BLG Leadership Insights Creativity Features Ideas

Word Processed Plagiarism

I used to doze off at night chanting obscure citation formatting rules from all the major players in town: MLA, APA, Chicago, even Turabian on some particularly insomnia-stained evenings. For a brief period before I fabricated some semblance of a social life, my homepage was As a law-abiding citizen who only jaywalked when a red light obstructed a closing kitty-corner Chipotle, plagiarism seemed like a surefire way to win a date with the 5-o. I figured citations would avoid (police) citations and I cited to within an inch of my life. I even fantasized of winning a Pulitzer someday for one of my immaculate bibliographies.

Why then do I feel like a corrupted, plagiarizing criminal? Maybe it is because even as I compose this confession, I wage a literary crime spree. I plead the Fifth as I reveal that everything from that last paragraph to this clause is riddled with lifted language. If someone handcuffed me now I would start typing with my nose because you should know of the unprosecuted plagiarism saturating our word-processed existence.

The culprit: Almost everyone

The mechanism: A Thesaurus

Aliases: Review: Proofing: Thesaurus; Shift-F7;;

I’d pause for dramatic effect but my thesaurus suggests that I might alternately adjourn for theatrical suspense. So go to the bathroom/lavatory, call your lawyer/attorney, and we’ll resume/commence in the next section/paragraph.

Ok welcome back…We’re all guilty of the occasional thesaurus indulgence. Personally, when my creative juices run dry, I’ve leaned on the thesaurus like it’s a Segway that will effortlessly transport me to my conclusion. My thesaurus probably deserves a Cornell degree for its brilliant text on subjects ranging from “Scientology and American Dissent” to “Andorra’s Crisis in Democracy”. You can argue that the thesaurus is as innocuous as an internet translator but when you’re translating from shoddy slang to polished prose is it really a pardonable offense?

Well you tell me. I think similar to sourcing Wikipedia and leaning on a Smartphone during a trivia competition, thesaurus plagiarism falls into a certain ethical purgatory. Is it dishonest, corrupt, amoral, immoral, devious, deceitful, wrong, unethical, and dishonorable? Possibly. But maybe it’s also practical, proactive, pragmatic, realistic, and sensible.

Fundamentally, does a leader use a thesaurus? Is leadership synonymous with plagiarism?

Pic Credit: autumn_bliss

BLG Leadership Insights Features Managerial Competence Political Competence

Chairman of the Bored

I have a friend in a leadership position for a major accounting firm. He has ascended the ranks at his company rapidly, he’s been promoted three times in as many years, and is on the fast track to make partner.

His rise within his company is due, in part, to his accounting skills—his extensive knowledge of tax law and his ability to anticipate new laws and changes to existing laws. This isn’t the reason he’s an effective leader though. And his climb hasn’t been a result of having schmoozed the right people or because he babysits his boss’ children.

He has succeeded as a leader because he’s politically competent. He networks across departments, partners with other team leaders within his organization, gains the trust of his clients outside the organization. He’s also a leader because of managerial competence. He has the ability to motivate his team, to develop those under him, and point where he can grant them a larger degree of autonomy.

He hasn’t maintained and excelled in leadership positions within his company because he’s a great guy and everyone likes him.

It should be noted, however, that my friend is smart and funny in his own way and a loyal, decent human being.  That being said, he’s not exactly the kind of guy that lights up a room with a magnetic charisma that draws people to him. He’s been an amazing friend, but quite frankly, my friend is kind of boring.

The term “boring,” is of course, subjective, but when he talks about his work, my eyes tend to glaze over and I retreat into a happy place inside my head.

It’s clear when he speaks about it, through the glimpses I grab as I fade in and out during his work-related speeches, that he really knows his business and knows how to get the most out of those he works with.

My friend doesn’t have a larger-than-life personality; he’s not the type to fly off the handle, he’s not prone to angry outbursts or outward expressions of ecstatic joy (in public at least.) He can come off as kind of flat, or, boring. It’s quite possible that this ‘flat’ effect may also serve him well as a leader. He’s rational, fair and isn’t guided by emotion in his day-to-day life and is, apparently, an effective operating style in his role as a leader.

