Samuel Bacharach Show Notes Page

Samuel Bacharach was a new professor at Cornell and was called out for not following procedures by an office administrator. Initially, he refused to listen but then apologized for his behavior. A year and a half later, this woman helped him to negotiate a salary bonus. From then on, he built his career on the interpersonal stuff.

Samuel Bacharach was raised in Brooklyn, East New York before moving to Jamaica, Queens. Growing up in two working-class neighborhoods he had absolutely no aspiration of going to college and becoming a Cornell professor. Simply put, anyone growing up in the neighborhoods of New York during that era develops a sense of survival, a deep appreciation of what it means to be on a team, and get people on their side. In many ways the core of what Sam believes in goes back to those days.

He stumbled into his academic career at Cornell University, coming to the faculty in 1974. He is the author or editor of over 100 academic articles and 20 books. Sam has always had an interest in leaders and leadership. For him, leadership boils down to the skills of execution. In Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side he introduced readers to the concepts of political and managerial competence.

More recently, he published The Agenda Mover and Transforming the Clunky Organization. The Agenda Mover explores the skills that leaders need to develop to get things done, and Transforming the Clunky Organization discusses the characteristics that keep organizations from thriving and meeting their potential. He is currently transitioning from his academic role to spending more time on his writing.

Sam’s legacy, as an academic and author, is that everyone can lead, and that in the final analysis, leaders are those with deep empathy, street smarts, and the political savvy to move things ahead. Charm and charisma are simply not enough. Everyone can make it if they develop some fundamental core skills.

In collaboration with his wife, Yael, he founded the Bacharach Leadership Group, which focuses on training high-potential leaders at universities and Fortune 500 companies.

Sam lives in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City.

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Listen to @samuelbacharach to get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShow – Click to Tweet

“The capacity to lead in life, in your career, in anything, is in your hands.” – Click to Tweet

“You’re not trapped in your personality.” – Click to Tweet

“Getting things done in leadership is in your control.” – Click to Tweet

“What’s important is our capacity to change.” – Click to Tweet

“For God sake, get something done.” – Click to Tweet

“Clunkiness and myopia cause inertia and things get stuck and a leader can’t afford to engage in that.” – Click to Tweet

“You’ve got to have the political skills and competence to move ideas through the maze of clunkiness and the over-focus of myopia.” – Click to Tweet

“As a leader you’ve got to juggle, how much space do I give them and how do I make sure they don’t squander this organization.” – Click to Tweet

“How much control do you want to have; how loose, how much autonomy do you want to give?” – Click to Tweet

“Think about leadership; what you’re really talking about is facilitative versus directive leadership.” – Click to Tweet

“The leadership challenge for you is to understand the world you live in and the context of your business.” – Click to Tweet

“Good ideas are a dime a dozen. Getting something done is difficult.” – Click to Tweet

“Good ideas are simply not enough; you’ve got to get stuff done.” – Click to Tweet

“Leaders listen, leaders apologize, but leaders also move agendas.” – Click to Tweet

“Empathy is the key to success, political success, economic success, social success.” – Click to Tweet

Hump to Get Over

Samuel Bacharach was a new professor at Cornell and was called out for not following procedures by an office administrator. Initially, he refused to listen but then apologized for his behavior. A year and a half later, this woman helped him to negotiate a salary bonus. From then on, he built his career on the interpersonal stuff.

Advice for others

Empathy is the key to everything.

Holding him back from being an even better leader

A sense of insecurity.

Best Leadership Advice

Believe in the people you work with.

Secret to Success

I know that I’m not the smartest person in the room.

Best tools in business or life

I can work with a team and I stand by context.

Recommended Reading

Big Enough to Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery and Race (The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures)

Transforming the Clunky Organization: Pragmatic Leadership Skills for Breaking Inertia (The Pragmatic Leadership Series)

The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough (The Pragmatic Leadership Series)

Contacting Samuel Bacharach


email: samuel.bacharach [at]


Resources and Show Mentions

Call Center Coach

An Even Better Place to Work


Show Transcript: 

Click to access edited transcript

222: Samuel Bacharach: Leaders listen, apologize, and move agendas


Intro: Welcome to the Fast Leader podcast, where we explore convenient yet effective shortcuts that will help you get ahead and move forward faster by becoming a better leader. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.


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Okay Fast Leader legion, today I’m excited because I have somebody on the show today who first of all is very quick-witted but then also is deeply tenured in a lot of different ways as well as in experience. Samuel Bacharach was born and raised in Brooklyn East in New York before moving to Jamaica Queens. Growing up in two working-class neighborhoods he had absolutely no aspiration of going to college and becoming a Cornell professor. Simply put anyone growing up in the neighborhoods of New York during that era develops a sense of survival a deep appreciation of what it means to be on a team and get people on their side. In many ways the core of what Sam believes in today goes back to those days. He stumbled into his academic career at Cornell University coming to the faculty in 1974. He’s the author or editor of over 100 academic articles and 20 books. Sam has always had an interest in leaders and leadership. For him leadership falls down to the skills of execution and get them on your side and keep them on your side. He introduces readers to the concepts of political and managerial competence.


