December 5, 2023

Corner Office: NeuroLeadership Institute’s Chief, on Shared Goals

Q. You’ve developed an acronym — SCARF — to better explain people’s behavior, particularly at work. Can you explain it?

A. It’s really a summary of what motivates us, the things we feel most passionately about, both positively and negatively, that are driving our behavior all the time. They’re almost like the primary colors of intrinsic motivation.

So, simply put, the brain categorizes everything into one of two categories: threat or reward. We’re driven unconsciously to stay away from threat. We’re driven unconsciously to go toward reward. This decision about threat or reward happens five times every second. It’s very subtle. We’re making this decision about everything good or bad all the time.

There’s been a ton of research in the last 10 years or so that shows that things that create the strongest threats and rewards are social. And social threats and rewards activate what’s called the brain’s primary threat-and-reward center, which is actually the pain-and-pleasure center. This was a big surprise, to see that someone feeling left out of an activity, for example, would activate the same regions as if they had put their hand on a hot plate.

So it’s not just a metaphor that these social feelings are sort of like pain. They use the same network in the brain as pain. But they also use the same network as pleasure, which is why we get so addicted to social media. It’s almost like chocolate. It’s this reward that now we’ve made easily accessible.

Q. I’ve heard a lot of C.E.O.’s say that early experiences with bad bosses created “scar tissue” for them that had a big impact on their leadership style.

A. There are a couple of quirks of social pain and pleasure. One is that social pleasure, especially, is the gift that keeps on giving. But if your boss disses you in front of a team, every time you remember that for the rest of your life, you feel the pain again. That’s scar tissue.

Q. So what does the SCARF acronym stand for?

A. It stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness.

Status is literally your perception of where you are in the pecking order around you, and it’s a feeling of being better than or worse than others. We feel uncomfortable until we work out our status with people. We are more comfortable and we’re more effective when there’s a clear status arrangement between people. When we feel a higher status, we get a slight reward. When we feel lower status, we get a strong threat. The challenge is that if somebody continuously fights for high status, all the other people around them might be getting a strong threat response.

One of the challenges with management is you’ve got very smart people who are high status, and they like to feel smart. They give lots of feedback to everyone else about what they should be doing better, and other people take that as a threat. People react to a performance review as if someone is saying your life is in danger. And the pushback is real. People will push back so intensely because they experience a strong nonconscious threat response. It’s the same mechanism that makes people argue to be right even when they know they’re wrong.

Certainty is a constant drive for the brain. We saw this with Hurricane Sandy. The feeling of uncertainty feels like pain, when you can’t predict when the lights will come back on and you’re holding multiple possible futures in your head. That turns out to be cognitively exhausting. And the more we can predict the future, the more rewarded we feel. The less we can predict the future, the more threatened we feel. As soon as any ambiguity arises in even a very simple activity, we get a threat response. So we are driven to create certainty.

This is challenging in the context of work. When the boss walks in the room, they create a status threat, but they also create a certainty threat because they often create all sorts of change, all sorts of chaos, and you don’t know what’s coming next. But many organizations are taking an open-book-management approach, making all their financials available to everyone. I think there’s a lot of power in increasing people’s sense of certainty and reducing the inherent uncertainty that can happen in an organization.

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Alibaba Vice President Replaces Founder as Chief

Mr. Ma, 48, announced in January that he was stepping down as chief executive officer to make way for younger leaders. He has stayed on as chairman.

Jonathan Lu Zhaoxi, a 13-year veteran of the company, will take over in May as chief executive, said the company, based in the eastern city of Hangzhou.

“He is passionate about and familiar with the group’s various businesses,” Mr. Ma said in the announcement. “Not only has he contributed to building our culture and organization and developed many talented people, he also possesses a unique leadership style and charisma.”

Mr. Ma, a former English teacher, founded Alibaba in 1999 to link Chinese suppliers with retailers abroad. The company has expanded in consumer e-commerce with its Taobao and Tmall platforms, which are among the busiest online outlets in the world.

