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November-December, 2010, Volume 14, Numbers 11-12

Leadership Development at the Smithsonian Institution              
By James D. Douglas, Director of Human Resources, Smithsonian Institution 

Nano Tools for Leaders:  Being There 
By Thomas Donaldson, Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, Wharton School 

Wharton Leadership Conference, 2011:  Leading in a Resent Economy and Uncertain World  
By Tracy Simon 

Effective Leaders:  Why Extraverts Are Not Always the Most Successful Bosses
By Knowledge@Wharton



Leadership Development at the Smithsonian Institution 

By James D. Douglas, Director of Human Resources, Smithsonian Institution  

The Hope Diamond.  Giant pandas.  The Star Spangled Banner.  Elvis stamps.  World-class research.  African art.  The Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center.   Presidential portraits.  Jazz recordings.  Moon rocks.  Native American artifacts.  They are all tied together by one simple mission – to increase and diffuse knowledge.  Yet together they also present the leadership of the Smithsonian Institution with challenges as daunting as those found in the private sector.   

While one’s individual experience with the Smithsonian may bring to mind specific memories, many people do not realize that it is the world's largest museum complex and research organization, composed of 19 museums, nine research centers, the National Zoo, and research activities in more than 90 countries.  As any CEO of a large corporation trying to overcome employees’ tendencies to live in “stovepipes,” the Smithsonian’s Secretary, Dr. G. Wayne Clough, consistently encourages employees to seek greater collaboration and integration across the various units while working toward more innovative solutions to organizational issues.  Maintaining a global perspective, pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities, wisely leveraging the Smithsonian brand, and creatively seeking ways to expand its market is considered essential.  These demands put new pressures on Smithsonian leadership to ensure the Institution is truly a learning organization. 

Recognizing the leadership challenges inherent in the Smithsonian’s complexity and scope, senior executives of the Smithsonian and its Board of Regents identified the need to develop high-performing and high-potential employees to become better prepared for executive leadership positions across the Institution.  The demographics that affect other large organizations, public or private, affect the Smithsonian as well:  graying of the workforce, long tenure of knowledgeable incumbents with no clear career paths or expected timeline of departure, leaving fewer opportunities for newer and junior leaders to take over leadership posts.   To address these needs, we created the Smithsonian Leadership Development Program (SLDP) as the first pan-Institutional effort to strengthen leadership across the entire institution, focusing on key developmental areas including collaboration, cross-functional/unit understanding, and change management.  

The inaugural SLDP cohort began in 2008-2009 with 11 participants, competitively selected from various organizations.  Participants received “best practices” development that included:  360-degree feedback, executive coaching in conjunction with individual development plans, and learning activities (external speakers, internal executive discussions, field trips to Smithsonian sites, supervisory skills courses, and an action learning project).  Building upon the Smithsonian’s rich legacy, internal speakers focused on the history and culture of the Institution as well as the practical aspects of Smithsonian leadership.  Consistent support by Secretary Clough, as well as the governing Board of Regents, has been crucial to the deployment and acceptance of the SLDP by the individual units.  Our program feedback analysis showed strong support for growing the program; however, funding continued to be an issue.   

While many people think of the Smithsonian as a government agency, it is really a trust instrumentality which means that while it receives some federal funding and has federal employees (two thirds of its 6,000), it is also dependent upon trust funds (business revenues as well as donor/ grant monies).  Recognizing the value of the SLDP and helping to create a longer- term vision for the program, several Smithsonian National Board members generously provided additional funding for the current program’s implementation.   

Our 2010-2011 class consists of 25 mid-level, competitively-chosen, Smithsonian employees who represent the various museums, units, and functions (collections, curatorial, education/outreach, mission enabling, etc.).   In addition to the first cohort’s activities, the second group’s curriculum also includes a short-term rotational assignment outside of their normal responsibilities.   

Participant Betsy Gordon, project manager from the National Museum of the American Indian, chose the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama as her rotational assignment.  Describing her overall SLDP experience, Betsy says it was “career and life altering.”  She explained, “It has allowed me to see leadership in action via my own peer group of participants and through access to key Smithsonian decision makers.  In addition, it has tested and challenged my own abilities as a leader and allowed me to incorporate newly acquired skills and perspectives to my ongoing projects.” 

Consistently, SLDP participants cite the networking among peers as one of the key strengths of the program due to the increased ability to leverage resources and avoid redundancy.  Potential collaborative projects have already surfaced within the group.  For example, SLDP participants are currently exploring ways to replicate elements of their own development experience for the rest of the employee population. 

