The Accounting of Discipline

Lance Accountability, Discipline 1 Comment

It has now been a solid 7 weeks since my last day of work in Corporate America. With the distraction of the holidays behind me and the kids now back in school, I’m left to face a stark realization: without the external expectations of others, I’m an unproductive mess.

Now, this lack of doing things on my part is not due to having a lack of things to do. While attending this year’s TEDxDayton event working as a speaker’s mentor, I was hit with a moment of inspiration: an idea for a book to write. Less than a week later, by virtue of getting laid off, I was given the gift of a period of paid time off with which to focus on doing just that — writing said book. Simple, right? Big stuff happens when we have a great idea and the opportunity to do something about it, right?


Yeah, no.

An idea and opportunity I now have. It’s the “doing” that requires sustained effort, focus, and perseverance. In other words: discipline. It has been humbling to see just how little of that precious resource I actually have when stripped of the outside structures of a boss, colleagues, deadlines, and meetings. The only thing standing between me and completely unproductive failure is …me. Of course, that’s also the only thing standing between me and the disciplined effort that leads to a successful execution. So, if acknowledging my weakness is the first step on the path towards recovery, what next to do?

Get accountable.

As accountability author Sam Silverstein succinctly puts it:

You are responsible for things. You are accountable to people.

Thankfully, I have friends who are willing to step into the accountability void. Recently a pair of them asked me how my writing was coming. I could’ve avoided the discomfort and returned conversational serve with the tried and true “Good. It’s hard but coming along.” Or, I could have admitted to a lack of progress but deflected responsibility by throwing out the reasonable excuses of the holiday business between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Instead, I took a page from Brené Brown’s book and stepped into the vulnerability. I answered by admitting that progress was almost non-existent because without the external expectations of others to answer to, I’m an undisciplined mess.

What came next in response was both an invitation and a dare to be accountable:

“How about you email us every day with whether you hit your day’s word count goal or not?”

With my mouth I said “okay, thanks. I will do that.” … but inside my head, I was like —

That conversation was exactly one week ago. In the time since, I hit and exceeded my goal every day (with the exception of the weekend, when I devoted that work time to another project), and doubled the progress I had made up to that point.

THAT is the power of being accountable to other people.

What are you trying to accomplish in your life that could use the boost of productive output that comes with being accountable to someone else? It could be professional or personal, large or small. It’s January 10th — chances are, any New Year’s resolution you made is already at the shallow breathing stage of its death cycle. You can breathe new life into that commitment if you take the bold step of sharing it with someone in an uncomfortably vulnerable way, and making yourself accountable to them to simply report on how you measured up to your goal each day.

I could say more on this topic. In fact, when I started this post, I intended to. But, none of these 600-plus words will count towards my daily writing goal, so I’ve got to end this post here and get to work. I have an accountability email to send out later today.

Leave Your Mark

Lance Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, People 1 Comment

Few things focus the mind on the bigger picture and the important things quite like the process of saying goodbye. Regardless of how or why it occurs, leaving means taking an accounting of what was accomplished and what will be missed. Unless you’re a world class athlete on a final season “farewell tour,” the time for this introspection usually occurs after the departing.

This is where I am at today. Last month my turn to leave came up as the role elimination bell tolled for me: I have been laid off.

Fortunately, the end of my time with my company was neither a total surprise nor acrimonious. I have lost my job before under those kind of circumstances, and there’s no sugar-coating it: that sucked. But this time was much different, and for that, I am grateful.

As I have spent the time since Thanksgiving in reflection, I am reminded of the metaphor of the wake behind a boat that Dr. Henry Cloud uses in his book, Integrity: the Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. Cloud describes the “two sides to the wake that a leader or someone else leaves when moving through our lives or the life of an organization” thusly:

When a person travels through a few years with an organization … he leaves a “wake” behind in these two areas, task and relationship: What did he accomplish and how did he deal with people? … the wake doesn’t lie and it doesn’t care about excuses. It is what it is. … It is what we leave behind and is our record.”

There is no shortage of focus put on the “task” side of the wake. Entire structures of performance reviews, “KPO’s” (key performance objectives), monthly reporting, dashboards full of metrics and the like are all used by organizations to ensure that the business results are achieved. Though to varying degrees of effectiveness, the leaders and employees of most organizations work within a web of supportive efforts to help them produce a good “task” side of their wake.

