Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In

300th Post

Women are not on top.  Yet.

By far the majority of the top roles in politics, not-for-profit and corporate life are shared among fifty per cent of the population, and that cannot be good for society. One of the women who has achieved a leading role in business is Sheryl Sandberg, and her book and movement, Lean In, are an attempt to prompt, stimulate and support the change we need.

Sheryl Sandberg

Short Biography

Sheryl Sandberg was born in 1969, in Washington DC, but her family moved to Florida when she was an infant, so she grew up in North Miami Beach. A strong performer at school, she went to Harvard in 1987, graduating with a BA in economics, in 1991, as the top student in her year. While at Harvard, she co-founded Women in Economics and Government.

After a short stint working at the World Bank, Sandberg returned to Harvard to take an MBA, which she was awarded in 1995. After a year with management consultants McKinsey and Company, Sandberg returned to the public sector in 1996, as Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of the Treasury.

Her big move came in 2001, when she was appointed VP of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google – the year it received its patent for Larry Page’s PageRank mechanism and just a year after Google first started selling advertising.

During her tenure at Google, Sandberg first met Mark Zuckerberg who quickly became convinced she would make an excellent Chief Operating Officer for Facebook, which he had founded in 2004. Over the next year, they got to know one another better and he made her a job offer in 2008. She negotiated hard and came to work for Facebook. Her main brief at the outset was to make Facebook profitable, which she achieved in 2010. In 2012, the Board of Directors invited her to join the Board.

During the years from 2010, Sandberg became an increasingly prominent public figure, advocating compellingly for more women leaders in all walks of life. Her 2010 TED talk, ‘Why we have too few women leaders’, has been watched over five million times – you can see it at the bottom of this post. In 2013, Sandberg released her first book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which she co-authored with Nell Scovell. It focuses on the reasons why so few women (proportionally) reach leadership positions in business, and some of the things that need to change, to redress the balance. It has been hugely successful, selling well over a million copies.

Magazines and newspapers like Time, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times repeatedly place Sandberg high in their top lists of powerful and influential people.

What is Lean In about?

The core thesis that Sandberg puts in Lean In is that, whether you are a woman or a man who cares about genuine equality, complaining and making excuses won’t get you to where you want to be. There are barriers to women achieving their leadership goals and we need to address them… as a society and as individuals.

These barriers clearly start with systematic and individual cases of sexism and discrimination, and the realities of harassment that women face at work. Sandberg recounts Frank Flynn’s Howard / Heidi experiment. In this, he took a case study about successful entrepreneur, Heidi Roizen. He gave the unaltered case study to half of a student group, while the other half received the identical case study with just a change of name to Howard Roizen, and changes to pronouns. He asked the students to rate their impressions of Roizen and students were much harsher in their assessments of Heidi than of Howard. They rated her as equally competent and effective but they did not like her and, crucially, they would not hire her, or even want to work with her. There is an in-built bias that we have, that women who are assertive are aggressive and we extend that to dislike of them.

The second big barrier that Sandberg acknowledges is the real desire many women have to put a lot of their energy into their home life and she concludes that the solution is not for women to value this aspect of their lives less, but for their male partners to contribute to it more.

Finally, and most controversially with some commentators, is an implicit acceptance by women of discriminatory stereotypes of women. This, she argues, leads women to have lower confidence in themselves – with higher incidence of ‘imposter syndrome’, and therefore to set lower expectations for themselves. Men are far more adept at faking capabilities they don’t have and benefit systematically from more promotion based on expectation than women receive. Women need far more to demonstrate achievements before being promoted.

Sandberg says we need to break down the societal barriers and women who choose to, need to address their personal barriers and strive for leadership roles. She acknowledges that her message will be easier to act on for women with the privileges of education, wealth and status, but points out that any progress will increase the prominence of women, make their leadership more common and therefore ‘normal’, and add their voices to public debate. This can only open up greater opportunities for the many women lacking the advantages that she herself had, early in her life.

Why we have too few women leaders

Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions — and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite.

Sandberg’s talks about her experience of speaking at TED and her book Lean In with journalist Pat Mitchell, in So we leaned in … now what?

