The Two Leadership Failure Patterns

Tim and Junior talk about the two primary failure patterns in leadership, incompetence and corruption. Effective leaders are leaders with high competence and high moral character. A deficiency in one or the other leaves us susceptible to poor choices, values, and influence on our leadership journey. As part of the episode, our host outlined four different types of leaders. Are you the apprentice, the accomplice, the villain, or the hero?

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Episode Show Notes

Tim and Junior talk about the two primary failure patterns in leadership, incompetence and corruption. Effective leaders are leaders with high competence and high moral character. A deficiency in one or the other leaves us susceptible to poor choices, values, and influence on our leadership journey. As part of the episode, our host outlined four different types of leaders. Are you the apprentice, the accomplice, the villain, or the hero?

  • Leadership failures often fall into two categories: incompetence and corruption.
  • Character and competence are both essential for effective leadership.
  • Influence can be positive or negative, depending on the combination of character and competence.
  • The relationship between incompetence and corruption can lead to a downward spiral in leadership and life. Leadership can be categorized into four quadrants: the apprentice, the accomplice, the villain, and the hero.
  • Developing both character and competence is essential to becoming a hero leader.
  • Plotting your current and future positions on the leadership field helps identify the gap and create tension for growth.
  • Closing the gap requires a fearless examination of personal leadership pathology and a commitment to change.


Introduction (00:00)
The Two Failure Patterns: Incompetence and Corruption (00:35)
The Two Axes: Character and Competence (03:01)
Character and Competence: The Intersection (04:17)
Building Influence through Competence and Character (06:18)
Influence Can Be Positive or Negative (08:00)
The Relationship Between Incompetence and Corruption (16:11)
The Four Character Types: Apprentice (25:42)
The Accomplice (29:13)
The Villain (31:19)
The Hero (34:27)
Plotting Your Position (40:18)
Closing the Gap (46:53)
Final Thoughts (58:13)

Episode Transcript

0:00:02.7 Jillian: Welcome back, Culture by Design listeners. It's Jillian, one of the producers of the podcast. This week, Tim and Junior are talking about the two primary failure patterns in leadership, incompetence and corruption. Effective leaders are leaders with high competence and high moral character. A deficiency in one or the other leaves us susceptible to poor choices, values and influence on our leadership journey. As part of the episode, our host outlined four different types of leaders. Are you the apprentice, the accomplice, the villain, or the hero? As always, show notes, transcripts, and important links for the episode can be found at Thanks for listening and enjoy today's episode on the two gutters of leadership.

0:00:49.5 Junior: Welcome back everyone to Culture By Design. I'm Junior, here with my cohost, Dr. Tim Clark, and today, we'll be discussing, I guess what you could call the gutters of leadership: Incompetence and corruption. Tim, how are you?

0:01:02.1 Tim Clark: Oh, great. Fantastic. Looking forward to this discussion. This is relevant, this is practical. This applies to everyone. There's no one that is not included in this discussion today.

0:01:16.0 Junior: Yeah, I'm looking forward to it too. We're going to answer the question, how many ways can a leader fail? So think about that. If I came to you and I asked you that question, how many ways exist that a leader can fail? You might be able to create a list of a hundred, a thousand, 10,000 things. Our list has two things, just two things.

0:01:40.6 Tim Clark: Just two.

0:01:41.4 Junior: How about that?

0:01:44.5 Tim Clark: Yeah, I think that's true, Junior. I think top of mind, people could come up with all kinds of ways, but then the question is, can we classify those? Can we categorize those? And that's what we're going to talk about.

0:01:57.5 Junior: Yep. Just two buckets.

0:01:57.6 Tim Clark: Two buckets. I think we have a thesis here, Junior. We see a lot of leadership failures, but they really fall into these two buckets of either incompetence on the one hand, or corruption on the other. It could be a combination of both, but those are the two primary failure patterns across the board.

0:02:20.5 Junior: Yeah, those are the two things. And why should you the one listening to this care? That's the purpose of our conversation. Our goal for this episode is to increase your own awareness of the pathological patterns in your own leadership, and to be able to spot it in others, to interact more effectively, to coach and to become the best leader you can be. One of the things that I'm most excited about for this episode, we're going to describe four character types: Hero, villain, apprentice, and accomplice. And if you stay to the end of the episode, you'll be able to figure out which one you are. How about that? So stick around. So leadership performance has two axes. Tim, can you tell me about these two character incompetence? Define those a little bit. We've talked about them in the past, but as a refresher, let us know.

0:03:08.1 Tim Clark: Right. So the first axis is the character axis, which just think of a line that runs from one end to another, and at one end is corruption, and the other end is incorruption. So that is the character axis of leadership. And just think about yourself, you will fall somewhere on that continuum between corruption and incorruption. The second axis is competence. And that second line runs from competent to incompetent. And again, you will be able to, whether you're accurate or not, you fall somewhere on that continuum between being competent and being incompetent. Now, I'm kind of framing that in a binary way. It's not, right, it's a continuum. It's a matter of degree, but these are the two axes that define leadership, the playing field on which we all play. Leadership is an applied discipline.