But what about the other side? I once heard a business leader describe the process of people leaving the organization as “a hand in the ocean”: once the hand is removed, the surrounding water rushes in to fill the void and — in an instant — it is as if the hand was never there at all. It was a horrifying way to express how the departure of people is overcome by the organization they leave behind, but it is also a view held by too many business leaders.

All too often in corporate life, the focus on relationships and how we impact the people around us is subordinated to the myriad of business tasks at hand, and thus largely ignored. Until it’s time to leave, of course. But, by then, it’s too late to change the way the people around us would answer Dr. Cloud’s question about how they experienced that side of our wake:

Are a lot of people out there water-skiing on the wake, smiling, having a great time for our having “moved through their lives”? Or, are they out there bobbing for air, bleeding, and left wounded as shark bait? … Did they consider it a blessing that they were associated with you, or a curse?

Here are three challenges to undertake now, long before your time to leave arrives, in order to make your wake a “blessing” for those who will be left in it:

1) Be True — leave the heavily massaged messaging and the carefully worded “positioning” to your marketing efforts. Speak plainly to the people you work with and on behalf of. Do not overhype a challenge to try to manipulate “urgency,” and do not sugarcoat bad news in order to avoid dealing with the feelings of anxiety it can stir up (both in you as well as in your people). It has been said that honesty is making your words match with reality, while integrity is making your reality match your words. Do both.

2) Be Brave — The default inertia of power in an organization is to flow downhill. No matter how much power and authority a person may have, the natural tendency is to exercise that power down, on behalf of the person above. Find ways to change that. Use the organizational power you have to stick your neck out on behalf of the people below you who can’t. Those with the most expensive armor are the ones who should be serving as human shields, not hiding behind them.

3) Be Real — Treat the people around you with dignity as people and not merely as avatars for their titles and salaries or their outputs and deliverables. And, most importantly, don’t allow others to treat you any differently. Everyone in the organization, regardless of rank or responsibility, processes both oxygen and emotions in the same fundamental ways that you do. Be neither in awe of those “above” you nor indifferent to those “below.” Serve as a beacon of healthy perspective in the cluttered atmosphere of office politics and performance stress.

Do these things even as you do the task-work of accomplishing the organizations’ mission and goals, and you will achieve something far more lasting than just “results.” You will have left a positive impact on others in a way that can reverberate far into the future.

Why Meghan Markle’s “Draw Your Own Box” Is Important Beyond Race

Lance Creativity, Fear, Forbes, Ideas, People Leave a Comment

Originally posted at

Yesterday a friend of mine who is the mother of bi-racial kids shared on Facebook the story of Meghan Markle, the bi-racial actress now engaged to Britain’s Prince Harry. In the post, Markle recounted the advice her father had imparted to her as a 7th grader when she struggled with what racial box to check on a required form at school. Markle wrote about this in an article for Elle Magazine in 2015:

Fast-forward to the seventh grade … There was a mandatory census I had to complete in my English class – you had to check one of the boxes to indicate your ethnicity: white, black, Hispanic or Asian. There I was (my curly hair, my freckled face, my pale skin, my mixed race) looking down at these boxes, not wanting to mess up, but not knowing what to do. You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other – and one half of myself over the other. My teacher told me to check the box for Caucasian. ‘Because that’s how you look, Meghan,’ she said. I put down my pen. Not as an act of defiance, but rather a symptom of my confusion. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, to picture the pit-in-her-belly sadness my mother would feel if she were to find out. So, I didn’t tick a box. I left my identity blank – a question mark, an absolute incomplete – much like how I felt.

When I went home that night, I told my dad what had happened. He said the words that have always stayed with me: “If that happens again, you draw your own box.”

This piercing bit of wisdom taught 7th grade Meghan a lesson that has clearly stayed with her and impacted how her life unfolded: that her individuality was more important than her conformity , and that she should boldly do what it takes — including breaking some rules and expectations — to preserve that individuality.

The value of this advice goes far beyond the world of racial identity and expectations. Standardization and homogenization work great for industrial processes and interstate commerce infrastructure, but not so much when it comes to human beings. Todd Rose’s The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness is a great book detailing the value of deviating from the norm. Whether it is how you deal with adversity or how you manage your career, being You is better than just being what others expect you to be . This is true even when those expectations are not, in and of themselves, bad.

