waste of time, they are too tired at the end of their work day, or simply don’t feel they have enough energy. However, very much like exercise, if you use these techniques even for a short duration of time over increasing longer periods, you will begin to see the benefits.

  1. Psychological detachment requires you to be physically and mentally “away” from work when at home or anywhere outside of the office; similar to taking a vacation from work. Being mentally away from work and actively engaging in non-work related activities allows for the replenishment of your resources. You will return to work invigorated. To achieve psychological detachment, you can actively decide not to engage with work, work-related tasks, and workplace intrapersonal conflicts. Instead, focus on activities that will pull your attention toward the enjoyment of the here and now, such as playing with your children, watching television, or going out with friends. The process of deciding to detach psychologically allows you to erect barriers that keep work out during off-work hours. HINT: Put down the smartphone!
  1. Related to psychological detachment is the second aspect, relaxation. Look for activities outside of work that you enjoy, but that demand little effort from you. The aim is to decrease your tension and anxiety. Strategies include relaxation techniques such as practicing controlled breathing, meditation, reading a book, or going for a stroll. Ultimately, the activities can be whatever you find relaxing, so find what works best for you.
  1. The third step of the recovery process is mastery. As with the first two aspects of the recovery process, the idea is to disconnect from work by engaging in non-job activities mentally. Detaching and relaxing are one thing, but mastery calls for activities that are not only absorbing but also provide challenging learning experiences. For instance, you can learn a new software package, foreign language, or how to play an instrument. These learning experiences can increase your knowledge, skills, and abilities, which will then transfer to your job and act as new job resources that replace or augment your old ones. As with the previous techniques, any activities that interest you and provide an opportunity for growth can perform this role.
  1. The last piece of the recovery process is control. Broadly speaking, if you feel you lack control at work, you should seek autonomy and power in other aspects of your life. If your job is highly regulated, stressful, and prevents you from completing the work in the manner you see as most appropriate or expressing your true feelings then you should use this technique. Control then manifests in how you choose to spend your time off work, whether socializing with friends, spending time with family, or spending a quiet night in and reading a book. Because you make these decisions, you should be left feeling more confident and competent. It’s not important what the activity is; only that you freely choose it.

In sum, the recovery process is an effective way to overcome burnout because it allows disengagement from work to replenish vital resources. With your resources recovered, you can divert that energy back into your job to continue to manage the organization and achieve organizational goals effectively. The more you engage in the recovery process then, the less time it will take for you to recover each subsequent time and the less likely you will suffer from burnout.

About the Author

Ague Mae Manongsong is an Evaluation Associate at LeAD Labs and an MA student in Organizational Behavior and Evaluation at Claremont Graduate University. She is interested in leadership development, extra-role behaviors leaders engage in (such as social support), and the evaluation of developmental programs. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends.

Related Research

Baltes, B.B., & Clark, M.A. (2009). Achieve work-family balance through individual and organizational strategies. In E. A. Locke (2nd Eds.), Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior (1-17). United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons.

Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2005). Recovery, health, and job performance: Effects of weekend experiences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10(2), 189-199.

Laschinger, H.K., Borgogni, L., Consiglio, C. & Read, E. (2015). The effects of authentic leadership, six areas of worklife, and occupational coping self-efficacy on new graduate nurses’ burnout and mental health: A cross-sectional study. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 52(6), 1080-1089.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W.B., & Leiter, M.P. (2001). Job Burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.

Reuter, T., & Schwarzer, R. (2009). Manages stress at work through preventive and proactive coping. In E. A. Locke (2nd Eds.), Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior (1-17). United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons.

Sonnentag, S., Mojza, E.J., Demerouti, E., & Bakker, A.B. (2012). Reciprocal relations between recovery and work engagement: The moderating role of job stressors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(4), 842-853. 

The Road to Innovation: Developing Minority Leaders through Mentoring

We all want to achieve diverse leadership in our organizations. Top businesses tout the multiple benefits of having diverse leadership teams. Research has shown that heterogeneous groups – that are, diverse teams – can produce more creative and innovative work when compared to homogenous groups (Locke, 2009). For example, PepsiCo credited the creation of guacamole-favored chips – one of their most popular items – to their diverse management team. Guacamole-flavored chips is a novel idea that was able to tap into the $13 trillion minority market.  The old notion that diversity is only needed because it’s moral and legal has expired. We now see diversity in the workplace as a competitive edge, an increase in profit, and most importantly a path to innovation (Robinson & Dechant, 1997). However, organizations must actively develop minority leaders if they hope to tap into that innovation. Managing and developing minority leaders continues to be a challenge (Ensher & Murphy, 1997). Here are some ways to make minority mentorships successful.

First, when mentor and mentee are meeting for the first time, acknowledge differences to create a sense of openness and a pathway toward trust. Simply state, “Even though we have a different gender/race/age/etc., I will still work to support you in the formal matters of work, and I am here for you regarding the informal matters of work.” This step will allow both parties to feel comfortable to move on to a deeper relationship and is essential for minority mentorships (Ensher & Murphy, 1997). Once there is an open discussion on the surface differences, the duo can have a quality mentorship that moves toward a more in-depth interaction.

