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Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

attractive leaderWe know attractive people are often preferred by everyone, but here is some heartening news if you were not genetically gifted with high cheekbones and dimples. When you are a leader, you get more attractive! At least to members of the group you lead. For outsiders, not so much. In other words, beauty is not a fixed trait but rather, one which shifts for the better when people become familiar with you. Researchers conducted two separate studies to study whether familiarity enhances your natural beauty.

In the first study, the researchers asked 49 Wisconsin legislative aides (38 Democrat [21 females] and 11 Republican [8 females]) to rate the physical attractiveness of 16 political leaders with whom they were familiar and the attractiveness of 8 political leaders with whom they were not familiar (those unfamiliar politicians were from New York). And (perhaps not surprisingly) the Republican aides rated their leaders as more attractive than Democrats did and of course, Democrats thought their leaders were more attractive than did Republican aides. (The party affiliation for the unfamiliar politicians was not provided, and those ratings did not vary based on political affiliation.)

The researchers wondered if they would see the same sort of trend if they used a general population sample rather than legislative aides (who, presumably, would tend to be more partisan). So in the second study, the researchers used what appear to be undergraduates in the state of Minnesota to rate the attractiveness of 16 familiar politicians and 12 unfamiliar politicians (once again from the state of New York). And they found the same thing. If the participant identified as a Republican, they thought Republican politicians more attractive. If the participant identified as a Democrat, they thought Democrats more attractive.

The researchers believe that people tend to view leaders of their groups as more attractive. We can agree with this to an extent although we believe that using politicians (public figures rather than leaders in personal workgroups or organizations) may simply be measuring how much partisanship colors our perception of individual attractiveness.

But, the senior author goes further in a Harvard Business Review blog post and says this:

“Although it’s true that the beauty biases exists, and always will, our study shows that emerging and experienced leaders can overcome and effectively reverse such biases by exhibiting more important traits such as intelligence, empathy, open-mindedness, and respect — that is, by being good leaders. The more they engage with their organizations, and the more they create an atmosphere of community and belonging, the more “attractive” — in every sense of the word — they’ll be in the eyes of their colleagues, supporters, and direct reports.”

And unfortunately, in so doing, they are over-stepping the actual research done. There was no measure at all in the actual study of whether the politicians were seen as being “good leaders” or even whether the politicians were viewed positively. The study merely asked participants to assess the physical attractiveness of the politician. In fact, the study was completed soon after a “hotly contested election” and so there was likely no real sense of whether the elected official was a “good leader” or not.

We’ve talked before about researchers over-stepping their research findings so this is not a new thing. But it is a misstep that is likely to be quoted by the media to say that instead of partisanship predicting perceptions of attractiveness—being a good leader makes you more attractive. And, in fact, that was precisely the title of the HBR blog post (written by the senior author of the paper!).

From a litigation advocacy standpoint, you want to know that partisanship can modify perceptions of attractiveness. And we do know that the more “like” the jurors your client or the witness is, the more jurors will like them. People are attracted to things and people familiar to them, as long as there is a positive association. We refer to this phenomena as identifying “universal values” that the jurors likely share. And while it is likely that the more similar a party or witness is to the jurors, the more attractive the jurors will find them as a person—this says nothing at all about whether the jurors will find them to be physically attractive—which, again, is what was measured in today’s research study.

The takeaway from this study is not that good governance makes a politician more attractive. The study supports the prospect that if you are aligned with someone based on party affiliation or some other level of connection, you will find them more appealing than someone you believe doesn’t understand you or share your values. And that makes sense.

Kniffin, KM, Wansink, B, Griskevicius, V, & Wilson, DS (2014). Beauty is in the in-group of the beholder: Intergroup differences in the perceived attractiveness of leaders. The Leadership Quarterly, 25, 1143-1153

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workingmomOr if you already are a mother, do not have any more children. On the other hand, if you are a man, have as many children as you would like. And preferably with a woman who doesn’t mind taking a dramatic payroll hit at work. With children (as a man) you get an average 11.6% bump in your salary according to this report. The author opines that fatherhood “is a valued characteristic of employers, signaling perhaps greater work commitment, stability, and deservingness”.

But we must remind you that this applies only if you are a man who is a father. And if you are a woman? According to today’s research report, with every additional child, you lose another 4% in income. So it isn’t just gender that reduces your salary. It’s having children as well. And yes. It is an article written in 2014. Don’t shoot the messenger here, it isn’t our research or our vision of a “just world”.

“For men, it’s just the status of being a father that raises their wages. For women, each additional child she has makes the penalty worse.”

Becoming a mother means women will earn less over their lifetimes while fathers earn more. This is but a small part of the disconcerting, disturbing, and depressing findings in a new report from the Third Way think tank. You may wonder what happened to the 2010 ABC World News report of women now earning 8% more than men. Well, that report only referred to young (early career) and childless women–not women with children.

Michelle Budig, the author of this report, calls what happens to women the “life cycle effect”. She points out the small gender gap in pay for 20-somethings (women earn about 96 cents on the dollar compared to men). That small gender salary gap grows as you hit 30-something and then 40-something though, and Budig thinks it is because of developmental milestones like marriage and children.

