Leading With Kindness

GUEST: Dr. William F. Bake
VTR: 12/08/08

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind.

And when I first saw today’s guest in action he was playing his decade-long leadership role in commercial broadcasting as president of Westinghouse Television and Chairman of Group W Satellite Communications.

But then every so often for the next twenty years, William F. Baker would join me here on The Open Mind in his key leadership role in public broadcasting … as President and CEO of the Educational Broadcasting Corporation, the parent company of New York’s highly honored WNET-TV, Channel 13, and of WLIW-TV, Channel 21.

And now, as President Emeritus, Bill Baker has honed fine his earlier academic skills as a Ph.D. in Communications and Organizational Behavior and his present association with Columbia and Fordham Universities, joining with psychologist Michael O’Malley to write Leading With Kindness – How Good People Consistently Get Superior Results, a particularly timely study when American leadership so much needs to get superior results.

Indeed, I would ask my guest if he ever dreamed his book about leadership would surface at such a leadership-challenged time in our history. Fair question, Bill?

BAKER: A very fair question. Thank you for having me on your program again. I just love being here. I took the train in today and my wife was saying, “Boy, you’re going to have a good time (laugh), you know, on that program.” (Laughter)

HEFFNER: Well, let’s have it.

BAKER: I’m, I’m prepared to. To answer your question … ah, yeah, I mean I didn’t, I didn’t really expect all of this terrible stuff to happen in the economy. I knew there was something wrong with the economy. And I have known for a long time that America has had a leadership-challenged work force, but … and a leadership challenged industries … but, but I didn’t think all of this would happen with such great drama. And it saddens me greatly and perhaps much of it could have been prevented. And that rips my heart out.

But on the other hand, maybe we can prevent [it] in the future of happening again.

HEFFNER: With better leadership.

BAKER: With better leadership. You know one of the things that Michael O’Malley and I did with our publisher, The American Management Association … we did a survey of their huge data base that looked at … they have 25,000 members … and we looked and we measured that group … sampled that group. And we asked them about the kind of leadership they had. And now they may be, you know, a little bit more informed and enlightened than most databases.

But, ahh … and a good percentage of them said they had kind leaders. But those that didn’t have kind leaders said things like, “I speak openly and candidly to my boss”. 42% who had bully bosses said that they didn’t speak openly to their bosses. Whereas 73% said they did if they had kind bosses.

And “my boss really listens to what I said” … only 24% of those who have bully bosses said that their bosses listened to what they said. Whereas 84% of those who had kind bosses did.

And it made me reflect upon what has happened in Wall Street and in business in America. You know some of these CEOs from Wall Street companies whose companies were run right over the cliff into bankruptcy, testified “I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t realize this was going on.”

And the answer was they were probably telling the truth to these Committees. That they may have been such tough leaders that they didn’t hear from the people down below who really did know what was going on, that they were in trouble.

And if they would have had that kind of communication maybe a lot of this, this that has happened on Wall Street and in Main Street in America could have been prevented.

HEFFNER: Interesting. Particularly interesting and that’s why I asked you that question because as I read Leading with Kindness I couldn’t help but think, “My gosh at this time everybody … everyone in business ought to be going out and getting Bill’s book because it seems like such an object lesson.”

I remember in, in Plato’s Dialogues … I remember what the old man who was a gadfly buzzing around the horse … the public well-being … the gadfly who reported on things as they were not and should have been …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … was the one who was shunted aside much to the detriment of the city/state. And you’re saying when a leader acts unkindly toward those who would wish to report what is going on, as only those down the line could know, so poorly treated … deals with people without kindness … that he never gets this information.

BAKER: He never gets the information. So you, in effect, you know you can lead with terror for quite a while and get away with it. But only if you’re riding the wave and things are going well.

If you need information from down below, as inevitably you do, as to what the customer’s thinking, what’s going on in the real world, you have to have communication with the, with the, with the staff and work force below you.

And it … it has been … and it’s interesting because I spent about four or five months in Germany at the American Academy in Berlin, right after I retired form Channel 13 and Channel 21.

And I was interested in … I was writing this book then along with my co-author Michael O’Malley and my wife and I went and visited a lot of companies in Germany. And I expected there to be kind of a “top down” management system in Germany. That kind of, you know, German way …


BAKER: … well it was quite the contrary. First of all, 90% of all the companies in Germany are very small businesses. Many of them incredible world leaders. And there’s a level of consensual management there and team, team performance that is really unseen anywhere else that I’ve ever been. And I said, “You know maybe that’s one of the reasons why some of these small German companies really perform so well.”

