The week@work – the top stories of ’16, a new year, the eternal optimist’s talking points, French workers get the right to disconnect, and leadership lessons from Michelle Obama

Happy New Year! This week@work we take a final look at the top stories of 2016, and the stories from the first week of 2017. On the work-life balance front – French workers now have the legal right to disconnect from the office. The U.S. unemployment rate is at 4.7%, with hourly salary earnings rising 2.9%. And for women@work, an article considered the future of women in this new year, as First Lady Michelle Obama delivered her final formal remarks on Friday, giving us a parting gift – a model for what a leader looks like.

The Economist’s top ten most read stories of 2016 centered on the U.S. election and Brexit. In the U.S., NPR’s top 20 did not include Brexit, but the question of how Donald Trump will govern, led the list. “The top 20 most popular stories from the past year ranged from fact checks to mosquito bites, from Aleppo to taxes, and how to raise kids who will thrive, whatever the future brings.” 

There were many stories about work and the workplace, but most became a subset of the larger stories. Susan Chira reflected on ‘What Women Lost’.

“This was supposed to be the year of triumph for American women.

A year that would cap an arc of progress: Seneca Falls, 1848. The 19th Amendment, 1920. The first female American president, 2017. An inauguration that would usher in a triumvirate of women running major Western democracies. Little girls getting to see a woman in the White House.

Instead, for those at the forefront of the women’s movement, there is despair, division and defiance. Hillary Clinton’s loss was feminism’s, too.”

2017 will be the year we ask, what are the long term implications for women@work? On January 21, in Washington, and cities around the country, women will have an opportunity to reinsert themselves into the national conversation.

Unknown.png

For additional reading @year end:

‘The Echoes of 1914’ by historian Margaret MacMillan for the BBC. She responsed to a query about which year in history most closely resembled 2016.

“I wish I could stop, but I find myself thinking of 1914. The world then had seemed so stable, so manageable. Crises – political, social, economic, military – came and went but “they”, bankers, statesmen, politicians, always managed them in the end.

Yes, there were grumblings – from the working classes or women, or those who were losing their livelihoods because of free trade or mechanisation.

And there were some strong emotions about: fears of rapid change, passionate nationalisms that meant love of one’s own country and hatred of others. Ominous in retrospect because we know what happened. But at the time there was a complacency – it would surely all work out all right.

That confidence was dangerous because it meant that people didn’t take the warning signs seriously enough.

I wish I could stop making the comparisons.

In ‘1999 Was The Last Time Everything Was Fine’ BuzzFeed Culture Writer Doree Shafrir revisited her first year@work.

“I had no job and almost no money. My parents had given me the security deposit on the apartment as a graduation present, but now I was on my own. I was entranced by the classifieds section of the New York Times, with its pages and pages of appeals for secretaries and programmers and architects and retail store managers. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew I liked to be around words, but I wasn’t sure what that meant in terms of actually making money. Maybe now was the time to try something new. Maybe I could close my eyes and point to something on the page and that would be my destiny.

That was how 1999 felt, like anything was possible.”

Artist Tucker Nichols created a rainbow rendering of an ‘Eternal Optimist Talking Points for 2017’ as OpArt for The New York Times.  A sample of musings: “Somehow not as freaked out by scary clowns anymore…Midtown traffic has always been pretty jammed up…Smog makes great sunsets…Still a chance it’s a very long dream.”

On January 1, a new law in France went into effect allowing workers to ‘disconnect’ from their workplace.

IMG_5895.jpg

The BBC reported on France’s implementation of a law to protect work-life balance.

“Companies with more than 50 workers will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails. France has a working week of 35 hours, in place since 2000.”

And then there was this from the professionals who go to work every day in U.S. Intelligence Services.IMG_8057.JPG

On Friday afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a memorable farewell speech at a White House event honoring the 2017 School Counselor of the Year. The text set an aspirational vision for all Americans and provides all of us with a lesson in leadership.

“…for all the young people in this room and those who are watching, know that this country belongs to you — to all of you, from every background and walk of life. If you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition — the infusion of new cultures, talents and ideas, generation after generation, that has made us the greatest country on earth.”

C1hKGRJUcAAgab2.jpg

“If your family doesn’t have much money, I want you to remember that in this country, plenty of folks, including me and my husband — we started out with very little. But with a lot of hard work and a good education, anything is possible — even becoming President. That’s what the American Dream is all about.

But I also want to be very clear: This right isn’t just handed to you. No, this right has to be earned every single day. You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms. And that starts right now, when you’re young.

Right now, you need to be preparing yourself to add your voice to our national conversation. You need to prepare yourself to be informed and engaged as a citizen, to serve and to lead, to stand up for our proud American values and to honor them in your daily lives. And that means getting the best education possible so you can think critically, so you can express yourself clearly, so you can get a good job and support yourself and your family, so you can be a positive force in your communities.

