The week@work – A ‘fumbled’ transition @ABC, a second chance for Cho, the Class of 2016 & the ‘Secret Shame of the American Middle-Class”

When is the right time to share news of a career transition with a colleague? This week@work, the communication of Michael Strahan’s move to ‘Good Morning America’ provided a lesson in what not to do. In other stories: Jerry Seinfeld stepped in to mentor fellow comedian Margaret Cho, the Class of 2016 enters the job market, and the middle class continues to live paycheck to paycheck.

‘Kelly Ripa’s Absence From ‘Live’ Points to Rancor at ABC’ was the #1 most read New York Times business article this past week. #8 on the list was ‘Michael Strahan, Switching Shows, Is Headed to ‘Good Morning America’. Leadership lesson: the reaction shouldn’t be bigger news than the announcement.

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Why did this story resonate with readers?  Because it’s a story about fairness @work, professional respect among colleagues, and being left out of the loop. We have all been Kelly and many of us have been Michael.

Both GMA and Live fall within the Disney brand portfolio. It might be time to send the management team to the Disney Institute for a ‘values’ refresh. Jeff James, president and general manager of the Institute, often writes for INC. Here is a sample from April, 2014.

“Walt Disney said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

To achieve success, leaders should consider these three concepts to motivate and inspire their team:

  1. Vision and Values. At Disney Institute, we believe every leader is telling a story about what he or she values. These values must be aligned with the vision for an organization or team… 
  2. Behaviors over Intentions. Individuals within an organization will look to a leader as a model to develop their own behaviors and decisions… As a leader, it is essential that your behaviors reflect your values and your vision… 
  3. Purpose before Task. When assigning new projects to a team, it is important to discuss the purpose behind the task… if a team understands the common purpose behind individual responsibilities, they will be more inspired to own the tasks as well as the goal.

Tomorrow morning Kelly Ripa will return to the ‘Live’ studio to resume her hosting assignment. In anticipation, Ned Ehrbar of CBS News asks “Is 9 a.m. too early for popcorn? Because this should be good.” Stay tuned.

There was a small story last week about second chances.

“Last month, the stand-up comedian Margaret Cho had a bad set at the Stress Factory in New Jersey. It happens. O.K., it was worse than usual since a clip of Ms. Cho being booed by the crowd showed up on TMZ. But for a comic, bombing is part of the job. What’s less common is getting a second chance with the same audience.”

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We’ve all been there. We prepare a presentation complete with all possible tech bedazzling, and imagine kudos from a receptive audience. However, the execution doesn’t quite match the expectation and we experience an epic fail.

Recovery for the average worker is a combination of coaching, training and perhaps client feedback. It’s extremely rare for an entertainer to revisit the scene of a bad set. Enter Jerry Seinfeld.

“In an invitation sent to all the ticketbuyers from her late-night show in New Brunswick on March 26, Mr. Seinfeld wrote: “At most workplaces, if there’s a problem on the job, there’s a conversation and usually some sort of outcome. But when a stand-up show doesn’t go well, the audience and the comedian both go home unhappy, sometimes not really sure what went wrong.”

Then Mr. Seinfeld made a proposal: “So as I was talking with Margaret about this show last week during the taping in L.A., we started wondering, wouldn’t it be something if we could go back to New Jersey, back to that club with the same audience and try to make things right? Have a discussion where both sides — comedian and audience — could talk about what happened? And then both of us could do a show — a sort of redo for the audience?”

When the jacaranda trees begin to bloom in Southern California, you know it’s time for commencement, and the string of news stories on the job prospects for the Class of 2016.

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Lydia Dishman reported on the Economic Policy Institute’s analysis of work prospects for this year’s grads.

“Members of the class of 2016 are about to take their first steps on career paths. While no one can predict how they will do once they become part of the workforce, the Economic Policy Institute analyzed employment, enrollment, and wage trends to determine their economic prospects.

A paper, titled “Class of 2016,” found that this cohort has better job prospects than members of last year’s graduating class. Thanks to the steady economic recovery, these young people are expected to do better than any other class since 2009.”

The Economic Policy Institute’s paper is not an optimistic read, but a well researched study on the impact of nonexistent wage growth and a volatile economic future.

“Graduating in a weak economy has long-lasting economic consequences. For the next 10 to 15 years, those in the Class of 2016 will likely earn less, and have more spells of unemployment, than if they had graduated when job opportunities were plentiful.”

Saving the best for last, Neal Gabler‘s courageous, must read article in The Atlantic Magazine, ‘The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans’.

“Since 2013, the federal reserve board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?

Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47 percent.”

In an interview with NPR last week, Gabler spoke of “the shame of financial impotence”.