Second, create collaborative goals. Instead of saying what you are going to do or what I am going to do, change the dialogue to what we are going to do. Framing goals as shared goals highlights collaboration and helps the mentee and mentor trust each other (Wasburn, 2007). After the goal is complete, the duo will feel positive emotions towards each other as they see the positive results of their relationship.

Last, look for opportunities where the mentee can become a mentor. When the mentee becomes a mentor, they will be able to see how much they have grown. As a result of appreciating the process, the mentee will continue to grow and mature long after the initial mentorship relationship (Dunham-Taylor et al., 2008).

Effective minority mentorship does not greatly differ from other mentorships if individual differences are addressed up front; the first step, therefore, is the most important. However, when minority mentorships are effective, it can lead to greater innovation. Taking the time to do minority mentorship right will lead to greater chances of success.

About the Author

Amber Kea-Edwards is a research intern at LeAD Labs and a Ph.D. student in Positive Organizational Psychology at Claremont Graduate University. She specializes in leader development with interest in increasing communication between researchers and practitioners.

Related Research

Dunham-Taylor, J., Lynn, C. W., Moore, P., McDaniel, S., & Walker, J. K. (2008). What goes around comes around: Improving faculty retention through more effective mentoring. Journal of Professional Nursing, 24(6), 337-346.

Ensher, E. A., & Murphy, S. E. (1997). Effects of race, gender, perceived similarity, and contact on mentor relationships. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50(3), 460-481.

Robinson, G., & Dechant, K. (1997). Building a business case for diversity. The Academy of Management Executive, 11(3), 21-31.

Wasburn, M. H. (2007). Mentoring women faculty: an instrumental case study of strategic collaboration, Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 15(1), 57-72.

How to use life stories to develop self-awareness

“On a cold January day in 1961, my father broke his ankle at work. I was seven years old at the time (…) My father, Fred Schultz, was stuck at home with his foot up for more than a month (…) Like so many others of his station in life, when Dad didn’t work, he didn’t get paid. His latest job had been as a truck driver, picking up and delivering diapers. For months, he had complained bitterly about the odor and the mess, saying it was the worst job in the world. But now that he had lost it, he seemed to want it back. My mom was seven months pregnant, so she couldn’t work. Our family had no income, no health insurance, no worker’s compensation, nothing to fall back on (…) Years later, the image of my father – slumped on the family couch, his leg in a cast, unable to work or earn money, and ground down by the world – is still burned into my mind. Looking back now, I have a lot of respect for my dad. He never finished high school, but he was an honest man who worked hard.”

Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO and author of the book: Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

For Starbucks’ CEO, the kind of leader he is directly related to the experiences he witnessed his father go through. His father was unemployed, physically hurt and without medical insurance, and this triggered a strong value of behaving ethically towards employees and ensuring their dignity and self-respect. Whether or not you believe Schultz fully succeeded at this task, by reflecting about his life and experiences such as this one, Schultz was able to learn about who he is and what he values: he became self-aware. This self-knowledge has surely been invaluable to his development as a leader and his impact on the organization.

Leaders who are self-aware know themselves: who they are and where they come from, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they hold as valuable. Personality traits, interests, talents, and skills also fall into the category of self-knowledge that self-aware leaders possess. Becoming self-aware is a process that occurs through self-reflection, or purposefully dedicating time to ponder about who you are and how you relate to others.

A leader’s life story is a key source of information to generate such knowledge (Shamir & Eilam, 2005). When leaders reflect on the events that have shaped them as individuals and leaders, they can become aware of their mindsets, the values that drive their decisions and actions, and their capabilities and potential as leaders. Exploring their life stories, then, is a mechanism for leaders to recall, organize, and draw meaning about their character and identity, which can inform their current role as leaders. From a narrative perspective, a leader’s life story is a thread of experiences woven together (Sparrowe, 2005) in a way that mainly helps the leader explain three things: (1) whether he or she can and should be seen as a leader, (2) why he or she became a leader, and (3) how this transformation occurred.  

How can leaders connect with their life stories and use them to increase their self-awareness?

First, it is important to carve time for self-reflection. Think about the story you tell yourself about who you are. Potential questions to consider are:

  • What events have been most impactful/defining in your life? (Identify at least three events that you can reflect upon and explore more deeply) What makes them salient?
  • What themes, beliefs, values, strengths, and/or shortcomings can you observe or draw from these events?
  • What words, phrases, or metaphors do you use to describe yourself in these situations/events?
  • How can you use this information now in your role as a leader?

These trigger events (Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May, & Walumbwa, 2005) can be positive or negative in terms of outcomes, for example, the loss of a loved one, a job opportunity abroad that challenged and stretched the leader’s capabilities and self-perception, or witnessing a key social or political event.

Second, enlist the help of trusted others, such as a mentor, coach, or trusted colleague with whom to talk about what you have reflected upon and the insights/lessons learned. Information from others also serves as a source of feedback to gauge the accuracy of the self-information you gather.

Potential questions to consider:

  • If you had to tell this person your story in three acts, what would they be?
  • How do they perceive you? What values, strengths, or shortcomings do they see in you? How do these match (or mismatch) with the ones you identified?