Also on the board of the Lean In organisation Sheryl Sandberg co-founded with Rachel Thomas, Debi Hemmeter, and Gina Bianchini, was her husband Dave Goldberg. He died far too young, in May 2015. Ms Sandberg’s public expressions of her grief have been dignified and thought-provoking. We can do nothing more than offer our genuine condolences for a loss that must still be raw.

Warren Buffett: Oracle of Omaha

At the start of every year, many thousands (possibly millions, globally) of people look forward to some New Year reading, from the richest writer in the world. Don’t rack your brains for a best-selling multi-billionnaire novelist though: the writer is Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha*.

Warren Buffett

Short Biography

Warren Buffett was born in 1930, in Omaha, Nebraska. By the age of six, he was trading in soft drinks and dreaming of becoming rich. When he was 12, his father won a seat in Congress and the family moved to Washington DC, where Buffett took on five paper rounds a day and earned the equivalent of a full time wage. He saved his money and, at 14 invested it in farmland in Nebraska, which he then rented out.

His academic career started at 17, at Wharton, but he quickly left, in search of a more practical and less theoretical education. He found it at Columbia Business School, where one of the leading thinkers in investing, Ben Graham, lectured. Graham’s ideas had a profound effect on Buffett’s investment strategies from then until now, focusing as they did on underlying value in all of its aspects.

Let’s skip lightly over the stellar performance of Buffett Partnership, Ltd – his stock investment business that managed other people’s funds, which ran from the mid 1950s to 1969. He closed it down to focus on investing through Berkshire Hathaway. At first it was a textile business that Buffett acquired in 1965.  It eventually closed all its mills in 1985, but by then it was the core of a diverse portfolio of businesses. Its shareholders profit from massive stock performance that frequently outstrips industry averages by a wide margin, generated by Buffett’s choice of outright acquisitions and stock purchases.

Once a year, at the start of the year, Buffett writes a long letter to his shareholders. It explains carefully Buffett’s assessment of the year past and the future of the business. It combines folksy humour, wry metaphor, and deep insight. It is widely read not just by investors and analysts, for whom it is a professional interest, but by folk like me, who see it as a fascinating exercise in communication, combined with a source of interesting insight.

What can we learn from Warren Buffett?

There are very many websites and articles purporting to extract lessons from one of the world’s most successful and penetrating business minds. What a surprise! But I am determined to add another, because I won’t be thinking about investing; that’s not my thing. Instead, I am going to focus on what I think day-to-day managers and business leaders can learn about doing your job well.

Keep it Simple

Buffett likes investing in simple businesses that he can fully understand. As a manager, keep it simple and don’t take on something you don’t understand. So, if you need to take on something you don’t understand, then make it your urgent business to understand it.

Character / Integrity / Reputation

They all amount to the same thing. Buffett puts an astronomical premium on these. As well as his annual letter, Buffett issues a biennial memo to the CEOs of the businesses Berkshire Hathaway owns, his ‘all stars’. These are not published but frequently leak onto the web. Here are two extracts from the most recent (December 2014), which clearly makes his point.

The top priority — trumping everything else, including profits — is that all of us continue to guard Berkshire’s reputation… As I’ve said in these memos for more than 25 years: “We can afford to lose money — even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation — even a shred of reputation.”

Sometimes your associates will say “Everybody else is doing it.” This rationale is almost always a bad one if it is the main justification for a business action. It is totally unacceptable when evaluating a moral decision.

Select for leadership on track record, and then trust your leader

This is Buffett’s approach and it applies to any manager who appoints supervisors, or any leader who appoints managers. Experience matters – look for evidence. When you get the right person, trust them enough to give them the autonomy that will allow them to add to your leadership, rather than be subordinate to it.

Merit is all that matters

This one is simple: Buffett rejects all judgements based on gender, race, or age. So too should you. The person that has the skills and energy to excel in a role is the person for the job.

Rational decisions

Trust the numbers too. Do everything you can to understand the nature of cognitive bias. Study the facts and work hard to eliminate any other influence over your choices. You will get things wrong, just as Buffett has done on many occasions. But each time he does, he analyses it and discusses it in clear objective tones without a trace of blame for anything other than his failings in judgement. He takes away the lessons and uses them.

Trends not Headlines

Buffett rejects knee-jerk reactions to headlines and focuses on the big picture underneath them. When he is ready he makes decisions rapidly, but he won’t be hustled.