“Things happen in people’s lives like marriage and children, that trigger new behaviors and differential treatment in the workplace” for men and women.

Specifically, she says, the period between age 35 and age 44 is when we generally see the largest growth in salaries. This is also the time when many college-educated women stop delaying childbearing and are actively involved in caring for young children.

A caveat to this news comes if you are at the top of the salary distribution. If you are a man you get an even larger fatherhood bonus. And if you are a woman, while you don’t get a bigger bonus for being at the top of the income distribution, there is no motherhood penalty at all.

Another caveat also relates to privilege. White fathers receive larger fatherhood bonuses that Latinos or African-American men. In fact, African-American men have the lowest fatherhood bonus of any racial/ethnic group.

Budig suggests stereotypes of what makes a “good mother”, a “good father” and a “good worker” are likely at play here. If we believe that mothers should be focused on caring for children over workplace/career ambitions, they “will be suspect on the job and even criticized if viewed as overly focusing on work”. The opposite is apparently true for fathers who are likely perceived as trying hard to be a “good provider”.

From a workplace perspective, this report is a pointed reminder of the importance of identifying (and using) concrete, behavioral indicators for salary increases. That is one way to avoid making salary decisions based on stereotypes that cast either a halo effect (on fathers) or the opposite (on mothers). Creating a professional environment that welcomes both men and women means having specific indicators of “success” that apply equally to all employees, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, or parenthood status.

Budig, M. 2014 The fatherhood bonus and the motherhood penalty: Parenthood and the gender gap in pay. Third Way.

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The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of us have seen the information that a sedentary lifestyle is dangerous for our physical well-being. Today’s researchers wondered if standing (rather than sitting) for group brainstorming sessions would result in more effective and positive group dynamics and outcome.

They recruited 214 undergraduate students to participate in 3-5 person group-brainstorming tasks. Each group was asked to develop ideas for a university recruitment video which they recorded at the end of their sessions. Each group was filmed as they completed the brainstorming project in a room with a table, whiteboard and notepads. Half of the groups had five chairs around the table and the other half had no chairs. Each participant was given a wristband which measured their level of “physiological arousal” (i.e., how much their skin sweated during the task).

The researchers found the groups without chairs had higher arousal (i.e., they did more sweating) than the groups with chairs.

The groups without chairs were also less possessive of the ideas they individually generated. The researchers called this “reduced territoriality”. The researchers think this might have been due to the closer physical proximity of the groups who had no chairs. They shared the physical space and the researchers think perhaps they shared the intellectual product as well.

The groups without chairs also generated more ideas that were then modified through combining them with the ideas of other group members or improved upon by others. The researchers call this “idea elaboration”.

So in all, it looks like the groups without chairs performed better although they were sweatier. And indeed, the researchers say the group process was better. All groups designed and produced the university recruitment videos as an outcome measure, but there were no differences in the videos produced by groups with chairs and the groups without chairs.

“That is, videos produced by groups working in a room with no chairs were rated by judges as no more polished or creative, than videos produced by groups working in a room with chairs.”

In other words, you might enjoy the process more and standing up is physically better for you, but the resulting product will not be improved. Nonetheless, the authors recommend workplace leaders may want to get rid of chairs and give employees an open space to make collaboration easier.

Obviously, you won’t likely be inclined to ask jurors to stand as they deliberate (and most jury rooms tend to be on the crowded side). However, in your office, “stand-up meetings” or brainstorming sessions might improve both morale and collaboration skills. This research would say you won’t get a better product because of standing, but it might be more fun and create a more effective team.

Knight, AP, & Baer, M. (2014). Get up, Stand up: The effects of a non-sedentary workspace on information elaboration and group performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 

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workplace ostracismIt’s always tough to measure something that seems very subjective. Like ostracism. Are you being ostracized (excluded, left out, or shunned) or are you just way too sensitive? Intrepid researchers have pushed forward though and brought us the Workplace Ostracism Scale.

Ostracism is very much like incivility which is seen as very hard to objectively describe. What appears to be incivility or ostracism to you, may look very innocent to me. It is perhaps easiest to understand what incivility is if we think back to our childhoods and how a sibling or playground nemesis would say one thing out loud (in front of witnesses like our parents or teachers) but we “knew what they really meant”. That’s what incivility often boils down to–indirect and often ambiguous actions that result in one feeling excluded, not valued, or belittled but having a hard time describing the situation in behavioral terms without sounding petty or childish.

The research on ostracism and incivility is consistent–what may seem like ambiguous and immature behavior/reactions is actually harmful to workplace morale and individual well-being. So, in an effort to keep you up to date, here are some sample items from the 2008 Workplace Ostracism Scale (a 10-item measure of ostracism at work). The items are rated using a standard 7-point Likert Scale ranging from ‘Never’ to ‘Always’.

Your greetings have gone unanswered at work.

Others refused to talk to you at work.

Others at work treated you as if you were not there.

Others left the area when you entered.

You involuntarily sat alone in a crowded lunchroom at work.