Thinking about your life story can be a powerful way to discover resources and capabilities – as well as areas to improve upon – that are hidden in previous experiences. Discovering your trigger events can inform your path towards self-development and growth.

About the Author

Lisa Soto is the coaching lab manager and research intern in LeAD Labs. She is also an organizational consultant, certified coach, and training facilitator. Having worked with private and public organizations in Puerto Rico for more than a decade, Lisa has vast experience in human talent development, organizational design, work process improvement, coaching and emotional intelligence assessment for the workplace. Her executive coaching experience focuses on leadership development, with clients in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Additionally, Lisa has experience in outplacement coaching, as well as in training and mentoring new coaches. As part of her work with LeAD Labs, Lisa has coached international museum leaders. Lisa is a doctoral student in the Positive Organizational Psychology Ph.D. program at Claremont Graduate University, where she researches the impact of coaching as a leader development intervention.  

Related Research

Gardner, W. L., Avolio, B. J., Luthans, F., May, D. R., & Walumbwa, F. (2005). “Can you see the real me?” A self-based model of authentic leader and follower development. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(3), 343–372. 

Shamir, B., & Eilam, G. (2005). “What’s your story?” A life-stories approach to authentic leadership development. Leadership Quarterly, 16(3), 395–417. 

Sparrowe, R. T. (2005). Authentic leadership and the narrative self. Leadership Quarterly, 16(3), 419–439. 

Women’s Underrepresentation in Leadership: Why it Occurs and 3 Ways to Ameliorate It

Women’s Underrepresentation in Leadership

In speaking with a friend, I mentioned that much work still needs to be done about the lack of female leadership in U.S. organizations. Astonished, he said, “I didn’t think that was a problem anymore!”

He was right to be astonished. A reasonable person would expect a more equitable distribution of organizational power between women and men – after all, it is the 21st century. However, a glance at the statistics indicates that this ideal arrangement still does not exist.

Women constitute roughly half (48%) of the civilian employed population in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Women receive 57% of Bachelor degrees, 60% of Master’s degrees and 51% of Doctoral degrees conferred (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). By these numbers, it’s evident that women are as well-educated and as well-represented in the U.S. workforce as men. Assuming there were no gender differences in workplace performance, one would expect to see women as well-represented in leadership positions as men. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Assessing organizational gender parity at the board level, women occupy only 17% of director’s seats of Fortune 500 companies (Egan, 2015). Of Fortune 500 firms, 28% have just one female director, while 4.6% have no female directors at all (Fairchild, 2015).

Regrettably, the statistics do not improve for women in the C-suite. Only 24 of the Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO (Egan, 2015). The ratio of female-led to male-led companies is 1 to 20. Moreover, women hold only 14% of the top five leadership positions (including CEO, CFO, COO and other key positions) at the companies in the Standard and Poor 500 (Egan, 2015) and 27% of Fortune 500 companies have no female executive officers at all (Catalyst, 2013).

This trend is echoed both globally and locally. Just 8% of companies worldwide with revenues of at least $500 million have a female CEO (Peck, 2015). In my home state, 92 (23%) of California’s 400 largest public companies have no women among their highest-paid executives and board members (Townsend, 2015).

Relative to women’s level of education and representation in the workforce, there is a lack of female leaders. Why is there such a significant, negative discrepancy in women’s representation in leadership positions? Research on the matter suggests that leader gender matters.  

Why there are so few female leaders

People’s stereotypes play a role in the lack of women occupying leadership positions. Stereotypes may be thought of as a quick and dirty way of categorizing a person or summarizing a situation. Our past experiences and beliefs inform our expectations for how a leader should behave (Haller & Hogg, 2014). The prototypical, or ideal, leader stereotype tends to be defined by attributes that are primarily masculine (Eagly & Karau, 2002). A female leader represents a misfit between gender role attributes (the way a woman is expected to behave, which is feminine or ‘communal’) and leader role attributes (the way a leader is expected to behave, which is masculine or ‘agentic’). Strongly held stereotypes about gender then feed into prejudicial behavior. When members of a stereotyped group occupy a role that is at odds with their gender stereotype, that discrepancy negatively impacts our perceptions of that person (Eagly & Karau, 2002). In particular, typical “feminine” behavior is not in line with the way in which people think a leader should behave. Without even realizing it, we may psychologically categorize a woman as being unsuitable to lead (Haller & Hogg, 2014).

Simply put, a female leader may be evaluated less favorably than a man simply because the leader-like behavior is better aligned with the male gender role than with female gender role expectations (Eagly et al., 2002). Prejudice results in a woman being placed at a disadvantage not merited by her conduct (Allport, 1954). Therefore, it makes sense that leader gender matters.

Given what research has shown about the role that stereotypes and prejudice play in a woman’s ascension into leadership, what can executive leaders do to foster opportunities for female leadership within their organizations? The answer is quite a lot! Following are three empirically supported approaches for encouraging female leadership.