0:04:12.6 Junior: So the way that it makes sense most in my brain is competence means that you can do things. So if you're more competent, you can do more things, and character means do the right things. So if you have more character or higher character, you do more of the right things. Now, there's some nuance to both of these, and it's important that they live together. Why? Here's a consideration. Competence is amoral. Competence is just potential influence. It's just skill. But skills are dead if they're not aimed at something, if they're not employed towards some goal. There's got to be motivation behind the skills you employ, otherwise there's nothing, you're not moving. And there's also the idea that you are not your skills, it's the application of your skills, that is who you are. So you are how you use your skills, and that leads us into character. So character, if you look at character in isolation, and you detach it from skill, then character alone, just like competence alone is just potential. It's just potential influence. You can't be your passive morality. You're the quality, the aim, the intent of your behavior. But again, if you just have, there really is no such thing as character with no behavior. We see your character through your behavior. So both of these things in isolation are really useless. It's only at their intersection that it starts to become interesting and valuable.

0:05:48.6 Tim Clark: That's right, Junior. It's at the intersection where we see a manifestation of leadership could be good or bad, could be strong or weak. And I love what you said that competence is amoral, inherently, character is inherently moral. Right? So we're putting those together to create a combination that would characterize an individual, and we all have a combination of competence along one axis, and character along the other axis. And that defines who we are, at least today. We don't have to stay where we are, but there is a position that we occupy right now.

0:06:34.8 Junior: I would also say that character is moral, but only when it is combined with skill, right? We have to be moving, we have to be doing something, otherwise we can't judge. So we need both axes in order to assess leadership, in order to develop leadership. And that's kind of the crux, the foundation of the conversation today. So, Tim, if leadership is influence, do you build influence? Do you build leadership through competence or character? There's a softball.

0:07:05.5 Tim Clark: Yeah. Yes. Yeah, it's both. It's a combination. And just look around in the people that you work with, your colleagues, maybe someone that you report to, leaders around you, and you'll see different combinations of competence and character all over. And you'll see different degrees of influence, and I guess qualitative differences in influence as well. So for example, let's just look at the character side. Can you exert influence through the character side? Sure. When people can trust that you'll act ethically, you exert significant influence, because your behavior is predictable. So people have predictive understanding of you as an individual, that gives you credibility, it gives you trust, it allows you to influence.

0:08:03.1 Junior: So is influence just positive? That's the next softball question, but I think it's important for the train of logic. So is our influence only positive if we're influencing?

0:08:12.2 Tim Clark: It makes me think of a word, kind of a vogue word that I don't know when it came into circulation, Junior, maybe when social media developed, but the word influencer, an influencer, right? Is an influencer inherently good or bad? And we don't know. It could be either one, it could be anywhere along the spectrum. So influence can be malevolent, it can be benevolent, right? It can be somewhere in between. It can be inconsistent, which creates confusion, but influence can be exerted that's positive to negative in different degrees.

0:08:52.5 Junior: Yeah. So let's think about those who have lived, who have done the most damage to the world. These were skilled people, which is why we can't just look at leadership as skill. Those people had skill, they had hard skill, they had soft skill. So if you just look at that line, it's proof that skill alone does not equate to good leadership. Yet often, you'll hear people say, oh, he is a good leader, like super skilled. That's just a piece of the puzzle.

0:09:22.4 Tim Clark: As if that were a synonym, right? But it's not.

0:09:27.2 Junior: It's exactly not. So there are two dominant failure patterns in leadership. And we sprung this on you early, because it's probably going to be in the title of the podcast. But the two failure patterns are incompetence and corruption. So what is incompetence? Incompetence is a deficiency in skill. It's deficiency in a hard skill or a soft skill or both. So what does this mean? It means that you're ineffective. Regardless of where you're pointing your influence, your radius of influence will be small. So if you're incompetent, you can only do so much good, and you can only do so much damage. That's incompetence. What about corruption? Tim, what's corruption to you?

0:10:06.8 Tim Clark: Corruption... Corruption is about your moral character. It's about having an ethical creed. It's about having values. I love the line from Hamilton. It's in the play or it's in the musical. If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for? So character on the axis that runs from corruption to incorruption, it begins with figuring out what you stand for, identifying values that you're going to be committed to. If you don't have those, then what will you fall for? Who knows?

0:10:47.3 Junior: Anything.

0:10:48.4 Tim Clark: Right? Anything.

0:10:49.9 Junior: Anything. And how much do you stand for whatever it is? The degree to which you stand for something also dictates what you'll fall for. So if you are just softly adherent to some philosophy, you may fall easily for something on the other side, where if you are cemented into a point of view, you'll probably fall for less. Now to what do you cement your view, that's an important question, and we'll get into that. So I looked up the etymology of corruption as kind of interesting. It said that corruption is derived from the Latin word corruptio, meaning moral decay, wicked behavior, putridity or rottenness.

0:11:31.9 Tim Clark: Wow.

0:11:33.7 Junior: Those are pretty soft words, right?

0:11:35.4 Tim Clark: Yeah. [laughter]

0:11:36.5 Junior: No, absolutely not. Putridity?