HEFFNER: What about the rest of the world, Bill?

BAKER: Well …

HEFFNER: Certainly as you, as you surveyed the American Management Association’s lists and databank, you must have wondered what about others?

BAKER: Yeah, we did. We, well we looked around the world considerably. And, and the world does have a kind of uneven performance in that area. For example, in places like, like Japan, there’s very much a collegial management system. Spain, Germany, Israel … very interesting. But there are other places in the world where it may not be that way. I’m not really sure what it’s like in China. I’m not really sure what it’s like in Russia. And, and one of the dilemmas that many senior managers have in America, particularly in multi-national corporations is also dealing with multiple cultures.

Because with multiple cultures, people are motivated and activated in different ways. Although it is interesting, as I studied this, this subject of leading with kindness and the reason I picked out this subject was that I blamed the business that I’ve been in for 50 years, the television and movie business … they’ve, you know, they’ve lionized these, these imperious bosses … The Devil Wears Prada, Wall Street … well the Donald Trump program of whatever … I can’t remember the name of it. And all of … The Simpsons … all of these come with these terrible, imperious bosses.

And Michael O’Malley and I knew that all of the research showed … and frankly all of the practical experience showed treating people well … using the Golden Rule … really works. And why then are all of these terrible people highlighted when really the good people should be highlighted.

And as I delved into the quote … Golden Rule … I just assumed it was kind of a biblically Christian principle. Well, it is … it is, it is … heavily in the Old Testament … it’s in the Koran, it’s in Buddhist writings, it is in, it is in writings of ancient Greece. It’s really kind of fundamental to our human state. So treating people right is something that people have … that individuals and cultures and religions have known forever. And why we don’t’ do that is amazing to me.

HEFFNER: Now, let me ask you straight … in your years in broadcasting … commercial and then public …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … you’ve met many, many, many, many business leaders. How many of them would smile benignly at you having read the book and say to you … even now … even with what we’re going through … come on now … what do you think?

BAKER: I think a lot of people would look at me askance (laugh) … yes … and say “Give me a break, you know, I’ve got to do these tough things, I’ve got to be the tough guy”. And I think that’s sad. Because what that really is very often is insecurity on the part of the leader.

Too often leaders wind up in these jobs because they are kind of “Peter Principled” there, or they had another job where they failed, but because they were in that category some head hunting firm put them in there, even though they may not have done all that well in their previous job. And we … I see that happen over and over again.

And I think to myself if they were just perhaps a bit more human, they would guarantee themselves some success. And, and … but, but … it’s a problem, so that’s why we decided … Michael and I decided to write this book and see if we could get it into the drinking water of the American industrial complex. Whether we do or not, I don’t know.

But, you know, thanks to you and some other TV shows maybe we can get the word out.

HEFFNER: Anybody replied to you with words about “tough love”?

BAKER: Ah, oh, yes, very often and as a matter of fact we don’t mean by “leading with kindness” … we have to be very careful … we spend the first … almost first two chapters talking about what “kind” is.

And it’s more reflective of, of really what Gandhi said, or was quoted as saying which is “don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” It doesn’t mean that these are people that are … that can be abused by their subordinates, who don’t have strong opinions, who can’t make tough decisions, including lay off people and tell people they aren’t performing and terminate them, etc.

But, but these are people that also represent kind of characteristics of compassion, integrity, gratitude. Things that are human and are not afraid to say, “I really appreciate your work.” Or “I don’t know what’s right here, I need your help.”

That’s what we’re talking about, we’re not talking about a doormat, we’re not talking about somebody who’s a wimp and gets … you know, gets abused by his staff … or her staff.

HEFFNER: Do you think people understand that? I know you write that …

BAKER: Well … yeah …

HEFFNER: I know you write that, but do people understand that?

BAKER: Well, we don’t know. That’s why we’re out waving the flag. We even … it’s interesting, we’ve done a couple of … we’re in the 21st century technology world trying to spread this.

We have a very, very profound, deep website, called LeadingwithKindness.com, which is pretty interesting. We have in it clips of various business leaders and their employees, video clips. You know we did a, a public TV show, as a companion to this book, so we’re trying to, you know, get, get it out in various ways. We did with the American Management Association, what they call a “webinar”, I’ve never done …

HEFFNER: Webinar?

BAKER: Webinar, which is a seminar all done on the web and had 3,000 people, you know, while we talked, communicating back with us on line. It was pretty exciting.

HEFFNER: You’re finally getting into the communications world … huh …

BAKER: You know, you know, now I’ve learned how to run a computer. (Laugh)

HEFFNER: Right. Even, even, that.

