The Friday Poem: ‘The Boss’ by Deborah Garrison

One of the most important workplace relationships is the one between you and your direct supervisor. A good ‘boss’ will quickly sense your potential and connect your talents with work that challenges and enables professional growth. He/she employs personal experience to communicate the value of failure along with success. A good boss has a high EQ and a healthy dose of empathy for all.

For this week’s Friday Poem, a meditation on ‘The Boss’ through the eyes of poet Deborah Garrison.

The Boss

A firecracker, even after middle age

set in, a prince of repression

in his coat and tie, with cynical words

 

for everything dear to him.

Once I saw a snapshot of the house

he lives in, its fence painted

 

white, the flowers a wife

had planted leaning into the frame

on skinny stalks, shaking little pom-poms

 

of color, the dazzle all

accidental, and I felt

a hot, corrective

 

sting: our lives would never

intersect. At some point

he got older, trimmer, became

 

the formidable man around the office.

His bearing upright, what hair he has

silver and smooth, he shadows my doorway,

 

jostling the change in his pocket –

milder now, and mildly vexed.

The other day he asked what on earth

 

was wrong with me, and sat me down

on his big couch, where I cried

for twenty minutes straight,

 

snuffling, my eyeliner

betraying itself in the stained

tears. Impossible to say I was crying

 

because he had asked. He passed

tissues, at ease with the fearsome

womanly squall that made me alien

 

even to myself. No, it didn’t make him

squirm. Across his seventy years,

over his glasses, he eyed me kindly,

 

and I thought what countless scenes

of tears, of love revealed

he must have known.

 

Deborah Garrison   ‘A Working Girl Can’t Win’ 1998

a working girl can't win

Click on this link to hear the author read the poem as part of a 1999 interview with Bill Moyers.

“In this episode of Sounds of Poetry, Garrison tells Bill that poetry is about “trying to find a way to understand and describe the world that lifts you a little bit out of it, instead of just being in it and being lost.”

The week@work: ‘idea debt’, interview questions & women@work: #pledgeforparity & the downside of being a trailblazer

‘Idea debt’, emotional intelligence, International Women’s Day, and lessons from the ‘girl next door who loved sports’, headline our survey of stories this week@work .

Are you a ‘wantrapreneur’? Journalist Oliver Burkeman debunks the belief that thinking about doing something is doing it.

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“I hadn’t seen the problem clearly until the other day, when I encountered the illustrator Kazu Kibuishi’s term for it: “idea debt”. You run up an idea debt, Kibuishi’s fellow artist Jessica Abel explained, when you spend “too much time picturing what a project is going to be like, too much time thinking about how awesome it will be… and too little time actually making the thing”.

Just as the accruing interest on a credit card makes it harder and harder to get back on your feet financially, idea debt impedes action. The more glorious and detailed the pictures in your mind, the more daunting it feels to start making them real.

As Gregg Krech writes in his book The Art Of Taking Action, external reality remains exactly the same after your decision to ask someone out, to write a book, or leave your job. What matters is “creating ripples”, as he puts it – actions, however tiny, that alter things in the world outside your head.”

What are the questions employers ask to determine if a job candidate possesses a solid set of ‘people skills’?  With her article, ‘7 Interview Questions That Determine Emotional Intelligence’, Carolyn Sun not only provides tips for interviewers, but explains the rationale behind the questions for potential hires.

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Here’s one example:

“Can you teach me something, as if I’ve never heard of it before? (It can be anything: A skill, a lesson or a puzzle.)
A job candidate’s answer to this question can reveal several qualities:

Whether the person is willing to take the time to think before speaking.

If the candidate has the technical ability to explain something to a person who is less knowledgeable in the subject.

Whether the candidate asks empathetic questions to the person being taught, such as, “Is this making sense?”

On March 8, International Women’s Day, the Economist “created a glass-ceiling index”, to show where women have the best chances of equal treatment at work. It combines data on higher education, labour-force participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs. Each country’s score is a weighted average of its performance on nine indicators.

purple-woman.jpgTo no one’s surprise, Nordic countries come out well on educational attainment and labour-force participation. Women are also relatively well represented in their parliaments; Finland and Sweden were among the first countries to allow women to vote and stand for election. Yet even there women are paid less than men for similar work. In Finland and Sweden the gap is close to the OECD average of 15%, though in Norway it has fallen to 8%.

At the bottom of our index are Japan and South Korea. Too few women there have jobs, few senior managers or board members are women and pay gaps are large—in South Korea, at 37%, the largest in the OECD. If, in the UN’s words, “equality for women is progress for all”, both countries have a long way to go.”

If you are interested additional reporting on #pledgeforparity and IWD,  Washington Post journalist Danielle Paquette wrote two stories this week for Wonkblog:

‘It’s 2016, and women still make less for doing the same work as men’

‘Pay doesn’t look the same for men and women at top newspapers’

The next story falls into the category of ‘you should be safe when you pursue your dream job.’