0:11:40.0 Tim Clark: Yeah.

0:11:40.1 Junior: Wow. Rottenness, wicked behavior, moral decay, that's pretty interesting.

0:11:47.1 Tim Clark: Yeah.

0:11:47.7 Junior: So when we talk about corruption, that's precisely what we mean. We don't mean some soft or fluffy or watered down version of corruption. We mean exactly that. So corruption is largely about misplaced aim. I was thinking a little bit about this, and corruption to me is almost inherently self-centered. It's about you, it's indulgent. That's the aim is self. And these two failure patterns incompetence and corruption are related. So Tim, unpack a little bit of that for me. What are some of the relationship between these two failure patterns?

0:12:25.8 Tim Clark: Well, you said just a minute ago that you can have values, you can have an ethical creed, you can observe moral behavior to a point beyond which maybe you cave, maybe you give out, right? And you become, let's say venal. Let's say that you're not bribable, you won't steal, you won't cheat until we get to a point where the stakes are high enough and then you're for sale. So that's a very interesting thing where your values will only take you so far and then you abandon those. That's a very interesting thing that we need to think about, because what character implies is that there are some things that are not for sale at any price. That's what it means. So you cannot convert some of those things into economic terms. They're simply not for sale, and that's what we're saying. But if they are, if you can reduce those to economics, and you're for sale, then you really don't have character. Even if you say at the low end, I'll be honest, that's not gonna work. So that's one way to think about it.

0:13:41.7 Tim Clark: The other thing that's really interesting is that there are temptations between the two, Junior. Let's talk about the temptations. So for example, if you're incompetent, what is the temptation, if you are incompetent, but you also have ambition? You want to get ahead, you want to achieve or accomplish certain things, but you're not willing to pay the price to become competent. Now, we have a dilemma. What are you going to do? The problem that we encounter here is that if you're incompetent, but you have ambition, then you will be tempted to move into corruption. Do you see how easily you can slide into corruption if you're incompetent? So that incompetence fosters, or at least makes you susceptible to corruption. And Junior, we talked about this a little bit. I think you kind of framed this in a certain way. How did you frame it?

0:14:39.0 Junior: Well, incompetence and corruption are mutually reinforcing. So let's say in your example that you are incompetent, the easiest way to get the next thing done is to lie about something. So if we don't wanna put in the effort to become skilled, then corruption is the easiest out. Now we described corruption in a pretty polar way, right? The polar end of corrupt is pretty dark, but it's a spectrum that goes from white to black, and there's a lot of gray in-between. And so you may be near the middle in that spectrum. I think about, I had an engineering class years ago, and we created bridges out of skewers and wood glue, and there was a span of maybe two feet, and you had finite materials, you had to structure your bridge in a certain way that could hold as much load as possible. And then there was a string with a bucket in the center of the bridge that hung down. And you would gram by gram add sand until the thing broke. And the stronger the bridge, the more weight it could hold.

0:15:44.2 Junior: And so maybe yours is a pretty strong bridge, but at some point, it will start to crack, because it can't support a certain load. So maybe let's say that the bridge isn't very strong and you start to move into that gray area, because it's easy. You fudge one number, just one, and it's not even that different than what it should be, just one. Maybe you accept a gift that's $50 over the HR prescribed gift limit, right? Maybe you'd... And these things, and you start to erode and you move farther and farther toward black. And maybe it's still quite gray, it's got a light of white in it, but you move that direction, you lean into corruption. Now what happens? Corruption then in turn fosters incompetence, because corrupt people will create echo chambers.

0:16:32.3 Junior: A pathological hierarchy is based on what? Is it based on competence? No, not entirely. Although it's part, it's based on patronage and bribery and impunity. So do those things breed skill? No, of course they don't breed skill. No, they don't. And so that will devolve into a pretty pathological environment where now, we are neither moral nor skilled. We are corrupt and incompetent. And then, okay, we become less competent. Now there's even more incentive to be corrupt, because that's the only way that we can get the next thing done and so on and so forth. And we spiral downward into a place that we really don't want to be. Now, if you look at some of the most horrific things that have happened on Earth, that's precisely what has happened. And maybe not precisely, but it is definitely a pattern that can describe how we get into the types of scenarios that we as humans tend to get ourselves in. So if you put those things together, and you look at their relationship, I think it's really interesting. It's fascinating to me.

0:17:35.2 Tim Clark: I worked with a very large organization, and somehow, some employees were able to break into the system. It was an HRIS system, well, I guess it was the enterprise system that included the HRIS system and also compensation. And they were able to get in, break into the system and manipulate the system that controlled bonus compensation.

0:18:01.4 Junior: Nice.

0:18:03.3 Tim Clark: Isn't that interesting? And so they got in and you'd think, oh, okay, maybe a couple of people got in and they started manipulating the system so that they could get bigger payouts with their bonuses. Well, this went on for months and months until it was uncovered. And after they uncovered it, they realized that it had spread far and wide. And it was this massive... It turned into this massive conspiracy with hundreds of employees participating. Isn't that crazy?

0:18:35.3 Junior: Wow.