The only memo to his all stars that is on the Berkshire Hathaway website is also the most astonishing piece of business communication I have seen. Two things strike me as remarkable. The steadying calm and confidence with which it is written, and the remarkable strength that a business would need to have for its CEO to be able to say the things he does. It is a short note, so to reproduce anything valuable from it would doubtless be morally a breach of copyright even if it stayed on the right side of the law, so do have a look at it. The context may be obvious when I tell you the memo was issued on 26 September, 2001. The message from Warren Buffett is on the Berkshire Hathaway site.

Read Voraciously

Warren Buffett and his business partner, Berkshire Hathaway Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger, both set aside large chunks of their working day to read. They read all sorts of stuff and the breadth and depth of their reading gives them both profound understanding and a wide context. This commitment to learning is what you need if you are to grow in wisdom and make sound decisions more often.

Obsess over detail

There isn’t much to say about this but to note that the big picture is all very well and an appealing target for leaders’ attention, but the details are often where the differences get made. The skill, of course, is to figure out which details (see paragraph above for the best technique).

Delegate everything that is not strategic

In Buffett’s case, deciding how to invest Berkshire Hathaway’s assets is the strategic role he fills. Everything else – and in particular the operation of the Berkshire Hathaway businesses, he delegates completely. While he makes himself available to his All Stars for a conversation 24 hours a day if they need it, he does not require them to communicate with him more than once every two years. At that time, each is required to put one name in a sealed envelope and send it to him. This name is that of the most suitable successor, should the business CEO be suddenly unable to fulfil their role.

Right, that’s me done, I’m off to do the ironing. ‘Delegate it’ you say. ‘Indeed’, says my wife!


* Although Buffett is also known as the Sage of Omaha and the Wizard of Omaha, Oracle is the term he himself favours.


Martin Seligman: Positive Psychology

It is still true that, for most of the history of the discipline of psychology, academics and practitioners have focused on the minority of people whose lives are diminished by their psychological state. But most of us are not and, indeed, some are happy and flourish. Wouldn’t it be a great idea if psychologists turned their focus on understanding this and finding ways to make more of us happy and all of us more happy? That was the question posed by one man, more than any other, and that was Martin Seligman.

Martin Seligman


Short Biography

Martin Seligman was born in 1946 and grew up in New York. He earned his bachelors degree in philosophy from Princeton, and then moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where he gained a PhD in psychology in 1967, studying learned helplessness in dogs. This is the effect whereby the majority of animals subjected to harsh treatments give up resisting and, even when they are able to escape the discomfort, they do not do so. This work, whilst seen widely as important, has been criticised on animal welfare grounds and  probably could not be recreated at universities in the US or many other countries.

Seligman extended his research into the implications for people, moving on to study depression. He worked as Assistant Professor at Cornell from 1967 and was awarded a full professorship at the University of Pennsylvania in 1976, where he remains today, as Professor of Psychology and Director of the Positive Psychology Center.

His research led him to write a major textbook on abnormal psychology that was published in 1997, a year after he was elected President of the American Psychological Association. In his inaugural address in 1998, he announced the theme of his presidency would be Positive Psychology. He wanted to move the focus onto the ways that research can be made practical in helping people to thrive and be happy. The term Positive Psychology had been coined by Abraham Maslow, a founder of humanistic psychology, which focuses on strengths and potential rather than neurosis and pathology. Maslow was a theorist who gathered little experimental evidence to support his ideas. Seligman was determined that empirical research is necessary.

Seligman is now very much seen as a leader – maybe ‘the’ leader – in positive psychology today. He is Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and has authored many widely read and respected popular books on the subject, as well as scholarly papers.