In some fields, being boring is not only acceptable; it might even be an asset.

Creativity Managerial Competence Political Competence Proactive Leaders


It goes by many names. Nodder, wobbler, bobbler, bobbing doll, or, more commonly, bobblehead doll. The one name, though, that is rarely applied to these amusing spring-connected collectible toys is “leader”. While popular culture and The Office, specifically, advance the bobblehead industry by creating toys bearing the likeness of organizational leaders, many leaders would resist this association. The representation of a proactive leader with a flimsy and inflated head that nods ad nauseam with mechanical approval is not what most managers want sitting on their desk. Yet, as much as much as the politically competent leader may cringe at this symbol of reflexive apathy, it unfortunately hits too close to home for many pinheaded executives.

Often on this blog, we touch upon this notion of leadership styles and the distinction between facilitative and directive management. As we argue, facilitative leaders adopt an empowering laissez-faire approach that allows coalition partners to autonomously advance a shared agenda. These leaders are not (usually) negligent but instead favor a more hands off approach. Arianna Huffington is likely a facilitative leader as she creates an empire but then empowers writers and contributors to mobilize the organization and advance a common agenda.

Directive leaders are then the foil for their facilitative colleagues. They favor a very hands-on approach and carefully prescribe and choreograph assignments for coalition partners. Just as facilitative leaders are not necessarily lazy, directive leaders are not automatically paranoid or dominating. They simply favor a stricter management scheme and design campaigns that accommodate or necessitate such an approach. Sarah Palin’s current SarahPAC is more directively managed as Palin carefully choreographs her staff actions and maintains strict regulation of her public and private campaign elements.

Both facilitative and directive approaches are valid and effective depending on the organization, agenda, and coalition players.

So back to the bobblehead and the emergence of a third, detrimental leadership approach. The bobblehead leadership approach is a poisonous fusion of facilitative and directive styles. The bobbler leader may dictate specific elements of the agenda or may empower colleagues to define these elements themselves but, in both contexts, this leader quickly succumbs to a yes-(wo)man approach.

The wobbler evades difficult choices by simply offering his weak but dependable approval for all campaign elements. The nodder remains silent in meetings, but she always defaults into consent when an opinion is solicited. Ultimately, the bobbing approach is one of apathy and fear that produces a vacuous, feeble campaign.

So sit at your desk and chuckle as your bobblehead offers its unconditional, detached support for all your ideas. But eventually you need to spring into action and get your head in the game.

Pic Credit: brianjmatis

BLG Leadership Insights Features Managerial Competence Political Competence Proactive Leaders

Hockey, Square Dancing & Strauss-Kahn

The other day I foraged up another suppressed memory from the vaults that house my traumatizing middle school experiences. The experience affords me an unlikely empathy with Dominique Strauss-Kahn this week but more on that later.

Unlike my other buried gems such as the Tator Tot Incident or the Ketchup Burp, this adolescent episode occurred outside of the dreaded cafeteria social swamp. In seventh grade physical education—the only education where my graphing calculator was rendered useless—my teacher made the fatal mistake of handing me a floor hockey stick.

While I carefully choreographed most gym periods to spend the 40 minutes completing MadLibs in the bathroom, on this unfortunate day I was fully dressed for the gym part. Outfitted in pink-eye stained goggles and clutching a stick twice my size, I rumbled onto the floor where social reputations were born and reared. While I’d like to report that this chapter ended with me simply scurrying around the room like a startled chinchilla, fortune had it that stormy suburban afternoon that I would end up with the puck.

After ricocheting off the ample dome of a fellow gym outcast, the puck came to rest in front of me. Like an arachnophobe meeting Spiderman I spun around, scrunched my perspiring brow, and struck the puck, sending it careening across the unforgiving floor.

In pink eye hindsight, two elements of that shot were extraordinary. First, despite my feral assault, the puck went airborne rather than sinking into a dented floor. Second, the puck, as if synced into a finely calibrated GPS unit, cleanly bypassed a befuddled goalie and infiltrated his netted ward. In a haze of blinding euphoria, I reacted by triumphantly putting my square dancing skills to work.