0:18:37.2 Tim Clark: And so it goes back to values aren't really values until they're put under pressure. You can say that you have certain values or that you have certain ethics that you subscribe to a certain moral position, but perhaps, we don't really know until we pressurize the situation and we test you.

0:19:03.0 Junior: That's the only way.

0:19:06.7 Tim Clark: And so that's what happened in this situation, Junior, and hundreds of employees, they failed the test because at the end of the day, everything was dollar-denominated for them, who's economics? And so they said, Yeah, I wanna play. Now, never mind the lack of common sense to participate in something like this, that's a different conversation.

0:19:25.4 Junior: Yep.

0:19:25.5 Tim Clark: Because you don't ever get away with things like that, is very foolish, but the fact that all of these people would elect to play...

0:19:35.1 Junior: Yeah.

0:19:36.7 Tim Clark: Was astonishing to me.

0:19:37.3 Junior: Well, there's a fascinating idea here, that's probably another vein, but Nietzsche said that much of what passes as morality is actually cowardice, and what does that mean in this context? It means that true morality is only true morality when there is no negative consequence, even in the realm of possibility.

0:19:57.1 Tim Clark: Aha! Love it.

0:19:57.5 Junior: So many people would edit bonus structure if they knew that there was no chance of a negative consequence. Now, how do we get to the point where we know there's actually no possibility of a negative consequence and we still decide to not make that choice, right, so we wanna end up there and do this by choice, not by fear of negative consequence. So let's go ahead and talk about these four character types, this I think will be interesting to people because we're gonna describe how we plot ourselves on this map, so Tim, you described what we're going to talk through as an arena, that really resonated with me. Tell me about that.

0:20:37.2 Tim Clark: So this is the arena of leadership, but Junior, you said something, you added an insight that I think is crucial, and that is, this is also the arena of life, the arena of life and the arena of leadership are not two different arenas, they are the same arena. And so in this arena, you've got this vertical line, so just envision, right. In your mind a vertical line running top to bottom, competence at the top, incompetence at the bottom, now there's a horizontal line that runs left to right, it's corrupt on the one hand, and it's incorrupt at the other. So there are the two axis, competent to incompetent, top to bottom, corrupt to incorrupt, left to right, There's the playing field.

0:21:28.0 Junior: Yep.

0:21:30.8 Tim Clark: And what's so interesting is that we are all on the field, you can't be a conscientious objector and say, I don't wanna play. You're on the field, you can't get off the field, you can't sit on the sidelines, you can't be a spectator. That's not an option. You are on the field of play. So we can all plot ourselves. Everybody's plottable, everyone is somewhere in that arena in one of those quadrants, and then somewhere within the quadrant, you will find yourself there, this combination of competence and character running from corrupt and incorrupt.

0:22:10.1 Junior: So think about a big plus sign, and for the math people out there, just traditional X-Y axes, we have four quadrants, we have the upper right quadrant, positive X, positive Y, this is the combination of competent and incorrupt, we'll try and put this model in the show notes as well, so you can see it, in the quadrant beneath that, the lower right hand, we have a positive X, a negative Y, this is incorrupt and incompetent, then to the left of that, the bottom left we have corrupt and incompetent, we have the top left, which is competent and corrupt. Now we decided to go ahead and put descriptors to each of these boxes, and so we'll go ahead and say that you can choose to be one of four people, and each quadrant on this X-Y axes is representative of a character type.

0:23:04.8 Junior: So the first one we're going to describe is the bottom right, and this is the combination of incompetent and incorrupt. Now, this is a spectrum. We're going to be talking about these in and hopefully not absolutes, but we're going to describe these quadrants using just one word, now, there are a lot of words that we could use to plot a whole bunch of different points in this quadrant, but we're just going to choose one, and this word is apprentice, apprentice, incorrupt and incompetent, meaning that we've developed some character. But we have yet to achieve a high degree of competence, we're learning.

0:23:40.7 Tim Clark: We're learning.

0:23:44.5 Junior: We appreciate your attitude, and you're on your way, but your contribution will be limited based on your current skills.

0:23:50.8 Tim Clark: Yeah.

0:23:51.1 Junior: What do you think about this one?

0:23:51.6 Tim Clark: Junior, it reminds me of a few months ago, we had a plumber come over to do a little repair work at the house, and the plumber was a master plumber, and he brought along with him an apprentice. It was very interesting. I didn't stay with them, but for just a few minutes at the beginning, to watch the apprentice interact with the master plumber, the apprentice was learning, the apprentice was observing, the apprentice was being guided and directed. And the apprentice was, I think, would follow this description, incorrupt, so a moral character, but not competent.

0:24:38.9 Junior: Yeah.

0:24:40.1 Tim Clark: Could just do a little bit of this and that, had to be very much directed in the tasks and the sequence of the work was learning, so I still remember that. And I think it's a good illustration.

0:24:52.6 Junior: I think it's a great illustration because there's so much story behind it, so imagine that this apprentice shows up to your house to do the plumbing alone and you direct him to the issue, you describe the problem, there's a visible problem, big leak, puddle on the floor.

0:25:11.2 Tim Clark: Yeah.