His most widely read books include:


Perhaps the idea that most closely attaches to Seligman is the idea of Character Strengths and Virtues, and the free Values in Action assessment of your signature strengths. This allows you to fully reflect on where your true strengths lie, based on Seligman and Christopher Peterson’s framework of six main character virtues and the three to five components of each. The six virtues and their strengths are:

Wisdom and Knowledge

  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Judgment
  • Love of Learning
  • Perspective


  • Bravery
  • Perseverance
  • Honesty
  • Zest


  • Love
  • Kindness
  • Social Intelligence


  • Teamwork
  • Fairness
  • Leadership


  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • Prudence
  • Self-Regulation


  • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
  • Gratitude
  • Hope
  • Humour
  • Spirituality


Seligman extended this idea, by looking at what makes us happy. His simple model successfully combines the aspects of self-interest and community contribution that have divided philosophers for millennia. He argues that there are three dimensions:

A Pleasant Life

A life of comfort, pleasure and gratification is the start to happiness…

A Good Life

But to be truly happy we also need to put our strengths to work. In this way we can fully engage with what we do, and enter what Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly calls flow states. For a truly fulfilling life, however, we need…

A Meaningful Life

We acquire a meaningful life when we are able to deploy our strengths not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others, for society or for ideas that we feel to be bigger than ourselves. We need to contribute. In this, of course, we can see the influence of Maslow very clearly.


In Seligman’s latest book, Flourish, we see his summary of work to date, in a simple mnemonic that points us to what he sees as the five sources of wellbeing – necessary conditions, if you like.

Positive emotion – how good you feel.
Engagement – the total immersion you get in a flow state.
Relationships – with friends, family, and society, through collaboration, care, and intimacy.
Meaning – finding something you perceive as a purpose that is bigger than yourself.
Achievement – the sense of fulfilment in achieving something for its own sake, rather than for the sake of e=positive emotion,  meaning, or relationships.

Other Pocketblogs to look at…

The new era of positive psychology

Martin Seligman talks about positive psychology at TED.

Carol Dweck: Growth Mindset

What determines how good you are at what you do? Is it nature or nurture? This is an age old debate that falls into the either/or trap, but one researcher has done more than most to show that nature – your genetic make-up – is nothing more than the starting point to your success. To what extent you fulfil your potential is, says Carol Dweck, largely about your mindset.

Carol Dweck

Very Short Biography

Carol Dweck was born in 1946 and grew up in Brooklyn New York. She was an exceptionally bright student at school, but this did not hold her back. She had a love of learning that enabled her to continue to develop. Her first degree was at Barnard College in 1967, followed by a PhD from Yale in social and developmental psychology, awarded in 1972.

This was followed by a string of academic appointments at prestigious universities; the University of Illinois, Columbia and Harvard, before her current appointment, in 2004, as Professor of Psychology at Stanford.

In 2012, Dweck brought her most important work to the attention of the reading public with Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. The ideas in this book apply in all walks of life (the cover of the UK edition lists business, parenting, school and relationships) and I think it would be a brave manager or organisational leader who wilfully ignored them. If that’s you, Dweck would describe you as having a fixed mindset, and that would not be good for your future success!

Two Mindsets

Despite the wealth of research and the long history behind the ideas, the concept at the core of Dweck’s research is simple. We do all have some form of capacity or genetic heritage that we are born with, but this is nothing more than a starting point from which we can leap toward our fullest potential or near which we can remain. The difference that makes the difference is not our innate intelligence, physical prowess, musical talent or artistic aptitude; it is the mindset we apply to these.

Fixed Mindset

At one extreme is a ‘fixed mindset’ that believes these traits are set from the start and will hardly vary: ‘some are born great’ – others are not. We are either talented or we are not. The sports star who was told from an early age that they are great, can acquire a sense of entitlement that means they believe that all their success comes from their talent. They don’t need to work hard at it; there’s no point. And if you wonder how that affects you, a manager or leader, then here it is: ‘leaders are born, not made’ is a common belief. So too is the ‘talent agenda’ in many organisations, that seeks out the talented, lauds them and then promotes them against the ‘merely hard-working’.

The problem with this ‘talent myth’ is that it breeds a need to constantly prove your worth. And from this arises the fear that, if people think you are talented, the biggest threat to that is failure. So perhaps the best thing is to avoid taking any form of risk, or stretching yourself in any new direction. From that arises stagnation and a failure to recognise that you have any need to develop. You are great as you are and you don’t need to do anything different.

For me, the Peter Principle rushes to my mind: ‘managers rise to the level of their incompetence.’  That is, they reach the point where they can no longer succeed, because they reach the limit of their talent and, without developing themselves, they start to fail. What is the solution?

