Machiavelli-Like Lessons From the President-Elect Circle of “Friends”

Things we’re learning in the post election season likely to be passed on to the children.  It reads a little like Machiavelli’s The Prince:

If you constantly lie and berate people, others (like Paul Ryan) may refer to you, not as the con or cad that you are, but as “unconventional,” “unique” and a “get-things-done-kind-of-guy.”

Whatever it takes to get elected to the presidency is fine so long as you “dial it back” a bit when you get there.

Surround yourself with scoundrels, and a few not-so-bad guys to throw off the wolves. People with weak values (no matter how much they pounded their chests) will remain silent around the tent so long as they think you might invite them in some day.

Be sure to project your dishonesty and untrustworthiness on your opponent.  People will believe you.

“Once a liar, always a liar” appears to no longer be an insult.

You too can be Time’s “Person of The Year” no matter the awful things you say about minorities, women and the disabled.   Just have an impact.  Don’t worry about its awful affects on people. Time magazine doesn’t.

(More lessons learned to come)

P.S.  Thank goodness there are people like Chuck Jones, president of the United Steel Workers 1999, who Trump is now  twitter-berating merely for calling the president-elect out on a huge lie about saving jobs at Carrier that weren’t saved.  That lie hurt hundreds of people and their families while the president-elect gloated.  

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The “Gentleman” (Trump) Doth Protest Too Much

Speaking rationally, which is hard to come by lately, and taking the high road — equally infrequent — you’d think that a U.S. president-elect would calmly say of a proposed recount: “Have at it.” He or she would want whatever is best for the country and certainly having an election hacked, possibly by a foreign country, is far from that. Given, too, that experts tell us the likelihood of an upset is remote, a confident president elect, soon to be a world leader, should remain confident.  After all, what type of leader distractedly bats at every fly that enters the room?

Not only are the tweets of Donald Trump unnecessarily defensive, they have crossed over to the ludicrous. He now claims that he would win the popular vote if millions of illegal votes were to be excluded. Essentially, he is suggesting fraud in a system Jill Stein is leading an effort to examine for that very thing — in this case perpetrated by hackers.

So, indeed the “gentleman” doth protest too much. He has no sense of gracious winning. The tweets and comments of his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, stoop to a similar defensiveness. She’s quick to use “poor losers” and other kindergarten terms to describe those who even question Trump’s win.

Of course, none of this is a surprise given the extraordinary amount of lies and insults used to put Donald Trump in the White House. He has won and, assuming that win is fair and square, he should now get on with planning for his future presidency.  It is beneath the position of president-elect to berate those who simply seek to know whether the votes many Americans cast in at least three states were really their votes.

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Putting Democratic Leadership on Notice — Don’t Blame Hillary’s “Flaws”

If I hear about Hillary Clinton’s “flaws” from Democrats one more time, they can try winning the next election without women like me. How pathetic can you get than to hint at and explicitly tout supposed “flaws” of your candidate even as a man with flaws beyond measure is U.S. President Elect?

Where were you with all your newfound knowledge about the underserved when your candidate needed you? Don’t think for a moment that because women are purportedly divided on priorities we are not listening to your attacks on one of us who decided to run her campaign on truth rather than lies and paid a huge price.

While many of us may be sick over the loss to Donald Trump, we may well become sicker still with a Democratic “leadership” that blames Clinton’s supposed “flaws” for an election they could have done far more to win. Think about it. You need us. So, find yourself another excuse to flog.

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Learn to be Fair; Prepare for Unfair

Teaching persuasion and negotiation throughout my academic career, I always started each semester with distinctions among persuasion, manipulation and coercion — all forms of influence. Persuasion is something you do WITH others largely by appealing to reason. It is a very important skill throughout life. Manipulation and coercion are two other forms of influence that you do TO other people. They function by either deceiving and duping others or, in the case of coercion, using force of some type.