0:25:11.7 Junior: And he can have or she could have the best attitude about the issue, they could be completely forthright, completely honest, up front, but they couldn't fix it.

0:25:28.1 Tim Clark: They can't get the job done. No.

0:25:28.2 Junior: So we really appreciate your attitude and we appreciate your honesty, but we have to go find someone else because you don't have the skills to fix the issue.

0:25:37.2 Tim Clark: Yeah, even though you got a great work ethic and you're transparent and you're a good communicator.

0:25:43.3 Junior: Yeah.

0:25:44.4 Tim Clark: And all of those things that we value so much, but you still can't get the job done.

0:25:47.8 Junior: Exactly, so again, the intersection of these two things, so important, wonderful, absolutely wonderful to be moral, but if you don't have the skill, there's only so much influence that you can have, so the reason that we chose apprentice is it's inherently forward-looking, there's a graduation in your future, we want an apprentice to what? Become the master craftsman.

0:26:13.5 Tim Clark: Yeah.

0:26:14.9 Junior: They'll go through now, journeyman, now we graduate, we have more experience, now we can fix the leak, and if you can hang on to that character along the way, then we can move into a new quadrant. So let's talk about the apprentices peer on the other side of the Y-axis, so this is the combination of corrupt and incompetent, and we're going to call this quadrant the accomplice, the accomplice. So think about this...

0:26:46.8 Tim Clark: Not such a great connotation, Junior.

0:26:49.8 Junior: No, and purposefully so.

0:26:52.2 Tim Clark: Yeah. Right.

0:26:53.9 Junior: Right. What does home mean? It means that you are party to something nefarious, right?

0:27:05.5 Tim Clark: Yeah. That's right.

0:27:07.0 Junior: So the accomplice, This one's really interesting to me, incompetent and corrupt. Now, there's only so much damage that an accomplice can do, just like there's only so much good and apprentice can do, so the relationships here are super nuanced, and we could talk about this for hours. One of the relationships that I was thinking about between these two is that an apprentice can't do very much unless there's someone with them, guiding them, teaching them, showing them what to do. Accomplice, same.

0:27:38.1 Tim Clark: Same.

0:27:39.1 Junior: We need someone telling us what to do, now, we're just moving in a different direction, we're doing something that we shouldn't be doing, we're doing something nefarious, but there's only so much bad that I can do, and I need someone on the other side that's helping me along do the incompetent or the corrupt thing that we're going to do. So again, think about...

0:27:56.2 Tim Clark: Yeah, in both cases, the incompetence is the limiting factor, they need to be guided, they are being guided to different ends, but they are suffering from the same limiting factor, which is their incompetence.

0:28:14.6 Junior: So let's say that an accomplice becomes competent, they move up the Y-axis and they're now in the upper left-hand quadrant, we're gonna call this quadrant the villain, now, this quadrant represents people who are competent and corrupt, this is the most dangerous combination, because as we said you can only wreak so much havoc if you're unskilled. You can only do so much damage with the butter knife, but if you have nuclear weapons we could have a really bad day.

0:28:42.5 Tim Clark: A very bad day.

0:28:43.9 Junior: So if you have tools at your disposal and you've developed a skill, but you choose to point that in the wrong direction, we can have a big issue and competent and corrupt people will use incompetent and corrupt people as puppets. It's another interesting relationship, the way that a villain might use an accomplice. What do you think about this quadrant, the villain?

0:29:07.3 Tim Clark: Yeah, it's interesting, Junior, we were talking the other day about Al Capone and the mob in Chicago in those days, and the kind of culture that he created, it was one of compliance, it was fear-based. It was an echo chamber. Right?

0:29:25.1 Junior: Yeah.

0:29:26.7 Tim Clark: That was what he created, and he used a bunch of accomplices, many of whom were not very competent, but he could bring them into line and get the job done, whatever that job was.

0:29:44.2 Junior: Yeah.

0:29:44.3 Tim Clark: So it's an interesting case study.

0:29:44.9 Junior: Yeah, so if you think, in the past, we've talked about the spectrum of influence and we've talked about coercion, and we've talked about manipulation, those are tools that the villains will use, so their primary toolkit involves tools of fear, so you mentioned compliance, on the villain side of the line, you will get more out of people using fear than you could ever try and get with commitment, so the toolkit that people use on the positive and negative side of the character line are different tools. And I think that that's an important distinction. And we can get into Y.

0:30:27.0 Junior: But on the other side of the villain line, if we look at the last quadrant, the upper right-hand quadrant where we have high character, we have high competence, we're incorrupt and skilled, This is the hero quadrant, this quadrant is the most hopeful quadrant. I keep thinking about this idea of hopeful, so the hero is really the only quadrant that presents any sort of light at the end of the tunnel or hope for the world, these are people who have influence that pointed in the right direction, they've gathered that influence through the development of their character, and through the development of their skills, so they actually can move the needle, they're not just well-intended, they're not just well-meaning, they can actually go and fix the leak regardless of how big it is, if you're pegged out on that upper right-hand quadrant, there is nothing that you can't do, it also means that your bridge is as strong as they come, that you could support tremendous load.