Three Ways to Increase the Number of Female Leaders

  1. First, buy into the idea that women leaders beget more women leaders. Research has shown that the ratio of females to males in an organization affects bias (Eagly, et al., 1995). Ratings for female leaders suffer to the extent that the people doing the rating are male; as the proportion of female raters increases, female leaders’ ratings also tend to increase (Eagly, et al., 1995). This finding may be because when women only represent a small minority in an organization, that triggers stereotypes (Eagly & Karau, 2002) and the female may be seen as a token, rather than someone who earned her place at the table. Organizations more successfully retain younger, managerial women when there are more women in senior management positions (O’Neill & O’Reilly, 2010). Further, a woman is more likely to be promoted if her current job level and the level above her both consist of at least 50% females (Eagly & Karau, 2002).
  1. Second, executive leadership can take measures to familiarize organizational members with potential or new female leaders. When people are more familiar with an individual, they are less likely to rely on stereotypical beliefs about that individual. So, if organizational members are exposed to and become familiar with a well-qualified female leader, they are more likely to assess that leader based on her merit as opposed to stereotypical gender role expectations. This familiarity reduces the likelihood that the leader will be capriciously penalized for the perceived gender role violations that tend to occur when a woman holds a leadership position.
  1. Lastly, executive leaders can employ a three-step approach to reframe organizational members’ leader stereotypes through a process known as Social Identity Framing (Seyranian, 2014). The idea behind this approach is that individuals who currently hold leadership positions have the ability to effectuate social change through their communications. As such, the steps in this approach are executed with communications from existing leaders to organizational members.
  • Step one: Social Identity Unfreezing. This step involves having an existing leader formally call out the problem of the lack of females in leadership and establish a need for change. The leader’s communication could include a description of the psychological reasons why women are sometimes excluded from leadership roles so that organizational members are aware of peoples’ tendency to gauge leader effectiveness, to some extent, based on gender. Done properly, this step will galvanize organizational members to “unfreeze” attachments to current stereotypes related to the leader role (Seyranian, 2014).
  • Step two: Social Identity Moving. During this step, the leader conveys a compelling vision of a new direction while simultaneously reframing the group’s ideas about leaders such that they are in line with this vision (Seyranian, 2014). Such a vision would involve a new leader archetype that includes women. As part of this process, the leader would negate pre-existing policies that perpetuate the old leader archetype that excluded women. For example, hiring and advancement policies and procedures could be reviewed to ensure that decisions are based solely on merit. One illustration of the power of conscious impartiality in hiring and advancement decisions is the use of blind auditions by orchestras and symphonies. This practice is credited for increasing the probability that a female musician would be hired or promoted by 50% (Goldin & Rouse, 1997). If blind interviews and performance appraisals are not feasible, a simpler stopgap is the use of 360° reviews to help ensure that no one is placed at an unfair disadvantage because of another individual’s personal biases. Also, the organization could make certain that developmental resources are offered equally to qualified women and men.
  • Step three: Social Identity Freezing. This last step involves equipping followers with motivation to commit to the changes involved with the leader’s vision and to take necessary action in executing those changes (Seyranian, 2014). The leader accomplishes this through reinforcing the vision with positive affirmations of the group’s new identity as an organization that includes female leaders. This step ultimately results in the solidification or “freezing” of organizational members’ new conceptions about leaders (Seyranian, 2014). In this manner, an organizational leader can endorse a new, more diverse and inclusive leader archetype.

In conclusion, the lack of women in leadership positions is problematic. A well-qualified woman may be denied the opportunity for advancement not because she lacks merit, but simply because of her gender. The reasons for this phenomenon tend to be deeply rooted in our psychological processes. What is apparent in the preceding three solutions to this problem is that increasing the number of female leaders involves reliance upon existing leaders who are allies to the cause. Therefore, it is incumbent upon executive leaders to be aware of this issue and take steps to counter it.

About the Author

Leslie Trainor, M.B.A., is the manager of the LeAD Research Lab and a Ph.D. student in Organizational Behavior at Claremont Graduate University. Her research interests are women in leadership and toxic leadership. Current research projects include an empirical study on the relationship between leader gender, follower gender and organizational culture as a context for toxic leadership; and a theory manuscript on coaching for new leaders. Leslie has been involved in private and public sector business for over 14 years and is an independent contractor working with the County of Riverside Economic Development Agency.

Related Research

Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review, 109(3), 573–598.

Egan, M. (2015). Still Missing: Female Business Leaders. CNN Money. Retrieved from  http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/24/investing/female-ceo-pipeline-leadership/

Fairchild, C. (2015). The 23 Fortune 500 companies with all-male boards. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2015/01/16/fortune-500-companies-with-all-male-boards/ 

Goldin, C., & Rouse, C. (1997). Orchestrating impartiality: The impact of “blind” auditions on female musicians. The National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved at www.nber.org.

Haller, J. J., & Hogg, M. A. (2014). All power to our great leader: Political leadership under uncertainty. In J-W. van Prooijen & P. A. M. van Lange (Eds.), Power, politics, and paranoia: Why people are suspicious of their leaders (pp. 130-149). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Peck, E. (2015). Do You Realize How Few Women CEOs Exist? These Executives Don’t. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/13/weber-shandwick-female-ceo_n_7771608.html

Seyranian, V. (2014). Social identity framing communication strategies for mobilizing social change. The Leadership Quarterly, 25, 468–486.

