Tag Archives: leadership

When the GPS is Wrong…O, Canada

4 Jan

Over the holidays, my husband and I had an interesting bonding experience and marital trial re: the GPS. We were heading home from Maine, with my husband in charge of driving and navigation (never again on this one) since he brilliantly decided to leave at 12:30 am.

“What else am I gonna do? I’m awake, so I’ll drive. All you have to do is sleep!”

Right. Sleep. I vaguely remember that we left the resort by turning left (internal compass: “Why are we heading north?”) and then convincing myself that we’d eventually hang a hard left and end up going southwest.

My sleep lasted all of 40 minutes. When I was rudely awakened by bright lights and a red and white striped gate that read: ARRETEZ!

Capital letters and French, 2 am. Where’s my cafe au lait? Where the hell am I? In Canada?!?

Yes, it turns out we’d stumbled into Canada. Briefly. Just long enough to remind myself of my French and swiftly apologize to the border patrol. My husband, meanwhile, sat beside me stunned and pondering. “Huh. How’d we do that?”

There was no “We” in this faux pas. It was most assuredly not this map-lover’s fault. Mais non!

After about 10 minutes of proving our identities — which required waking up both children so that they could personally verify their birth dates and locations — we passed back safely onto American soil.

Lesson: The GPS was right. The fastest route from northern Maine to Columbus, Ohio is through Canada. But it didn’t factor in passing through a border that now requires passports, which we do not have.

We should never have relied on the GPS, with its myopic point A to point B incremental algorithms. There’s so much more to consider. Like much of life, it’s good to step back and take the big picture view with a large map in hand.

I’ve taken this lesson to heart as a good New Year’s reorientation. You can’t just putter along between points on the map and let the GPS do the driving. You’ve got to get situated, know where you are, where you’re headed and what’s the best route for any given moment in time. Rules change, and it’s good to be in the know.

Life has a way of lulling us into a false sense of security that we’ve found the quickest way, when in fact we’re always better off if we stay awake and aware of our surroundings, watching for signs to point us home.

Working Motherhood

14 Nov

Today I was chatting with a friend who mentioned an interesting workplace concern:

Mothers who do not pull their own weight due to “kid commitments” — doctor appointments, school drop-offs, parent-teacher conferences and the list goes on.

In all honesty, I have very little patience with this rigmarole.

Walk in the shoes of a working mother or father for just a day. It ain’t pretty.

The juggling act of a parent with a professional position requiring anything beyond 40 hours a week of work is backbreaking. I’m not saying that those without kids don’t work hard. What I am saying is that those with children manage a high-wire act difficult to imagine unless personally experienced.

Spare time is nonexistent. With what little time there is in that grey margin of time just before and after work, the trade-offs are make-or-break:

  • Please a client by going the extra mile one evening by writing another op-ed or go to the ballet recital.
  • Make the boss happy by attending a client reception or be at home for dinner with the family.
  • Delegate to junior associates or do the work myself while my son is going to sleep.
  • Work on the weekend to catch up on the email and “thinking work” that I’m too busy to complete during workdays filled with meetings, or let it go and spend time just being a mom.
  • Have a tough conversation with my boss with the phone on mute while I am transporting my extremely loud and arguing kids to X evening activity, or set the limit that we’ll need to talk about work tomorrow.

Kids remember when we are not present. And so do coworkers, bosses and clients.

Being a parent and a professional are both serious business. Frankly, the only way I’ve found to do both is to do quite a bit of work while my children are sleeping or otherwise occupied on the weekend.

I often have the sense that I’m not paying enough attention to one or the other, but the simple fact is that I devote well beyond “full-time” to each. I know that most parents feel this way, too. Not all workplaces are sympathetic to working parents’ challenges. Children interrupt us at work, just as work interrupts us at home. It goes both ways. With the encroachment of technology and the stressors of the “new economy” — constantly feeling like we have to prove ourselves in order to stay ahead of the next layoff at work — it is often not fun.

For the most part, the policies of my employers have been open-minded to the situation of the working parent. I’ve been lucky in that regard.

What’s surprising is the attitudes of co-workers. Probably the most frustrating thing for me during my 14 years as a working mother has been the judgment of colleagues.

After my son was born, I took off nearly three months to be with him. Some thought this was too much time for someone in a leadership position like mine and let me know how they felt, but I don’t regret it to this day. You cannot get that time back.