0:31:35.7 Junior: So to me, this is the most exciting. It's the most encouraging. It's the most attractive quadrant. What do you think about this one.

0:31:41.9 Tim Clark: I agree, Junior, When you develop or as you develop more competence and you become more incorruptible, you bring greater depth and breadth to your offering as a leader, you're more capable and you're trustworthy. We know what you stand for. We know what you would like to accomplish.

0:32:07.9 Tim Clark: These people in this quadrant are able to draw people out and convince them to release their discretionary efforts in amazing ways, they're able to summon more energy out of a team, out of an organizational system than anyone else could ever do, because it's that combination, that powerful combination. Of competence and incorruption, that's the quadrant that we need to aspire to.

0:32:39.7 Junior: So here's another piece of why I think this quadrant is hopeful, the hero and the villain could have equal skill, so the hero has skills to match the villain, but what's interesting to me, at least, is I think that the hero has additional weapons. What do they have access to? They have access to a team that's based on commitment, not compliance, and a team that's risen to the top based on skill, not patronage. So if you look at the average quality of team of a hero versus the average quality of team of a villain, they're going to be different, the hero has access to tap into shared cause, so a team with a symbiotic cause will outlast the inherently fractured villainist front, because people rose the pathological hierarchy of the villain through patronage and self-interest, they didn't rise to the top because they wanted to move forward, the collective bad.

0:33:37.1 Junior: I don't think that that's the reason that most people move toward those hierarchies. It's more short-sighted than that. It's more ignorant than that, it's I wanna get ahead. Take the next step, I'll cede some ground on the character front in order to make that next step so I can make a couple of bucks, right. I'm gonna go into the computer, I'm gonna add a few dollars to the bonus on the other front, the hero front I think that there is unity, there's commitment, there's discretionary effort, there's cause in a way that The villain just doesn't have access to.

0:34:15.9 Tim Clark: Well, Junior think about when you find an incompetent leader or leaders in higher level leadership positions in an organization, people that are clearly not very competent, but they're in senior roles. What is that telling us? How do they get there? They got there through a different kind of talent acquisition and development process.

0:34:41.5 Junior: Yeah, they did.

0:34:42.8 Tim Clark: Like, how in the world did you land there, how did you get there when you're not competent? So we know that symptomatic of a system where there's some corruption, there's some cronyism, there's some nepotism, otherwise, how did you get into a senior leadership role when you are visibly, clearly incompetent. And this happens, I'm sorry to say, but it happens across organizations far too frequently. What is it telling us? Right.

0:35:16.5 Junior: Yeah, well, here's another way to look at this. If you see fear or failure of any sort really in your organization, you can rest assured that it's a leadership failure that's rooted in one of these two areas, someone somewhere was not competent enough or not high character enough, and if it's skill-based, you can coach, you can train, you can develop, if it's corruption-based. It's another story.

0:35:40.9 Tim Clark: Yeah.

0:35:41.0 Junior: So what do we do with this? What do we do with this? We've mapped out the arena of the human family, we're all on this playing field, the reason that we chose two ways to fail instead of 6700 is to be useful, we can all handle two, and if you can solve for these two, the other 6698 will likely take care of themselves. So here's the first thing we do. Plot your current position. Tim, tell us about this.

0:36:09.3 Tim Clark: Right, so where are you on this playing field with these two axes, you're not going to be perfect, you've got flaws, you've got pathology in your personal leadership profile, certainly you do, but where are you? Can you plot your current position accurately and honestly, to give yourself a baseline, you need to be able to do that. That's step one.

0:36:35.9 Junior: You could literally do this, right. You could print out the model, you get a pen and you put yourself on here, and you have to assume going in that there's pathology lurking in your personal leadership, that's the assumption, the assumption of anything else is a heroic assumption. So I have to look at mine, it says Junior at the top of it, and I'd say, Okay, Junior, you are pathological to a degree, where is it? What's going on, right? Is it a character thing? Is it a competence thing? Where should I plop myself? So that's our invitation, everyone. Number one, you plot your current position, number two, you plot your future position, now, this is not as straightforward as it might seem, at least as I thought about it, the temptation, the knee jerk reaction was I wanna be in the hero quadrant, pegged out in the upper right-hand corner, do you really? Is that really where you wanna go, do you know what that path is laden with? It certainly wouldn't be the easiest way to go?

0:37:34.0 Tim Clark: Do you know what it costs?

0:37:35.4 Junior: Yeah, what's the price?

0:37:38.6 Tim Clark: Yeah.

0:37:39.4 Junior: So what do you think about that? Plot your future position? What should we consider? What should be on our minds as we think about where we might want to go?

0:37:46.9 Tim Clark: I think you've got to carefully assess each axis, right? So first of all, your competence. Where do you fall? Now you can think about that with respect to your current position, your current role, what you do. But you can also think about it based on where you want to be. And you're trying to be able to plot your future position and then see what the gap is all about. And then you'll do the same thing as it relates to corruption, incorruption, right? You're gonna do that twice to plot yourself and then plot your future position. Once you do that, you have two points on the field, current position, future position. Why is that helpful? It reminds me of a statement, do you remember the book, Junior, The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge?