Growth Mindset

At the other extreme from a fixed mindset is what Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’. Here, your innate capabilities are nothing more than a start point and you believe that you can develop any of your fundamental abilities by hard work, dedication, practice, and learning from your experiences: success and failure. People with a growth mindset embrace challenges, are persistent even when they encounter repeated setbacks, and take failures and criticisms as valuable feedback from which they can learn. They develop a love of learning and a resilience that keeps them developing, evolving and growing as individuals throughout their lives.

Many of the great names in any field of human endeavour started life as ordinary kids with special levels of talent. Some were even written off as potential failures. But it was their growth mindsets that enabled them to build steadily on an average or below average base, day by day, month by month and year by year, to exceed their classmates and to dominate their fields.

The Growth Mindset Pocketbook

It is no surprise therefore, that it is Management Pocketbooks’ sibling imprint, Teachers’ Pocketbooks, that has produced a best-selling book on the subject of Growth Mindset: The Growth Mindset Pocketbook.

But once again, don’t for one minute think this doesn’t apply to you; a manager, professional or business-person. For me, the best chapter in Dweck’s Mindset is Business: Mindset and Leadership. Maybe it’s because my interest in education is personal rather than professional and because sport holds no interest for me. Or maybe it’s because a growth mindset is one of the most important characteristics of the best managers and leaders.

The power of believing that you can improve

Carol Dweck’s TED talk is short (10 mins) and compelling.


Philip Crosby: Zero Defects

What level of quality should we be expecting in our manufacturing processes? Philip Crosby, a quality manager and consultant, had an answer that was as simple as it was uncompromising: 100 per cent conformity… zero defects.

Philip Crosby


Short Biography

Philip Crosby was born in West Virginia, in 1926. He gained an undergraduate degree from the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine after serving in the US Navy in the Second World War. He also served in Korea, before a series of roles in industry. 1957, he started working for Martin-Mariettta on the Pershing Missile project. It was here that he developed his concept of ‘zero defects’ and reduced waste material costs by 30 per cent.

In 1965, he became Director of Quality at ITT, where he stayed until 1979. This was the year that his book, Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain, was published. It was big success, so he left ITT to found Philip Crosby Associates, inc. From then on, Crosby was a much in demand consultant, floating his company in 1985, for $30 million.

He continued to write, producing Quality Without Tears in 1984, and twelve other management books up to his retirement in 1991. At this point, he quickly un-retired and founded a new business, Career IV, inc, which provided lectures and seminars for senior executives. He died in 2001.

The Zero Defects Philosophy

Crosby was adept at framing his ideas in simple lists. Let’s start with his Four Absolutes of Quality Management:

  • Quality means conformance to requirements, not goodness.
  • Quality is achieved by prevention, not appraisal.
  • Quality has a performance standard of Zero Defects, not acceptable quality levels.
  • Quality is measured by the Price of Nonconformance, not indexes.

In Quality is Free, Crosby set out fourteen steps to creating quality:

  1. Management commitment to quality improvement.
  2. Quality improvement team with representatives from each department or function.
  3. Quality measurement to determine the status of quality throughout the company.
  4. Determine the cost of quality to discover where action  to correct a defect will result in greater profitability.
  5. Quality awareness for all employees, about the cost of defects to the company.
  6. Corrective action should become a habit.
  7. Establish an ad-hoc committee for the Zero Defects Programme to communicate and that everyone should do things right first time.
  8. Supervisor training on the 14 steps.
  9. Zero Defects Day – when supervisors explain the programme to their people and make a lasting impression.
  10. Goal setting – usually, 30, 60, and 90-day goals.
  11. Remove the causes of error.
  12. Recognise those who meet their goals or perform outstanding acts with a non-financial prize or award.
  13. Quality Councils: regular meetings of quality professionals and team-leaders, to discuss improvements.
  14. Do it over again: During a typical 12-18 month programme, much of the learning will dissipate. So re-start the programme afresh with a new  Zero Defects Day.

Quality without Tears

Crosby went further. In his 1984 book, Quality without Tears, he mooted the idea of a ‘quality vaccination serum’ – a culture of quality, built on:

  • Integrity – from the CEO down
  • Systems – to measure conformance, educate  employees and suppliers, enact corrective action, and make defect prevention into a routine.
  • Communications – of problems, progress, and  achievement.
  • Operations – to test and demonstrate procedures, products and systems before they are implemented, and then continual re-evaluation.
  • Policies – clear, unambiguous policies that put quality first.