As part of leadership development, the Smithsonian has also added an Executive Forum series with past speakers including professors from universities and the Federal Executive Institute.  Additionally, Smithsonian executives serve as instructors, mentors, and management project sponsors for SLDP participants.  

While the mission of the Smithsonian is simple, it is not always easy, and just as corporations must constantly reassess their audience and direction, the Smithsonian takes pride in continually seeking ways to remain relevant and effective for future generations. 

Nano Tools for Leaders:
  Being There  

donaldson_thomas_rdax_192x226.jpgBy Thomas Donaldson, Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, Wharton School

The Goal:  Improve communication with employees to ensure that you're in the loop, hearing bad (and good) news before it's too late.

Nano Tool:  Disastrous organizational public revelations make headlines, and often bring corporations to the brink of destruction. For those hit by a "corporate Watergate," two things are true: 

1. Top level executives did not know about it in time; 

2. Scores of people inside the organization did know about it — and knew for a long time. 

The key issue is why critical information fails to flow upward to executives. Research clearly shows that an employee's feeling of pressure to commit unethical acts is strongly correlated with his or her conception of the ethics of top leadership. In turn, an employee's conception of those ethics is often formed more by personal impressions than by ethical "pronouncements" from the top. It is those personal impressions that can and should be directed by top executives themselves.
The most effective way to create a positive impression — and to avoid critical communication lapses - is to make a habit of engaging in casual, unplanned moments with employees (known also as "being there"). How an executive treats employees in the elevator or the parking lot can make all the difference between hearing (and having the time to act), and not hearing. Leaders should seize opportunities to "be there." 

How It Works:

  • John Connelly, legendary CEO of Crown, Cork, and Seal, spent time every morning walking the shop floor. He intentionally positioned the company's corporate headquarters above one of the working shops. 


  • KPMG's Executive Vice Chairman, Sven Holmes travels regularly to KPMG offices, holding meetings with small groups of ordinary employees. 


  • Mike Duke, CEO of Walmart, can often be found casually chatting with security guards and other Walmart associates in the hallways or parking lot.


  • Some companies now hold at least one of their board of directors meetings away from corporate headquarters, at one of their divisional offices. Before and after the meeting, board members and executives are encouraged to walk around to chat with local employees. 


  • In the wake of the United Nations' "oil-for-food" scandal (which was widely known to lower level employees and completely unknown to those at the top), the Secretary General and other Assistant Secretary Generals discovered that their communications with lower level employees were almost always formal. They resolved to change that. One resolution? When passing through the Vienna Café, the cafeteria in the middle of the UN building, they would shed their bodyguards and sit down to drink coffee with UN employees.

See the additional resources below for more examples and research findings.


Action Steps: 

1. Practice the strategy of MBWA or "management by walking around." 

2. Locate some of your important meetings in the field. 

3. Schedule "skip-level" meetings in which you talk informally with employees at two or more levels below your own. 

4. Take time to chat with employees in elevators, parking lots, and the cafeteria.


Share Your Best Practices: 

Do you have a best practice for encouraging a culture of speaking up? If so, please share it on our blog at Wharton's Center for Leadership and Change Management. 

Additional Resources:




Nano Tools for Leaders are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes – with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.

Wharton Leadership Conference, 2011
:  Leading in a Reset Economy and Uncertain World  

By Tracy Simon 

The 15th Annual Wharton Leadership Conference will be held at the Wharton School in Philadelphia on June 22, 2011.  This year’s event is focused on “Leading in a Reset Economy and Uncertain World.” 

As the U.S. economy begins the recovery from the Great Recession, many observers are wondering what the take-aways will be.  Is there something different about leadership in this new era?  As the economies of China, India, and elsewhere accelerate, other observers are asking what will be required to compete with their firms or in their economies.  Will a distinctive leadership skill set be required for global operations?  The conference explores the personal, organization, and cultural models required for leading in the “new normal” and increasingly global world.

Effective Leaders:
  Why Extraverts Are Not Always the Most Successful Bosses

By Knowledge@Wharton  

Conventional wisdom tells us that leaders are the men and women who stand up, speak out, give orders, make plans and are generally the most dominant, outgoing people in a group. But that is not always the case, according to new research on leadership and group dynamics from Wharton management professor Adam Grant and two colleagues, who challenge the assumption that the most effective leaders are extraverts.


