The Challenge of Corporate Governance

I was recently asked by a reporter to talk about corporate governance from a humanist perspective. I was told it was one of the best answers they had every received on any topic.

1. What is your experience with Corporate Governance?

I have served on several non-profit boards, been an executive director for a non-profit organization and provided training for the board.

2. What do you see as the biggest challenge for Corporate Governance?

The biggest challenge is always oversight. There is a desire to trust staff, but the job of the governance board is not just to set the direction of the organization, but to oversee the work.  Where boards run into trouble is when the staff are unethical and they don’t property do their oversight work.

Boards that do this well figure out when staff is lying to them within a few months and they take corrective action.  My sister and I were discussing this the other day in relation to the democratic party. Why did it take the governance board 7 years to find out the finances were crap and that they were deeply in debt and that their executive director was fudging the numbers and moving things around? The boards I have been on and my sister has been on – would not have allowed that to be the status quo for more than a few months!  The oversight board of the DNC failed in their basic duties.

A board decides direction and provides oversight. Oversight is a trust but verify job. Failure to verify means dereliction of duty.  This is and will always be the biggest challenge for any board in any organization. It’s the reason I don’t accept board appointments unless I feel like I have the time to dedicate to the task.

3. What do you see as the future of Corporate Governance?

Technology makes it easy to meet and discuss and make decisions, but the basic job hasn’t changed and won’t change anytime soon. The function of corporate governance is necessary so that more than one set of eyes is watching to ensure that ethical decisions are made as to direction and expenditures.  The need for that will never go away.

What it would be nice to see is boards taking and enforcing a more humanistic approach to the business of business.  Meaning – ensuring that the business is ethical, responsible and that corporate social responsibility isn’t just a buzz word to gloss over the bad aspects of the business, but that the point of the business itself is to provide return for shareholders while also providing a good return for the community in which the business operates.   We need to eliminate the greed motive and replace it with humanistic motive. Think of this as corporate enlightened self-interest. Our business interests are forwarded and we make more money by engaging in ethical business practices that take into account our needs, our employees needs, and the needs of the communities we operate in. In other words, incorporate more than just shareholders needs into the decision-making process.

This is the point of Humanistic Management and it’s a necessity now. Short sighted decisions that harm the company and the community but enrich a small group of owners – is not good business. We need more longer-range thinking and the way to do that is to incorporate humanistic ethics into the operation of the business itself.  This has to be done at the governance level.

4. If you could speak directly to directors, investors, and/or corporate boards, what advice would you give them on this topic?

I would say several things.

First – make sure you all receive training on what exactly your responsibilities are. This is not just about making money – you are supposed to be involved in oversight functions and it’s your job to make sure the company is run in an ethical, responsible sustainable way and that the company does good as a company for everyone involved in the company – shareholders, employees, customers and community.

Second – If you aren’t already oriented or familiar with humanistic management – learn about it and start integrating humanistic management philosophy into your oversight duties. Take this seriously. You can use the business to make the world a better place and get rich at the same time. This is not an either or decision – you can do both and should be trying to do both. This is a philosophic mindset. Adopt it, integrate it and make decisions accordingly.

 Third – trust but verify. Do not allow your personal feelings for the staff to prevent you from doing your job. Make sure that the company’s directors and leadership are behaving ethically. And if they aren’t take corrective action.

Finally – stop tolerating sexual harassment and assault. Seriously – if they were embezzling funds – you would get rid of them – even if they were your best salesperson!  Stop tolerating criminal behavior because the crime seems social to you. It still affects you bottom line and more importantly – your ethical bottom line. If you want an ethical well-run company – you have to put ethics first. Period. Allowing someone to abuse your staff or customers isn’t ethical. Period.

If you want to learn more about the principles of humanistic management -

A behavioral approach to America's epistimic crisi

America is clearly experiencing an epistemic crisis. Meaning - we can't even agree on what facts are and this is preventing us from dealing with the challenges that face us.

Half the country thinks that the news is publishing fake news about the president. ( That's not an insignificant number of people. It's all the more disturbing because figuring out whether someone is telling you the truth or not is actually really easy to do.

David Roberts over at Vox - wrote an essay about the depth of the epistemic crisis we are facing. It's subtitle is: What if Robert Mueller proves that Trump engaged in treason and it doesn't matter.

