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Accurate Predictors of Success

Tags: Leadership, Performance, Equity

Christopher Chabris and Joshua Hart demonstrate the importance of rigorous study design when asking complex social questions such as what are the predictive factors of successful people? Chabris and Hart re-examined the findings of Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld who proposed that certain ethnic and religious minority groups (among them Cubans, Jews, Asians, and Indians) achieve higher success than other groups. Chua and Rubenfeld claimed this is caused by:

1. A belief of superiority
2. Personal insecurity
3. A high degree of impulse control

What I find interesting about this story is how the first authors presented their opinion about the three factors above as fact. I wonder what this reveals about their own discomfort with success. This is also a negative approach to viewing success. They do, however, list impulse control which does get validated in the follow-up study below.

Researchers Chabris and Hart reviewed the methods of Chua and Rubenfeld and found a significant amount of subjective circumstantial evidence. Chabris and Hart went on to survey 1,258 adults and rated impulsiveness, ethnocentrism, and personal insecurity. They also tested cognitive abilities and examined income, occupation, education, and awards of achievement (artistic, athletic, or leadership). Participants also gave their age, sex, and parents’ levels of education.

Interestingly, the most successful participants reported a higher cognitive ability and had more educated parents, a higher socioeconomic background, and better impulse control. So Chua and Rubenfeld had only identified higher impulse control accurately as a predictive factor for success. In addition, Hart and Chabris replaced Chua and Rubenfeld’s findings of superiority and insecurity as a predictor of success with intelligence and a higher socioeconomic family background – a more strengths-based and positive approach to viewing success.

For whatever reason, Chua and Rubenfield were erroneously stating that one’s superiority and insecurity were predictors of success. Thankfully, Chabris and Hart concluded that Chua and Rubenfeld needed to apply empirical inquiry into the studying of the minority groups. They clarified that higher cognitive ability, more educated parents, and higher socioeconomic background, as well as better impulse control, all surfaced to accurately predict success. Therefore Chabris and Hart have proven their point –  study design is everything in producing accurate research outcomes.

I find this scenario important because it shows how inadequate research design can foster wrong information being disseminated. In this case, we were being told by Chua and Rubenfeld that minorities are both insecure and superior, accusations that are frequently hurled at minorities. The more skilled team of Chabris and Hart clarified that successful people are actually more likely to be produced by families with more money, more education, and greater intelligence. At least Chua and Rubenfeld accurately stated that better impulse control predicted success. Even though the famous marshmallow study established that previously.

The follow-up question I raise after reading about the findings of Chabris and Hart is how can we help young people produced by parents with less money, education, and intelligence to be more successful – against the odds?

What are your thoughts?



People of Low Income have Hope for Achieving Longevity

Tags: Leadership, Equity

New research reveals that lower income people may not be doomed to a shorter life as prior studies have implied. Reporters Neil Irwin and Quoctrung Buil share their hopeful findings that some locations in the U.S. seem to foster greater longevity for the less fortunate. This opens up an exciting discussion in healthcare regarding a mix of positive habits and public health variables that may buffer the negative effects of poverty. Surprisingly, some large cities like New York and Los Angeles and some small cities like Birmingham are experiencing increased life expectancy in lower income individuals. However, many areas in the U.S. are showing decreased longevity in the same group.

A large concern is that the gap in life expectancy in the U.S. between rich and poor markedly increased from 2001 to 2014.  Men in the top one percent of income lived fifteen years longer than the poorest one percent. In women, the same gap differs by ten years.

I found it particularly interesting that the wealthy benefit from longevity no matter where they live — gaining three additional years in the past fifteen years alone. In contrast, for low income Americans, the results and lifespan vary greatly according to geographic location.

So what’s the big deal about this research? Well, for the first time there is evidence that longevity can be elongated without fixing the more challenging income disparity problem. It is now clear that some geographic locations foster some healthy behaviors that catalyze longevity. In Dr. Raj Chetty’s research he concludes that differences in life expectancy were correlated with health behaviors and local area characteristics.