Although I started working half-days before I returned, I still was not back at work full-time until my son was 12 weeks old. And when I was back, I took two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch every day. The breaks were to pump breast-milk that my husband could feed him while I was at work, and the half-hour-long lunch was so that I could be with him to feed him in person. I did this every day for about six months. And I worked more than 8 hours each day — usually something like 50-55 hours a week. Both the nursing and the work were priorities, and I did them both.

Because I took the breaks and the lunch on a regular schedule, often they interfered with other meetings that occurred at work. And that got noticed. I felt it. And there were one or two female colleagues without children who seemed resentful. It was stressful. I often felt rushed, running out of meetings to do the pumping or meet my husband in the parking lot with my son, so that we could sit in the car together for 30 minutes or so to nurse.

A few years ago, I was leaving work to attend a Girl Scout outing with my daughter — time that I made up after-hours. The following day, another working mom colleague shared with me that I needed to be careful about taking this time. She was subtly warning me that doing this was not generally acceptable at our workplace. I thanked her for the heads-up and took note. I also took note that people who left early to play golf did not seem to experience the same judgment.

Now that my kids are older, it’s not as stressful, but I often need to leave work right on time, or I arrive 15 minutes after our “official” start time. And I wonder whether it makes a difference or not that I am working well over full-time to make up the difference in the evenings. People can and do make uninformed judgments based upon what they see in the workplace.

The honest truth is that flex-time is over-rated. Because some of the time unfolds outside the regular work day, it’s easy to pass judgment that the time is “less than,” and thus the work itself and the commitment of the working parent are inferior.

I have no easy answer to this dilemma, for myself or for any other working parent. My own choice as a supervisor has been to support high-quality work and the people that do it, whenever and wherever they are able to complete that work.

There’s more to be learned here. I’m sure that I’ll get more clarity on this over time, but for now it’s just hard. It may sound like the easy way out, but I’m glad that I’m now counting down from nine years to the end of my time as a working mother of school-age kids.

Another Winner!

21 Jan

This contest round’s winner of an annual subscription to Harvard Business Review is the extremely opinionated Mr. Brad Hunt. Brad offered his reflections on 2009 and prognostication for 2010 a few weeks ago.

Brad, congrats on the win. I will look forward to your informed musings fueled by HBR. Will be in touch to get your details for snail mailing.

Checklists As Memory Aids

6 Jan

I heard this bit on NPR yesterday about Dr. Atul Gawande’s new book, The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right. It made me think a lot about the value of documented repeatable processes, and how often I fall into the trap of thinking I’m too smart to have to use a checklist.

Dr. Gawande spends his “leisure” time writing for The New Yorker when not performing operations at Dana Farber. Clearly, he is a man with time management on his side. The bottom line, he says, is that no one is too good for a checklist. In fact, we should use them more often. When he asked surgeons whether they would use the checklists, 80 percent said yes. For the holdout 20 percent, he was curious. Would they want THEIR surgeon using a checklist prior to operating on them? Ninety-four percent said yes. No surprise.

The doctor analyzed pilot reliance upon checklists and applied that practice to the O.R. — with very positive results. He catches himself at least weekly forgetting something from his checklists, and his colleagues report similar results. My sister-in-law is a surgeon, and I know smart when I see it. If a surgeon can admit to needing a checklist, it must be worth doing.

And I read this piece last night on The New York Times site, about a new study confirming what the “middle-aged” crowd (defined as 40-60, therefore including me) already knows:

We forget more, but we can claim mastery of locating patterns in the midst of chaos. And we can become quickly distracted.

Shiny ball syndrome is our weakness. An apt quote that pretty much sums up my daily existence:

Brains in middle age, which, with increased life spans, now stretches from the 40s to late 60s, also get more easily distracted. Start boiling water for pasta, go answer the doorbell and — whoosh — all thoughts of boiling water disappear. Indeed, aging brains, even in the middle years, fall into what’s called the default mode, during which the mind wanders off and begin daydreaming.

I look forward to using this “default mode” excuse the next time my gray matter wanders astray. It gives meaning to something I’ve always blamed on character weakness.

Where was I? Oh, yes.

One point from the memory study is that we middle-ageists can resuscitate our memory abilities by learning new information, in particular information that runs contrary to our own set of beliefs or expands our current knowledge base.  Simply put, we need to take the road less traveled, in order to keep our thinking young.