In the article he rightly points out that the right is being lied to at a furious pace and that their knowledge of what is really happening is not just lacking, they are being told to not believe the reports of what is happening. IF we have a president who committed treason and half the country refuses to accept that verdict - handed down by members of their side (republicans in the justice department), then how can we even begin to move forward as a country?

While the article does a good job of laying out the problem, it doesn't address how to fix it.

 I teach behavioral science as it relates to ending bullying and harassment and it applies to the problem David addresses.  The question is – how do we learn and unlearn behavior and how has this impacted our current inability to agree on what is true and what is false at the scale we are having this problem.

We have had 30 plus years of brain washing occur on the right. Behavioral conditioning that leads that base to be resistant to fact based information that contradicts their tribal reasoning.  David is correct that this is less a conspiracy than it is just the fact that there is a lot of money to be made on this state of affairs. And he is correct that this is an existential threat to our country and democracy.

Obviously the Russians used our behavioral conditioning against us and the solution – the only solution - is to encourage people back to reality.  The problem is how to do that.  It can be done but it’s really really really hard to do because humans are free range animals. If they don’t get their reward in one place – they will go get it in another.

What has to happen is Rational Republicans have to push back on the fake news.  They don’t have to cross their base, but they can and at least should let the more rational ones know that the crazy stuff is in fact crazy. For too long they have benefited from allowing their base to believe nonsense because it helps get them votes.  The ones that care about democracy need to just stand up to it and take the heat. There is no way to do that without getting the flack thrown at you.  It’s part of the extinction process.

The likelihood is that Mueller is going to prove this and the right is going to explode with people taking to the streets egged on by Russia. If democrats take control of the house or senate next year – they can impeach but that will also cause the right to explode and take to the streets egged on by Russia.

What I have been telling people is that there is no solution to this problem that doesn’t involve a lot of people getting hurt and Russia getting what it wants – America in disarray. But just like with bullying, we don’t have a choice. We either do what we need to do to stop this – or we allow Russia et al to keep bullying us with Republicans aiding and abetting them.

We just need to convince enough Republicans to do what is right for the country and to take the heat that comes with it. This is everything like stopping a bully. It has to be stood up to and the fury of the bully faced.

Top Ten Traits of Humanistic Leaders

I was complaining about governmental leadership being bad leadership. I was asked - how I define good leadership. What follows, in no particular order, is my top 10 list of traits a good humanistic leader should have/exhibit:

Compassionate: If you don’t care – you won’t care to be ethical

Tactful: Everyone has issues – a good leader knows how to work around those issues to get the work done.

Rational: If what you want people to do doesn’t make sense – then you aren’t a good leader.

Strategic: Knowing which battles are important and which ones aren’t – help you deploy resources effectively to you can achieve your goals.

Responsible: The only thing worse than an uncaring leader is one who doesn’t follow through on promises.

Conscientious:  Working hard and making sure that every member of the team has what they need to get the job done is important.

Critical thinker: Being able to tell truth from lies is necessary. Otherwise you may lead your team off course.

Inclusive: Good leaders know that every member of their team is there for a reason and has something valuable to contribute. They know their team knows things they don’t and they make sure to get that input so that the decisions being made are well informed.

Confident: Insecure leaders are horrible to work with because instead of fixing problems, they spend their time trying not to get blamed for problems. There is a big difference. Most people want to fix problems – not provide cover for incompetent idiots.

Humble: Knowing you might be wrong helps ensure that you take the time to make good decisions and not just expedient ones.

How do you go about developing these traits? Practice. You have to prioritize being compassionate in order to remind yourself to be compassionate when you are stressed or making decisions.  You have to ask yourself – what is the compassionate thing to do. It’s the same with all of these traits. It’s a choice – which then gets manifested in behavior through practice. Over time, these traits become second nature.

To get started, chose one trait and start reminding yourself to practice it and when you fail, think through what you might have done differently if you had actively chosen to exemplify that trait and then next time – do better.

If you want to learn more about Humanistic Management - check out my courses at Humanist Learning Systems: The Principles of Humanistic Management

Current events - celebrities guilty of assault is re-traumatizing people

There is no doubt that women are finally no longer tolerating harassment and demanding action. That's the good news. The bad news is all this news is re-traumatizing people who have been assaulted or harassed.