Other Pocket Blogs you may like to read

Fons Trompenaars: Cultural Differences

It is a truism that we live in a global culture. But it is not in fact quite true: we live in a highly connected set of cultures and making political and business interactions work across the divides between them is far from easy. Fons Trompenaars is the foremost thinker in how businesses can understand and manage these differences pragmatically.

Fons Trompenaars

Very Short Biography

Fons Trompenaars was born in 1953, with a Dutch father and French mother. He grew up in the Netherlands and earned a Master’s degree in Business Economics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 1979. He then moved to the US, to continue his education at Wharton, gaining a PhD in 1983.

Working for Royal Dutch Shell, Trompenaars gained experience of many business cultures, being posted to nine countries in less than that number of years. He also met long-term collaborator and business partner, the British academic, Charles Hampden-Turner. In 1989, the two of them founded a consulting business, then called the Centre for International Business Studies. It has subsequently been acquired by international professional services firm KPMG, and renamed Trompenaars Hampden-Turner (THT) Consulting.

In 1997, the two wrote their hugely influential book, Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business, which set out their model for understanding cultural differences.

Accolades, awards and academic positions have followed for Trompenaars, as have several other books that build upon his ideas and spread them outwards, but Riding the Waves of Culture remains his pre-eminent work and very much a modern business classic that no manager who works in an international context can afford to be ignorant of.

Riding the Waves of Culture

The essential thesis at the heart of Trompenaars’ thinking is that the challenge of leadership is to resolve choices – dilemmas – in the context of different cultural pressures. People from all cultures face much the same dilemmas, but their cultural backgrounds influence the way they will choose to address those dilemmas. Leaders need to reconcile those differences to create effective change and to manage efficiently.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner created a powerful model for understanding cultural differences. Superficially their model resembles that of Geert Hofstede, another Dutchman. However, while Hofstede focuses on the underlying psychology that drives differences, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner are more practical in their approach, aiming to create a tool that managers can use to work with the differences. Both approaches are, however, informed by meticulous research.

Riding the Waves defines culture as the rules and approaches a coherent society adopts, to resolve the issues it faces. These become ingrained in its population and therefore second nature, at which point an external observer recognises them as culture. Consequently, we need to understand the rules and approaches we take and those that the people we deal with accept, and therefore we need to recognise and adapt ourselves to the differences. Failure to recognise and adapt to cultural differences leads to a breakdown in communication and trust.

The model that Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner created sets out seven continua that they represent as pairs of opposite attitudes. Each culture occupies a unique position on each of these continua, creating a very rich array of possibilities. Even were there only 5 positions on each scale, this would yield 78,000 possible cultures, rising to 824,000 with a seven-point scale. Let’s look at the seven continua.

Universalism – Particularism

Universalist cultures value and apply rigorous standards and like to enforce rules. Particularist societies prefer the flexibility of adapting the rules to the circumstances, valuing people over set rules and therefore embracing exceptions.

Individualism – Collectivism (or Communitarianism)

This is about how a society values the group. Collectivist cultures place care for the group and the need for consensus above the needs of the individuals within it. Individualist cultures value autonomy and the creative opportunities they believe it offers.

Neutral – Affective (or Emotional)

The extent to which people within a culture display their emotions (Affective) or keep them hidden (Neutral). In Neutral cultures, reason plays a far more overt role in decision-making.

Specific – Diffuse

A subtle concept about the way we relate to one another. In Specific cultures relationships form around the sharing of specific resources or objectives, whereas in Diffuse cultures, the sharing is far more widespread, creating more holistic relationships.

Achievement – Ascription

This dimension represents the way society evaluates our status. Achievement-oriented cultures are more meritocratic and allocate status according to performance, whilst Ascription-oriented cultures pay greater attention to background, education, and connections.

Sequential – Synchronic

Unlike those above, this dimension is not about social attitudes, but in this case attitudes to time. Sequential cultures tend to be more orderly and value planning more than Synchronic cultures, which take a flexible view of time, with greater spontaneity and less orderly use of time.

Internal – External

This continuum is also not about social relationships, but the expectations about whether we as a society can either control nature (Internal) or are subject to it (External).  The labels refer to the source of control for our society – either internal, within society or external, from the environment.