Here are a couple examples of what it looks like to draw your own box instead of just checking one of the boxes others expect you to in life:

Facing Cancer

I have several friends in my life who have had to face the reality of having cancer, most often woman facing breast cancer. It has been inspiring to watch women like my friends Jaimee, Michelle, Sherri, Carla and others embrace the fight they faced and use that framework as fuel to walk the road that lay before them.

Recently, my close-as-a-brother cousin, Chris, was diagnosed with a most aggressive form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (Stage 2B). This terrible discovery came soon after Chris completed his 64-day pilgrimage across the French Pyrenees and culminating in the Camino de Santiago. As Chris processed this shocking news, he found that the “fight it” framework just didn’t fit with who he is. In his words, as delivered in his video blog —

And I said “What is my role in all this?” And it’s just to enjoy it … to see the beauty in it every day and  enjoy the walk. … Please don’t text me things about “We’re gonna fight this” or “You’re gonna fight this” or anything that has to do with fighting. That’s not me. I’m not confrontational on this. I appreciate those people that need to have that mentality when they want to do that, but for me, that’s not how I’m approaching this. For me, I’m approaching this as: I’m lovin’ it. I’m lovin’ what it is.

For Chris, his having cancer isn’t a fight; it is just another camino, one for which his first camino unexpectedly helped prepare him to walk. I must admit that it was a bit jarring to hear the closest person I have to a brother not embrace the ethos of “fighting cancer.” That’s what we expect people to say and do when they are facing cancer. But, that’s okay: Chris is drawing his own box.


A friend of mine recently left her GM role at a major international corporation. With an impressive resume and P&L responsibility for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, Dustyn wasn’t just ascending the corporate ladder towards a C-suite gig in the future — she was cruising up the corporate escalator. But then she discovered something surprising: she wasn’t very happy. In spite of all the cultural expectations about what a person — especially a women! — should do with that career trajectory before her, Dustyn made a surprising decision. She left and joined the leadership team of a much smaller, much newer, less established company. She took less pay and more risk, foregoing the expected path of someone in her position.

Now, Dustyn is working in the fine arts space at, and simply checking the expected boxes is a thing of the past. Dustyn is drawing her own box.

My Turn

Meghan Markle’s story resonated with me because it reminds me of the task before me as well. As anyone who knows me or has seen my TEDx talk knows, my first career as a prosecutor became the box by which I checked who I was as a person. Then, a surprising opportunity found me out of the blue, taking me into an entirely different career as an executive with a large, mulit-national corporation. Now, after five and half years of checking that box, my time there has ended as it does for so many in Corporate America: I’ve been laid off.

In the aftermath of this new development, the questions come to me from both others as well as inside my own head: what am I going to do now? Do I return to my first career, where I can resume checking the “prosecutor” career box? Do I find a new job with a new company where I can continue checking the box of “business executive”?

There are sound reasons why I should do one or the other of these things. That’s how expectations work: they are often well intentioned and soundly reasoned, after all. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all treat expectations like Meghan, face adversity like Chris, and chart our own course for the careers we want like Dustyn. I know that what I aim to do. I am going to pick up my career drawing pencil, find an empty spot in the margin of my life’s plan, take a stab at drawing my own box instead.

Image Credit: Aviation Performance Solutions

The Expectations Stall

Lance Accountability, Ideas, Leadership, People Leave a Comment

This post is longer and more detailed than what I normally publish here. Hopefully, you will enjoy learning something different, which will give a deeper insight into the more familiar, and therefore make this post worth the extra time. Grab yourself a cup of coffee and get comfy…

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last year about the way Expectations, Performance, and Reality all intersect. It is pretty commonplace for leaders in any type of organization to easily talk about the connection between setting high expectations and maintaining high performance. The internet is littered with articles and the virtual shelves of Amazon are full of books all explaining the connection between the two. Often overlooked (or even intentionally ignored), however, is the role Reality plays into this equation.

When I first started writing this post a year ago (yes, really!), this dynamic was evident in the news stories about the scandal that had enveloped Wells Fargo, one of the largest retail banks in America: an organization warped by the pressure of unreasonable sales goals, resulting in widespread abuse by managers and fraud by employees to meet those expectations. This despite the fact that the bank’s official stance, policies, and even employee discipline said these practices were not acceptable. So, why did they continue to occur? Was it just a matter of immoral employees disregarding the rules and values that their employer put in place? Not exactly. You can’t spend five minutes looking into the news about this scandal without coming across statements like this from former employees:

“They warned us about this type of behavior and said, ‘You must report it,’ but the reality was that people had to meet their goals,” said Khalid Taha, a former Wells Fargo personal banker who resigned in July. “They needed a paycheck.”