0:38:41.5 Junior: Yeah.

0:38:42.9 Tim Clark: About the learning organization. He published it back in, I think it was 1990 or something. But one of the great points that he makes in the book is that when you create a portrait of the future, you're plotting your future position and you're saying, that's where I want to go. The fact that you have a current position and a future position, the gap creates tension and energy to close it, to close itself. The gap creates energy. And so going through this exercise, you have to come to terms with yourself, and it does you no good to try to game it in any way. You've got to be as objective, as dispassionate, as unbiased as you can possibly be to say, here's my current position and here's the future position that I want to achieve. Here's the gap. What do I need to do to close the gap? Now it becomes helpful, right? So don't think about gaming it otherwise that's a waste of time.

0:39:47.1 Junior: Well, thinking even deeper about plot your future position, you have to come to terms with how much difficulty you're willing to engage. Because at least to me, the more I've thought about it, I think it's historically true. As I look at my life, and I think it's true as far as the people I talk to, there's a very tight correlation between meaning and difficulty. So difficulty gives opportunity for meaning. If you don't have a difficult life, you probably won't have a very meaningful life. Or, here's a question. Look back at the things that you believe were most meaningful in your life. The things that you've done that have given you the most satisfaction, were those the easiest things that you ever did, or the most difficult things you ever did? They're probably the most difficult things you ever did. It's almost precisely proportionate. So we have to say, well, okay, if you are gonna plot yourself on that upper right hand corner, then there's gonna be some difficulty in your future. It's not an easy road.

0:40:48.3 Tim Clark: That's right.

0:40:48.7 Junior: There will be more and more opportunity for you to do the wrong thing. And not only that, but the stakes get bigger.

0:40:55.5 Tim Clark: Yeah.

0:41:00.6 Junior: As you move up into the right, the stakes get bigger. Why? Because your potential influence goes up. Because your skills go up. You can do more good, you can do more damage. That's a responsibility that you have to contend with and choose in what will I employ my skills, to what end? And that's a serious question. That's something that requires a lot of reflection and introspection and then a lot of commitment once that decision is made, because you know what you're inviting, you're inviting something that's not going to be very easy.

0:41:35.1 Tim Clark: What we're really talking about here, Junior, is your willingness to take yourself on and how much can you handle? How much progress do you want to make? Where do you reach the point at which you come to this fork in the road? And I can either change and improve, or I can self-medicate. So how far can I go before I reach kind of as much as I can handle, and I'm moving into self-medication. It's like you did a mountain run last year. Okay? If you have never done a mountain run, you don't go tackle a hundred mile mountain run. You might wanna do one that's, I don't know, five miles or 10 miles. So you gotta be realistic about what is required and what you're willing to do, and then you can go to the next step.

0:42:23.8 Junior: Yeah, I like that analogy because I could wake up tomorrow and say, yeah, I'm gonna go climb Everest. That'd be a cool goal. That means some things. That means that I'll have to have a certain level of discipline in my life. It means that I'll have to engage in certain behaviors. It also means that I will trade off a whole bunch of stuff in order to accomplish that goal. So what does it mean? If you really wanna be in the hero quadrant, there's a whole bunch of stuff that you're not welcome to do anymore. It's going to take focus, it's going to take energy. You will not arrive there through passivity. So here's the third step. So far the steps have been plot your current position, plot your future position. Number three is close the gap, fearlessly search for the pathology. Take yourself on, as Tim said, find out why that's there.

0:43:10.6 Junior: Root it out. The assumption is that it's there. And if you can't come to terms with that assumption, you won't make progress. Because here's the failure pattern. Tim talked about self-medication. How about cognitive dissonance? Right? It's this principle. What's easier to change, your beliefs or your behavior; your beliefs, and you can see how dangerous this becomes. Well, I just no longer believe that that path is important. Now I'm off the hook. That's dangerous. That's so dangerous. So for me, as I think about this, it's a daunting invitation because you have to say, do I want to become a better leader? If you do, then there are some things that you're gonna have to do about it. And that can be a scary invitation. For me, it's a scary invitation as I look at it, I say, wow, it really does mean some things that are not going to be easy. So what do you think about close the gap? Are there any tips, any patterns, failure patterns, success patterns that you've seen as you've coached leaders, as you've approached this in your own life? Tell me about closing the gap.

0:44:08.5 Tim Clark: It reminds me, Junior, of a principle that we like to repeat, which is frame the problem before you solve the problem. And so one, you plot your current position and then you plot your future position. And once you do that, that exercise creates the tension, it creates the cognitive dissonance, it creates the inner turmoil. And so as a human being, you're gonna be moved immediately to do dissonance reduction. You've gotta get rid of that emotional and psychological pain. And it makes me think about what leaders often do when they move into dissonance reduction to self-medicate rather than to change. A lot of times they will hide behind title, position and authority. The artifacts of formal leadership that the organization gave them. They'll go hide, go hide behind those things, right? And so what I would say is, do you have the courage to de-accessorize yourself, un-title yourself, get rid of all of that, and see yourself as clearly and objectively as you possibly can. This means that you're conducting a fearless unsparing personal inventory. Not easy to do. There's some pain and discomfort associated with this, rather than I think we have to acknowledge. I really do. That's another failure pattern that I see that we need to be careful about.