Persuasion is not always totally up-front. Let’s not be naive. All forms of communication involve some degree of indirectness. Sociologist Erving Goffman in his book, Interaction Ritual, wrote about facework. It occurs when people engage in ways of communicating that save face for those involved. Despite the need to consider rules of courtesy and respect and thus hold back from directness at times, persuasion is more up-front than manipulation and certainly less controlling than coercion.

Since persuasion is challenging and requires an understanding and even appreciation of an opposing point of view, many people resort to manipulation and coercion. They find persuasion too challenging and consider it annoyingly time consuming. The risk of relying on manipulation and coercion is not only an ethical one. When people figure out that they’ve been manipulated, they distrust and may retaliate in kind. When coerced, they may find a way to obtain the power to coerce as well. In other words, “what goes around comes around.”

But what if you live or work in an environment like the type describe in The Secret Handshake as pathological? In this environment, fairness is rarely respected. The ends justify the means. In pathological work arenas, daily interactions tend to be fractious. Nearly every goal is achieved by going around formal procedures. There is high distrust. Information massaging is the usual form of communication. Out of necessity, people spend a lot of time watching their backs. Pathological arenas tend to self destruct. But often not before considerable damage has been done.

There isn’t room in this one blog to go through how to fight such conditions. But recent events suggest a need to polish up. Persuasion is useful even here, but liars and power abusers dismiss even the most impressive argumentation if it suits their needs. To overcome them, you have to become very clever, “read the tea leaves,” keep good records of what has been promised and know their weaknesses just as they know yours.

What we need to teach our children, and remember ourselves, is that while fairness and “using your words” effectively is very important, there will always be people who manipulate and coerce. You need to be prepared to deal with them. This is largely why I studied and have written about politics in organizations. Often persuasion and up-front negotiation are not sufficient. You have to know how to manage the people who have adopted manipulation and coercion as their two primary means of influence.

I’m not suggesting that little children be told that the world is a manipulative, bullying place. But we do need to recognize that there are many people who just don’t tell the truth as a rule and many teach their children to behave this way. With disregard and outright meanness, they take advantage of those who have learned to communicate honestly and expect the same from others. In The Secret Handshake, honest people who do not prepare themselves to deal with deceptive ones are referred to as purists. People who are aware of negative politics are street fighters. This doesn’t mean they wouldn’t prefer to be purists or weren’t for some time. It means they’ve learned to keep alert and, when need be, fight fire with fire.

We all need a little street fighter in us. It’s dangerous to allow society to become fraught with lies and governments run by frauds. In order to make sure this doesn’t happen, we need to see manipulators and coercers coming long before they’ve gotten close enough to do harm.

Teach your children well means preparing them to deal with the honest and the deceitful among us. Otherwise the latter wins.


Posted in Influence, Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Sexism Wake-Up Call To Young Women — Election 2016

(A Slightly edited version of this blog ALSO APPEARED on Huffington Post and currently has over 6,000 likes, which hopefully means it has struck a chord — that young women in particular are reconsidering where they stand and what they might do.)


When I taught at USC with Betty Friedan, she wanted us to be in the “second stage” when men and women would live and work together in mutual respect. But we are still far from the second stage.

Sure, we can convince ourselves that gender had nothing to do with the outcome of the presidential election this week. But that would be deceiving ourselves.  How often we’ve heard that Hillary Clinton has coldness in her eyes, speaks too loudly, dresses wrong for a woman and other comments based on gender expectations many of us refuse to examine.

Malcolm Gladwell attributed a large part of Hillary’s “dislikability” to her being a woman.

Here is what Gladwell had to say even as he hesitated to draw too many conclusions from one election cycle:

“To me, the most disturbing lesson about this election is that the United States is a good deal less open to women in positions of power than it would like to pretend that it is.”

He explained:

“She is being penalized for having a series of traits that people find unacceptable in a woman.”  He noted the negative perceptions of Clinton predates her email and Benghazi scandals. “This goes back two decades now.”


He said that there are traits that women in leadership are “allowed to have.”