This fact may seem rather obvious and even mundane. It is, simply put, reality. Yet, all too often, these mundane and obvious aspects of reality can get lost — whether by being forgotten or ignored — when decisions are made as to where an organization should go, how high it should fly, and how fast it should move to get there. After thinking about this a lot over the past couple of years — including countless conversations with others featuring crude white board illustrations of the principles fleshed out in better detail below — I’m here to make the case that ignoring the Reality variable in the Expectations and Performance equation is a dangerous mistake.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s turn away from the world of  retail banking and to the skies where airplanes defy gravity. To really get what one has to do with the other, a short primer on the aerodynamics of flight is in order first.

Credit: Robert Noel (

This is the Antonov An-225, known as the “Mryia.” With a wingspan nearly as wide as a football field is long, and a maximum takeoff weight of 640 tons (1.28 million pounds), it is the largest aircraft in the world. At 276 feet long, this Ukrainian monster is over twice as long as the distance of the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk. To witness the Mryia take flight is to straddle the thin line that separates the scientific marvels of engineering from the realm of supernatural miracles.


Yet, for all of the complexity in its design and the sheer scale of this winged wonder, the principles of how it flies are exactly the same as for this little number:

Cincinnati Kid2

Credit: Laurie Clark

Dubbed the “Cincinnati Kid,” this plane is a 1947 Navion L-17 belonging to a friend of mine. At about 1/10 the size of the Mryia, the Navion and its 300 hp engine powering a single nose propeller is a relative gnat compared to the hulking enormity of the Mryia, which boasts six jet engines pumping out almost 52,000 lbf of thrust. Yet, for the pilots of each of these aircraft, and every other winged aircraft in existence, there is a rule that applies itself ruthlessly without regard to the airplane’s size, speed, altitude, or value:

Exceed the Critical Angle of Attack, and you will stall.


If you are the pilot and do not correct this situation, you will crash and the NTSB Aviation Accident Report will label your fate “Aerodynamic Stall and Loss of Control.” (As is the case with this recent crash report, in which 6 people died.) In other words: pilot error.

In a world full of variables, this is a constant. Here’s how it works.

(Buckle up: it’s about to get nerdy.)

There are a myriad of details pilots must keep track of to safely fly an aircraft, but fundamentally everything boils down to an equation for how Lift is generated.

Lift equation

Among the variables in this equation, there are two things that the pilot can control while in flight: The Angle of Attack and Velocity. Let’s examine each of these two variables in turn.

Angle of Attack

To understand Angle of Attack, let’s start with the basics: For both the Mryia and the Navion, flight occurs because of the way the airfoil (the fancy name for the shape of the wing) interacts with the air. As the thrust of the engines generates forward momentum, air begins hitting the airfoil and passing above and below it. Because slower-moving air has a higher air pressure than faster-moving air, the asymmetrical shape of the airfoil splits the air in a way that changes the relative speed of the air passing over and under the wing surfaces. The resulting difference in the air’s speed of flow causes changes in the relative air pressures, which then produces lift. This is known as Bernoulli’s Principle, named after the 18th century Swiss mathematician and physicist, Daniel Bernoulli.

(Yep, this guy figured this stuff out in the 1730’s working with fluids, but the principle applies the same to both liquids and gases. This is why submarines use hydrofoils as dive planes to control the ship’s depth in a body of water just as an airplane uses airfoils to control altitude in a body of air. The principle also works in reverse: flip the airfoil over, and downforce is created instead of lift, which is what keeps F1 and Indy cars seemingly bolted to the track despite their high speeds and ridiculous turning performance.)

Simple enough, right?

However, things get interesting when you start looking more closely at how the air hits the airfoil in the first place.

(Hang on: the nerdy details are about to get a little bumpy as we encounter some geometry. I will leave out some detail and ignore some technical distinctions for sake of simplicity.)