Townsend, T. (2015). Survey Shocker: 1 in 4 California Corporations Have No Women Executives. Inc.com. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/tess-townsend/survey-shocker-1-in-4-california-corporations-have-no-women-executives.html

What does it mean to lead “ethically”?

What would you do in the following scenario?

Competitors have colluded to keep the Rollfast Bicycle Company from entering a large Asian market. Rollfast would net $5 million annually from bicycle sales if it could penetrate the market. Last week a businessman from an Asian country contacted Rollfast management and assured them that he could “smooth the way” for the company to sell in his country for a “grease” fee of $500,000. In the Asian country, bribing is a custom which has long been considered natural.

If you were responsible, would you pay the fee?

Researchers David Fritsche and Helmut Becker have been posing this question to leaders for years, and the answer is not as straightforward as you might think.

Historically, there have been two main ways to look at this scenario, both of them focusing on the action or the behavior.

On the one hand, people taking the deontological (or the Kantian) approach say that an action is considered as either moral or immoral based on whether it adheres to a rule or rules. Interestingly, proponents of this approach do not care about the outcome of an action at all. Viewed through this lens, the answer for the scenario would be not to pay the fee, because it is a bribe and illegal and against company policy. Therefore, even though bribing is accepted in the Asian country and will surely increase revenue to the company, to the deontologists, bribing is wrong in itself, so the only answer in this situation is “no!”.

On the other hand, people adhering to the consequential (or the Utilitarian) approach say that the rightness or wrongness of an action is judged by the consequences of the action. Viewed through this lens, if paying the fee will surely lead to the increased revenue and no one is hurt in the process; then paying the bribe is not unethical.  Since bribing is considered in the Asian country as a “custom,” this will benefit both the company and the businessman requesting a bribe. And because bribing has been considered natural in this country for a long time, as long as the bribe provides a win-win situation to both parties, then, to the consequentialists, the answer in this situation is “yes!”

In addition to these two perspectives, there is a third ethical perspective that has been getting attention from leadership scholars recently: the Aristotelian approach (or virtue-based ethics). Compared to deontological and consequential accounts that emphasize the nature or consequence of an action, proponents of the Aristotelian approach focus on the character of the decision maker. Viewed through this lens, the judgment of the action differs case by case. If the decision maker is considered to be a reliable and moral person and the decision is based on the decision maker’s own ethical guidelines (be they deontology, consequentialism, or another perspective), then the decision maker’s action becomes ethical regardless of whether he or she bribes or not. In contrast, if the decision maker is considered as unreliable and unethical, then neither path would be seen by the Aristotelians as ethical.

As described so far, the answer to what constitutes ethical leadership is dependent on what lens we wish to view it. So far, we have compared three different perspectives on business ethics and found that it is possible for a business decision to be justified as ethical from one perspective but unethical from another perspective. These contrasting views on business ethics make the nature of ethical leadership controversial among scholars.

However, the fact that there are multiple perspectives on ethics does not mean that behaviors that are not supported by any of these theories can be seen as ethical. If, in the scenario, the decision maker were an immoral person and bribing would cause severe financial loss to any involved parties, then bribing could not be justified by any of the three ethics perspectives. From the deontological account, bribing itself is unethical. From the consequential account, incurring a financial loss is unacceptable. From the virtue ethics account, any decision made by an immoral person is unethical. Therefore, while acknowledging multiple perspectives on business ethics and ethical leadership, we should also be alert for an unethical or immoral behavior that cannot be justified by any of the three ethical perspectives.

About the Author

Shin Han (shin.han@cgu.edu) is a doctoral student in positive organizational psychology at Claremont Graduate University. He joined the LeAD research lab as a research associate in 2014. He is interested in ethical leadership and is working on how ethical leadership is related to various organizational outcomes.

Related Research

Brown, M. E., & Treviño, L. K. (2006). Ethical leadership: A review and future directions. The Leadership Quarterly, 17, 595-616.

Fritzsche, D. J., & Becker, H. (1984). Linking management behavior to ethical philosophy: An empirical investigation. Academy of Management Journal, 27, 166-175.

Riggio, R. E., Zhu, W., Reina, C., & Maroosis, J. A. (2010). Virtue-based measurement of ethical leadership: The Leadership Virtues Questionnaire. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 62, 235.

Does practice really make perfect? The case for deliberate practice in leader development.

An old volleyball coach used to tell me “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” While frustrating to hear during his grueling workouts, my coach was onto something backed by psychological science and leadership research. It wasn’t enough to practice our serve 100 times; if we wanted to perform at the highest levels, we had to practice our serve 100 times in a certain way. What my coach meant was that we needed deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is a broad term for all the activities we perform for the express purpose of developing our leadership. Specifically, it includes structured and repetitive activities that a) we’re motivated to perform, b) are suitable for our current level of performance (i.e., they aren’t beyond our current capabilities), and c) provide near immediate feedback letting us know how well we did. Regarding leader development, deliberate practice can occur in the context of training or, more likely, in the context of our day-to-day work experience.