Mr. Ma is part of a generation of Chinese Internet entrepreneurs who built successful businesses in e-commerce, entertainment, search and other fields.

In addition to Mr. Ma, several other people have become billionaires, including Robin Li of the search giant Baidu and Ma Huateng of Tencent, an entertainment and Web portal company.

Mr. Lu, who joined Alibaba in 2000, was the founding president of its online payment service, Alipay, and worked at Taobao, the company said.

Alibaba announced a reorganization in January to split its seven units into 25 divisions, to compete more effectively in China’s turbulent Internet market.

China has the biggest population of Internet users in the world, with 564 million people online at the end of 2012, according to an industry group, the China Internet Network Information Center.

The country trails the United States and Japan in e-commerce spending, but the Boston Consulting Group expects China to take over the No. 1 position by 2015.

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Global Manager: Focus on Exporting a Brand, Not a Culture

Taha Bouqdib is co-founder and president of TWG Tea, a retailer based in Singapore with outlets in Asia and the Middle East and product distribution in the United States and Britain.

Q. Do you remember the first time you became a manager?

A. As a young lieutenant in the royal police force in Morocco — it was not a business experience, but you have the discipline and the respect of a system of hierarchy.

I was there for three and a half years in Rabat because my father hoped I would eventually work for the king. It wasn’t for me, but I learned an incredible discipline: how the top must gain the respect of the bottom lines, how everybody in the hierarchy system has a role to play. I learned how to give instructions without being intimidated by the background of the person in front of me. Of course, the military style is not something you can completely transfer into the private sector, but you take the experience and blend it with business practices and adapt it to the country where you are.

After Morocco, I went to France to start working for a tea company. The French have a completely different attitude to hierarchy. As a manager you can’t expect to have the respect of your subordinates just because your job title says so, you need to prove yourself first.

Q. How would you describe your leadership style?

A. I like to lead by example and prepare so that I always know what I’m talking about more in a meeting; if I meet with sales, then I need to be properly prepared so I ask the right questions. I think it’s important to show you understand all the different sectors of your company — not just roughly but in detail, too.

Q. Sounds like a very hands-on style. Do you delegate?

A. Yes, of course it’s important to delegate, but you need to show, before they start executing, that you have a vision and you know where you are heading. At TWG Tea, we have one spirit of design and service; as we keep on opening new boutiques, I don’t want to start diluting the brand by not being very strict and delegating too much, letting each country start to adapt and modify to what they think they need.

Q. So how do you manage to keep the same corporate values and branding across different cultures?

A. Japan was our first store outside of Singapore. I met the Japanese designer for the boutique here in Singapore and spent a lot of time explaining our brand and our philosophy. He was making suggestions about how to change things, based on what the Japanese like, but I shared with him that if the company was getting successful, it was because the customers enjoyed the brand as it was.

Q. Do you think it’s more important to stick to one playbook than to adapt culturally?

A. I am open-minded enough to understand the country’s culture, but I cannot have a TWG Tea Japan or a TWG Tea Thailand. TWG Tea comes from Singapore and it must keep its spirit. Of course, for each country you adapt the design to the location, but the spirit needs to be the same, which is why I always want to be very involved in all the details.

Q. How do you make sure a diverse work force embraces your vision?

A. We’ve opened in many different countries quickly, and each country has its own style of doing business and thinking. The most important thing is to spend time with people to listen to them properly. You can’t go in and tell them, “This is what you have to do.” But you also need to explain in real detail why you are doing things a certain way. That explanation in detail is very important if you want them to buy into your ideas.

Q. What differences have you noticed?

A. Take Japan and the Middle East. For the luxury industry in Japan, it is very important to have a head manager who is Japanese, who really has the same culture than your customers. But in the Middle East, it’s completely the opposite: you need a foreigner, preferably from Europe, because it’s very difficult, if not impossible to find a local store manager. Still, that manager will need to be able to understand the Arabic culture and the respect attached to royalty.