“That shame weighed on me — and I am not overstating the case — on not only a daily basis, but an hourly basis. It keeps you up at night. It is ruinous for relationships, the shame is so great. The ongoing sense of shame, that in a country where we are told anyone can be successful, and where, as Donald Trump has told us endlessly, if you don’t make it you’re a “loser.”

So, yes, did I feel like a loser? You bet I did. But what can you do with that sense of shame? You can’t share it with anybody, because to expose it is, like sexual impotence, something you just don’t want to talk about.”

 

The week@work – leadership, lawyers, student loans & the economy

What makes a great leader or a great lawyer? What’s the best strategy to retire student debt? This week@work surveys articles that provide some answers, and as the economy continues to strengthen, offers some practical advice on career advancement.

Joshua Rothman wrote ‘Shut Up and Sit Down: Why the leadership industry rules’ for The New Yorker. He gives us a quick tutorial on the history of leadership, why we value the concept, but are so often disappointed in the people. He alludes to the current presidential contest, and then focuses on change in both our expectations of leaders, and the roles they play in contemporary organizations.Print

“In recent years, technological and economic changes like social media and globalization have made leaders less powerful.

Leaders used to be titanic and individual; now they’re faceless guiders of processes. Once, only the people in charge could lead; now anyone can lead “emergently.” The focus has shifted from the small number of people who have been designated as leaders to the background systems that produce and select leaders in the first place.

Leaders, moreover, used to command; now they suggest. Conceptually, at least, leadership and power have been decoupled.

To some extent, leaders are storytellers; really, though, they are characters in stories. They play leading roles, but in dramas they can’t predict and don’t always understand. Because the serialized drama of history is bigger than any one character’s arc, leaders can’t guarantee our ultimate narrative satisfaction. Because events, on the whole, are more protean than people, leaders grow less satisfying with time, as the stories they’re ready to tell diverge from the stories we want to hear. And, because our desire for a coherent vision of the world is bottomless, our hunger for leadership is insatiable, too. Leaders make the world more sensible, but never sensible enough.”

The New York Times profiled two women who chose law as their profession and took divergent, pioneering paths to achieve success. What makes a good lawyer? Meet Kimberley Chongyong Motley and Damaris Hernandez.

David Jolly profiled Ms. Motley, who has been practicing her profession in Afghanistan for close to eight years and was recently the subject of an award winning documentary, ‘Motley’s Law’.

image.adapt.990.high.kimberley_motley_05feb2016_portrait.1454770287607“Ms. Motley, 40, a Marquette University Law School graduate, had never before traveled overseas when she enrolled in a Justice Department program to train Afghan lawyers and flew to one of the world’s more dangerous places.

After her nine-month assignment, she did not return home to Milwaukee, instead hanging out her own shingle in Kabul. She studied Shariah, the Islamic code that lies beneath the fragile new Afghan Constitution, and she established herself as the only foreign litigator in one of the world’s most conservative and male-dominated cultures.

Ms. Motley says she makes a point of closely studying the cultures of both Afghanistan and the courtroom. “I’m a sort of legal archaeologist,” she said. “I try to uncover laws that have not been used, and then use them for the benefit of my clients.”

Damaris Hernandez was recently promoted to partner at the firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, becoming the first Latina to reach that position. Elizabeth Olson tells her story as a first generation college student, who advanced in her career with the support of a unique scholarship at NYU.

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That achievement is an acknowledgment of her talent and hard work. But the story of her route to the top also reveals how much more complex the journey is for minorities and women than for the white men who overwhelmingly dominate the firms. Skill is only one of the keys. Being able to navigate unspoken rules is at least as important.

“When I was the only one of color or the only woman in the room, I had the confidence to believe in my ability,” said Ms. Hernández, 36, describing the advantages of the program to her. “When you are the first, you need someone to have your back.”

Over the last decade and a half, she and 100 others who attended the New York University School of Law received that support from a scholarship program that paid their full tuition and also gave them access to a network of luminaries including federal judges, law firm partners and even Supreme Court justices.”

If you are seeking ways to reduce your student loan obligation, NPR’s Yuki Noguchi offers ‘Strategies For When You’re Starting Out Saddled With Student Debt’. It’s not just about individual liability, but also the long term impact on career choice and economic growth.

“Experts say studies show rising student debt is limiting peoples’ career options. They decide against graduate school. Or feel they can’t afford lower-paying public service jobs or the risk of starting a new business. That’s a problem, because new companies create new jobs.”

University Park campus of the University of Southern California

This past week the University of  Southern California announced a tuition increase that will bring the annual bill to over $51,000. Financing college involves loans as part of the  package. Having a repayment strategy is critical to long term career success.

“Chris Costello, CEO of Blooom, a personal finance advice firm targeting lower-net-worth people, advises his firm’s clients to tackle student debt with this strategy.

First, if your employer matches contributions to a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), max out on the matching contributions.