It strikes me that memory-building involves both Dr. Gawande’s recommendation for relying on tried and true to-do’s and the exercise of stretching our brains to connect up neural pathways through new learnings. In other words, we can make ourselves smarter with memory aids like checklists and becoming (or continuing to be) lifelong students.

Roll ’em

11 Dec

Dear 25 readers,

Again, it’s time for a prize. You can again win a year’s subscription to an award-winning business publication: Harvard Business Review.

Here’s how:

Comment on this post with your thoughts on the best of 2009…and your outlook for 2010. Make it personal or professional, your choice. The comment can be short or long. I will randomly select the winner on January 15.

This is being sponsored by MagsDirect, http://www.magsdirect.com/harvardbusinessreview.html

Here’s more about Harvard Business Review, if you are not familiar (although I am guessing that most of you are!):

Harvard Business Review is a journal written by renowned business educators and practicing managers. Each issue provides readers with a focus on the issues confronting top managers in today’s complex national and international markets. Harvard Business Review offers subscribers original research and firsthand perspectives from leading business people around the globe. Invest in yourself and your company’s future with a subscription to Harvard Business Review.

Jump in!

Obama’s Peace….Both Sides Now?

11 Oct

I’ve been curiously listening, watching and reading news coverage and general opinion about Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. Put me in the “conflicted” camp about whether or not he deserves it—at this point in time. For those who know me, this will be no surprise. I am a ferocious moderate, mainly because I always want to have clear proof before I’m won over to either side. This is an interesting case study for proof, or lack thereof.

On one hand, I admire Obama’s perspective of hope, international cooperation and thoughtful decision-making on tough topics. I don’t agree with those who claim his only skill is oration. I do believe that we deserve a president who is intellectual AND action-oriented. We can both be inspired AND see the fruits of our efforts. I see both qualities in his approach, and I’m willing to give him the time to prove his mettle. When it comes to fixing national problems, instant gratification is not possible. Sorry, far right.

On the other hand, I do think it’s fair to question whether or not mere potential qualifies someone for the award. Just as it’s unrealistic, naive and obviously partisan to criticize President Obama for not getting us out of Iran, Guantanamo Bay, the recession and staggering national debt, it is premature to award him a prize for results not yet achieved. Have we truly moved the needle in terms of the world’s opinion of the U.S.? Too soon to tell. Sorry, far left.

Some have vehemently reacted to the announcement, both ways. The right is vilifying Obama as if he awarded himself the Nobel Peace Prize. I suspect that he was as surprised as everyone else was about the news. The left is responding to neo-con pundits with incredulity, insisting that the right-wing spin-meisters are not paying attention. The left-wing contingency would do well to wipe the stars from their eyes and keep Obama focused on outcomes.

Instead of criticizing Obama for not having done enough, speak up about what he should do. Get off your high-horse and point the way forward. Rather than being blinded by the light, the far left should keep clear outcomes in mind, and hold Obama to meeting them. To the extremes on both sides, who’ve come out in full force to dominate the news coverage on this topic, there’s still much to be learned. Don’t look back to decisions made under previous administrations, Republican or Democrat, and either blame or credit Obama for the problems or the accomplishments. Again, look forward, with solutions in mind, before judging or believing before it’s time.

I don’t believe that true change will happen right away, and I haven’t seen any evidence to prove otherwise. Frankly, it took us eight years to bring down our international reputation. Cowboy politics don’t play well in the global sphere, and we are now paying the price of rebuilding our country’s reputation. Both Republicans and Democrats in D.C. have roles to play for the sake of change. Don’t dig in your heels and prevent it—and don’t just assume that saying it will happen is sure to make it so.

Social Media Policies: Guidelines or Rules?

17 Sep

Here’s an increasingly common question from clients:

I want to implement social media, but I’m afraid that my staff will take advantage of the freedom. What social media policies can we institute to shape use by our employees?

It’s a good question. Businesses are catching on to the practical necessity of social media for customer interaction and reputation-building. But it’s unwise to jump into the fray before preparing in advance.