“It is very difficult for society to accept an ambitious woman — an openly ambitions woman… We continue to expect that women will have a kind of modesty in positions of authority.  It makes it easier for us to accept that they have moved into a man’s realm.”

It wasn’t elitism that alienated many from Hillary, because Hillary came from ordinary circumstances. Donald Trump is elite and has been since birth, yet the label stuck to her.  Why?  Because it worked for some who needed a handy reason to reject her and to reject that they might be sexist, whether male or female themselves.

Gladwell also pointed to a “moral licensing” America has in having voted for a black presidential candidate.  It sort of allows us to be more biased now because we weren’t last time.

And we might add that calling out sexism is often met with sarcastic quips about political correctness.  “Oh, here we go again with political correctness” is a handy sentence for dismissing claims of actual sexism in language.  Don’t fall for it.

Gladwell’s views are not a shock to anyone who has been following gender issues in work and government. I wrote the reprint bestselling Harvard Business Review case “The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk” about the challenges women faced  getting ahead at work in the 1990s. My book  They Don’t Get It, Do Theyfollowed.  Betty Friedan described it as a “blueprint for real communication between the sexes.”  In the process of providing that blueprint, the book also describes the many dysfunctional patterns in day-to-day male-female relationships and sexist perceptions that hold women back in their careers.

Salon writer Amanda Marcotte wrote this week that America has essentially chosen to self-destruct rather than elect a woman. Let’s hope that’s not the case.  Yet, she makes it well.

Even before the election, I feared that the U.S. wasn’t ready for a woman president — that the unstated fears and disdain for women’s success, many rationalized as other things, would rear their ugly heads.

As President Obama graciously admitted, Hillary Clinton was more ready to be president than he was when he took office and more ready than Bill Clinton.  Vice President Biden spoke of how difficult it is for a woman — harder than for him — to demonstrate her competence.

Hillary Clinton is exceptional in so many ways, prepared and superb in her debates, but many in the media, Donald Trump and people not ready for a woman president picked her apart.  It was death by a thousand cuts.

There are few women who haven’t experienced some version of this in their own lives — gender expectations and insecurities being used against them.  Hence, that sick feeling that many women are still experiencing days after the election.

Where does this leave us?  When will we see a female president?  If our most prepared woman was rejected for not being sufficiently sweet and charming, being distrusted even as her opponent lied constantly, we’re in trouble.

Sweet and charming women tend to be admired, but they’re also perceived as too weak to lead.  Gender is a Catch-22 for most women — be highly assertive and competent and you’re cold and maybe a bitch or be sweet and “feminine” and you’re a pleasure to be with but unfit to lead.

It’s easy to push the gender issue aside. Sexism is so easy to deny. I expect some will write to me having not read this article clearly.  They’ll say I’m totally blaming sexism.  That’s not the case.  But it’s a significant factor and one not going away unless we keep up the fight.

The election was a wake-up call. It has shaken many to their core. It has shown us how far people will go to avoid having a woman in The White House.  It has shown us that our children’s children may not see a woman president.

Yes, people wanted change. Yes, the Democratic Party has fallen out of touch with their base.  And yes the 30 plus years Michael Moore described as having created a Donald Trump candidate definitely contributed as did other factors.  But part of America would rather have a racist, sexist, narcissist with no experience as president than an exceptionally prepared, tireless, impressive woman with their best interests at heart.

One inadvertent good thing may have come from the 2016 presidential election.  Young women, and many young men, who thought sexism was a thing of the past received a loud-and-clear wake-up call. The job is not done for them or their children. The race is not over.  We know for sure now that no generation can just sit this one out.  Sexism goes underground sometimes, but it doesn’t go away.  If we don’t face this fact, there will never be a female U.S. president.  And that’s just not acceptable.