After maxing out on the matching contributions, pay off the debt with the lowest balance.

Check to see if you can qualify for loan forgiveness, refinancing or debt consolidation.

Do not incur new debts: in other words, live below your means.”

Chico Harlan of The Washington Post reported on the latest figures released by the U.S. Labor Department on Friday.

“U.S. employers continued their rapid hiring in February, new government data showed Friday, a sign of the nation’s economic durability during a tumultuous global slowdown.

The U.S. added 242,000 jobs as the unemployment rate held at 4.9 percent, the lowest mark during the seven-year recovery from the Great Recession.

That pace, consistent with gains over the last year, indicates Americans are returning rapidly to the labor force, helped by steady consumer spending that is bolstering demand and prompting employers to expand their workforces. In data released Friday by the Department of Labor, sluggish wages provided the only disappointing note — a signal that labor market still has room to improve.”

Two other articles of interest this week:

’15 things successful 20-somethings do in their spare time’ by Jacquelyn Smith and Rachel Gillett for Business Insider

‘How to Advance In Your Career Without Becoming A Workaholic’ by Lisa Evans for Fast Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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”.

‘Let American Be America Again’ a poem by Langston Hughes

We spend a lot of time considering the values of our workplace and how they mesh with our priorities; who we will become as part of a workplace community. But where we go to work is located in the broader context of a national set of values. And those values have been the topic of conversation this political season, with some questioning the basic tenets that have, until now, defined our national conscience.

It sometimes seems like we have lost our collective sense of the core values that bind us as humans, Americans and global citizens.

Take a moment today to restore our ‘moral memory’ and revisit history through the lens of American poet, Langston Hughes. The Friday Poem this week is ‘Let America Be America Again’ written in 1935 and published in Esquire Magazine in 1936.

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Langston Hughes  ‘The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes’  1995

The week@work – Mark Zuckerberg writes a letter, equality comes to combat, 20 predictions/20 years, the November jobs report and terrorism@work

This week@work was dominated, until mid-week, by the story of the ‘Chan Zuckerberg initiative’ to set aside 99% of their Facebook wealth, and overshadowed a major shift in policy within the Pentagon, opening all combat jobs to women, without exception. The November jobs report continued the positive trajectory of the economy with the revision upward of September and October numbers. And the editor of Fast Company Magazine offered ‘Twenty Predictions for the Next Twenty Years’.

All of those stories pale in comparison to the return of terrorism to the workplace at a holiday party at 11 AM on Wednesday in San Bernardino, California.

Mark Zuckerberg wrote a letter to his new daughter and lots of attention was paid to the section on sharing his wealth.  Carmine Gallo of Forbes took closer look and noted that the letter read like a great speech.

“As you’ve probably read by now Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan welcomed a daughter into the world in a very big way – with the creation of a new initiative to donate 99% of their Facebook shares ($45 billion currently) to philanthropy. That’s the headline. I was struck, however, by how the open letter to their daughter read more like a speech than a letter. It was meant for the eye…and the ear. It was meant to inspire a generation to commit itself to giving and to making the world a better place.

“Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today,” the letter begins. Read aloud at an average speaking pace, the 2,200-word letter takes about twelve minutes to recite, the ideal amount of time for a good speech (many of the most notable speeches in recent history clock in at 15 minutes or less).

Zuckerberg’s hope for his daughter’s generation provides the theme of the letter, a headline that fits into one short sentence. In bold letters, Zuckerberg writes:

“Advancing human potential and promoting equality.”

Amanda Platell of The Daily Mail offered an alternate version.

“Let’s start with the ‘friends’ you may have on Facebook. Do not confuse them with the friends you should trust in the real world. Many will barely know you, plenty may be jealous, others will be insincere and spiteful…

If I have learned anything from running Facebook, it’s that there is no such thing as privacy any more. After all, that’s how I made our billions!

Come to think of it, perhaps we won’t give you a computer until you’re 18, just to be safe. Love, Dad.”

On Thursday the Dan Lamothe reported on the groundbreaking change in staffing policy at the Pentagon.

“Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Thursday that he is opening all jobs in combat units to women, a landmark decision that would for the first time allow female service members to join the country’s most elite military forces.

Women will now be eligible to join the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces and other Special Operations Units. It also opens the Marine Corps infantry, a battle-hardened force that many service officials had openly advocated keeping closed to female service members.

“There will be no exceptions,” Carter said. “This means that, as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before.”

Robert Safian, the editor-in-chief of Fast Company magazine marked the twentieth anniversary of the publication with ‘Twenty Predictions for the Next Twenty Years’.

“We celebrate birthdays to remember all that has gone before, and also what is to come. This month, with issue No. 201, we recognize Fast Company’s 20th anniversary by looking toward the future. The dynamic change of the past two decades is just a warm-up for what is still to come.