In fact, introverted leaders can be more effective than extraverts in certain circumstances. The determining factor is who leaders are managing, according to Grant and co-authors Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and David Hofmann of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School. Their paper, forthcoming in the Academy of Management Journal, is titled "Reversing the Extraverted Leadership Advantage: The Role of Employee Proactivity."


Extraverted leadership involves commanding the center of attention: being outgoing, assertive, bold, talkative and dominant. This offers the advantages of providing a clear authority structure and direction. However, pairing extraverted leaders with employees who take initiative and speak out can lead to friction, while pairing the same group of employees with an introverted leader can be a pathway to success, the researchers note. This has implications for leaders and managers at all levels who want to improve their own leadership styles. "If you look at existing leadership research, extraversion stands out as the most consistent and robust predictor of who becomes a leader and who is rated an effective leader," Grant says. "But I thought this was incomplete. It tells us little about the situations in which introverted leaders can be more effective than extraverted leaders."


So he and his fellow researchers began looking at the issue through the lens of a business that could easily track productivity and team effectiveness -- pizza delivery franchises.

"We wanted to study an organization where we could actually see differences in performance, and where people were generally doing the same work," Grant notes. "If there is variation in franchise profitability, as a function of who leads and who your employees are, then that would be a very powerful statement about the true impact of a leader on a group."


Threatened By Proactivity


The researchers obtained data from a national pizza delivery company. They sent questionnaires to 130 stores and received complete responses from 57; the responses included 57 store leaders and 374 employees. To adjust for differences in location that were beyond the leaders' influence, the researchers also controlled for the average price of pizza orders and worker hours. Leaders were asked to rate their own extraversion -- the degree to which they commanded the center of attention by acting talkative, assertive, outgoing and dominant. Employees were asked to rate levels of proactive behavior in the store, such as improving procedures, correcting faulty practices, speaking up with ideas and stating opinions about work issues.


What Grant and his colleagues found was a simple inverse relationship: When employees are proactive, introverted managers lead them to earn higher profits. When employees are not proactive, extraverted managers lead them to higher profits. "These proactive behaviors are especially important in a dynamic and uncertain economy, but because extraverted leaders like to be the center of attention, they tend to be threatened by employee proactivity," Grant notes. "Introverted leaders, on the other hand, are more likely to listen carefully to suggestions and support employees' efforts to be proactive."


Pairing an extraverted leader with a proactive team, he says, can hurt, not just hinder, the company's effectiveness. "Once the extraverted leader responds in a less receptive way, that becomes discouraging for employees and makes them less willing to work hard," Grant states. "It may also make them less willing to share ideas in the future, which would limit creativity and innovation."


In fact, the personality conflicts can lead to a power struggle within an organization, openly pitting leaders against employees. This is especially true in companies or groups with a flat hierarchy -- for example, if the leaders were recently promoted from the peer level, or if a new leader's competence and skills are not yet established. Such situations would "be much more likely to lead employees to challenge, and leaders to feel threatened," a situation known as "status uncertainty," according to Grant.


"If you are leading a pizza franchise, you are often doing this as your full-time job, and you might be managing high school and college students who have a different set of aspirations and, in some cases, might actually look down upon you as the leader," Grant points out. At that point, an employee with a better idea for how to get orders processed efficiently on Super Bowl night, or a suggestion for a new coupon or special deal, could make extraverted leaders feel like their "status is being threatened. They might say, 'I'm supposed to be in charge here. Let me reassert my authority.' Whereas the introverted leader, with less of a concern for position, status and power -- and a willingness to spend more time listening and less time talking -- is likely to quietly process the ideas that come up. That leader is worrying less about the ego or image implications of employees taking charge and introducing ideas."


The T-shirt Challenge


The research team also conducted another study that looked specifically at extraverted leadership behavior, not just self-reported traits. They took 163 college students from a university in the Southeastern U.S. and designated them as team members and leaders in a T-shirt folding group. The aim was to fold as many shirts as possible in 10 minutes, with iPods as a reward for the top performers.


Some students were randomly assigned to lead in either an extraverted or introverted manner. The extraverted leaders were given examples of famous leaders who were bold, talkative and assertive, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jack Welch. The introverted leaders were given examples of famous leaders who were quiet and reserved, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. Both groups were then asked to reflect on a time when they led effectively in a similar manner. Meanwhile, two other graduate students, or "confederates," were paired with each group and secretly told to act either passively or proactively, with proactive confederates offering a new, efficient away to fold T-shirts.