The direction that the air hits the wings is known as relative air flow, and it moves along the same line as the aircraft’s direction of travel, known as the flight path (only in the opposite direction, of course). That air flow is measured against the straight line known as the wing chord that geometrically connects the airfoil’s leading edge with it’s tailing edge. Angle of attack, then, is the name for the all important angle between these two lines:

AoA diagram dark2

In level flight, this is understood easily enough, as the plane’s nose (and, more or less, the wing chord) is aligned with the direction the plane is actually moving. However, these two things are not always the same. They are independent characteristics of the plane’s flight that the pilot has to be aware of at all times. This becomes most obvious to passengers and observers alike during landing, when the aircraft’s nose is pitched up even as the aircraft is in a descending flight path, like so:

Shuttle landing AoA

These two concepts — Bernoulli’s Principle and the Angle of Attack — work together to keep winged aircraft aloft in the air. With sufficient thrust and regardless of flight path or pitch angle, the wings will continue to do their job of generating lift so long as the pilot keeps the aircraft flying within the safe angle of attack.

The Critical Angle of Attack, then, is the point at which the airfoil and the air can no longer produce lift. When the angle of attack increases beyond that critical boundary, a stall occurs. This is not a stall in the mechanical sense — the engines continue to operate just fine. Exceeding the critical angle of attack puts the aircraft into an aerodynamic stall, as the angle of the airfoil is too steep for the air to “stick” to the wing and generate lift as a result. You can see the dramatic effect of an aerodynamic stall in these wind tunnel photos:



Because of the dangers of pushing an aircraft beyond the critical angle of attack, the best way to quickly increase lift and fly higher is not to pitch the plane upwards. Rather, it is to go faster. By increasing the velocity that the air is hitting the airfoil, more air passes over it each moment. Because it is the air passing over the wing that produces lift, more lift is generated when more air passes over it. High speed is what makes things leave the ground at takeoff, which is good if you’re piloting an airplane facing a drop into the ocean at the end of the flight deck … and bad if you’re racing a car down the drag strip.

Of course, this only works up to a point: there is a limit to how much thrust an airplane’s engines can produce.

In sum, and understanding that this only scratches the surface of the variables and complexities at work in flying an airplane: safe flying requires enough lift to overcome gravity, and among the several variables involved in creating lift, the pilot has the ability to influence two of them — Angle of Attack and Velocity.

When a plane’s orientation moves beyond the critical angle of attack, whether due to a loss of thrust that changes the flight path, or because of a steep increase in the pitch angle of the wings, two things occur:

  1. the air hitting the wings past the critical angle of attack breaks free from the wing’s surface, inducing an aerodynamic stall;
  2. the plane ceases to be a majestic flying vehicle and becomes a dangerous falling object.
plane stall

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

At that moment, the pilot must take action in response to the stall to restore lift to the wings while there is still enough altitude to pull up safely. But how?

The voice of Instinct offers an immediate answer in the primal, adrenaline-soaked shrieking of the “lizard brain” that knows that Falling = Death. As Fear runs its icy tendrils down the pilot’s spine, the amygdala simultaneously tries to short-circuit all other distracting brain functions so that its demands are obeyed immediately and forcefully: “PULL UP!!”

The voice of Training, on the other hand, knows that listening to the fears of Instinct is a certain death sentence. Instead, the voice of Training demands that the pilot ignore the cold pit in her stomach and remember the one rule that must be followed when in an aerodynamic stall: Reduce the angle of attack. The quickest and simplest way to do that is to do the opposite of what Instinct demands:

You have to push the stick forward and lower the nose into the fall.


With the hardcore nerd stuff now behind us, let’s put these pieces together and see what they can teach us about managing Performance, Expectations, and Reality, using the story of Wells Fargo to illustrate things.

Like the Mryia discussed above, Wells Fargo is a behemoth of an organization: huge, massively complex, but capable of extraordinary things. Just as there are a myriad of differences between the Mryia and my friend’s Navion, so, too, there are a million things that make giant corporations like Wells Fargo different from smaller businesses and organizations. Even so, the laws of the physics of flight govern the performance of the Mryia and the Navion equally … and the laws of human behavior govern the performance of organizations large and small as well.

Think of an organization like Wells Fargo as a plane itself, and the variables of flight as follows:

  • High Altitude = Goal: Whatever an organization defines as the destination it is trying to get to
  • Wing Chord = Expectations: the direction the organization is aiming itself to go
  • Flight Path = Performance: the direction in which the organization is actually moving
  • Thrust = Energy: whether thought of as resources invested, productive capacity, or creative output, this is the kinetic activity an organization puts into getting where it’s trying to go

Before showing how these dynamics played out in the Wells Fargo scandal, a bit of key background about Wells is needed first.