Q. How do you go about choosing managers?

A. I’m looking for people that have real passion about their work. When you have passion, you have an interest to understand more, not only your job but what’s around your job, and the people around you will fill in; when they do that is when you can really lead.

Q. How do you think your leadership style has changed?

A. I don’t think I’ve changed a lot in terms of style, but I have in terms of general thinking. When I was working in France, I was primarily thinking about how to export French culture around the world. Here in Singapore, I’m thinking much more globally. It’s no longer about exporting one culture but making sure your culture is generally embraced. In Asia you are exporting your brand, not your culture.

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Corner Office: California Pizza Kitchen’s Chief, on 6 Steps to Leadership

Q. What was the first time you were somebody’s boss?

A. We’d have to go all the way back to when I was head of a bunch of umpires in Little League. We were all teenagers.

Q. Was that easy for you?

A. I’ve always taken control of situations. If you were to ask me why that is, I’m not really sure. I think it’s because I just want what I want and I feel like someone has to take the lead. I’ve always done that. I’ve been captain of every sports team I’ve ever been on. And as I’ve moved into new roles, failure has never been an option for me. It’s like I always have this person on my shoulder sort of invoking the fear factor, that I can’t fail.

Q. Where do you think that comes from?

A. Our family came to America from the Netherlands when I was young, and I had to work that much harder in any situation. I had to learn English. I had to try that much harder to be a normal kid. I went to a pretty affluent high school where the kids’ parents were doctors and lawyers, and I’m a cop’s kid. Also, I’ve always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and in an organization.

Q. Tell me about some leadership lessons you’ve learned.

A. I worked at a poultry processing plant during college. I worked my way up, and became general manager of the plant when I was 21, overseeing 500 people. I had done pretty much every role in the operation. That was a big advantage — knowing and living what people do every day. That allows me to understand people and help them grow. I like to say that leadership is about getting people to exceed their own expectations. You can’t do that unless you understand what they do and how they do it, having lived some of it yourself.

Q. How do you feel your leadership style has evolved?

A. One thing I’ve learned over time is a lot more patience and tolerance. I used to always want things yesterday and would be very anxious about moving things along faster. But now I understand that tomorrow’s another day and that things will move along. I think more about whether something really matters and how it will make a difference, versus thinking that everything matters and everything makes a difference. It’s also much clearer to me now what the leadership qualities are that are most important to me.

Q. Can you elaborate?

A. I call them the six steps of leadership, surrounded by courage. Courage is an interesting one because any leadership role is about stepping out and having the courage to be different, because you have to be different to be a leader.

The first step is to be the very best that you can be, because you can’t lead anybody if you can’t lead yourself. So you have to be honest with yourself about your good qualities, your bad qualities and the things you need to work on.

The second thing is to dream, and dream big. What’s the world of possibilities for yourself and for your organization? You have to be able to say, “Here’s where I want to get to.” It’s not that you’ll ever necessarily get there, but if you don’t dream, you’ll never even get started.

The third is to lead with your heart first. Let people see that you’re human and that there’s a human side. Show people that you have compassion. It doesn’t mean that you don’t set expectations and standards. But if you lead with your heart, people figure out whether you’re genuine, whether you’re real.

The fourth thing can be the hardest for young leaders: to trust the people you lead. It’s about letting go, and allowing people to grow into leadership roles. At the end of the day, it’s O.K. if they make a mistake or if they fall down. Because as leaders, it’s your job to pick them back up.

The fifth is do the right thing, always. It’s easy to say. But the way I like to describe it is that if the rules say one thing, particularly as it relates to people, and you genuinely believe in that person, sometimes it takes courage to do the right thing and give that person a second chance. Because we’ve all made mistakes and somebody picked us up.

The sixth is that it’s ultimately about serving the people you lead. It’s about putting the cause before yourself, and a willingness to see it through. I developed this list over time because it’s the way I live each day. My job is to lead and to make a difference. I’m a catalyst for change, to create an environment where people can grow and prosper.