On the surface, developing your leadership by learning from experience seems straightforward. Put in the work, and, over time, you’ll get better. While there is much truth to this [1], two very important caveats get in the way. First, we do not get the opportunity to perform the same leadership behavior, in the same way, more than once. Lack of exact repetition of events prevents us from seeing patterns in our performance. After all, real life is much more complicated and unpredictable than a volleyball game. Second, we almost never get immediate feedback on our performance. If and when we do get feedback, it is many months later and encompasses a year or more of our overall job performance, not just our leadership.

Due to these shortcomings, a prominent team of leadership researchers [2] proposed that to truly learn from everyday leadership experiences leaders need to engage in deliberate practice. To do so, they recommend being intentional, rather than ad hoc, about capitalizing on opportunities that arise to practice leadership skills. Even if practice situations cannot be planned perfectly in advance, you can take advantage of scenarios likely to happen by planning ahead and knowing what you’ll do if a certain situation arises. For example, Miguel has a goal to develop a more trusting relationship with his subordinates by letting them take the reigns on projects Miguel used to oversee directly. He knows that the next time a project issue comes up, he needs to stay out of the details and simply be available should they come to him for support. His deliberate practice will be to reassure his subordinates that they have the capability to handle it while reminding them that his door is always open if they need it. Resisting the urge to jump in and fix things, yet maintaining a supportive stance is not likely to happen without intentional forethought about what that will look like for Miguel.

So, what are some things you and Miguel can do to develop your leadership through deliberate practice? Have a plan. Set specific intentions for what you’ll do in situations likely to trigger the old pattern of behavior you’re trying to break. Seek out practice situations and look for similarities across them. Deliberate practice requires repetition, so even if you don’t do the same exact thing twice, find commonalities across your day-to-day experience so you can see how your behavior changes an otherwise normal situation. Finally, seek feedback. The sooner you can get feedback on how you performed, the more targeted and useful that feedback will be. Some feedback will need to come from other people (i.e., 360-degree assessments, informal conversations), but some information you can glean from the situation itself. For example, it might be readily apparent to Miguel that when he stays out of the weeds, his team is more motivated. This kind of task feedback is invaluable for improving your performance as a leader, but it requires paying attention and noticing how your behavior affects people. You’re not likely to hit the mark 100% of the time, but that is why it is called practice. So, although my volleyball coach might suggest otherwise, your leadership practice doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be deliberate.

About the Author

Dayna Walker is a Research Consultant in the LeAD Research Lab and Ph.D. student in Organizational Behavior at Claremont Graduate University. Dayna’s current research emphasizes the development of implicit leadership theories as well as leader self-development. With other members of LeAD Labs, Dayna recently published a paper on leader developmental efficacy in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies. When she needs a break from research, Dayna loves to play volleyball, run, and read.

Relevant Research

[1] McCauley, C. D., Ruderman, M. N., Ohlott, P. J., & Morrow, J. E. (1994). Assessing the developmental components of managerial jobs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(4), 544-560. 

[2] Day, D. V., Harrison, M. M., & Halpin, S. M. (2009). An integrative approach to leader development: Connecting adult development, identity and expertise. New York, NY, US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Women, Leadership, and Career Advancement

How do women advance in their careers? Advancing your career may feel challenging on its own, but it can become increasingly difficult to excel in your career with a busy personal and family life. This article gives a few practical implications to helping women in this modern era advance in their careers, and advice on achieving some sort of balance between work and family.

Empowering Yourself

In a research study conducted in 2001 by Gomez et. al., it was shown that women who became successful in the workplace had worked on their self-confidence. When you do not feel like your voice is being heard, remember that your opinions count. Reframing struggles and challenges in the workplace as growth opportunities can also help your mindset. Obstacles will always occur, but how one perceives the situation can be the difference between seeing a challenge as an opportunity for growth versus a tormenting hurdle.

Leader Development Opportunities

Leader development opportunities can also help with one’s leadership skills and career advancement. Leader development opportunities include formal training, receiving 360-degree feedback, coaching, mentoring, and self-learning. Learning when to negotiate and self-promote may also help with empowering yourself and advancing your career in the workplace. Even though you may have a mentor, having a sponsor vouch for your career will take you one step closer to reaching for the promotion you deserve (Carter & Silva, 2010). The use and expanding of social support networks also has been shown to help women develop professionally and advance their opportunities for career growth.

Focusing on a Participative, Relational Leadership Style

Research by Eagly & Carli (2006) has shown that women generally have a more democratic, participative, and collaborator style of leading. A study by Stern (2008) revealed that high-achieving women tend to adopt this kind of relational leadership style. The women in the study also possessed a strong sense of conviction and self-worth. Femininity and leadership are no longer considered separate constructs and do not need to be! Being serious about your work while being considerate and respectful of your staff and colleagues can help condone this effective type of relational leadership to others. Encouraging colleagues to do their best and share their ideas evoke a participative environment. Your greater willingness to share information with others can also drive better performance results through the company. 