It’s Friday, October 3, 2008, and the American economy is in the midst of a massive financial vapor lock:

It is in this tumultuous environment that Wells Fargo made their surprising Friday announcement: it was buying Wachovia Bank, keeping the latter from a certain bankruptcy of its own while making Wells Fargo a truly national bank, vaulting it to the status as the largest bank in America as measured by retail locations (over 6,500 locations) with total deposits of $713 billion, and the fourth-largest by total assets ($1.37 trillion). The most surprising part was the price Wells Fargo agreed to pay. Earlier in the week, Citibank had already reached an agreement to buy Wachovia’s banking operation for $2 billion, so long as the FDIC agreed to take ownership of Wachovia’s toxic debts. Instead, Wells Fargo stepped in and pledged upwards of $15 billion to buy Wachovia without the assistance of the federal government as a toxic asset safety net.

In the midst of what appeared to possibly be Financial Armageddon, the leadership team of Wells Fargo made a tremendous gamble in order to level up to the Big Boy Bank Table. In the years that followed, it would be their job to make sure the gamble worked.

The pressure to make good on that bet hit a key milestone three years later, as the assimilation of Wachovia’s retail banking footprint was complete. At the end of the day when the Wells Fargo-Wachovia merger was announced, Wells Fargo’s stock had closed at $34.56. Three years later, Wells Fargo’s stock price was down 33%, closing on October 3, 2011, at $23.18. Comparatively, that wasn’t too bad: Citigroup, the bank that Wells Fargo drastically outbid for Wachovia, suffered an eye-watering stock price decline of -88% over that same period. But if you’re the CEO and senior leadership team manning the controls on the flight deck of Wells Fargo as it undertook the largest banking merger in history, answering a loss of 1/3 of your company’s share price with “yeah, but you should see the other guys!” doesn’t tend to fly for long.

With the last of Wachovia’s banking regions now fully remade in the Wells Fargo image, it was time for Well’s Fargo’s performance to start reflecting all of the added value that the merger was supposed to deliver to its shareholders.

It was time to pitch the plane’s nose up and start aiming for higher expectations.

The cultural tones set by the leaders — one of “relentless pressure” and “wildly unrealistic sales targets” — filtered down through the layers of Wells Fargo’s org chart. The pressure on the leaders to succeed resulted in them pulling back on the yoke and aiming the nose of Wells Fargo higher and higher. Soon, Wells Fargo began to enjoy the rising stock price that came with the rising revenues produced by those expectations … and so the expectations were elevated even further.

Probably not coincidentally, that’s when the fraudulent shenanigans began:

Wells Fargo has been accused by federal regulators of illegal activity on a stunning level. Authorities say employees at the bank secretly created millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts between 2011 and July 2015, allowing the bank to make more money in fees and meet internal sales targets.

The result was a stock price that continued to rise, reaching never-before seen heights in Wells Fargo’s history.

High expectations were leading to high performance, and everything was running smoothly … until it wasn’t. In July, 2015, the City of Los Angeles filed the first class-action lawsuit alleging widespread fraudulent behavior by banking employees in order to hit the unrealistic sales targets the company kept setting.


Now, it is certainly the case that every employee who played fast and loose with the rules, up to and even including outright fraud, owns the moral culpability of his or her own choices. But, when it comes to leading an organization of people — flawed, human people — to perform at a high level that meets high expectations, that easy and truthful fact can’t be the end of the discussion. More is required of leaders than simply pointing to the employees on whom the weight of the organization’s success rests, saying “Don’t do bad things!” and then expressing shock when they do even as the leaders profit from the same.


As P.E. Gobry correctly points out

If you give people impossible, or contradictory goals, then something will give. Salespeople will resort to fraud, or aggressive sales tactics that will hurt your brand (“Managers suggested to employees that they hunt for sales prospects at bus stops and retirement homes,” reports The Wall Street Journal), or something else. … Financial regulation cannot prevent this kind of scandal — forging signatures is already illegal. At the root of this problem is human nature: Mutually exclusive, high-pressure demands will cause people to break.

