Leadership Myopia

Jan 28

Humans are fascinated with strength, beauty, intelligence and many other human characteristics. American fascination with these human characteristics is seen in our literature, comic books, movies and in the stories told about men and women who have risen from rags to riches; from weakness to power. In The Atlantic, Tara Burton asks why American colleges are so obsessed with Leadership. This not only highlights that there are followers, but also that there are other possible roles, such as a “lone wolf” or “team player”. In the right context, these non-leadership roles can bring as much value (and sometimes more) to organizations. Another point the article makes is that often, when we discuss leadership, the real context is management. Rather than producing real change and movement, the focus is one of managing and structuring to achieve maximum profit. As one surveys history to identify great leaders, some of the most compelling and effective leaders obtained very little in the way of riches or power. Those that did obtain power did so after many years of toil. Is there value in pursuing a universal model of leadership? Could it be that the ocean of literature devoted to finding the secret to producing outstanding leaders is really distracting American academia from opportunities to more richly educate and prepare tomorrow’s workforce? For those students who don’t naturally lean toward leadership, the myopic American focus on leadership in university studies may be cheating them of much more rewarding career training and opportunities. It’s tempting to take the article one step further and notice that leaders are rarely noted for how well they do what they’re told. The idea of teaching leaders to be leaders and sending them into the world to lead seems at odds with the idea of leadership. Many who become leaders will do so regardless of their educational...

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Functions of Management and Leadership

Jan 11

The primary textbook in my Leadership course this semester is Leadership, Theory and Practice by Peter G. Northhouse. The book is broad in scope and aims to synthesize the last century of academic effort to define Leadership. Each chapter is packed with references to related and supplementary material. The introductory chapter included a figure that is packed with insight, at least for me. It speaks to the differences between the role of leader and manager. The idea that management seeks order and consistency while leadership drives for change and movement sets important expectations. There have been times in the past when I hired someone without a clear expectation of whether I wanted order or change. I may even have expected both at the same time. There are also work situations in which expectations on my performance were not clearly identified. I lean toward change and movement. I find it difficult to engage it tasks designed primarily to produce order and...

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Pitfalls of Vendor Selection and the Future of Higher Education

Jan 01

External vendors can be an effective business tool when internal expertise is unavailable or limited. In education, textbook publishers have been an essential external vendor for centuries. A recent experience has led me to question whether current trends in higher education, such as Internet based companion resources to textbooks which provide coursework and exams, are beneficial to the educational process. I believe that, when used properly, publisher resources can add to the educational process. When used poorly, these resources can result in a poor educational experience. When used exclusively, these resources are an insufficient substitute for highly trained and capable professors. A Tale of Two Classes My two classes last semester provided highly contrasting experiences. One class was taught by a practicing attorney with about 30 years of experience. He teaches in the evenings and had recently taken several years off before coming back to teach my class. The other class was taught by someone who has spent the past 11 years as a professor, during which time she completed her PhD. The outcomes from each class were surprising and provided me some insights into vendor selection and its effects on higher education. What’s interesting is that the first thing each professor said was how much he or she disliked the assigned textbook. That was the last thing the classes had in common. As a result of his displeasure with the assigned textbook, the instructor for my ethics class added two additional books to the required reading for the semester. For each class session he assigned a half dozen or more papers, articles or topics for study. These included some of the most profound writings on ethics from all time. This amounted to hundreds of extra pages of additional reading aside from the textbook. One of the papers he assigned us to write near the start of the course solicited a statement of personal ethical inclination. When he found that most of the class leaned toward one particular ethical persuasion, he adjusted the future course content to include critical analysis of that persuasion. I’ve had similar experiences with other professors. It seems that there is always something about a textbook that’s not to a professor’s liking and they supplement...

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The Ultimate Ethics Reading List