When sports journalist Erin Andrews graduated from the University of Florida in 2000, she began a career that eventually brought her to sidelines of college football at both ESPN and Fox Sports, and the dance floor; first as a finalist and now as the co-host of ‘Dancing With The Stars’.

Sarah Kaplan, reporting for The Washington Post summarized what happened next.

“In 2008, Michael David Barrett, who served 2 1/2 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to interstate stalking — said he chose to target her because she was popular and trending on Yahoo.”

“Erin Andrews wanted to be “the girl next door who loved sports,” she said.

“And now I’m the girl with a hotel scandal,” the Fox sportscaster tearfully told a Tennessee courtroom Monday.”

The trial and jury verdict in her favor last week is just one story of ‘The Dangers of Being a Female Sportscaster’ described by Richard Sandomir and John Branch for The New York Times.

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“Female sportscasters have unparalleled reach in an age of round-the-clock sports broadcasting and the widespread dissemination of their work across social media. There are more of them now than ever, across multiple channels and websites.

The stories Sandomir and Branch recount serve as a guide for all women@work, not just those with a high profile in social media.

“I’ll try to avoid ever being in the hall of a hotel by myself,” said Kim Jones, a reporter for NFL Network. “And I’ll allow whoever is behind me to pass me before I put my card or key in the door. You have to be so aware because unfortunately that one time out of 10,000, something can happen.”

Alyssa Roenigk, a reporter for ESPN the Magazine who also appears on the air, primarily covering action sports like the X Games, said she had rarely given her security much thought. For years, she usually walked from venues to her hotel, even late at night. But as she began to do more television and was recognized more often, she was told by her bosses to start taking the courtesy car provided by the network.

“At first I thought I was getting special treatment, and I don’t want special treatment,” Ms. Roenigk said. “It’s not special treatment. It’s being safe.”

Stay safe this week@work, create some ripples and start reducing that ‘idea debt’.

 

The Saturday Read ‘LIT UP: One Reporter, Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives.’ by David Denby

If you believe that the humanities are as critical as STEM skills in the 21st century workplace, take a trip back to high school with David Denby and this week’s Saturday Read, ‘LIT UP’: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives.

We have this basic disconnect in our workplace today that is pitting generalists against specialists. The consequences are trickling down into our public education system.

If you’re a parent considering where to invest in your child’s college education, you’re probably looking at ‘vocational’ programs that ‘guarantee’ a job at graduation. If you’re that same parent, but now in the role of organization executive, you realize your recruiting efforts must consider ‘cultural contribution’; potential in addition to skill set. If you’re a student, you hear ‘STEM good, humanities bad; or worse, a waste of time’.

Writing in The New Yorker in February, Mr. Denby addressed the challenge in advocating for the humanities in today’s skill driven education/employer complex. He cited recent state government efforts to offer ‘bonus premiums’ in financial aid to students enrolled in STEM degree programs by cutting funding to students in the humanities.

“Lifetime readers know that reading literature can be transformative, but they can’t prove it. If they tried, they would have to buck the metric prejudice, the American notion that assertions unsupported with statistics are virtually meaningless. What they know about literature and its effects is literally and spiritually immeasurable. They would have to buck common marketplace wisdom, too: in an economy demanding “skill sets”—defined narrowly as technical and business skills—that deep-reading stuff won’t get you anywhere.” 

In ‘LIT UP’ David Denby is searching for the magic that transforms a young reader into a lifetime reader. “How do you establish reading pleasure in busy screen-loving teenagers – and in particular, pleasure in reading serious work? Is it still possible to raise teenagers who can’t live without reading something good? Or is that idea absurd? And could the struggle to create such hunger have any effect on the character of boys and girls?”

He chooses to go back to school for the 2011-12 academic year at Beacon, a New York City magnet high school, at the time located on West 61st St, observing teacher Sean Leon‘s tenth grade English class.

“School was the place to find out. And students in the tenth grade, I thought, were the right kids to look at. Recent work by neuroscientists has established that adolescence, as well as early childhood, is a period of tremendous “neuroplasticity”. At that age, the brain still has a genuine capacity to change.”

The book is structured by months, and reading selections. Mr. Leon introduces each book with inventive assignments, questions and at one point, a ‘digital fast’. Mr. Denby provides thumbnail plot sketches to shake the cobwebs from our ‘required reading’ memories. And we meet the students, by pseudonym, in their reactions to the literature.

At one point, the author gives the students a questionnaire to find out what books they read on their own, and their favorite authors. He finds three ‘real readers’ in a class of 32. “…unfairly or not, I was sorry that among Mr. Leon’s students there were no mad enthusiasms, no crazy loves, no compulsive reading of every book by a single author…”

In writing the book, he was encouraged by colleagues to create a scalable review, contrary to his initial approach, resisting quantification, and observing “a single place where literary education seemed to be working.” 