Where Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner create a powerful resource for managers is in articulating, for each of the 14 polarities, a series of strategies that allow us to adapt to a culture that shows each of these 14 characteristics. This is vital, because your own cultural preferences will be different from those of people of another country or even region within your own country.

In addition, their research also rated many countries on each of the scales, allowing readers to understand the cultural preferences of the people they are dealing with. Many of their findings match recognisable cultural stereotypes, but many do not. If you want to figure out why a British business person with a strong preference for rules and an orderly approach to time, but a mixed attitude to merit versus background can best do business with their counterpart in Latin America, with a fluid approach to rules, a highly emotional response to pressure, and an ambiguous relationship with time, Riding the Waves of Culture is the book for you.


A Pocketbook to help you with managing across cultural differences

You may enjoy the Cross-cultural Business Pocketbook

Fons Trompenaars at TEDx Amsterdam, 2013

Amy Cuddy: Power Poses

Amy Cuddy is best known for her research on how non-verbal behaviours assert power…

I’ll start again: Amy Cuddy is best known for her remarkable 2012 TED talk, ‘Your body language shapes who you are’, which has become the second most watched TED talk, with over 26 million views to date. You can watch it and add to that number at the foot of this blog. And you should.

Amy Cuddy


Short Biography

Amy Cuddy was born in 1972 and grew up a small Pennsylvania town. As a result of a car accident during her undergraduate years, she suffered a serious head injury that doctors asserted would compromise her academic ability. Nonetheless, she graduated from the University of Colorado in Social Psychology (1998) and then went on to earn her MA and PhD (2005) in the same subject, at Princeton.

Cuddy took a role as an Assistant Professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, teaching leadership to MBA students. She moved to become Assistant Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University, and then, in 2008, to Harvard Business School as Associate Professor, where she teaches MBA courses and executive education programmes, specialising in negotiation, body language, power and influence.

Cuddy’s Research

Amy Cuddy’s research interests have yielded nuggets of valuable knowledge for managers. Her most famous and impactful for many is the concept of the Power Pose, developed with Dana Carny and Andy Yap. But I will leave her to describe that far better than I ever could, in her TED talk below. Instead, I will focus on her research (with Susan Fiske and Peter Glick) on how we judge one another.

How we judge people

Cuddy’s research indicates that our judgements of people can determine how we will interact with them. This can affect our emotions, intentions and behaviours in hiring, promoting, electing, taking risks, giving to charity, and even persecution and genocide. Two trait dimensions are particularly salient in our judgements: warmth-trustworthiness and competence-power. This leads to stereotyping of racial groups, leading onwards to discrimination and persecution.

The first and most important judgement we make about someone we meet is their warmth: it is an attempt to assess ‘friend or foe?’ Then we try to assess their competence – ‘if they are a foe, how much care do I need to take?’.

Interestingly, competence in one arena leads us to infer a wider competence, whilst incompetence in one arena does not lead us to generalize in the same way. But it is different for warmth: one example of coldness creates an impression that this is our true character. This is how Cuddy describes it in one interview (with The Harvard Magazine):

‘You can purposely present yourself as warm—you can control that, but we feel that competence can’t be faked. So positive competence is seen as more diagnostic. On the other hand, being a jerk—well, we’re not very forgiving of people who act that way.’

Another generalization we make is pervasive and dangerous: we generalize our experiences across a whole social or racial group: gender, ethnicity, age, or nationality.

We also create another dangerous generalization: that warmth means not-competent and competent means not-warm. Too much of one trait leads us to suspect a shortage of the other. Hence the title of her much re-printed 2009 Harvard Business Review article, ‘Just Because I’m Nice, Don’t Assume I’m Dumb’.

Regular readers will know that I am a sucker for models and they don’t get simpler than four boxes. Here is one that flows from this, developed by Cuddy, Fiske and Glick.

Warmth-Competence Cuddy, Fiske, Glick

As soon as you look at this chart, you can see how the people and groups seen as cold are also the ones whom societies persecute – particularly when they are under pressure – either as ‘soft targets’ or as a ‘danger to society’.

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Amy Cuddy’s 26million+ TED talk that introduced the world to power posing.