Integrating Work-Family Balance

Halpern & Cheung (2008) found certain effective strategies in balancing work and personal lives from women leaders. Findings from the study included multitasking, being clear about your goals to your company and in your household, and recognizing that you do not have to ‘do it all’. By multitasking, you can create links between family and work. For example, you can try to work from home when possible or be present for family events. By being succinct about your goals to yourself and others, you can make day-to-day decisions that are based on both your family and work needs. Relieving yourself from the pressure society may place on you to excel in your career while also being a super mom may also be beneficial. Recognizing to let go of certain tasks that are not a priority and outsourcing work in a busy office may help with integrating balance between work and family. Acquiring additional household help was also found to be helpful for the busy working mothers.


The tips and suggestions above are accumulated through research findings and lessons learned from women who have found success in their careers. Focusing on advancing your career through development opportunities, adopting a participative leadership style, and integrating techniques to help balance your work and family life may all help with advancing your career. Knowing when to reach for that promotion and acquiring sponsorship and networking opportunities can set the stage for further professional and career development. Integrating family and office roles as being compatible with one another will help with one’s mindset in achieving balance between family and work.

Emily Chan is a Ph.D. student in Organizational Behavior at Claremont Graduate University. Her research interests include women and leadership, leader development opportunities, and interventions in overcoming workplace bias.

Carli, L. L., & Eagly, A. H. (2011). Gender and leadership. The Sage handbook of leadership, 103-117.

Cheung, F. M., & Halpern, D. F. (2010). Women at the top: powerful leaders define success as work+ family in a culture of gender. American Psychologist,65(3), 182.

Gomez-Mejia, L. R., Nunez-Nickel, M., & Gutierrez, I. (2001). The role of family ties in agency contracts. Academy of management Journal, 44(1), 81-95.

Ibarra, H., Carter, N. M., & Silva, C. (2010). Why men still get more promotions than women. Harvard Business Review, 88(9), 80-85.

Stern, T. (2008). Self-esteem and high-achieving women. In M. A. Paludi (Ed.), The psychology of women at work: Challenges and solutions for our female workforce. Vol. 3. Self, family and social affects (pp. 25–53). Westport, CT: Praeger.

A Narrative Approach to Coaching Leaders

Effective leaders are usually defined as those who know themselves, who identify wholeheartedly with their role as leaders, and who are aware of their values, cognitions, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses. Moreover, they develop as leaders to the extent that they purposefully and effectively use this knowledge to learn and grow. The life-story or narrative approach has been an avenue to understand how leaders’ interpretations of their life experiences support them in developing self-awareness and a sense of identity as a leader.

It is relatively common to think about leaders – public figures or people in our everyday life – in terms of the experiences that have shaped their lives and their leadership path. Ordinary and extraordinary experiences – practicing a sport, losing someone close to crime or illness, overcoming financial hardship, or developing a business idea – are impactful because they help the leader explain how and why he or she became a leader. As such, practicing a sport is seen as a development ground for discipline, hard work, and teamwork which are crucial leadership qualities; and losing an important person becomes a catalyst for a life dedicated to fighting crime or searching for medical breakthroughs. Thus, leaders can draw meaning from these experiences, which help shape their “story” as leaders. Furthermore, if a leader’s “story” reflects back an image of capabilities, strengths, and resources, it can support leaders’ development.

One strategy (or intervention) widely used in organizational contexts to support leaders’ development is coaching. Coaching is defined as a collaborative relationship between a coach and a client (i.e., coachee) designed to support the client in identifying and achieving a desired goal. In a most basic sense, coaching is a targeted conversation in which the client can make sense and generate meaning from his or her “story”.

What is Narrative Coaching?

Narrative Coaching is a relatively recent approach to coaching in which human functioning is understood as embedded in a broader, complex cultural context. Through this interpretive/constructivist lens, a leader’s narrative is important because it provides a mental model to understand and represent himself or herself based on their interpretation of past experiences[1]. Engaging in coaching with a narrative perspective creates a space where clients can explore, understand, and define their mental models.

Client’s narratives can be seen as a “source and anchor of behaviors”[2] because they help externalize their self-concepts and identity. By reflecting on the way they construe their experiences and in the “stories” they tell, the coach can facilitate a process where the client makes sense of these stories and what lies underneath them. The client can also assess how this narrative is supportive (or not) of his or her goals.

In narrative coaching, the focus is placed on the content of the client’s stories and their structure[3]:

  • the order in which events are told
  • stable identities or a clear sense of belongingness
  • demarcation signs that point to questioning the status quo
  • causal linkages that explain “why” things happen
  • valued endpoints which allow for meaningful decision making

The coach’s main task is to actively listen to the client’s stories and ask insightful questions about their narrative to elicit this meaning-making process for clients. Some techniques[4] the coach can use within a narrative coaching engagement are:

  • Externalizing conversations, in which the situation or “problem” being addressed is described as a separate entity from the client
  • Reauthoring or re-membering, where the client explores alternative stories
  • Outsider witness re-telling, where the coach shares his/her reflection about the client’s story

These techniques drawn from narrative psychology enhance clients’ understanding of their stories, and also help clients assess the effectiveness and impact of these stories on their goals.