The researchers found a significant interaction between extraverted leadership and proactive behavior that meshed with the findings from the pizza study. When the confederates were passive, teams performed better when led in an extraverted manner, but when the confederates were proactive, teams performed better when led in an introverted manner. "When the confederates were proactive, participants perceived the more extraverted leaders as less receptive to ideas, and they invested less effort in the task," the researchers write.


The implications of the power struggle for the leader-employee relationship and labor relations became very clear, according to Grant. "At some level, the power struggle is finished, with the leader asserting authority and the employees saying, 'We're not going to work as hard on your behalf.'" The employees basically decided that "Hey, these leaders are not receptive to good ideas .... We don't really have a ton of respect for the leader. We don't want this leader to be one of the top performers. We want to feel, at the end of the day, like our ideas are valued and our contributions are appreciated."


Interestingly, neither the introverted leaders nor the extraverted leaders showed higher productivity or profitability than the other. The difference, Grant and his researchers found, was in the pairing of leaders and employees.


"It shows that introverted and extraverted leadership styles can be equally effective, but with different groups of employees," he says. "As a social scientist, this is appealing -- people in organizations are sufficiently complex that you can rarely ever conclude that one style is always more effective than another.... Our research provides insight into when each style is effective, as opposed to trying to test which one is better -- which I think is the wrong question."


Given these conclusions, why does the popular view persist that extraverts are better leaders across the board? The authors point to several possible reasons: One is that extraverts are often perceived as more effective because of a "halo effect." "This may occur because extraverted leaders match the prototypes of charismatic leaders that dominate both [Western and Eastern cultures] and are especially prevalent in business," they write. One online survey of 1,500 senior leaders earning at least six-figure salaries found that 65% actually saw introversion as a negative quality in terms of leadership.


Creating Space for Employees


Grant says the study has broad implications for corporate leaders who want to examine their own leadership styles as well as make changes in the lower management ranks. "We tend to assume that we need to be extremely enthusiastic, outgoing and assertive, and we try to bring employees on board with a lot of excitement, a clear vision and direction," Grant says, "but there is real value in a leader being more reserved, quieter, in some cases silent, in order to create space for employees to enter the dialogue."


He worked with the CEO of one Fortune 500 company who has a policy of silence for the first 15 minutes of meetings. He does not utter a single word, although he is an extravert. "He feels that he has a tendency, once he gets excited about ideas, to run with them to the point where, at times, it leaves employees feeling like they weren't included," Grant says. "So he tries to combat that: 'I want you guys to tell me whatever you're thinking about -- suggestions, feedback, questions -- and the floor is yours.' He listens quietly and takes notes."


There are also lessons to be learned about giving employees authority and autonomy to make decisions on their own -- "providing them with choice about what work they do, as well as how, when and where they complete it," Grant notes. "One of the strongest predictors of proactivity is a sense of responsibility for the larger team or department or organization. When employees feel like they are responsible for a larger unit, they are much more likely to broaden their roles beyond their specific individual job descriptions."


So how can managers actually implement some of the lessons from the study? Grant suggests that once prospective team members have the required skills and expertise, leaders can explicitly look at personality in making the final selection -- examining both the employees and the managers, figuring out which teams will work best together. "When I have extraverted leaders, if I have the opportunity I tend to invite in some of the less proactive employees who I think are more likely to want a clear, dominant vision from a leader and who are also more likely to get energized, to step a little bit out of their comfort zones."


And how do you identify those employees who might fit better with an introverted leader at the helm? By looking and listening, Grant says. "Proactive employees, by definition, spend more of their time and energy taking initiative -- whether that's in terms of generating ideas, coming up with a new work process, staying late to help their colleagues or even going out of their way to seek feedback. You develop a reputation pretty quickly for that set of tendencies."


Extraverted leaders also need to be careful to delegate responsibility to proactive employees, Grant suggests -- putting such workers in areas where they have ideas for moving forward or want to take on larger responsibility. These leaders also should actively solicit feedback, positive and negative, and listen to it. Some companies employ 360-degree feedback surveys, but those can be harder to use in small groups. "Asking for advice from employees on how to change can kill two birds with one stone," Grant says. "It allows the leader to actually learn, and it creates opportunities for employees to contribute right there and then."


Note:  Published in Knowledge@Wharton on November 23, 2010 (

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