This fact about human nature and psychology is woven into the fabric of Reality as it relates to leading people. It is an aspect of Reality that the leaders of Wells Fargo either missed (to be charitable) or ignored (to be blunt), and the bruises sustained by the Wells Fargo brand are the result of this leadership failure. It was leaders up and down the Wells Fargo organization who created a system and culture of high-pressure performance expectations detached from Reality … and who structured their employees financial incentives in such a way as to give that pressure real teeth.

Ultimately, that high-expectations monster, untethered from Reality, turned its teeth on the leaders that unleashed it.

The scandal prompted the resignation of then-CEO John Stumpf. Working to move past the episode, Wells Fargo has shaken up its board of directors, ousted several top executives and changed its compensation system by removing sales incentives as a factor in salary hike decisions for many employees.

But the wages of that leadership failure don’t just stop with the removal of employees and leaders alike whose actions pushed Wells Fargo beyond the Critical Angle of Attack for too long and into an ethical stall. The business — and its shareholders — still have some big bills of accountability to pay. After agreeing to a $190 million settlement with the Consumer Protection Bureau and California prosecutors in 2016, Wells Fargo is (as of July) close to settling several class action lawsuits for an additional $142 million … and that still won’t be the end of the litigation.

In the cockpit, demands and wishes and authority are never up to the task of overriding physics. In leading people and the organizations they make up, the same is true: demands and wishes and authority are insufficient without the humility required to accept the inconvenient effects of Reality. It is a variable without which the equation for success doesn’t work, and one that leaders ignore to their peril.

On Disagreement

Lance Accountability, Communication, Ideas, Integrity, Leadership Leave a Comment

A few thoughts and observations about Disagreement — what it is, what it’s not, and why it matters.

The pdf version of what follows is available here. Feel free to download it and use it however you wish.


1 – The banalities and absurdities of being a modern corporate employee were hilariously brought to life on TV with The Office (2005-2003) and at the movie theater before that with Office Space (1999). Yet, ten years before that, the cathartic release for the white collar worker was the comic strip Dilbert, created by Scott Adams


3 – What started with ESPN turning sports programming into debate programming about sports has now fully infected the world of cable news. The point of a Stephen A. Smith or a Skip Bayless arguing about sports is not to persuade the other person. It is merely performance art for the entertainment of the audience. This is now the same model for our news media, and it is no accident. So says CNN president Jeff Zucker: ““The idea that politics is sport is undeniable, and we understood that and approached it that way.” And we are all poorer as a result.


4 – During a live television broadcast of President Obama’s special address before a Joint Session of Congress on September 9, 2009, Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) interrupted the President’s speech about his health care reform plan with a shout of “YOU LIE!” While received enthusiastically by the legislation’s opponents, Wilson almost immediately regretted his outburst, issuing an apologetic statement that same night.

Eight years later, the moment still haunts Wilson. On April 10, 2017, during a town hall meeting with constituents about the GOP’s plan to repeal Obamacare, Congressman Wilson was repeatedly booed and heckled with his own words.


7 – Yes, this is an actual relationship advice video on YouTube. It comes from Dan Bacon, “Founder and Lead Dating Coach” of the bro-centric website, “The Modern Man,” which promises: “Use our proven techniques and you will Get Instant Results With Women.” It is every bit as absurd and shallow as it sounds.


8 – North Korean citizens at a rally in March, 2013, in the country’s capital of Pyongyang.



9 – Artistic adaption of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the short tale authored by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Original artwork by Brazilian artist Roberto Weigand.


11 – A great read on the civic dangers of tribalism run amok can be found here:


13 – In the debate over guns in America, there are two main ideological opponents. On the right stands the National Rifle Association: with nearly 5 million members, its stated mission is to serve as the “the premier firearms education organization in the world … [and] America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights.” On the left stands Everytown For Gun Safety: with over 3 million members, its stated mission is “Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities.” These groups perpetually describe the “real” motivations of the other in the starkest terms of an evil caricature. Until this changes, there is little hope of working together to solve a real problem while affording a Constitutional right the proper respect it deserves.

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14 – On March 2, 2017, political scientist and author Charles Murray attempted to deliver a talk at Middlebury College in Vermont by invitation from a conservative student organization, the American Enterprise Institute Club. Over 400 students attempted to prevent the talk from occurring, using tactics such as shouting over Murray and pulling fire alarms in the building. At the conclusion of the event, the group of students physically accosted Murray and his staff interviewer – Middlebury professor Allison Stanger – as they attempted to leave the building. In the fracas, Stanger suffered a concussion after a masked protester grabbed her hair and twisted her neck.