When I look at the actual journal research report, Chetty found some interesting results such as:

  • In whites across all income levels, mortality rates increased most rapidly for people with low levels of education.
  • In looking at geographic locations, some fostered a lower life expectancy than others. These locations included Oklahoma City, Gary-Indiana, and Toledo-Ohio. In these areas, lower length of life was correlated with smoking, obesity, and exercise; as well as differences in medical care. Therefore I am struck by how health behaviors surface as key factors in life span.
  • Lack of access to care did not appear to be as strong a predictor as health habits.
  • Low income people lived longer if they lived in a city with inhabitants who were highly educated, had large incomes, and had high levels of government expenditures. Examples include New York City and San Francisco. My thought it that there is some mysterious spillover effect from wealthy to low income residents of the same city.

Raj Chetty and colleagues stated that these findings are rough and recent. In the future there will need to be a better designed study with validation and expansion of these findings. So health care initiatives can begin to target the low scoring cities with efforts to improve healthy behaviors among low income residents. As an example, New York City has a trans fat ban and an aggressive anti-tobacco campaign. Cigarette prices rose to more than $12 for a single pack and subsequently the smoking rate plummeted in the last fifteen years.

It is clear we need to identify the elusive health and social variables that foster living a long and healthy life. Trying to identify the keys for longevity will be the goal of future research. It appears that improving access to health care may not have the effect that people had hoped. The preliminary findings reveal that targeting behaviors or disease groups on a population level may be the way to go instead of improving direct care. Targeting behaviors and disease groups is how large health systems are attempting to improve how people manage and prevent disease.

It will be exciting to follow how future research continues to identify key variables in living and a long and healthy life.



A Clear Voice Over Time Increases Visibility and Productivity at the 2016 Grammy’s

(Tags: Leadership, Performance, Equity)

I am on the road here, but want to discuss significant progress on minority (especially black) award nominations, greater visibility, and a significant number of awards on last Monday night’s 2016 Grammy Awards. This is especially meaningful compared to the Oscars awards show (which broadcasts on March 28th), which strangely achieved virtually no black nominations during the past two seasons. The leaders of the Oscars clearly have a lot to learn from the Grammy organization. I am interested in how this difference in leadership can inform other industries. Many industries still have boards consisting largely of white males. Early research is showing that when women are in c-suite leadership positions they are bringing greater success and higher performance of key performance indicators. Yet we are still hearing about “equal pay for equal work” as if it is a new idea because it hasn’t been achieved yet.

The further inclusion of minorities in music is transforming the musical palette. Minorities are being recognized in greater numbers in the music business because of a more diverse voting group. The Oscars are so busted (a phrase featured in the movie American Beauty-1999). The Oscars Leadership are set in their ways and apparently hold on to rigid criteria for who votes, thus excluding minorities. Zero is hard to argue down folks and this sounds strangely similar to how national voting has a history of tremendous bias. A common excuse of the Academy Awards Leadership is to say something like: “Oh, we wish we had better applicants, but alas there aren’t any.” This is how the “game” has been played for a long time. Really? Their brand is deeply hurt and they know it. It is clear that the Oscars leadership will try to market their way out of this PR crisis as famous stars demand a boycott of the Oscars. So far they have returned to Chris Rock as MC for the awards ceremony. Amazing actors like Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan have been snubbed and the Academy will try to save face, but it’s really too late to fix this by the broadcast. The long term remedy will take time. Messing with one’s brand is not a wise move in business. My prediction is that a leader of the Academy will speak briefly about all the things the Academy is doing to foster equity during the ceremony. So why has the music business gotten the joke and the Academy instead continues to forego inclusion and maintains their innocence? They say it’s not their problem, it is the lack of minority talent or that a minority star cannot attract an audience.