BAKER: (Laughter)

HEFFNER: Bill, what about young people today?

BAKER: Well, that’s very interesting and young people, there’s something going on. There’s something wonderful going on.

The introduction of our book is written by Glenn Hubbard, the Dean of the Columbia Business School. You know one of the top business schools of the world and quoted in the book is our … is the Associate Dean of IESE, the very, very famous business school in Barcelona, Spain, considered one of the best in the world.

And everybody’s saying the same thing. And I’m finding it at my work at Fordham, at my work at the Columbia Business School and others, that, that in the last two or three years, just about two or three years, suddenly there’s a revolution … not at the business schools, but in the students … five, ten years ago, certainly students that would come to business school were the brightest and the best. But they had one goal … making money.

And they didn’t want to necessarily do it unethically, or anything, but they really wanted to make money. And that was paramount in their view.

Now these same students …the students that are there now, the new students … are also still the brightest and the best, the smartest people you could ever imagine. But their goals are not just to make money. And all of a sudden this is a change.

They … it’s coming from them … where the found it, I don’t know. They, they want to do good. They want to make money, but they want to do good. They don’t want to … they don’t want to destroy the environment.

So business schools are now preaching what they call “the triple bottom line” and some of the most enlightened companies in America are preaching the “triple bottom line”. Making money, doing good in the society and not harming the environment …that’s the triple bottom line.

HEFFNER: It’s interesting that you say that and you obviously have been very much involved in this …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … and the numbers …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … because my understanding, both from my teaching and dealing with students and from some of the other research that I’ve heard about … that doing well seems, for many and I thought most, American students, number one …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … doing well, with the notion that later on one can do good …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … but you’ve first got to do well.

BAKER: We’re not seeing that now.


BAKER: You know, as I say, particularly at the top level business schools. I mean certainly making money doing, doing well, is very much a part of it. And it has to be in business. I mean businesses go out of business if they don’t do well. But ultimately to do really well … and to do well for the long, long term … you’ve got to be doing good. That’s what we say, that’s what we believe.

HEFFNER: Now, now in terms of American’s belief …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … in a market system …the free market, the free market, the free market …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: Equivalent only to deregulation, deregulation, deregulation. How does your emphasis upon doing good first …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … how does it resonate?

BAKER: Well, I mean we can just see just recently what the free market has delivered. The free market has not necessarily delivered all good.

And an unregulated free market, where greed is allowed to overcome good can really destroy everything. And, and in some … and we see elements of that in, in our … in our economics today. And so we know that a pure, unregulated market is probably not the best thing.

So … and, and there are other values that, that, that people … that people need. They, they need more than money. They need to breathe fresh air. They need … they need their health taken care of. They need also to feel that they’re doing something of value. After a while … you know workers will work hard for money for a short time, but not forever. They want more than that.

And now there’s also another kind of work force. The … you know … when I was getting my Ph.D. in industrial psychology in industrial psychology, organizational behavior in Ohio at Case Western Reserve … you know, we were studying factories and people doing kind of rote jobs and turning up the lights and getting more output out of people

Well, those places while they still exist, they don’t exist to the degree that they did 40 years ago at all. Now our work forces are knowledge workers, we call them. They’re people that have .. .that bring something more to the party than just a rote profession. They bring more than their hands to the party, they bring their brains and that skill.

To get the most out of those people you’ve got to motivate them entirely differently. And the best of those people are people that know they can go anywhere they want. They don’t have to work for you. So they can go and work for your competitor and really do you some harm.

One of the CEOs that we interviewed for our book said that he treats his employees like volunteers. And I thought that was probably a pretty good experience for me having run public TV in New York for 20 years (laugh) because I did have a lot of volunteers and motivating them and keeping them happy because they were so key to our operation was a good experience for me because it probably helped me with the people who were not volunteers.

And you think about the business that you and I have run over the years, the public television world … there are a lot of people that could get jobs that are much higher paying other places. But why do they wind up working in public television? Well because it has a kind of value system that, that they like, that they respect.

HEFFNER: So that this is what you’re doing what the old motivation studies of the twenties and the early thirties. You’re saying “turn up the light …”

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … but it’s a different kind of light.