0:45:47.8 Junior: Here's another way that we can help focus our attention, is by looking at which way we lean, which line is easier for you? The character line or the competence line. If the competence line is easy for you, then you know that the majority of your energy needs to be used to hedge against corruption. You're hedging against that failure pattern. Let's say that you're already objectively in the top 1% in whatever it is that you do. You're a world renowned surgeon. What are you going to hedge against? Certainly, you can increase your competence, but corruption, especially at the top of a hierarchy, can become enticing. How about let's not do that? Are you moral? Is the character side of the line easier for you? If you know, hey, I'm moral to the bone. Maybe if you say that you shouldn't, I don't know. But if you've built a strong foundation and you're humble enough to be hesitant to admit that you're moral, then you know that the majority of your energy needs to be used to gain skill.

0:46:45.7 Junior: If you're in that apprentice box, how do you increase your competence? If you're on the left side of the X axis, how do you move to the right side? How do you move away from the gray area into an area that has a little bit more white in it? You're not gonna do that in a day. You're gonna take a step. First you're gonna think about taking a step, and then you're gonna take a step and another and move that direction. And this is where I think being directionally correct is more important than precisely where you are right now. Are you moving in the right direction? Because there will be times you jump off the path for a second, you take a little bit of a detour. But are we generally moving up and to the right? That's what we wanna know. What's the trend line?

0:47:35.2 Tim Clark: I wanna give an example on that Junior, about being directionally correct, because sometimes you'll find a leader that has accomplished a great deal. They're in the upper right quadrant, they're competent, and they're not corrupt, and they've accomplished a lot. Then they torpedo themselves in a single instance. Let me give you an example. I worked with a CEO, very capable, very competent, and a very moral, upstanding human being. But then he decided to do something a little bit different. He called up the manager of IT and he said... And this, by the way, this is a corporation. He calls up the manager of IT and he says, yeah, I need you to help me out. I want to install a network in my home. So he has the manager of IT moonlighting for him and putting in his entire home network.

0:48:40.5 Tim Clark: So he's using company resources indiscriminately for his personal use, doesn't pay the IT manager. It's during hours and after hours, and this goes on for weeks. Do you see what this does? And he is becoming more willfully blind as he does it, assuming that no one really knows what's going on and justifying it and rationalizing it. But everybody is onto him. And he just leveled his personal credibility. Very competent person. But what did he do? He moved himself from the upper right quadrant to the upper left quadrant. Now, was he a villain? No, I wouldn't characterize him as a villain, but he crossed the line over into that quadrant. That can happen. So we need to be very careful. We need to sweat the small stuff. Don't get on the slippery slope. Don't take that first step. That may get you in trouble.

0:49:41.3 Junior: Well, there's a piece of that story that's nuanced that I think is worth calling out, which is that as you become more competent, you'll have more opportunity to be corrupt. If you are an apprentice, let's say that it was frontline manager, would the frontline manager have been able to say, Hey, IT, go do this at my house? No, actually.

0:50:15.3 Tim Clark: No.

0:50:15.8 Junior: No, there's no authority. But once you get to a certain level, okay, now you're the CEO. Could you do that? Mm-hmm. And what's the manager of it likely gonna say? Yeah, if it's part of my job, I guess so, right? And so we have to be vigilant and I would invite all of us to be vigilant about those things, to sweat the small stuff and recognize that hey, as you've risen up, you've become more skilled. You're gonna have some opportunity to do some gray stuff, and that's a choice that only you can make. And think about that choice, absent consequences, at least physical consequences.

0:50:56.2 Tim Clark: Yeah.

0:51:00.7 Junior: You need to be able to make that decision in isolation based purely on moral motive and not the fear of negative consequence. So Tim, any final thoughts as we wrap up today?

0:51:09.3 Tim Clark: Just to repeat that, the arena of leadership is the arena of life. And those two axes, we're all there, right? Competent to incompetent, corrupt to incorrupt. You're there, you're on the field, you're playing the game. You can't be a neutral party. You can't be a conscientious objector. You can't take yourself out of the game. You can't be a spectator. You are playing the game. Where are you? And where do you want to go?

0:51:35.2 Junior: That's the invitation to you and to us is develop character, develop competence, and join us on the next episode as we continue the journey. Thank you everyone for your time and your attention. We appreciate your listenership very much. If you liked this episode, hang around to the next one. Leave us a like and a review and share it with a friend. We'll see you next time, everybody. Take care. Bye-bye.


0:52:03.0 Junior: Hey, Culture by Design listeners, this is the end of today's episode. You can find all the important links from today's episode at And if you've found today's episode helpful and useful in any way, please share with a friend and leave a review. If you'd like to learn more about LeaderFactor and what we do, then please visit us at Lastly, if you'd like to give any feedback to the Culture By Design podcast or even request a topic from Tim and Junior, then reach out to us at or find and tag us on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening and making culture something you do by design, not by default.

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