Dec 16

My ethics course was taught by an adjunct professor who is also a local attorney in Boise. On the first night he mentioned that there were some things about the course text that he didn’t like. In order to compensate for this, he provided dozens of additional resources which covered the topics and perspectives that he considered most important for a study of business ethics. Through initial writing assignments he observed that the predominant ethical inclination of the class was Aristotelian. He adjusted the later sessions in the course to focus on strengths and pitfalls of Aristotle’s philosophy with respect to business. Much of the reading was extremely valuable and enlightening, so I wanted to record some of the ancillary reading list here. Not all of these are freely available, but for those that are I have included a link. You may need to visit a university library to track down the others. This list is not a comprehensive review of the material covered. It also includes multiple perspectives, which means it shouldn’t be expected to convey a single coherent view on business ethics. In fact, the value of these resources is that they provide arguments and counter arguments for a well-rounded perspective. “Is Business Bluffing Ethical”, by Albert Carr “The Business of Ethics”, by Norman Chase Gillespie “Moral Mazes:  Bureaucracy and Managerial Work”, by Robert Jackall “Corporate culture: poison for whistleblowers”, by Brian Martin (review of Jackall’s article) “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”, by Milton Friedman “Profit and the public good”, in The Economist (related to Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations) “Corporate Social Responsibility Can Be Profitable”, by Rubén Hernández-Murillo and Christopher J. Martinek “Moral Theories”, Seven Pillars Institute for Global Finance and Ethics (this includes a review of Consequentialism, Deontology, Justice, Utilitarianism and Virtue Ethics). There are other links from that page to a more detailed review of each moral theory. “The Ethics of Whistleblowing”, by Ben O’Neill “The Normative Theories Of Business Ethics: A Guide For The Perplexed”, by John Hasnas “Business Ethics and Stakeholder Analysis” by Kenneth E. Goodpaster “Inside Job (2010)” “The Role of Character in Business Ethics” by Edwin M. Hartman “Moral Compromise and Personal Integrity: Exploring the Ethical Issues of Deciding Together in Organizations” by Jerry...

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Cost Drivers in Accounting

Nov 09

Both direct and indirect contributions affect total costs in a manufacturing context. Direct costs include direct materials and direct labor. Indirect costs may include clerical staff, rent, utilities, etc. Indirect costs are incurred regardless of whether any manufacturing takes place. Direct costs are incurred in proportion to the amount of product produced. With increasingly sophisticated manufacturing environments, there is value in associating indirect costs with specific manufacturing activities. The association of a specific indirect cost or activity with a specific manufacturing output gives managers a more accurate picture of the cost of those outputs. The resulting measure is called a Cost Driver. Cost drivers may include machine setups and maintenance, design changes and special requirements from customers, such as inspections. Cost driver analysis is not limited to manufacturing. It can also apply in the services sector. Whether in manufacturing or services, meaningful association of indirect costs to output can be complicated and subjective. Whenever possible, objective measurements should be identified that clearly tie an indirect cost to an output in a consistent way. From Management Accounting: Cost Driver: A cost driver is an activity or variable that causes a cost. For example, increased production volume causes increased investment in production equipment and, in turn, higher levels of machine depreciation. The number of miles driven in a car is the cost driver for the cost of gasoline. The term cost driver is also used for the activity whose quantity is the denominator for a cost driver rate or predetermined overhead...

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Dangers of Euro Exit or Devaluation

Sep 18

The European Union, comprised of 27 member states, may be considered together to represent an economy larger than the United States. Globally the European Union represents about 20% of the global economy (based on the CIA World Factbook). Over the last decade and a half, 17 of those member states have adopted the Euro, a common currency intended to make commerce between member states and global partners easier. The countries that have adopted the Euro are sometimes referred to as the Eurozone or Euro area. The four largest countries to adopt the Euro are Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Together they account for 76.6% of the GDP among the Euro member states. Other countries that have adopted the Euro range in size from the Netherlands on the higher end to Malta on the lower end. In terms of languages and cultures, there is a large diversity. In matters of perceived power distance and individualism, there are significant differences between member states in the Eurozone. These differences factor in to various aspects of risk, including risk of Euro abandonment and devaluation risk. Power distance and individualism have a significant impact on the political process and the social circumstances that influence currency decisions within a country. Specifically, these can range from austerity measures imposed for financial assistance to political ideology that shapes negotiations. The impact of any country moving away from the Euro could range from disruptive to catastrophic. The magnitude of that range is expected to be proportional to the size of the economy that leaves. This means that a larger economy, like Germany, would have a more profound impact, while a smaller economy, like Malta, would have a lesser impact. However, even a smaller economy exiting the Euro, like Malta or Greece, could have a destabilizing effect far more significant than their proportional representation within the Euro. The two scenarios under which this might happen include a country electing to leave the Euro and the EU member states ejecting a country from the Euro. There are various ways that this could happen, the most probable relating to politics and social pressures. Devaluation of the Euro, also referred to as the collapse of the Euro, due to unchecked debt and general default...

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