BAKER: Well, yeah … well, that’s well said. Yeah, it is. It’s, it’s certainly a more spiritual one and, and, and … and by the way our studies have been corroborated, or we have corroborated … depending upon when the studies came out … by others who are … who are also doing this work. There have been some recent Harvard studies that have shown that some of the … the most successful companies in the world are ones that behave this way … meaning they have leaders who care about the people, who operate on a consensual way, who, you know, care about environment, who care about, about the health and welfare of their employees, treating employees like, like good people … like the good people that they are. And people that have lives. You know, everybody comes to a job and they’re not just cookie cutters … everybody comes with his or her own background and their families and all, all this has to be dealt with and thought about, if you’re going to really maximize the productivity of, of these individuals … I don’t mean manual productivity alone, I mean their thought productivity which is now the most important thing you can have.

HEFFNER: I gather we did increase over the past decade, particularly the last eight years, individual workers’ productivity.

BAKER: Oh, yes, we’re very productive in this country.

HEFFNER: But what we did at the same time was not give them a stake. And that’s what you’re talking about … a human stake.

BAKER: That’s right. I mean it doesn’t mean that they even have to own the company. But they have to feel bought into the mission of the company and the values. CEOs of companies all over America have, have done a great job … of the best companies all over America have done a great job at that.

Companies like United Technologies … companies like Cummings Diesel. Very modern companies that were highlighted on our television show and on our website. Companies like, like Google and then there are small businesses.

We highlighted a company in, in Connecticut … a store called Mitchell’s. Two stores, they’re doing a hundred million dollars a year in business selling very expensive clothing with a staff that is so committed that if an individual buys something there, they’ll never buy at another store again because the service is so incredible. That’s from the top … it’s a family run business all the way to the bottom.

Not-for-profit organizations … we, we looked at a school … what the toughest school in America to get into would you guess?

HEFFNER: Harvard.

BAKER: It isn’t. (Laughter) There are even tougher, believe it or not. And the school we highlighted was probably the toughest school in America to get into … Julliard. And, and you would think, “Gee, the kinds of people who go into Julliard are performance people.” And they would really be, you know, massively competitive. Which, of course, they are and have had rejection and, you know, fighting for the top … for years, you know, starting when you’re 13 years old, playing the trombone, or whatever it is.” And, or the piano.

And it turns out that that is a school that has loving leadership … Dr. Joe Polisi, the President of that school And there is a camaraderie at the school of the professors, of the students that is not to be believed. And all of that has come together that makes these performers perform even better. Because everybody is supporting one another. It is an amazing place.

So, it, it … management reaches, of course, beyond industry to not-for-profits, to all kinds of organizations … to, to organizations like your schools, and your PTA. I mean everybody can be a manager … has to be manager.

HEFFNER: Well, it fascinates me, what you said before in particular about your experience in public television. Using volunteers or people who are near volunteers …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … in terms of their ability to do better financially …

BAKER: MmmHmm.

HEFFNER: … elsewhere. That’s a fascinating insight. That you would come to understand with that kind of need. Maybe that’s what America’s commercial leaders need. A stint, a stay in a volunteer situation.

BAKER: Well, you know that’s interesting. Because I had had 35 years in commercial TV, the toughest there is. And cable. And then went into public service broadcasting … I think I mentioned to you on this program years ago that when I came into public TV I thought “Well, this will be like tea with Alastair Cook every afternoon. This is going to be a vacation compared to what I was doing.”

And, and it turned out to be the toughest job I’ve ever had because it is so complex, with so many moving parts and so many different expectations and unclear, unclear measurements. And I thought after that, I thought “Wow, if anybody can successfully a big not-for-profit, running a commercial business is a, is a cream puff after that.”

HEFFNER: Have you told many people that?

BAKER: I have. (Laughter) They don’t believe me. (Laughter)

HEFFNER: Bill, what the primary … in the one minute we have left … what’s the primary reaction to Leading with Kindness?

BAKER: Well, I think we’ve gotten a lot of sweet smiles and said “Oh, that, that’s sounds great.” What we’re hoping is though that it really starts to change, change our culture. And so we’re trying it on multiple levels. We did this website leadingwithkindness.com, where, you know, hundreds of thousands of people have come.

We’ve done our book now which we’re very, very proud of and it’s really kind of an academic book. It’s not a soft pledge public TV book. And we did a public TV show that I’m running around the country and giving speeches. So, we’re hoping it makes a difference. We’re hoping we do get it into the drinking water at the, at the office.

HEFFNER: Well, Bill Baker, you made such a difference at Channel 13 …

BAKER: Thank you.

HEFFNER: For which I thank you so much once again. That I’m sure you will with Leading with Kindness and good luck with that and thanks for coming here again on The Open Mind.

BAKER: Thank you, Richard.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. If you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send $4.00 in check or money order to The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150.

Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”

N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.

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