He realized that you can’t clone Beacon’s Sean Leon. He wanted other teachers to learn from Leon’s methods, but realized additional perspectives would add to his narrative.

“Typicality and comprehensiveness remained impossible to achieve, but variety was not. I delayed finishing the book, and, in the academic year 2013-14, I visited tenth-grade English classes in two other public schools – shuttling up many times during the year to James Hillhouse High School, an inner-city school in New Haven with a largely poor African American population; and five times in the spring to a school in a wealthy New York suburb, Mamaroneck, a “bedroom town” in the language of the fifties, where people sent their kids to good schools.”

Mr. Denby’s appendix includes the reading lists for each of the schools he visited and a ‘where are they now?’ college destination roster of the Beacon English Class of 2014. “There is, of course, no ideal reading list, no perfect syllabus, no perfect classroom manner, but only strategies that work or don’t work. In a reading crisis, we are pragmatists as well as idealists.”

“Teenagers, distracted, busy, self-obsessed, are not easy to engage – not by their teachers or by their parents. To keep them in the game, the teachers I watched experimented, altered the routine, changing the physical dimensions of the class. They kept the kids off balance in order to put them back in balance. They demanded more of students than the students expected to give.”

This is a book for parents, parents who are business leaders; teachers and the politicians who minimize their value; and students. We’re in a reading crisis and we need folks who have emotional intelligence, who can think, judge, make decisions and create a vision for an enterprise within a global world view.

“Teachers are the most maligned and ignored professionals in American life. In the humanities, the good ones are as central to our emotional and moral life as priests, ministers, rabbis, and imams. The good ones are not sheepish or silent in defense of literature and history and the rest. They can’t be; the children’s lives are right before them. In high-school English, if the teachers are shrewd and willing to take a few risks, they will try to reach the students where they live emotionally. They will engage, for instance, with “naïve” existential questions (what do I live for?) and also adolescent fascination with “dark” moods and the fear of being engulfed by adult society. Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Poe, Hawthorne, Twain, Stevenson, Orwell, Vonnegut, and many others wrote about such things. And if teachers can make books important to kids—and forge the necessary link to pleasure and need—those kids may turn off the screens. At least for a few vital hours.”

“Know something about something…”

What is this thing; lifelong learning? David Brooks called it the ‘question-driven life’, and the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke delivered one of the best defining quotes: “Know something about something. Don’t just present your wonderful self to the world. Constantly amass knowledge and offer it around.” 

Lifelong learning = Curiosity

Recently, in a response to a consultant survey, Michael Dell, the chief executive of Dell, Inc. identified curiosity as the one attribute a leader will need to succeed in the future.

Journalist and questionologist, Warren Berger reports ‘Why Curious People Are Headed To the C-Suite’ for the Harvard Business Review.

“Dell was responding to a 2015 PwC survey of more than a thousand CEOs, a number of whom cited “curiosity” and “open-mindedness” as leadership traits that are becoming increasingly critical in challenging times. Another of the respondents, McCormick & Company CEO Alan D. Wilson, noted that business leaders who “are always expanding their perspective and what they know—and have that natural curiosity—are the people that are going to be successful.

“These days, a leader’s primary occupation must be to discover the future,” Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich told me. It’s “a continual search,” Shaich says, requiring that today’s leader keep exploring new ideas—including ideas from other industries or even from outside the business world.”

OK, you’re not the head of a multi-national corporation, but you have questions, and not just about the technical aspects of work. It’s the human stuff that’s a bit more difficult to unbundle.

There have been continuing education and extension programs catering to adult learning for a hundred years. Most are connected to an academic institution and offer ‘lite’ versions of curricula taught to college students.

In the summer of 2008, ‘philosopher of life’ Alain deBotton founded ‘The School of Life’ in London a few blocks walk from the Russell Square Underground Station. Since then it has evolved into the new model for lifelong learning, employing non-traditional faculty to deliver programing focused on “developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture. We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm and how better to understand, and where necessary change, the world.”

In the Marchmont Street location, and recently opened global sites, professionals come together to learn, share and evolve in a safe space of respectful interaction. This past weekend, SOL offered a ‘pop-up’ sampling of programs in Los Angeles. I attended three of the five sessions led by philosopher and trust consultant, Brennan Jacoby.

On a beautiful California Saturday morning, a diverse group of students arrived at the Design Matters Gallery to begin a day of three, 90 minute sessions. The content informed, inspired and provoked lively discussion.

The School of Life model works because talented faculty deliver contemporary topics, using an instructional technique that allows for the right balance of introspection, sharing and networking. Sessions seemed to end too soon, with attendees lingering to continue conversations.

