Tag Archives: North Korea

Insults and the Insulting Leaders Who Use Them

I recently read an article on foreignpolicy.com discussing how the media and U.S. policymakers commonly depict North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as irrational. The piece explains the current state of affairs from Kim’s point of view and provides historical reasons that may validate his behaviors. While I’m certainly not condoning Kim, it does remind me of the power in diplomacy.

Many U.S. politicians have verbally assaulted North Korea over the years. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “We are not dealing with a rational person, who has not had rational acts, who is not thinking clearly” and President George W. Bush labeled them as part of an “Axis of Evil.” My question is why you would want to insult someone with whom you’d like to build a constructive relationship?

This isn’t the first time I’ve considered this. I remember when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continuously insulted Republicans while she was concurrently trying to gather votes for the Affordable Care Act. Or when a Congressman shouted “You lie” to President Obama during a joint session address. Or when a Democratic Congresswoman called her Republican colleague a “Howdy Doody-looking nimrod” during a budget debate. You could even go back to when Theodore Roosevelt disagreed with then President Benjamin Harrison calling him “a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.”

In each of these cases, one politician was in the process of garnering support for his/her legislation; and in each case, they allowed productive debate to be disrupted by empty slurs…and they were empty. There was no substantive argument or strategic need for discord. It was frustration, pure and simple, boiling over in ineffective ways.

In the newspapers, we see this [politician] insulting that one, that one says this about the other one, but in a society where the standards of politics has fallen so much – I am talking about world society – we lose the sense of building society, of social co-existence, and social co-existence is built on dialogue.—Pope Francis

Now I am not so naïve as to argue for kumbaya-like unity, nor am I compelling you to admire your rival, but insults are not the pathway to results. Even President Trump on occasion (very rare occasion) has recognized the destructive nature of insults:

We don’t need to like the other person or agree with their point of view. We do, however, need to find ways in which to support a culture of mutual respect where work can get done with all affected parties. This, if nothing else, is a core responsibility of a leader.

As leaders, we must be focused on getting things done. This sometimes entails swallowing your spiteful thoughts in the pursuit of progress. You cannot bring people together if you’ve already alienated them and their ideas. It does not mean you should pretend to be in accord; just that you can be nice.

Don’t let pettiness distract from your ability to influence. In the midst of intense discord, feelings are raw and people tend to act out, but this does not excuse impolite behavior. Find an outlet for your resentment, but also find the right time and do it in a way that will not sabotage your deal. With practice, who knows, maybe you’ll even win them over to your side.

What Sony Can Teach Us About Responding to Threats

If you’ve seen the news over the last few weeks, then you are familiar with Sony Pictures’ computer system being hacked for its movie The Interview. The hackers, outraged about a film condoning the assassination of North Korea’s leader, released personal data on 47,000 celebrities and Sony employees, stole intellectual property, and exposed numerous private, behind-the-scenes emails. They then threatened a series of violent attacks against any cinema screening The Interview.

I won’t get into the question of how a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco has triggered an international dialogue on the security and privacy of electronic information. From a leadership perspective, this story and Sony’s announcement yesterday that it will indefinitely postpone releasing The Interview has me thinking about the ways we respond to threats.

We are deeply saddened by this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome. – Sony

Before we discuss, let’s start with the realization that most of us will not undergo a cyber attack by (allegedly) a small but powerful Asian country. However, the threats we encounter can be equally as destructive. The following are a few things to help prepare for your next confrontation.

Recognize Threats

Workplace violence is typically precipitated by a warning. These warnings can be as apparent as, “I’ll get you” or have the subtlety of a menacing face expression. If you know your teammates and business partners, then you have an understanding of their emotional state and what upsets them. If the threat is external, as in Sony’s case, determine what motivates them, available resources, what they are trying to accomplish, and what might appease them.

Assess the Risk

This can be difficult when you don’t personally know your aggressor. Instead of trying to get in their head, consider your various courses of action and the consequences of each. Ask yourself, “What is the risk to saying ‘no’? Are you willing to take this risk? If you give in, are you willing to operate under this newly established precedent? Is there a possible compromise?


While no one could have predicted these threats of violence from a comedic movie, most of us can prepare for the situations that are more likely to spur retaliation. Layoffs, disciplinary actions, and demotions are obvious scenarios. Before taking any of these actions, you need processes in place to ensure the safety of your team.

Other circumstances are less foreseeable. In these cases, immediately get your trusted advisors and experts together to develop the plan. How will you respond to the threat? Who will deliver the message? If you are saying “no,” how will you minimize the potential damage and keep staff out of harm’s way?

When faced with a threat, we must take each one seriously. You never know which are baseless and which have real merit. If you choose to deny the demands of your oppressor, get a game plan together to mitigate their adverse actions. If you give in, be able to explain the reasons in a way that won’t make you appear weak or scared. And, as a tip, maybe reconsider making your movie about killing Kim Jong-un.