Continuation from previous post  About ‚Sunshine-Empathisers‘ :

„… With your conduct you destroyed value. You have (in the role play) invested ten years into this employee. Now he is gone! He will resign. He has to resign. That will cost your company more than 200,000 dollars including induction of a new employee. And you can forget about the project in Chicago. ‚Empathy‘ and real interest do not have anything to do with being soft or with weak leadership — nor with friendliness. Empathy creates value. In addition, the conduct of PEOPLE LOVERS creates something priceless: trust. YOU ARE THE BOSS. TRUST IS YOUR CURRENCY!“



The role plays with the other participants were at a similar level. As a result, by the evening I was exhausted. And very pensive, since the ‘prising open’ of the participants was only progressing slowly. Too much clouded thinking — flawed perceptions about the way to lead people.

The joint dinner is always very interesting, because you already notice how the individual participants internally process what they heard.

Over the years, five types of participants have emerged for me:

Type 1

Can be referred to as a CIRCULAR THINKER. They are so strongly caught up in their own quagmire that they do not understand what is going on. They are the silent eaters. The thinkers. Gaze directed downwards towards the potato wedges.

Advantage: If – with support – they are led out of their cognitive circle, they can use their intellect to make progress. Need a lot of coaching.
Disadvantage: Danger of lethargy that can end in resignation.

Type 2

Are the LEFT BRAINERS, because they want to immediately logically sort everything that they absorb. Objectively discuss the pros and cons of what has been learned.

Advantage: No fear of contact. Few emotions, open mind. Clear thought structures.
Disadvantage: Find it difficult to deal with surprising situations that do not fit into their thought pattern and require flexibility.

Type 3

Are affectionately referred to as MONKEYS. They like to joke around and make fun of the role plays of the day, often at the expense of others.

Advantage: Their brains are processing the day through imitation and replication. This is the first step of learning.
Disadvantage: Distraction from their own blindness at all costs.

Type 4

Are the SELF-FLAGELLATORS. They wallow in their own pity: “I didn’t know how badly I communicate…” They hope they will hear some reassuring words and miss the fact that this is a normal development: taking stock – willpower – methodology – capabilities – discipline – action – failure – analysis – action – success.

Advantage: Self-critical, reflective.
Disadvantage: Wallow in self-pity and waste energy on negative emotions.

Type 5

Are the ATHLETES, they see everything as a sport. As a nice challenge: “I can’t do it right now, but I‘ll learn.” Look forward.

Advantage: Disciplined, motivated, optimistic, resilient, free from negative thoughts, future-oriented.
Disadvantage: Impatient, erratic – if the process doesn’t quickly lead to success, often look for another ‘arena’.

I had ordered a steak and was just thinking: “A bit tough…that fits the day today…” when Phil, one of the participants and a left brainer, asked me the following question:

“Johannes, that was really eye-opening today — that about empathy and such, but how do you explain that nonetheless, it’s usually the biggest assholes who become CEO? Many top companies are led by people who will stop at nothing. And there are studies to confirm this! I read a book by Professor Pfeiffer, who has engaged with this topic for years.”

The steak stuck in my throat. And not because it was so dry.

What this manager, who is responsible for more than 40 people, said to me made me very pensive.

My first thought was about the influences this man must have been exposed to over the last 15 years to come to this conclusion. No doubt, he had asked a question to seem harmless, but in reality he expressed his view with this question:


Afterwards I thought of Phil’s employees and how they coped every day with a boss who thought in this way. And above all, what attitudes these employees learned and took to their next job.

Then Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeiffer came to mind. In his most popular book, ‘POWER – Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t’, he writes about how unscrupulous despots win.

He explains that we should give up hope for a better, more personal company culture, in which despots would no longer have a chance. Also the vision of an economic order that protects the weak and hinders unscrupulous abuse of power. Those who want to progress professionally need a strong instinct for power and well-trained elbows.

His books are filled with phrases like:

“Don’t worry about the negative consequences for the company: everyone is only out for themselves.”


“Those who want power interrupt and don’t let others interrupt.”

This man is a renowned, leading business thinker in the US. He is over 70 years old and has spent his entire life teaching at universities.

Is he aware of the thoughts he plants into the heads of young managers?

What are the cognitive effects on a young, enthusiastic employee that reads such advice and is possibly even surrounded by colleagues and bosses who act according to these principles?


All these managers that display such mistaken conduct — all these managers that suffer under their bosses; that burst into tears for trivial reasons during the workshop, because one straw is enough to break their emotional camel’s back; that at the same time do not lead or support their employees with empathy — all these managers do not turn to Professor Pfeiffer…

On the other hand, it is clear that this behavior, which is recommended in countless macho-ego-power-leadership books, actually works.