I think I completed two solo do-si-dos before I absorbed the news. In place of a celebratory Gatorade shower, my peeved peers rained down their disapproval on me for accidentally shooting on my own goal. I scored for the opponents. If MadLibs asked for an adjective to describe my reputation, pathetic or mutilated would probably suffice. It took a lot of chocolate milk and shrimp poppers to smother my shame and repair the damage done that day.

So where does this story intersect with former Director of the IMF and accused sexual predator Dominique Strauss Kahn? Yesterday prosecutors surrendered their case against the disgraced politician. Legally, he is innocent of fault in the case even if he did likely shoot his puck into the wrong goal so to speak. Yet despite his official vindication, his personal and professional reputations are beyond tainted. If you could liquefy his reputation, it would be less quenching than the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill. And tater tots offer little respite to an aspiring president of France.

Proactive leaders must cautiously approach their reputation as they would a porcelain cricket in a Tiffany’s. Appreciate its value and fiercely protect it from clumsy intrusions. Yet understand that your organization is bound by the law of uncertainty and even the most politically savvy leader can’t prevent the ground from shaking occasionally. You need to prepare for the inevitable earthquake by cultivating strong coalitions and robust support networks. These supporters will be your insurance policy when the first tremors arrive.

Finally, avoid the ego trap like you avoided your middle school cafeteria’s vintage pizza nuggets. Swaggering around your office with an air of invincibility will neither advance your agenda nor secure you water wings when your reputation sinks. Soliciting coalitional support is not the same as aggressive seduction and Strauss-Kahn abandoned modesty when he inherited the nickname “The Great Seducer”. He fell into the ego trap and continued to fall until he landed in the U.S. criminal justice system. It was a textbook error akin to driving a Zamboni through the Tiffany’s storeroom.

So, to simplify, politically savvy leaders shoot straight while preserving their reputation and know not to do-si-do when their puck flies astray.

Photo Credit: mannpollon

BLG Leadership Insights Features Managerial Competence Proactive Leaders Proactive Stories

Trucking Along

Sometimes leadership lessons sneak up in unexpected locations. On Tuesday at 1am, that location was Highway 55 between Chicago and St Louis. In preparation for my future career as a nomadic carnival worker, I have decided to take the requisite post-undergraduate road trip out West. My buggy, a 2005 Chevy Cobalt, hobbles down expressways with the weight of four passengers, a spunky cat, two clown dolls, and fountains of energy drinks. On Tuesday, as my friends slumbered and the cat serenaded the car with rhythmic purrs from her nook or cranny, I began studying the lumbering giants sharing the road with me. As I coaxed my Chevy between trucks like a caffeinated ant dodging elephants, I contemplated the life of a truck driver.

Truck drivers, whether transporting water beds or Mexican jumping beans, must mobilize a hefty load toward a defined goal. By virtue of their independence and responsibility, they become highway leaders—executives in the mysterious asphalt jungle that links distance locations. Each driver is an Odysseus who struggles through a hero’s journey while conquering various obstacles along the way. While amateurs like me muddle past in clown cars, truckers maintain a consistent pace that allows them to complete their voyage. They recruit sympathetic coalition partners like dispatchers, service center clerks, meteorologists, and fellow drivers, to assist them as they drive their agenda forward. Through shrewd political capability, they establish their credibility and ensure that these partners will come to the rescue when something blocks their course. Finally, they check their egos at the toll booth; there’s no room in their cab for hefty hubris and vanity doesn’t increase gas mileage.

Truckers also share something intimate and often taboo to discuss with fellow leaders: loneliness. Talk radio and garage funk music offer poor company on a graveyard shift through rural Missouri. Like an executive left alone with a massive merger agenda, truck drivers must carry abundant loads of poise and patience. Leaders struggle with the solitude of decision-making and the pressures of authority while avoiding narcissistic obsession. Ultimately, when your agenda succeeds or fails, coalition partners disappear and you alone receive the accolades or blame. The leader’s journey is inevitably an isolating pursuit and aspiring executives must grapple with this reality. At least, when the going gets tough, you can commiserate with the Highway 55 truckers and wish you were travelling with a cat and clown dolls.