15 – The first ten amendments to the US Constitution – collectively known as “The Bill of Rights” – were passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification in August, 1789. Authored by James Madison, they were ratified by the last state needed (Virginia) on December 15, 1791.

Amendment I states the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”


16 – On October 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther wrote down his objections to the practices of the Catholic Church at the time, listed out as 95 statements. With an invitation to debate these theses for anyone willing to do so, Luther nailed his document to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. This act of singular but public defiance became the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation in Europe, and completely altered the course of Western Civilization.

Depicted in art: Ferdinand Pauwels, Luther Posting the 95 Theses, 1872, Wartburg-Stiftung, Eisenach, Germany

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 17 – In 1543, Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus published his work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Concerning the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs). In it, Copernicus laid out his observations and proofs for a heliocentric (sun-centered) view of the known universe vs the geocentric (Earth-centered) view that had been the accepted view since men had begun contemplating astronomical movement. Copernicus’ model was seen as heresy by the Catholic Church, which viewed the geocentric model as best conforming to the language of Scripture and the preeminence of Mankind as being the creation made in God’s image.


18 – In 1985, Steve Jobs proposed changing Apple’s distribution strategy from distribution centers managing inventory to a “just in time” production model. Donna Dubinksy, a mid-level director in charge of Apple’s distribution operations, saw the plan as flawed, and potentially fatal to Apple itself at the time. When her objections were not taken seriously by the group charged with reviewing the plan, Dubinksy gave an ultimatum: give her 30 days to work alone making her case, or she would quit. She got the 30 days, her case persuaded the Board to reject Jobs’ plan, and she was promoted as a result.

Steve Jobs and the Macintosh computer featured on the first issue of Macworld magazine on April 1, 1984.

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19 – The metaphor of the “echo chamber” – a collection of relationships and interactions that become impervious to outside input and in which the group’s preexisting beliefs are reinforced and amplified – is not just an apt description for how modern politics and social media are interacting. The groupthink made possible by organizational echo chambers plagues the corporate world as well. A lake with no inlet of running water ultimately grows stagnant and unhealthy; so, too, does an organization’s leadership team when everyone thinks the same way and differing thought is shut out.

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20 – On the morning of January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger took off from launchpad 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center. It was 36 degrees at launch for mission STS-51L, 15 degrees colder than any of the previous 25 Shuttle launches. 73 seconds after liftoff, Challenger exploded, disintegrating before the eyes of viewers watching live on TV. Investigation revealed the cause: the frigid overnight temperatures caused the o-ring seal joining two sections of the Solid Rocket Motor (SRM) to become brittle and fail. This allowed the heat from the SRM exhaust to burn into the large liquid fuel tank, igniting the explosion. While this danger was a feared risk by the engineers at NASA and the SRM’s contractor, Morton Thiokol, Inc., those fears were never effectively communicated to the leaders charged with making the decision to launch.

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21 – Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech, 1943, story illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, February 20, 1943.

Daniel Nance, Freedom of Speech 2010, 2010, acrylic painting.

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22 – During the 2016 NFL preseason, quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting during the pregame singing of the National Anthem as a show of protest over the treatment of black men by police. At the request of fellow NFL player and former US Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, the protest took the form of kneeling during the anthem instead of sitting. While a handful of players joined in the 2016 protest, the movement came to encompass nearly half the NFL in 2017, after comments by President Trump inflamed the situation. During a rally in Alabama on September 22, 2017, President Trump called protesting players “sons of bitches” and advocated for their firing by the NFL, and for the boycott of the NFL by fans if the protests continued.

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23 – On Good Friday, April 12, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested for protesting without a permit along with nearly 50 fellow civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. That same day, a group of eight Alabama clergyman issued a public statement condemning the protests and praising the police action. In what would later come to be known as “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King’s response was a masterful defense of both the goals and tactics of his civil rights crusade, as well as the ideals of the American experiment itself. Calling upon the words of St. Augustine, Socrates, Thomas Jefferson and Chief Justice Earl Warren, King’s powerful words became one of the most important written works in American history.

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