And when you encounter obstacles — because I guarantee you, you will, and many of you already have — when you are struggling and you start thinking about giving up, I want you to remember something that my husband and I have talked about since we first started this journey nearly a decade ago, something that has carried us through every moment in this White House and every moment of our lives, and that is the power of hope — the belief that something better is always possible if you’re willing to work for it and fight for it.

It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and in the life of this country. Our hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, then we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us. The hope that when people see us for who we truly are, maybe, just maybe they, too, will be inspired to rise to their best possible selves.

So that’s my final message to young people as First Lady. It is simple. I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong. So don’t be afraid — you hear me, young people? Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourselves with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope, never fear. And know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life.”

We work in the context of global events, as responsible citizens. Our role in our workplace is to reflect the best in human and organizational values. In this new year@work, stay focused, be determined and lead by example with hope, never fear.

 

Photo credits: New Year’s Eve London – Ben Cawthra/LNP, Michelle Obama – BBC.com

The Friday Poem “Hope” is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson

What do we have if we don’t have hope?

In December, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. One of the most stunning, yet relatable, quotes concerned ‘hope’- the promise of her husband’s presidential campaign eight years ago.

“I think that we feel the difference now. See, now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like. 

“Hope is necessary. It’s a necessary concept, and Barack didn’t just talk about hope because he thought it was just a nice slogan to get votes.”

“What else do you have, if you don’t have hope? What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope?”

The Friday poem this week is from the nineteenth century American poet, Emily Dickinson – because we all could use a little hope “perched in our soul” in this new year.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Emily Dickinson ‘The Poems of Emily Dickinson’ edited by R.W. Franklin

9780674018242.jpg

 

 

 

First Lady Michelle Obama @ Oberlin College & Tuskegee University – “Rise above the noise”

First Lady Michelle Obama delivered two commencement addresses this spring. The first, in early May at Tuskegee University and the second over the weekend at Oberlin College. Respect and civility were on her mind and the narrative of her experience gave credence to the challenge she posed to graduates at both institutions: “stay true to who you are and where you come from” and “rise above the noise and shape the revolutions of your time”.

The position of First Lady of the United States is a career choice. The interview process is tangential to the candidate for president, but the spouse’s background is equally examined under the microscope of the 24×7 news cycle. In her speech to the Tuskegee graduating class, Mrs. Obama was candid in her reflections on the impact of the campaign and shared a leadership lesson in her resolve to not let others define her.

“Back when my husband first started campaigning for President, folks had all sorts of questions of me: What kind of First Lady would I be? What kinds of issues would I take on? Would I be more like Laura Bush, or Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Reagan? And the truth is, those same questions would have been posed to any candidate’s spouse. That’s just the way the process works. But, as potentially the first African American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating?  Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?

But eventually, I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing I could do, and that was to have faith in God’s plan for me. I had to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself — and the rest would work itself out. 

So throughout this journey, I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth. I had to answer some basic questions for myself: Who am I? No, really, who am I? What do I care about?”

The most respected of the management gurus are adamant that before you can lead, you have to know who you are, your values and what you care about. This is your anchor throughout your career.

“And at the end of the day, by staying true to the me I’ve always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing. Because no matter what happened, I had the peace of mind of knowing that all of the chatter, the name calling, the doubting — all of it was just noise. It did not define me. It didn’t change who I was. And most importantly, it couldn’t hold me back. I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values — and follow my own moral compass — then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”

At Oberlin College, Mrs. Obama acknowledged the campus culture of service and social justice and encouraged graduates to take a leadership role “to actively seek out the most contentious, polarized, gridlocked places you can find. Because so often, throughout our history, those have been the places where progress really happens –- the places where minds are changed, lives transformed, where our great American story unfolds.”  

“And the truth is, graduates, after four years of thoughtful, respectful discussion and debate here at Oberlin -– those seminars where you explored new ideas together, those late-night conversations where you challenged each other and learned from each other — after all of that, you might find yourself a little dismayed by the clamor outside these walls — the name-calling, the negative ads, the folks yelling at each other on TV. After being surrounded by people who are so dedicated to serving others and making the world a better place, you might feel a little discouraged by the polarization and gridlock that too often characterize our politics and civic life.

Her address continued with a call to citizenship. Recognizing the temptation to “run the other way as fast as you can…you need to run to, and not away from, the noise.” 

So get out there and volunteer on campaigns, and then hold the folks you elect accountable. Follow what’s happening in your city hall, your statehouse, Washington, D.C. Better yet, run for office yourself. Get in there. Shake things up. Don’t be afraid.  And get out and vote in every election -– not just the big national ones that get all the attention, but every single election. Make sure the folks who represent you share your values and aspirations.

See, that is how you will rise above the noise and shape the revolutions of your time.”