Having a clear communications plan in place is the first step. Warning: If your plan involves only social media, do NOT activate. Social media is only one channel for communication. Comparisons with walkie talkies and telephones are apt. Just knowing how to use a walkie talkie or telephone doesn’t mean that you know how to WISELY communicate with it. It all depends on what you say, not whether you know how to pick it up and talk through it. Take Gap’s new Born to Fit campaign. They are leveraging social media—heavily—but only as one among many tactics within the media mix, that includes billboards and other examples of “old-school” ads. No television, though. Interesting.

Now back to the policies. The situation reminds me of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Elizabeth Swann is trying to outsmart the Captain, and he reminds her of the flexibility around the pirate’s code:

Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann pretending to be Elizabeth Turner): … wait, you have to take me to shore, according to the code of the Order of the Brethren …
Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa): … first, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement, so it must do nothing, and secondly you must be a pirate for the Pirate’s Code to apply and you’re not, and thirdly the code is more of what you call guidelines than actual rules, welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner …

The same will be true of social media policies. The landscape is so dynamic that you cannot account for everything that could possibly happen. And not everyone will follow them, but without them you are rudderless.

Now back to the policies. Here are some common themes drawn from various social media guidelines:

  1. Use good judgment. Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t say in person.
  2. Be yourself. Never be anonymous.
  3. Preserve confidentiality and intellectual property. Don’t disclose client or proprietary information.
  4. Own your own content. Take responsibility for what you post.
  5. Disclose your blogging to your supervisor. And put a disclaimer on your blog clarifying where you work and that the opinions and views you express are not necessarily those of your employer.
  6. Link back to your corporate culture guidelines. These should shape your social media practices.
  7. Use social media at work, because the process of communicating through social media is so often now a part of our work. But don’t let social media use keep you from getting other parts of your job done. Stay productive.
  8. Follow the ethics code of your given profession. Respect copyright and fair use. Do not risk defamation.
  9. Be a courteous social media community member. Pay heed to mutuality, authenticity and timeliness. These concepts have special meaning in the social mediasphere.
  10. Clarify the place of social media within your overall business goals and communication plan. It should not stand alone.

Now go forth and post!

Snake Oil in the Social Mediasphere

13 Jul

imagesSo many self-proclaimed social media gurus are full of it. They confuse quantity with quality, and juvenile behavior with “authenticity.” Use of social media does not equal expertise in leveraging the medium for business purposes.

These days, there’s a fair dose of snake oil being peddled by people seeking to make a profit. Business advisors encouraging companies to hire a  “social media expert” lead to further confusion, setting aside real strategic decision-making for reactive jumping-on-the-bandwagon.

Just because someone’s using social media doesn’t make them a go-to for solving business problems. This is like saying that because a person can dial the telephone and talk with every friend in an afternoon that they are an expert in sales. It just doesn’t work that way.

Here are four recommendations for identifying a purveyor of social media snake oil:

  1. Take a look at their design aesthetic. Is the color palette of their blog reminiscent of the choices you would have made as a teenager? Just because you can make your blog header bright pink doesn’t mean that you should. Appearances do matter, and this is a signal that they are not playing to a business demographic. Taste is not something we’re all born with. Most of us develop it over time, through trial and error.
  2. Read their blog. Does it include self-promotional and narcissistic photos and a minimum of useful content, primarily focused on their drinking exploits? Is there a preponderance of lol, omg and cul8r? This is self-absorption that they’ll mature out of, but you probably don’t have time to observe the process of growing up. Let them interact with the newbies in the industry and pay their dues before they get credit for being a “guru.” Experience counts. Come back in 5-10 years.
  3. How much content do their tweets deliver? If they are mainly flirting with people or trash-talking with friends, this is another reason to filter them out. Sharing information is key on social media, but being mindful of what’s worth sharing is the “twetiquette” to live by. Some do not switch gears to DMs when a one-on-one conversation is started on Twitter, and that’s a shame. Knowing when to go off-line or on a private line is a judgment easy to make and honestly appreciated by the Twitterverse. A high frequency of  tweets does not get one access to the ranks of the Twitterati.
  4. Is their point of view “authentic” in a style that can be converted to play in a business setting? The beauty of social media is each individual’s ability to establish a uniquely authentic voice. Just as all voices are not welcome at the board table, not all social media voices are worth tuning into for business purposes. Being authentic in the business world probably does not include over-use of emoticons, IM abbreviations or stream-of-consciousness chatter. High-quality tweets consolidate big ideas, embedded in tiny urls and spartanly precise word choice. They are mini-headlines that when mined open new worlds for the reader.