One minority nomination (for Best Original Screenplay) from the Academy this year is for the movie Straight Out of Compton, the story of the ceiling-breaking band, N.W.A. However, the nomination goes to two white writers. None of the black actors received nominations, including the talented movie star and real-life son of the original N.W.A. member, Ice Cube (a.k.a. O’Shea Jackson, Sr), who wrote nearly half of the lyrics for the early albums. The young star is O’Shea Jackson Jr., ironically born in February 1991, the year N.W.A disbanded because of a corrupt manager and the soiled relationships resulting. 1991 was also the year I moved to Chicago may I add. It was 25 years ago and in some ways not much has changed regarding oppression for young black men. For example, the incarceration of young minority men for non-violent crimes is still a problem, but what has changed is people are more aware of the prison nation and they have a stronger voice for the need for equity.

On a positive note, last week the Grammys actually produced large numbers of minority nominees and winners. Some say the big awards still went to white artists (like Taylor Swift), which may be true, but the fact remains that the numbers and quality of minority talent was staggering. Highly talented minority nominees, those honored, or winners included: the brilliant Kendrick Lamar, host LL Cool J, The Weekend, Andra Day (channeling Amy Winehouse), Pitbull, Earth Wind and Fire, Natalie Cole, Ruth Brown, Lionel Richie, Ice Cube, Demi Lavado, Bruno Mars, D’Angelo, Buddy Guy, Angelique Kidjo, Ricky Martin, Ruben Blades, Linda Ronstadt, Hamilton (the hip-hop musical) and more. The amazing Amy Winehouse won a posthumous Grammy for the music in the film Amy. A week or so earlier at the Super Bowl, Beyoncé Knowles performed her activistic new song “Formation” with costumes inspired by the hair and clothing (and politics?) of the Black Panthers. The music video for “Formation” also criticizes oppression by some police with the image of Beyoncé atop a sinking police car in the flood waters of Katrina while she sings her lyrics of power and calls for an end to bigotry.

Ms. Knowles achieved the remarkable: mainstream exposure as one of the three half-time artists during the Super Bowl as she sang her new song and her dancers formed an “X” allegedly of Malcolm X fame and then simultaneously releases the song’s video demonstrating concern about continued oppression of young men of color no differently than the original N.W.A. artists did between 1986 and 1991. The similarities are substantial, yet few are asking for the arrest of Beyoncé as they did for N.W.A. For the first time Beyoncé emerges as a force to influence general society. Interestingly, the word formation is defined in the Free Dictionary as “A specified arrangement or deployment, as of aircraft, troops, or players on a sports team”. The word has an aggressive meaning that she only half-hides in a Madonna-inspired brilliant political video that is her own. But the aggression is also about winning fairly and squarely. In a surprise appearance on the Grammies as a presenter, to counter criticism of her Super Bowl performance, she wisely stated: “Art is an unapologetic celebration of culture through expression.”

Time has ticked forward. Again, change takes time. There are so many levels of oppression to unravel. We are not simply discussing music and film. We are talking about talent and fair access for all.

Minority empowerment coaching of executives makes the subtle and hidden continued oppression conscious in clients and allows them to further develop a humble power because they are released from the messaging of hegemony (lessons that teach the oppressed to oppress themselves). Thankfully their organizations and industries now can benefit form the resulting energy, innovation, leadership, and the productivity of inclusion.

To conclude with some humor: Kanye West recently tweeted “To Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, New York Times, and any other white publication. Please do not comment on black music anymore.” Well, I don’t work for those publications so I gave it my best shot.

The lesson here is for people to continue their gentle and sometimes aggressive (formative) struggles to be seen and heard. Results are coming in so keep up the good work. Now any effective leader has to figure out how to adaptively encourage inclusion to achieve optimal engagement, innovation, and productivity. Oppressive presidential candidates beware – inclusion is beginning to demonstrate that everyone benefits.


“On issue of race, Grammys leap past the Oscars, then stumble”, LA Times, Steven Zeitchik, February 16, 2016



Money and Life Span

(Tags: Leadership, Performance, Equity)

Can the amount of money people have impact one’s longevity?  Recent studies over the past years keep pointing out disparities of life span between people of high and low income and no one seems to have clear answers. Link: Disparity in Life Spans of the Rich and the Poor Is Growing, New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise, Feb 12, 2016.