It is easy to see how one might question this as a measure of the actual experience of ostracism. (After reading the researchers report on all the various tests for validity in the full report, we are of the opinion that it’s a sound measure.) But these items could be seen as complaints from a disgruntled employee who is inclined to blame others. On the other hand, they could also be signs that all is not well in your workplace. It’s a dilemma for the workplace. How do you address uncivil or ostracizing behavior when you can’t agree on how to interpret the problematic behaviors?

You cannot ignore the distressed employee.

You cannot “make” adults be nice to each other.

But, you can set clear expectations for behavior and communication and inclusion in your workplace. You can provide training to increase awareness of the impact of incivility and ostracism as well as the more familiar (and illegal) harassing and discriminatory behaviors at work. One way to get employees to take the idea of ostracism seriously is to have everyone complete a Workplace Ostracism Scale and score them and show them a slide of the ostracizing behaviors present in your workplace.

You will almost always be surprised at the frequency of the reports of employees that have experienced these sorts of isolating interactions with co-workers– but only if you ask. These are negative experiences that overall are greatly underreported and which undermine productivity and job satisfaction. Invite a conversation about how words can hurt whether they are illegal or not. Back that up with the research findings on how ostracism and incivility are related to problems in employee morale, employee turnover, and psychological and physical health. Even if you avoid being sued over it, it impairs productivity.

It really is no joking matter.

Ferris DL, Brown DJ, Berry JW, & Lian H (2008). The development and validation of the Workplace Ostracism Scale. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 93 (6), 1348-66 PMID: 19025252

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Ostracism_Fotolia_12094172_XSWhat a choice. We have written before about incivility in the workplace and that sounds a lot like what these researchers are calling ostracism. To begin, let’s look at how the researchers define both harassment and ostracism. In brief, say the researchers, harassment is the presence of an unwanted behavior and ostracism is the absence of a wanted behavior.

The term harassment is used by these researchers to “capture a range of active verbal and nonverbal behaviors directed at a target that derogate or cause embarrassment to that target. Harassment (unlike ostracism) engages the target in a social dynamic with negative social attention and treatment.” Harassment is typically composed of direct verbal and nonverbal behaviors intended to demean, harm, minimize, embarrass or harm the target.

The term ostracism describes the opposite of harassment where the workplace colleagues “disengage a target with a lack of attention and treatment”. In other words, colleagues may “ignore your greetings, exclude you from invitations, stop talking when you attempt to join a conversation” and so on. Ostracism often stems from many different motives, including obliviousness of the actor and are not always intended to cause harm.

You may be thinking what many people think of when introduced to the concept of incivility in the workplace. It is very subjective. What I see as obliviousness on the part of a colleague, you may see as ostracism or a deliberate effort to undercut you. So these researchers decided to look at two things: one, do people see harassment or ostracism as more harmful and, two, are they right? The results are consistent with the bulk of research on incivility.

In the first study, researchers asked 100 online participants (44% male, average age 32.64 years, average workplace experience of 5.29 years) what they thought more harmful in the workplace, harassment or ostracism? It is likely not surprising that the participants thought harassment more harmful and more inappropriate than ostracism in the workplace. Based on this finding, the researchers wondered whether ostracism was more common than harassment at work, and which (harassment or ostracism) is more damaging to careers.

In the second study, 1,300 working adults with demographics similar to the US population (49% male, average length of time in workplace 7.52 years) were asked to complete a number of measures (on ostracism, harassment, sense of belonging, personal well-being, and work-related attitudes) as well as some demographic information (e.g., gender and how long they had worked for their current employer). In this study, the researchers found ostracism more common than harassment, and perhaps surprisingly (if you are unfamiliar with the research on incivility) ostracism resulted in more negative physical and  emotional symptoms, and more work-related negative attitudes to study participants than did harassment.

The third study used 1,048 staff members at a large university in Canada (26% male, average age 43.49 years, and average employment length of 11.59 years). This study supported the results of the second study. Ostracism was “more strongly related than harassment to employees’ sense of belonging, well-being, and work-related attitudes, and, more important, to employees’ actual turnover within three years. [The researchers define these as ‘harm’ but it is still a pretty subjective assessment.]

In short, say the researchers, workplace ostracism has more harmful effects than workplace harassment! They are quick to say they do not mean that harassment is not harmful, as it obviously is. Ostracism is particularly toxic and is much more prevalent and thus erodes away the target’s well-being.

With regard to the workplace, and particularly the law office–managers are likely to be more attuned to the presence of harassment and much quicker to intervene against such illegal and inappropriate behavior. This research, as well as the bulk of the research on incivility, says that organizations should also take the more prevalent situation on workplace ostracism seriously as well. A healthy workplace allows room for everyone and teaches communication and conflict resolution skills that manage tension and allow work to proceed efficiently.

O’Reilly, J., Robinson, S., Berdahl, J., & Banki, S. (2014). Is Negative Attention Better Than No Attention? The Comparative Effects of Ostracism and Harassment at Work Organization Science DOI: 10.1287/orsc.2014.0900

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