More recently he published the agenda mover and transforming the clunky organization. The agenda mover explores the skills that leaders need to develop to get things done and transforming the clunky organization discusses the characteristics that keep organizations from thriving and meeting their potential. He is currently transitioning from his academic role to spending more time on his writing.  Sam’s legacy as an academic and author is that everyone can lead and that in the final analysis leaders are those with deep empathy, street smarts and the political savvy to move things ahead charm and charisma are simply not enough. Everyone can make it if they develop some fundamental core skills. 


In collaboration with his wife Yael he founded the Bacharach Leadership Group which focuses on training high potential leaders at universities and fortune 500 companies. Sam lives in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City. Sam Bacharach, are you ready to help us get over the hump? 


Samuel Bacharach:      I’m ready. But if I can get you over the hump position is the question? 


Jim Rembach:    I’m sure you can. Now I’ve given my Legion a little bit about you but can you share what your current passion is before we can get to know even more about you


Samuel Bacharach:      This is the first time I was introduced with such a background go so dramatically back into my youth but I think as you grow older you go back to where you came from. I found lately that my current passion for all the hoopla is really to let people understand that the capacity to lead, and I spell leadership of a small L, I also mean that the capacity to lead in their life that capacity to lead in their career their capacity to lead in anything is in their hands they’re not trapped by their personality. I sometimes see this in my students, it’s easy if you’re this as panache, charismatic kid that comes from a great home and you go out there and you can do it but some of these kids need to learn that it’s in their hand. Like in like in organizations a lot of people out there with all this personality and charm and they keep talking to that. My passion right now is to really make people, and I don’t use the word empowerment in a loose way, but make people aware that it’s in their control getting things done and leadership is in their control. And that in a lot of ways going back to the beginning of my own biography. I’ve done these big corporations but some spending a lot of time working with corporations, I’m also spending time doing a lot of pro bono work and doing work with where I can really impact people’s lives and empowers them in that level. 


Jim Rembach:    As you were talking I started thinking about the depth and breadth of all of the research and knowledge that you’ve had exposure to over the course of these past couple decades in that I start thinking about the whole practical application piece. You and I talked about that progression and age and wisdom comes as I became certified in emotional intelligence empathy being important but then you say everybody could do it. But I’m like, EQ or emotional intelligence perspective there’s a whole lot of deficiencies in certain leaders that they really need to work on in order for them to transform a clunky organization or get people to follow with them.


Samuel Bacharach:      We all have deficiencies. We spend a lot of time coaching leaders on specific ways and we all have deficiency. But I think the first thing we have to do is make people aware that through understanding, self-reflection, training, reading, focusing your mind on the deficiencies you can make a difference in doing that. We all talk about training and teaching, what the heck that we really want to do we want to do that? We want to make sure the people can change their behaviors in ways that are functional. Look for those of you the whole world live happily ever after. But even in our personal life what’s important is our capacity to change. All of my work, which is not rocket science, but all my work is based on knowing—one of the things you wish you focus on, giving people the tools. 


We live in a world with a lot of—I come from old world I believe in a check list world. Tell people seven eight things that you think can help them and in fact you can make an impact. Tell organizations, tell leaders the things they’re doing wrong how can I do things different don’t make it diffuse make it concrete make it real and everything. Emotional intelligence, you’re certified in emotional intelligence, but you and I know that at least 60% of the stuff you knew before you were certified and that is you knew it because you are mostly intelligent enough to be able to get certified in emotional intelligence you knew you’re moving someplace. Sometimes I think the world is like The Wizard of Oz place, was it the Scarecrow, I was wondering—they all have the knowledge but thought they were an idiot but they just needed a degree. My whole point in life is tell people you’ve got this capacity let me help you tap it, here are the things you need to do.


Jim Rembach:    It’s funny that you say that the reason I became certified because I used to be very deficient at it. 


Samuel Bacharach:      There you go. For me training and leadership is signing out leaders, doing organizations giving them the skills to make the difference in a very concrete way not just giving them. 


Jim Rembach:    Talking about, talking about competencies and talking about skills I mean in the book, Transforming the Clunky Organization, men, I really like the framework and the model that you have associated with breaking inertia. You talk about the five challenges of breaking inertia, and I’ll just go ahead and read those real quick. You talk about questions that need to be asked. So you say, why is the organization sluggish? And so what we need from a challenge perspective is to evaluate its clunky and myopic tendencies to talk about what’s out there and so we have to apply contextual competence, which is leaders as explorers. And you talk about what can be done about it. We talk about applying ideational competence, which is leaders as innovators. And you talk about what support is needed and then you mentioned applying political competence, meaning leaders as campaigners and then how to implement managerial competence, leaders as sustainers. Now when you started talking about these five challenges of breaking inertia I have to really kind of go to the point of waiting scenario. If you start looking at levels of importance, where does that lie? 