In the 1970’s, a 60 year-old wealthy man would live 1.2 years longer than a similar man with low income.  Fast forward to 2016, research reveals that the difference is now (disturbingly) about 14 years! Over the years, being wealthy increased longevity from 79.1 to 87.2 years.  People with low incomes only live to 73.6 years.  That is a huge difference.

Some hypothesize that smoking has played a key role in the difference as college graduates tend to smoke less.  Women with lower incomes smoke even more than their male counterparts. Obesity and drug abuse are also thought to be factors, but no one has an explanation for the 14 year difference.

So what should our political and academic leaders do about this important issue? First, they will have to figure out what the causes of this are in our country specifically, since these findings are not replicated in Canada or many other countries.  It will be important to solve this mystery.

I believe in a triad of exercise, nutrition, and managed stress. Is it the fact that high income folks can shop at Whole Foods?  Is it that lower income folks were shut out from vital medical care or educational access? It will be interesting to track if the Affordable Care Act will positively impact longevity by increasing access and fostering prevention.

Do people with low incomes exercise less as they age because they have to work long hours with long commutes? Lately, research studies have clarified the importance of weights and cardio exercise in longevity and prevention of dementia.

Education predicts higher income and thus greater longevity. This research will need to become more precise if effective intervention can be designed and achieved.

What do you think is the difference that causes these drastic discrepancies?



Equity as a Process versus an Outcome

Great leadership is based on humility and competence. Humility is the underpinning of the universal value of interpersonal respect. Interpersonal respect is the foundation of equity. As I understand it, equity is about ensuring equality of opportunity and decreasing discrepancies between groups of people.
Yesterday, was our nation’s holiday honoring the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which was signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1983. When he was assassinated in 1968, Dr. King was only 39. Within days, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which barred discrimination in housing. At the time, the New York Times wrote that “he was their voice of anguish, their eloquence in humiliation, their battle cry for human dignity. He forged for them the weapons of nonviolence that withstood and blunted the ferocity of segregation.” (New York Times, Eight Lives Etched in History, Sam Roberts, January 18, 2015) These are clearly wise words published in the late 60’s. Almost 50 years later, the word “their” stands out as dated because equity is a condition that affects us all. We all bear and share the burden of responsibility  to take the next step toward equity.
I used to wonder why it took so long to get to equity when our forefathers, like Thomas Jefferson, stated in the Declaration of Independence back in 1776: “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. However, many minorities were, and in some ways are still, not included in Jefferson’s idea of equality. In fact, Jefferson owned slaves himself. Can it really be taking 240 years to get to this point in the actualization of equity? Clearly yes! Since equity is clearly a step-by-step process, it will surely take many more years. Keeping this in mind, it is important to celebrate the opportunities available today, even though total equity may still be elusive.
I recommend a current best seller: “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Spiegel & Grau, New York. The book is a letter a black father writes to his son about the reality of being a black man in present day America. If you listen to the audio book, you will see the author has a powerful speaking voice and tells his son about the hidden dimensions of discrimination today. He wrote the book to empower his son in facing the challenges of equity.
So this blog goes on 240 years after the Declaration of Independence. Is equity developing well or are we still at the beginning?
 What can you do today to bring more equity to someone in your organization? Even a word of encouragement might support a person to take a risk and go for something they thought might be out of their league.
Let us each remember something special about the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Future Leaders in Peak Performance: A new hybrid of competency, authenticity, and inclusiveness

Physician Executives Forum Newsletter
January 24, 2014

Professional Pointers:

Future Leaders in Peak Performance: A new hybrid of competency, authenticity and inclusiveness

Joe Siegler, MD
President and Founder
Full Life
Spheres Executive and Physician Performance Coaching

Healthcare has grown increasingly competitive, and the companies that will flourish in this fast-moving, ever-evolving marketplace will have to promote a new form of leadership that addresses emerging priorities. A review of current business trends in healthcare reveals that the traditional task-driven, hierarchical-based models of operating systems do not account for sufficient speed, innovation and flexibility required to face fierce competition. John Kotter’s writings on the need for an additional nontraditional operating system have invited organizations to add a ”second operating system” to address these new nontraditional functions. Leaders of the future will need to successfully oversee or participate in both operating systems. The second operating system components must be seen as vital as the traditional.