**They Don’t Get It, Do They? was recently added to Amazon Kindle as a re-release with a new forward — given its continued relevance. Here you’ll find not only patterns we’re stuck in that limit women’s effectiveness in whatever they choose to do,  but also how women, in particular, and men can end them.  Daily conversations are the building blocks of careers and relationships.  How we manage them determines our futures.   It’s either $2.99 or $0 on Kindle unlimited.


Posted in Gender Issues, Politics | 5 Comments

Election Day Choice: Civility and Competence vs. Incivility and Hubris

In large part, voting for the next U.S.  president comes down to a choice between civility and competence as opposed to incivility and hubris. Despite constant efforts by some in the media to paint Clinton with the same “mean” brush as Trump, to describe the last several months as “divisive” as if she is as much to blame as her opponent, they are vastly different people.  When you’re up against a bully, cowering doesn’t work.  And so there had to be some anger expressed. Yet, as promised, when Trump went low (as he so often did), her campaign endeavored to go high.

Why? Because true leadership is not cowardly. It is also not demeaning and uncivilized. She showed herself to be a true, effective leader during her life and in this campaign.

They couldn’t go after her for being a weak woman and gain any traction. They tried to portray her as disliked, especially by women, but that didn’t pan out. She made it through an excruciating and exhausting investigation into her email decisions and still came up fine. When none of this worked, some in the FBI threw an “October surprise” monkey wrench into the works to stop her. When they couldn’t make that stick, she did not use the last two days before the election to disparage them because she knows this election is not about her as much as it is about us — and about the world we’ll live in.

Hillary Clinton is not a narcissist. She is not bigoted. She is not hateful. She is bright, thoughtful, optimistic, strong and presidential.  She is truly a class act.

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Hillary Supporters Are Wildly Enthusiastic About Getting The Job Done!

When Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, two-thirds of Americans approved of her, Bill Kristof reminds us today in an article about the strengths of Hillary Clinton.

We hear so much about her not being “liked” even though millions have already voted for her and millions more will do so. We’re told that there is an enthusiasm gap. Trump’s supporters are supposedly more excited, but pull back the camera on his rallies and the crowd is often rather thin.

We’re told repeatedly that people don’t trust her. Yet, we know Donald Trump lies constantly.  She demeans no one, he demeans whoever he dislikes at the moment.

At this point, though, there is likely little to be gained by fighting fictions and negative categories that have been thrust upon her. We’ve already seen the double standard that so many women experience at work applied right in front of our eyes to her. We’ve seen that to keep her from the presidency, even precedent and policy at the FBI have been abandoned.

What we need to remember now, though, is what she brings to the presidency. And it’s impressive by any standard. This is Kristof’s list:

“First, she knows the world exceptionally well and is essentially a very bright, disciplined nerd who traveled to more countries as secretary of state than any of her predecessors.

Second, Clinton had a history of playing well with Republicans when she was in the Senate and secretary of state, so there’s some small hope that we could inch back to governing.

“She is extremely well respected throughout the world, handles herself in a very classy way, and has a work ethic second to none,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said in 2012.”

Kristof added”

“Third, Clinton cares deeply about impoverished children and others who are voiceless. In Arkansas, she started an early childhood program. In Washington, she helped establish CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which supports more than eight million needy American kids.

One of America’s foremost needs is to address inequality and cycles of poverty. These are issues that Clinton has wrestled with for more than 40 years.”

There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton is more prepared for the presidency than her opponent and that she is widely respected around the world.

I’ll say one more thing about enthusiasm, which goes to liking as well.  Clinton’s supporters are busy.  They’re with her. They trust her. They’re determined. They know that history is about to be made by a woman who deserves to be president.  And they know how tough that road is right to the finish line.

They’re not celebrating until she has won.  Then the wild enthusiasm they’re putting into work right now will be there.  Just wait ’til Wednesday.  Don’t look for parties yet. It’s hard to be blowing up balloons when your nose is to the grindstone.  Hillary’s supporters know what is at stake and it’s more than one candidacy. It’s democracy itself. It’s America’s moral fiber, rejection of hatred based on differences and a return to raising all boats.

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