Remember, there’s a “me” in social media, but it comes after the “social”–meaning that awareness of social standards is still good sense and good business.

On Manners

7 Jul
Good manners signage from Australia...applicable universally.

Good manners signage from Australia...applicable universally.

Manners are subjective. There are few remaining standards for proper behavior, as recently noted by The New York Times columnist David Brooks. One person’s rude neighbor is another’s best friend. My philosophy is basically live and let live, so I am fairly patient with people’s idiosyncrasies that could be misconstrued as bad behavior.

But one thing that gets my goat is people who are just plain rude. I had a very strict kindergarten teacher named Mrs. Hudson who had a panoply of characters posted above the blackboard. Rude Robert was the most gauche. Above all, in Mrs. Hudson’s class of 5-year-olds, it was bottom of the barrel to be Rude Robert.

Disrespect for the elderly is a pet peeve of mine. The other day en route to work I was coming down the stairs at the parking garage. A young professional-looking guy breezed past me in the stairwell and proceeded to nearly knock over an older woman lower down the flight. I felt badly for the woman he almost knocked over. Not just because she risked a tumble—this was a situation where the proper thing to do, out of respect for her age, was just slow the heck down and politely let her lead the way to the foot of the stairs. Zoom past her then, by all means, but just let her get down the stairs with her dignity intact.

Another example: Being snubbed. When in public settings, it is not necessary to flap one’s arms and flag down acquaintances from across the room. But some sign of recognition, a simple nod in shared acknowledgment of coexistence and common experience, is appropriate and a sign of mutual respect. Long conversation is not required, but no one wants to be blatantly ignored. Just bad form.

One more: littering. Throwing trash out the window of one’s car is just wrong. I remember in the 70s when we kids were encouraged to call people “litterbugs” for not respecting the environment. One time when on the ski lift with my daughter, we boarded behind two fun-loving 20-ish women. They cleaned out the pockets of their parkas and tossed candy wrappers, beer cans and kleenex underneath the lift. At times like this, my inner vigilante comes out. First, do not litter. And second, don’t set a bad example for kids. On the way down the hill, I speared their trash on my ski pole. It was easy to see, because there was NO OTHER TRASH on the hill, since POLITE PEOPLE know not to litter. When my daughter and I arrived back in line for the lift, lo and behold, there were the young ladies. I told them they left something on the hill. They said, “No, we didn’t,” and I said, “Oh YES you did.” There were lots of other people in line, and it is not pleasant to be held publicly accountable for something you didn’t think anyone saw you do. Oops.

And finally…stealing. Again, some people think that this is okay if no one sees them doing it. I don’t think so. Once while at church, I was in the cry room with my toddler (a few years ago!) and saw a man steal a bike from the rack in front of the church. Again, vigilante action. I told a friend to watch my kid and ran out of the church, knowing that no one else saw this happen. I chased the man across the street shouting, “Thief!” Public embarrassment, again, ruled the day. He dropped the bike and ran off to find another something to steal.

Bad manners make us less complete as humans, in relationship to ourselves and others. It’s not a matter of looking or acting properly—it has to do with treating humanity, even oneself, with dignity.

Contest: Harvard Business Review Subscription for Winner

30 Jun

Folks,

I am hosting a contest. Here’s how it works:

  1. Post a comment detailing your BEST leadership story. This can be a story about something you have done, or something that another leader taught you. Funny or serious stories are welcome. Keep it constructive and clean!
  2. On August 29, I will draw a random name from all comments.
  3. The winner will get a free year’s subscription to the Harvard Business Review.

Seriously, what could be better? You get business leader savvy, just for sharing your stories here at To Know Better.

This is being sponsored by MagsDirect, http://www.magsdirect.com/harvardbusinessreview.html

Here’s more about Harvard Business Review, if you are not familiar (although I am guessing that most of you are!):

Harvard Business Review is a journal written by renowned business educators and practicing managers. Each issue provides readers with a focus on the issues confronting top managers in today’s complex national and international markets. Harvard Business Review offers subscribers original research and firsthand perspectives from leading business people around the globe. Invest in yourself and your company’s future with a subscription to Harvard Business Review.

Bring on the stories, people! I know you have some to tell….