It is clear that there is an opportunity for a new leader, one who has the skillsets, values and personality to adequately inspire their organization into a greatness that produces high-performing individuals, teams, senior leaders and even the staff-as-a-whole. This new prototype of a leader understands that success of the organization will depend on applying multiple innovations to the patient experience as well as to staff engagement in ways that are earthshattering and not simply talk. Inclusiveness and diversity will surely play a big role in the success of boards, clinical and administrative team productivity, and culturally sensitive patient care potentiating clinical outcomes. In order to produce this degree of effective innovation, each leader must bring diverse team members together to work toward common goals. The end game will be to inspire teams of clinicians, executives, senior leaders and staff to create new inventive programs that optimize patient experience—the ultimate metric outcome of the future.

Therefore, new leaders will promote achievement of clinical indicators for ACO relationships, traditional key performance indicators (i.e., productivity) and also introduce the vital emphasis of broad positive experience of both knowledge workers (highly trained physicians, executives and medical personnel) and customers (patients)—beyond anything we have seen up to this point in the evolution of healthcare systems. Medical care is steadily shifting away from a hospital/specialty and doctor-focused enterprise, and is moving towards a patient-oriented focus. Therefore, in the emerging paradigm, customer care is paramount to all else. This has been a long time coming, and is probably happening now because of the emphasis on metric clinical results and new cultural standards of covering most Americans with insurance. Shortages of primary care physicians also necessitate multi-disciplinary team approaches for handling potentially huge numbers of newly enrolled patients. Therefore, multi-facility and multi-disciplinary approaches will become the norm for each individual patient. For example, using a single specialist will no longer be sufficient as healthcare will increasingly utilize a multi-modal approach provided by high-performing leaders, teams and the entire staff.

The striking need for enhanced metric outcomes in disease management of individual patients also predicts a renaissance of behavioral health services (mental health and addictions) because of the valuable potential impact they can have on optimizing clinical results as well as the organizational bottom line. These rematerializing services provided on-site or locally, will also morph into exciting forms of new approaches and services such as:

  • online or video services
  • new ideas to manage mental health, addiction and recovery success
  • new tools to foster compliance and wellness of patients
  • peak performance coaching of physicians, executives, senior leaders and teams


The smartest system leaders will design and implement second parallel operating systems—those that are flexible, innovative and inclusive. For example:

  • The leaders of the future will need to create an inclusive culture by valuing people for their authentic selves, appreciating knowledge workers (doctors, nurses, technicians, etc.) and demonstrating respect of staff in multiple ways.
  • Team productivity is extremely important in achieving clinical and organizational key performance indicator metrics, more so than the performance of any single individual. Fostering a healthy, respectful work environment will be vital as team productivity becomes the vehicle of success. Research is revealing a fascinating finding that intra-team socialization predicts a higher performing team. Pentland reports that the success of teams is related to spontaneous socializing between team members1. Therefore, socializing teams will perform at higher levels, and as healthcare boards and teams become increasingly diverse, it will become imperative for skilled leaders to creatively breakdown the sense of ”difference” between team members and encourage intra-board and team socialization to foster peak output of each team. If a workplace culture is competent, inclusive and empathetic, then the staff will be more comfortable being themselves with their peers, which would result in greater intra-team socialization leading to higher performance. Services developed in this fashion will be more culturally sensitive and will serve the people from the community better with greater empathy and identification of unique needs. It is vital that all leaders examine their organization and consider the possibility that their strongly held personal beliefs and practices may actually work against the inroads into inclusion and possibly be experienced by patients and staff as imposed beliefs and practices—clearly the very opposite of effective business practices and trends.


