Leadership Woes? Look to the Stars

           No matter what industry you are in; the type of department; number of employees or diverse goals, you will hear the same cry.  Leaders everywhere seem to cry out in one voice with the same complaint – “If it weren’t for my employees, I could get so much done!”

Obviously, that is not true.  What is true is that dealing with individuals is perhaps one of the hardest tasks faced by any manager or leader.  Businesses, like most organizations, revolve around people and if you are a leader, you have to deal with people.  That can mean customers, employees, bosses, contractors, co-workers and direct reports. 

Too often people mean problems.  Or, perhaps it would be better to say, challenges.  Any group of individuals will face those challenges at some point.  It could be differences of opinion, different ideas on how to meet common goals, personality conflicts or self interests.  Too often, managers spend a large chunk of time playing arbitrator, peace-keeper, decision-maker, hand-holder, encourager and the list goes on.  How do you get past that?

When faced with some thorny personnel issue, I wonder why you rarely see details on how other leaders resolve or deal with similar problems.  Business or leadership books often gloss over the details and this aspect of leadership doesn’t get a lot of praise.  It’s not as exciting as the snap decision in the boardroom or the quick and smooth change of a corporate direction.

So, I find that I turn to one example of leadership that I remember from my youth.  Probably the classic leader, he dealt with exciting and varying challenges every week and was a hero to many.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that his organization happened to be a starship – the USS Enterprise.  Yes, I am referring to Captain Kirk (which I saw in reruns lest you think I am older than I am).

When personnel challenges come along, I find myself thinking, “This never happened to Captain Kirk.”  For all the bickering between Dr. “Bones” McCoy and Mr. Spock, or Scotty’s worries about the Dilithium crystals, at the end of the day everyone came together and performed 100% to save the day.  One could say that they had to, as their lives depended on it.  But in modern business, everyone’s livelihood, if not life, is on the line.

The question then becomes how to coax that ‘starship’ level of performance out of each player in a modern workplace.  There are whiners and tattle-tales; those who complain and think that nothing is fair; jealousies and arguing, even backstabbing.  And of course, there are the stars who continually work and strive and the danger is that they will be forgotten, perhaps comparable to the Enterprise’s crew in the red shirts (you know how that always ended for them). 

Is it important how a leader or manager responds?  Can you ignore the human factors and barrel ahead towards your goals?  Spock might have done that as being only logical, ignoring human feelings and emotions.  On the other hand, Bones might go to the other extreme, focusing on the individuals.  Maybe Kirk is a good example after all.  At times, compassionate and human.  At other times, driven to achieve and protect his ship (read business) at all costs and complete his mission.

And that may be the real lesson and the ultimate answer.  Be mindful of the human factor, but don’t sway from your ultimate goals, whether saving the universe from Klingons or trying to turn a profit in tough times.  After all, as Spock said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”


Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense.  He has extensive experience in law enforcement as well as security management.  Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces.  To learn more visit http://www.businesskarate.com/profile.html. 

Anatomy of a Fraud

               Victor Lustig had all the trappings of being the perfect salesman.  He was able to convey confidence and build trust.  Even though he was in his heyday in the 1920’s, his 10 commandments could easily be mistaken for being part of a modern sales program. 

               The problem?  He was selling scrap metal – from the Eiffel Tower!  I know this sounds far-fetched and you have to wonder how anyone could believe it.  Certainly, it is a reflection on how convincing Lustig must have been, but also was not as ridiculous as the idea seems today.

               The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 for the Paris Exposition.  Initially, Parisians hated it; most thought it was ugly and ruined the skyline.  One author of the time complained that he would eat at the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, as it was the one place in Paris he could eat without seeing the tower on the cityscape.

               Furthermore, the tower was only supposed to last for 20 years before being taken down.  Modern technology saved it as the Eiffel Tower remained, albeit with the addition of radio antennas affixed.

               Even in that environment, Lustig had his work cut out for him.  So how did he succeed?  His first commandment was to be patient and listen.  Listening was the first step to build the kind of trust needed to make a sale – especially a dubious one.  Along those lines, he did not pry into personal matters.  He let the relationship develop with patience.

               Lustig would wait for his ‘mark’ to reveal their political and religious views and then agree.  He did not boast nor would he act bored, helping to make the other person the center of attention.  To further enhance and develop trustworthiness, he believed in being tidy and organized.  He would not get drunk and would carefully hint at intimate topics, only following up if there was an encouraging response.
Photo by Benh Lien Song

               From Lustig’s example and his basic fraud commandments, you can build a picture of what a ‘typical’ fraud might look like. 

1.      The In.  In as in intro.  The swindler needs to build that first step to get in with the target and start to build trust.  This can be an introduction by others, such as a church group (a common approach by many modern scammers).  It may be through past experience, such as Bernie Madoff, who, as chairman of the Nasdaq, seemed completely trustworthy.

2.     Build trust.  Once the foot is in the door, the swindler has to become a trusted source.  Listening, agreeing, and not boasting worked well for Lustig here. 

3.     The Hook.  The moment has come where the swindler must present his plot, but do it in a way that answers the question, “what’s in it for me?”  This could be done subtlety, or as we often see with great bravado – “Take this pill and lose 20 lbs in one week!”  The hook may be an appeal to help others, such as getting donations to a fake charity.  This happened recently in Denver where a calendar featuring firefighters was sold to raise money for a children’s group, but was actually going to the director behind the charity.

4.     Buy in.  Now it is time to close the sale, so to speak.  Once the trust has been built and the hook tossed out, the swindler has to get the mark to take the bait.  Generally, that means paying out money, or promising to pay, such as someone getting a will changed.  There will be some form of loss and a pecuniary gain, as lawyers like to say, for the suspect.

5.     The Bust.  One way or another, the fraud will be revealed.  Either when authorities arrest the suspect or when he has sailed off into the sunset absconding with the loot.  Either he/she will be busted or the victim’s bank account will be or maybe both.

               So how to avoid becoming a victim?  The two most dangerous steps are the hook and the buy in.  Check and double-check all the facts before turning over any money or items of value.  Make sure you really know whom you are dealing with.  Don’t be taken in by someone who seems nice or who agrees with you.  If you are, you may end up in step 5 with your savings going bust.
Photos courtesy of WikiCommons


Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense.  He has extensive experience in law enforcement as well as security management.  Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces.    To learn more visit http://www.businesskarate.com/profile.html. 

If you would like to reprint this post, please contact Eric at eric@businesskarate.com.