As someone who has both been harassed and assaulted and as a person who teaches people how to get harassment to stop, I thought I would weigh in on my own experiences and as an educator. Note: Some of this post is graphic. I don't believe in sugar coating what happened.

I am personally not being re-traumatized as much as remembering painful episodes of my past.
For instance: I was inappropriately touched by Bob Barker at a TV station in a room full of reporters about 10 years before that scandal broke. I reported it. I was believed. It was handled appropriately and he was blacklisted from doing things with animal welfare nonprofits in LA after that.

I had a boss who used to lean back in his chair and rub himself through his pants in front of me whenever I would go to talk to him. He only did that to me and not our secretary and not when we had customers. At first I thought maybe he wasn’t aware he was doing it – turns out he was. My position was eliminated 2 weeks after I reported him. I don’t regret reporting him.

I’ve been stalked by a past boyfriend and had to deal with the FBI on that situation.

I survived an attempted rape by an employee of a firm I was interviewing with. I didn’t go to subsequent interviews and when I told the owner a few years later what had happened he was horrified and wished I had told him immediately because that explained why he would lose female customers. It was negatively effecting his business as people like me who could hire him – wouldn’t. But he also didn’t fire the guy upon learning this.

The current news isn’t traumatizing me. But keep in mind that I’ve had therapy for PTSD as a result of the stalking incident. The coping techniques I learned may be helping me now not be triggered by PTSD. However, it is upsetting me greatly. And I do spend time crying – out of guilt that I didn’t do more in my situations to protect other women.

What this is doing is making me remember things that happened and reconsider how I handled it. In most cases, I regret not reporting more or making a bigger stink than I did. At the time I didn’t make a bigger stink because I didn’t want to deal with whatever it was. I just wanted to get away and get on with my life. The problem is because I didn’t make a big stink, other women were victimized. In every single case.

There was guy who asked me to dance at a club in Hawaii. He told me his name, told me he was an army captain, grabbed my arm and started dragging me to the door. I knew if he got me out of the club – he would rape me. I escaped, but didn’t report him. I was a regular at this club in Hawaii. Friends with all the bartenders. And still, didn’t report it. I told my girlfriends. I have no doubt that other women were raped by this man because of my inaction. Same with the guy who attempted to rape me as part of a job interview. He clearly had other victims.

Same with Bob Barker – he had other victims. I wonder what would have happened if I had turned around and slapped him in front of all those reporters. Would what he had been doing come to light sooner and more women been protected had I acted slightly differently? In the Bob Barker case – I reported him immediately upon reaching safety. I was believed and supported and would have been if I had slapped him in the newsroom. But my instinct was self-preservation. Same with the guy in the bar dragging me to the door. Self-preservation. Same with the attempted interview rape. Self-preservation prevented me from telling his boss. I didn’t know if his boss was part of the scam. This guy had contacted me in a professional capacity.

I am not having PTSD triggered. I am dealing with a tremendous amount of guilt that I should have done more to protect the women who inevitably came after me. I just didn’t think of them at the time. I knew they existed, because how could they not. But at the same time, my mental health was more important than them. And I think now that was a mistake.

I teach adults and kids how to use behavioral science techniques to stop bullies. (See my book The Bully Vaccine or any of my online courses.) To get kids to do this – you must convince them, not to do it for themselves, but to protect other kids who are also being victimized. I tell them to look around – see the other kids – because there are always other victims. Once kids get that – they become fearless. They won’t always act to protect themselves, but they will almost always act to protect others.

We women – need to do the same. We need to realize that what happened to us wasn’t about us. It is about the fact a predator is on the loose and needs to be stopped because if he isn’t, others will be victimized, just like us. There are always other victims. People hearing these reports need to take them seriously and treat them as the violent crime they really are.

Anita Hill recently wrote an essay asking the question:  what if we treated this like embezzlement or any other type of crime? We would respond to reports of harassment and assault differently if we thought of them as actual crimes. We need to start doing that. If I had my purse stolen (and I have) I would report it and try to make sure those criminals were locked up so they couldn’t steal from anyone else. We need to have the same approach to sexual predators. Both as victims and as people hearing about the assaults.

I think the main reason why people are saying me too and naming names – is exactly because of this. If we don’t name names, other people will be victimized! I don’t want to live with this guilt anymore. The only way out is to name names and start making much bigger stinks when we encounter predators.
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