For the Los Angeles weekend the topics included: How to Find A Job You Love, How to Be Creative, How to Think Like an Entrepreneur, How to be Confident and How to Have Better Conversations.

The School of Life is a catalyst for the question-driven life. If you’ve decided your ‘wonderful self’ is not quite perfect yet, and you’re “ready to amass knowledge and offer it around”, set you lifelong learning GPS on London, or visit the website to begin your quest.

 

 

 

“If you just focus on the work…” A leadership lesson from Taylor Swift

While the annual TED conference is taking place 1,300 miles north, the event at the Staples Center in Los Angeles last night provided a valuable soundbite of career advice from an industry leader. Perhaps the folks at TED might think about an invite for 2017.

You had to wait for it. After two hours and 20 minutes, the woman who opened the 58th Grammy Award telecast returned to the stage to accept the iconic statuette for Album of the Year. Taylor Swift took her moment of recognition to encourage those in dysfunctional workplaces keep going and avoid the distractions of toxic coworkers.

“I want to say to all the young women out there – they’re going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday, when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”

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You may read in the tabloids that the speech was all about an on-going feud with a member of the Kardashian family, but that would trivialize the weight of the words, and devalue the message.

Ms. Swift is a hero to many young women and last night she became the first woman to receive the Album of the Year Award twice. She is an industry leader who has kept her focus on the work and become a major influence on how music is produced and distributed, and artists compensated. Don’t let the fashion distract, it’s a strategic piece of product packaging.

Still skeptical that a 26 year old performer should be taken seriously as a leader?

Last year, writer and magazine contributor Chuck Klosterman profiled Ms. Swift for GQ. Here she describes a key to her success that comes right out of all the research on emotional intelligence.

“I used to watch Behind the Music every day,” she says. (Her favorite episode was the one about the Bangles.) “When other kids were watching normal shows, I’d watch Behind the Music. And I would see these bands that were doing so well, and I’d wonder what went wrong. I thought about this a lot. And what I established in my brain was that a lack of self-awareness was always the downfall. That was always the catalyst for the loss of relevance and the loss of ambition and the loss of great art. So self-awareness has been such a huge part of what I try to achieve on a daily basis. It’s less about reputation management and strategy and vanity than it is about trying to desperately preserve self-awareness, since that seems to be the first thing to go out the door when people find success.”

Last night Taylor Swift spoke from her workplace experience, and shared an essential leadership lesson for us all…”just focus on the work”.

Take this class: Quarterbacks and Leadership

What does it take to win a national championship in college football? One key differentiator might be leadership training. Look at the success of any college football team and there are three key players: the coach, the quarterback and the mentor. If any one of the three lacks the fundamental traits of a leader, you are looking at more losses than wins.

If football is your career, your leadership skills are your business card. If you don’t have the confidence of your players and lack the ability to inspire, the feedback will be quick and you will be unemployed.

The head coach, like the leader of any organization, sets the vision. If he cannot paint a picture of what success looks like, there will be 105 folks coming up with ideas of their own.

A position coach is expected to have the technical knowledge to coach players. They also serve as mentors to student-athletes balancing the dual responsibilities of academics and sports.  What sets them apart from the competition is their ability to gain the trust of their players utilizing all the elements of ’emotional intelligence’.

The majority of folks who have chosen coaching as their career learn leadership by osmosis. They build a skill set from experience and observation. Most coaches may never have heard the term ’emotional intelligence’, but the best lead from self-confidence, integrity, empathy, social skills and the drive to achieve.

The success of a team and the job security of the coach rests on the performance of folks between the ages of 17 and 22.

These folks who play football in Division I schools have been living separate lives from us mere mortals since elementary school. They have followed a career trajectory that parallels their peers in some ways, but diverges at key decision points, the most visible being the college admissions process.

Where along the way does the quarterback learn the foundations of leadership?

The ‘student’ part of student-athlete is the perfect portal to leadership development that will serve in the present on the field, and provide the foundation for success after football.

I was listening to sports radio on a nine hour drive through the Mid Atlantic states on Monday. On one program analysts were dissecting the quarterback selection decisions of a number of teams, both college and pro. Each decision considered physical ability, football ‘smarts’, but most importantly confidence and trust. If a player did not have the confidence and trust to their coach and team, they were benched.

How many of those folks sitting on the bench this season would be on the field if a mentor or professor had introduced them to the fundamentals of leadership? I’m not suggesting a complete turnaround, but if a player understood how to communicate more effectively, lose a bit of the arrogance and build support among his teammates, would the playing field be a bit more level?

Recently a court ruled that college athletes cannot be considered as employees. That does not exempt the adults in the athletic building from ensuring their student-athletes have access to the faculty expertise available on every college campus. Time for coaches to recognize the value of the academy, draw upon that wisdom and encourage their players to develop key leadership and life competencies.