Q. Let’s shift to hiring. What questions do you ask?

A. I’ll ask unpredictable questions like, “What do you like to do for fun?” That gives you an insight into what people do with their time and what they value. But more than anything else, I hire for attitude. Skills can be learned. I’ll take attitude any day over a good skill set.

Q. How do you get insights into their attitude?

A. I’ll ask questions like: “What’s important to you? Why is it important?” Or I’ll push the résumé to the side and say: “Let’s just have a conversation about you. Tell me about yourself.” You learn a lot. If they start with where they were born, then that person is probably what I call a checklist manager who needs to be told what to do, compared to somebody who just says, “this is the type of person I am, and here’s what’s important to me.”

A lot of interviewing, quite frankly, is based on experience, gut, what makes sense, and what’s in their eyes. What are they feeling? How will they react? You know there will be tension, and there will be politics if you’re not careful. So will this person create that kind of environment or will they be part of the environment and help build a partnership? I’m a believer in partnerships, that we’re in it together. So you have to find people who will be collaborative. It doesn’t mean they can’t be strong leaders, Type A personalities. But will they act as a partner? I think you can get at that with the right kind of questions, and asking about their experiences in certain situations.

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Robert Schaeberle, Nabisco Chief, Dies at 88

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his son Robert said.

Mr. Schaeberle, who was with Nabisco for 40 years, became president and chief executive in 1976. He was at the helm when it merged with Standard Brands in 1981 and four years later when it merged with the R. J. Reynolds tobacco company.

When Nabisco joined Standard Brands, creating what was renamed Nabisco Brands, it brought together two powerful business executives who would try — in the end not successfully — to share leadership: Mr. Schaeberle as chairman and F. Ross Johnson as president.

At the time, both companies were ranked among the top 10 in the processed food industry. Besides its signature brands Ritz and Oreo, Nabisco brought to the merger Lorna Doone, Uneeda and Cream of Wheat, while Standard Brands was marketing Planters, Baby Ruth, Butterfinger and Fleischmann’s margarine, among other products. The new company’s first big step was the $251 million acquisition of Life Savers.

By the time Nabisco Brands was acquired by R. J. Reynolds in 1985, it had sales of $6.25 billion and net income of $308.9 million. But by then the relationship between Mr. Schaeberle and Mr. Johnson, known for his aggressive leadership style, had frayed.

“On paper Schaeberle remained top executive of Nabisco Brands, but Johnson found it easy to get his way,” Bryan Burrough and John Helyar wrote in their best-selling 1990 book, “Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco.” “Slowly but surely,” the book continued, “Johnson closed his grip around Schaeberle’s company. One by one, veteran Nabisco executives began to vanish, replaced by Johnson men.”

When R. J. Reynolds acquired the company, Mr. Johnson was named chief executive of RJR Nabisco; Mr. Schaeberle became chairman of its Nabisco Brands division.

Mr. Schaeberle retired in December 1986.

By 1988, Mr. Johnson was trying to buy control of the entire company, working with the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. When talks between the two sides fell apart, Nabisco became the subject of a bidding war whose fierceness surprised even Wall Street.

That battle, joined by nearly every major investment bank and private equity firm of the day, culminated in a showdown between Mr. Johnson and his erstwhile partners at K.K.R. Ultimately, K.K.R. prevailed with a $25 billion bid, setting a record for leveraged buyouts that was unsurpassed for 19 years. It soon began selling pieces of RJR Nabisco, including brands like Baby Ruth and Shredded Wheat.

“Bob Schaeberle was practically in tears about the breakup of Nabisco,” Mr. Burrough and Mr. Helyar wrote.

What remained of Nabisco was acquired by Philip Morris in 2000.

Robert Martin Schaeberle was born in Newark on Jan. 2, 1923, the son of Frederick and Bertha Thielman Schaeberle. After serving in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth and was soon a Nabisco trainee.

Mr. Schaeberle’s first wife, the former Barbara Slockbower, died in 1981. His second, the former Barbara Peace, died in 2003. Besides his son Robert, he is survived by two other sons, Mark and Gregg; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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