Samuel Bacharach:     Let me take it one step back because you made my work sound more sophisticated than it is, I’m flattered, let me talk for a moment about the inertia issue why inertia. We’re sitting there, what do we really want from our leaders? We were living in a world right now and we turn on the news it doesn’t matter what your politics, what do you want? We want execution. For God’s sake get something done, in corporations get something done. Most of the time they’re stuck with this inertia. In organizations what I’m arguing is that in organizations inertia is always—it’s the clunky message that interest groups different businesses but that doesn’t mean your organizations not successful. Take a look at some of the largest organizations the complex ends in the—and it’s hard to get anything moving through them, so that’s the notion of being clunky. On the other hand, in some situations you got people so micro focused so myopic that they can’t get out of their mindset. You think all the organizations think of what’s going on in our country or politics on one hand you get this big clunky mess on the other hand you got micro focusing, micro macro focusing that myopic vision. We haven’t going on in news today, do we have any rocket scientist? So what does a leader do? A leader has to understand these tendencies and has to move things ahead in spite of these two forces that caused inertia. Clunkiness?  Clunkiness and myopia cause inertia to get things to get stuck and a leader can’t afford to engage in that he can’t afford to get stuck a leader must execute in spite of that. That’s the challenge of political leaders, that’s the challenge of corporate leaders and that’s what I’m trying to deal in this book. What I’m saying is there are and what I’m saying is there four or five things they have to do to make sure that won’t happen and that (10:44 inaudible) spoken.


Jim Rembach:    As you’re talking though, for me it’s like—you mentioned something about corporations and large organizations, I see that in small organizations too. 


Samuel Bacharach:     Absolutely, absolutely. You see, clunkiness is the whole idea. For example, why the word the word clunky for example? Why the word myopic? If you sit back for a moment and you just take the words in  any situation you’re corded either the situation is very clunky—think of the old world I’ve got all these elements—I worked for a lot of major corporations and one of these got an office in Bangalore, I know an office in Research Triangle,  San Jose, you name it I work in one of these large organizations, academia, worked in Walden Universities, they are large successful clunky organizations and now you’re sitting there in your office in the research office and you want to move something ahead, how do you do it? It’s impossible. On the other hand, you get all these people in these organizations I call myopia, micro stuck the same thing is true in start-up organizations with the move so fast. What happens in start-up organization sometimes get caught in all this myopia they micro focus or they become clunky by overreaching too quickly. And this same dichotomous tension and in dichotomous tension we face our life. 


My challenge to leaders is to understand this economy as the obstacle as the thing that causes the inertia. And then I said to people, okay, how do you break inertia?  it’s like the way you break it in your work, your bacon number one, by understanding the context in which your organization is operating by beating the signals in the environments, pick up new ideas. And then then we all hear about ideation by moving ideas to the organization, that’s the innovative part, coming up with ideas. Think of your own world, you can think of what you want to do in your career you expand what you want to do in your career and then you build on it you ideate on it so that’s the whole idea of leading for discovery. But the problem in the world we live in people have plenty of great ideas. Look at our Congress there’s plenty of great ideas. Look at our major corporations, our corporations are totally innovative. People think, that’s great, yeah right, so what if you have a great idea in organization and you can’t get it through the system? Great idea is simply not enough. Then I ask our people you’ve got to deal with delivery you’ve got to have the political skills, the confidence to move ideas through the maze or clunkiness and the over focus of myopia.


Jim Rembach:    As you were talking to I started thinking about, okay, so the political aspects I kind of get that. I get that whole influence and psychology—


Samuel Bacharach:     And they’re forming coalition and winning people over. 


Jim Rembach:     I get that part, for me though when I started thinking about the actual execution piece because you call that—there’s a particular part of the book for me that just totally blew up at me when you start talking about the execution piece. In the book you talk about it being monitoring for tight and loose execution. What I’ve often see is that people put in tight types of measurements in place and expect to have a loose outcome, that’s more innovative and creative, or they do the reverse and want to have something that’s a little bit more structured.


Samuel Bacharach:     I’m very taken by—this one’s a heck of a good question on emotional intelligence, I’m very taken by that. One of the things that’s haunting me in my entire career is that distinction sometimes goes by the wayside so I really kind of very thankful that you picked it up and I think it’s actually a very important point with coordinate. If you think about it that distinction is at the heart of all leadership and management training. Let me just give you an example, I don’t know if you’ve had the good fortune to have a child or any children—three good Lord, your main worry is oh, my god it’s 10 o’clock at night where are they? On the other hand you go, well, I don’t want to squeeze them I have to give them the space I got to give them a little autonomy if I get too tight about this I’m going to choke their creativity I’m going to stifle their growth on the other hand you’re standing there, if you’re a neurotic father as I am you’re trying to think, okay, I’ll call him a 10:30. I’m saying this jokingly, attach to management challenge that’s the management challenge. It’s the challenge of understanding of how tightly or loosely you want to be. 


For example if you want to be innovative and give everybody all the space in the world you’ll be very loose and if on the other hand you’re very concerned about the tight execution you’ll be very prescriptive. But in this world where uncertainty is all around you’ve got to sort of balancing you as a leader have got to juggle you got a juggle. Just like as a parent, how much space do I give them? And how much do I make sure they’re safe?  Same thing as a leader in organizations, how much space do I give them? And how do I make sure they don’t squander this organization to death? That