Narrative Coaching in Action

Imagine that Jennifer is a leader working with a coach to be more assertive when communicating with her team. Using a narrative approach, her coach could ask questions to externalize Jennifer’s developmental objective, for example, “how does ‘assertive communication’ help your relationship with your team?” or, “what does ‘assertiveness’ with your team require from you?” If Jennifer labels herself as incapable of being assertive because she is “too soft”, her coach could explore instances in which she was not “soft”, or events in which being “soft” had positive outcomes for her (e.g., showing empathy to an employee who was going through a difficult time at home). In this way, Jennifer can start deconstructing her self-concept and redefining it in a more empowering way as her story reflects her values and strengths. Finally, the coach can become a “witness” to Jennifer’s story, and share what she “heard” and what resonated with her experiences as a coach working with other leaders, such as the impact that shifting their narrative from “soft” to “empathic” has on leaders’ outlook.

 Lisa Soto-Torres, M.A. is a doctoral student of Positive Organizational Psychology at Claremont Graduate University. Her research interests include leader development and positive interventions in the workplace, such as coaching. She is a certified professional business coach with extensive experience in human talent development through training and development, coaching, mentoring, and leader assessment.

[1] Ligon, G. S., Hunter, S. T., & Mumford, M. D. (2008). Development of outstanding leadership: A life narrative approach. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(3), 312-334.

[2] Drake, D. B. (2007). The art of thinking narratively: Implications for coaching psychology and practice. Australian Psychologist, 42(4), 283-294.

[3] Drake, D. B. (2007). The art of thinking narratively: Implications for coaching psychology and practice. Australian Psychologist, 42(4), 283-294.

[4] Stelter, R., Law, H., Allé, N., Campus, S., & Lane, W. (2010). Coaching–narrative collaborative practice. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5(2), 152-164.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations to Lead

“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

While at LeAD I have worked as a coder for the LeAD Assessment Center workshops, and as an intern at the LeAD Research Lab. I am particularly interested in researching the “Passion and Purpose” component of the LeAD 6P leadership model and the motivational processes behind leadership development. Great leaders can make an enormous impact in their organization and may even inspire a whole new generation of leaders. So how must one see oneself as such a leader? What makes someone want to become a leader? How would someone go about developing into an influential leader, and what are the reasons for wanting to become such a high impact leader in the first place?

I propose that people aspire to become leaders mainly for either intrinsic or extrinsic reasons. Intrinsic reasons include a desire to grow as well as interest in changing some aspect of one’s environment. The desire to learn and grow comes from the realization that growth is both necessary and enjoyable. Complex and challenging activities, along with effective and constructive feedback, can encourage a person to grow. Developing one’s own leadership abilities can be fun, and growing as a leader can be rewarding because of the benefits of higher intrinsic rewards such as well-being, and the intrinsic motivation of wanting to improve one’s surroundings. Such intrinsic motivation includes leading to help improve the lives of others – accomplishing an objective for others is rewarding in and of itself. Servant leadership and authentic leadership are examples of the intrinsic desire to lead.

Leaders can also develop for extrinsic reasons. Such extrinsic reasons include, but are not limited to, social connections, for gaining or avoiding a certain outcome, economic benefits, as well as desire for power. The desire to learn and grow from an external standpoint comes from the awareness of one’s social standing in a particular environment. External rewards and recognition can encourage a person to grow. Developing one’s own leadership abilities can be rewarding due to the benefits of recognition, higher extrinsic rewards such as higher status, and the extrinsic motivation of wanting to have more influence in one’s surroundings. Such motivation has outer motives and accomplishing an objective with a group is for a particular purpose. Charismatic leadership and transactional leadership are examples of the extrinsic desire to lead.

The passion and purpose of leading can originate from intrinsic or extrinsic motives. What fuels a leader’s passion to lead and why a leader chooses to lead in the first place may be for primarily intrinsic reasons, extrinsic reasons, or a balanced combination of the two. This is important because those who lead for extrinsic reasons may no longer have the desire to lead once their extrinsic goal has been fulfilled. They must constantly fuel their purpose by creating new extrinsic goals. While this may seem like a good strategy for goal setting, it can create a feeling of emptiness once goals are reached. This often comes in the form of: “Ok, so now what?” Intrinsically motivated leaders, however, do not have that problem. Intrinsically motivated leaders have the passion and purpose that extends beyond the immediate external goal for leading. Their desire to lead is like a well that overflows for the passion for leading others to achieve a mission, and their intrinsic desire to lead does not dry out once that goal has been fulfilled. This intrinsic motivation fuels a leader to move beyond the leadership demands that their current situation calls for, which means that intrinsic motivation is a more enduring form of motivation that can propel one to lead effectively.

Have you uncovered your intrinsic motivations to lead? What beyond the extrinsic trappings of leadership motivates you to be a leader?

Steven Zarian is a first year MA student at Claremont Graduate University. At LeAD Labs, he has worked as lead coder for the Role Play simulation of the LeAD Assessment Center, and as an intern at the LeAD Research Lab. He is particularly interested in researching the “Passion and Purpose” component of the LeAD Labs’ 6P leadership model and the motivational processes behind leadership development. In his free time he enjoys reading, hiking, swimming, and traveling.