Many leaders already claim significant advances in staff engagement and patient satisfaction (much more focal a metric than broader patient experience). That may be the case, but there clearly is a lot further we can go for each health system is a work in progress. For example, some physician and executive leaders who are fairly green are often selected for their ability to manage projects forward. They may be responsible for negotiating with staff and delivering on clinical metrics. Such a leader can make gains in project advancement, but some may have trouble with second operating system goals of innovation, emotional intelligence, transparency and inclusion. Objective ”left brain” skillsets of such leaders are needed by most organizations, but so are warm interpersonal skills of openness, inclusion and respect. According to business trends, in the future, through careful selection and training of leaders, transparency and interpersonal respect have to dominate as cross-system practices. This doesn’t mean that leadership has to agree with everyone. It means discussion has to be on the table and fair. These new peak performance practices have the potential to create a new and positive leadership style that I call humility of position.

It is clear that inclusion and interpersonal respect both need to be a core practice for true organizational success—for culturally sensitive approaches to staff and patients must rule. This clearly pertains to differences of many groups of staff and patients, which cannot all be listed here, such as income, gender, race, orientation, religion, disability, community, citizenship, age, etc.

As healthcare companies shift away from hospital and practitioner-based service and move to a patient-centered approach, there will be a greater need for organizational cultures that simultaneously improve the environment for knowledge workers and all staff, as they continue to revolutionize the patient experience more and more over time. Porter and Lee call this the value agenda: achieving the best outcomes at the lowest cost—that everything is ultimately about the patient2. Maintaining high-performing teams of all types requires the guidance of competent, respectful and humble leadership. Without innovative second operating systems, traditional operating systems alone will not work in future healthcare systems that are measured by the resulting metrics of patient experience, staff engagement, and key performance indicators.

Some of the most interesting ideas in business leadership are coming out of a few highly successful companies like Netflix. We cannot be sure which of these new second operating system approaches will also work in healthcare, but it is vital for leaders to be aware of innovations in other industries that are catalyzing company growth through greater staff and customer engagement.

These are exciting times. We must find, hire and groom the leaders of the future. They will be diverse, kind, smart, innovative, inclusive, fast, humble and able to build the second operating system to achieve key organizational and clinical results. These are lofty goals, but the reward will be exponentially worthwhile. This new paradigm will be appreciated by many and make it cool to be both competent and decent.

I welcome your thoughts and comments at info@flcoaching.com or 773.529.1200.

1 Pentland, A. April 2012. “The New Science of Building Great Teams.” Harvard Business Review.
2 Porter, M., and T. Lee. Oct. 2013. “The Strategy That Will Fix Health Care.” Harvard Business Review.

Money Cannot Buy Empathy

Did you ever feel that the rich in this country lack basic empathy? This possibility sounds remote, but new research reveals that such discrepancies in empathy can be quantified and demonstrated to be true. A recent New York Times article called “The Rich Lack Empathy, Study Says” reports the findings of researchers this past October. According to one of the researchers in charge of the study, Dr. Keltner, the economically disadvantaged lack the means to hire people to help them, so in order to seek aid and support, they develop effective empathy skills. The wealthy, who have the benefit of being able to hire people to support them, do not develop these skills to the same degree. As a result, those from wealthy backgrounds often miss emotional cues and non-verbal hints.

Here are some ways that difficulties with empathy can show up in individuals:

  • Lack of identification with others.
  • Limited imagination for how other people could go about accomplishing a task.
  • Inability to tell what someone might be thinking.
  • Missed social cues and hints.

The drawbacks of having a poorly developed sense of empathy include being seen by peers, family, or employees as cold or insensitive. Stepping up your empathy skill set can alleviate these problems. A person with an empathy deficit should bank on using a visualization exercise in which one imagines they are in the others’ shoes.

So putting care and understanding into all one’s relationships, may trigger a lot more positive energy (and even greater employee engagement).

What do you think?


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