But that does not mean that it is the right way to behave.

Quote from Professor Pfeiffer:

“The price of power is high: it breaks up friendships and families.”

… Some people accept this. Is it therefore right?

“Strive for power, as if your life depended on it. Because it does.”

… Your LIFE? He must surely mean PROFESSIONAL LIFE at most.

Or have you ever heard someone on their deathbed say: „If I’d had more power, I wouldn’t be here right now…“

All these thoughts crossed my mind after the trainee asked me this question about stopping at nothing.

I was upset, but answered as calmly as possible: “Phil, can you do me a favor and pick up your cloth napkin?”

He looked at me questioningly and unfolded the napkin.

“Now fold the napkin into a rectangle, so that it is about the size of a letter format.”

He folded the napkin and flattened it on the table with both hands. His colleagues already started making fun of the situation.

“Now hold the napkin with both hands about ten centimeters in front of your face.” (You are very welcome to reenact this situation with a piece of paper or a book.)

He did. I sat opposite him and from my perspective his face was almost entirely covered by the napkin.

“What do you see?”, I asked him.

“Nothing, only the napkin”

said Phil.

“Keep your head still and only move your eyes to the left and right. What do you see?”

“On the left I see a bit of the window and on the right I see two colleagues.”

“Is that everything in this room?”, I asked.

“No, of course not”

he said.

“What you describe is your momentary view of the world. It corresponds in the true sense of your words to your current perspective, your VIEW of the world, limited by your self-selected, restricted VIEWPOINT. It is influenced by your limited experiences and your limited knowledge. For example, the napkin can represent the book by Dr. Pfeiffer.

This viewpoint then creates your OPINION of things and gradually becomes your firm opinion. However, your view (restricted by the napkin) only allows your eyes (really mind) to grasp merely a fraction of what is actually there. As such, your opinion is almost certainly not right, because you cannot see things as a whole. You are just not seeing the big picture.

And ultimately this wrong opinion creates your THOUGHTS:

Asshole = Cool = Leadership = Success.

These thoughts, in turn, influence your SPEECH: “Many top companies are led by people who will stop at nothing. And there are studies that even confirm this!”

This injurious speech eventually leads to injurious ACTIONS, which you, for example, demonstrated clearly in the role play today: without any honest interest in your fellow colleagues, without empathy, only focused on creating benefits for yourself.

Keep holding the napkin just like this – and lean to the right a little. What do you see?”, I asked him.

“I see nearly the whole table, the candle, the cutlery and a menu; I see you and the tables behind you and all my colleagues”,

Phil answered.

“With this simple change of viewpoint you have just altered your entire worldview. The way in which you see things. Now you would have the possibility to change your opinions for the first time.

You said you see a menu. Let’s assume that it‘s not a menu, but a summary of global studies about ‘stress in the workplace, illness and resignations’. Now that you see this book on the table because you changed your viewpoint, would be you be interested in taking a glance at it?”

Phil nodded.

I took the apparent studies to hand and opened the imaginary book, which was represented here by the menu – starters, main courses etc – but acted as if I was citing these studies:

“That‘s interesting”, I said, “here it says that according to Gallup (2014), two of ten German employees have thought about leaving their current place of work in the last year because of their immediate manager. A whole 12% would immediately fire their boss. For employees with weak bonds to the company, this value is 40%. Four out of ten people would immediately fire their boss!”, I read. After I quickly looked up at Phil, I pretended to continue reading: “And a more current Gallup study from 2016 shows that 99 billion euros are lost by German companies alone because managers undervalue the human factor. Let’s do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation: if we assume that Germany creates about 5% of global value, the total global economic damage caused by a lack of employee appreciation by their bosses would be 2,000 billion dollars. That is the GDP of India.”

These are only a few facts from the menu – sorry – from the global work-health study, which was now made available to you, thanks to your new point of view.

Do you still think that it is seriously worth considering which road you should go down as a leader?”

Phil nodded, he smiled reflectively and quietly said:

“Thank you.”

One of the colleagues still wanted to burnish his ego in front of the group and dug in:

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean that Phil’s statement was wrong! Despite everything, many bosses are egotistic, unscrupulous guys, who have made it to the top precisely because of that.”

“And you believe that this behavior is legitimate, despite all the suffering it creates in the workplace and the total negative economic effects?” I responded.

“No, but it apparently works a treat!”

he said, still convinced.

“Land mines also work a treat. But they are still despicable!” I said with a loud voice.

The comparison was a little over the top, because everyone looked at me in shock, but it fulfilled its purpose. Sometimes you need harsh words in order to break down flawed points of views that have developed and manifested over years.

The second day went much better.

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How calmness and understanding the ‘cause-and-effect’ principle will make you a better leader

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