Why honesty at work is more valuable than a brave face
When you're at the top of a business, you might be tempted to say to your employees that everything is fine because you have all the answers.
Dennis Carey is Vice Chairman of Korn Ferry, where he recruits board directors, CEOs, and their direct reports. He has published five books, including Boards That Lead, co-authored with Ram Charan and Michael Useem, and more than fifty refereed journal articles covering topics ranging from CEO succession and corporate strategy to M&A, corporate governance, and human capital.
Dennis Carey: I think the most important part of any CEO running a major global corporation is to be on the ground in those geographies—to the extent that he or she is able to do so—and also to build a team, a trusted advisory team which is having ongoing communications.
A good case in point would be Alan Mulally at Ford when he took over in a very, very tumultuous time in the auto industry. He established his own War Room. Everyone on deck around the globe on screens around the world to weigh in on challenges, opportunities, and he had a grading system: green light, yellow light, red light. Not too difficult to understand in concept.
But he would go around and ask each one of the leaders around the world whether things were going really well, if there was a yellow light if there was some caution and a red light indicating that there were problems that needed to be addressed.
If someone, especially during the calamitous period of time that Ford was going through, if someone gave a green light, which we’re all prone to try to do especially near performance appraisal time, he would typically ding them by saying, “Wait a minute. We all need help. Nothing is ever perfect, so tell us how we can help you in a collaborative way around the world to support you.”
And by the fifth or sixth meeting, virtually everyone was giving yellow and red lights. And what that did was it forced employees, the senior executives from every corner of the globe to not be afraid to ask for help and to acknowledge that they needed help.
And the fear factor of the next performance evaluation went away because they recognized that if they were asking for help they would get rewarded.
And in fact over a period of time, this cross-cultural collaboration began to develop and grow.
And people, whether it be from China or Singapore or Malaysia, London, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Mexico City or New York City, they began to speak effectively with the same tone.
Now clearly, language is interpreted differently around the world so there typically would be at least a second or third translation of what was actually implied or meant in those discussions, but over time that team developed a sense, a bonded collaborative spirit and they were rewarded economically for working together.
When you're at the top of a business, you might be tempted to say to your employees that everything is fine because you're in charge and have all the solutions to all the problems. Dennis Carey, author and Vice Chairman of the incredibly influential corporate recruiting agency Korn/Ferry International, thinks that is the wrong approach. He tells us here about how Ford's CEO Alan Mulally turned Ford's financial futures around just by finding a novel way to get his employees to be more honest about how they were doing. Ego can often stand in the way of asking for help, and if your ego is hurting your business, you'd better put that ego aside and be truthful. Dennis Carey's new book is a Talent Wins: The New Playbook for Putting People First.
Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.
- Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
- Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
- The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
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