I have used the phrase Generation Flux to describe this era of transition. Because the changes are coming so fast, there is a rising premium on our ability to adjust, to be adaptable in new ways. This can be scary for some, but it is also undeniably exciting, and for those prepared to embrace this emerging reality, the possibilities are tantalizing.

What follows are 20 observations that we believe will hold fast in the years ahead. They are predictions and, as such, are fraught with limitation and supposition. None of them, on their own, is shocking. That is by design. In combination, though, they outline a world of tomorrow where work is still personal, computing is still social, and knowledge is still power. And where the rules for success will be ever-changing.”

Bouree Lam covered the optimistic economic report from the Labor Department on Friday.

“The November jobs report is out, and it’s meeting what were moderately high expectations. The figures from the Labor Department show that the unemployment rate remained at 5 percent and the economy added 211,000 jobs in November. Jobs were added in construction, health care, and “professional and technical services”—the Labor Department’s term for an assortment of white-collar jobs. Among those, the construction sector showing particularly strong growth, adding 46,000 jobs.”

On Wednesday morning a group of colleagues went to work at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. As they were taking a break, preparing for a holiday celebration, one of their team and his wife, both heavily armed, entered the room and changed lives forever.

In 2014 there were 404 workplace homicides, 80% were shootings. The ‘mass shooting’ in San Bernardino was the fourth of this year.

Yesterday the editors of The New York Times published an editorial on the front page of the paper, ‘End the Gun Epidemic in America’.

I’m done with the retailers who give away guns to the first 200 customers on Black Friday. And I’m not comfortable with my cubicle mates carrying weapons to work. The workplace is a place to create, engage and perhaps follow a dream. Fear and hostility have never been a productive part of life @work. The last time leading by fear worked was in the mid-20th century Catholic grammar school classroom.

“It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism.”

On March 4, 1933 newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his inaugural address. The familiar phrase, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself..” has been whispering from the back of my mind since Wednesday and I think it’s particularly relevant to our political conversation today.

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

 

 

 

‘The Managers’ a poem by W.H. Auden

The ‘Friday Poem’ this week is ‘The Managers’ by British poet W.H. Auden. The poem was written almost 70 years ago, in the post World War II period when a new class of worker was emerging, the professional corporate manager. The new corporate bureaucracies mirrored the military structures that had effectively managed the war effort.

In the military you were assigned a number, and as these new organization structures emerged, employees lost their identities and became numbers as well. Auden used his poetry to remind those in charge that workers have faces..

‘The mere making of a work of art is itself a political act’ because it reminds ‘the Management … that the managed are people with faces, not anonymous numbers.’

‘The hero of modern poetry is ‘the man or woman in any walk of life who … manages to acquire and preserve a face of his own’.”

The poem is a snapshot in time of one artist’s reaction to the “Men, working too hard in rooms that are too big”.

The Managers

In the bad old days it was not so bad:

The top of the ladder

Was an amusing place to sit; success

Meant quite a lot – leisure

And huge meals, more palaces filled with more

Objects, books, girls, horses

Than one would ever get round to, and to be

Carried uphill while seeing

Others walk. To rule was a pleasure when

One wrote a death sentence

On the back of the Ace of Spades and played on

With a new deck. Honours

Are not so physical or jolly now,

For the species of Powers

We are used to are not like that. Could one of them

Be said to resemble

The Tragic Hero, The Platonic Saint,

Or would any painter

Portray one rising triumph from a lake

On a dolphin, naked,

Protected by an umbrella of cherubs? Can

They so much as manage

To behave like genuine Caesars when alone

Or drinking with cronies,

To let their hair down and be frank about

The world? It is doubtful.

The last word on how we may live or die

Rests today with such quiet

Men, working too hard in rooms that are too big,

Reducing to figures

What is the matter, what is to be done.

A neat little luncheon

Of sandwiches is brought to each on a tray,

Nourishment they are able

To take with one hand without looking up

From papers a couple

Of secretaries are needed to file,

From problems no smiling

Can dismiss. The typewriters never stop

But whirr like grasshoppers

In the silent siesta heat as, frivolous

Across their discussions

From woods unaltered by our wars and our vows

There drift the scents of flowers

And the songs of birds who will never vote

Or bother to notice

Those distinguishing marks a lover sees

By instinct and policemen

Can be trained to observe. Far into the night

Their windows burn brightly

And, behind their backs bent over some report,

On every quarter,

For ever like a god or a disease

There on earth the reason

In all its aspects why they are tired, and weak,

The inattentive, seeing

Someone to blame. If, to recuperate

They go a-playing, their greatness

Encounters the bow of the chef or the glance

Of the ballet-dancer

Who cannot be ruined by any master’s fall.

To rule must be a calling,

It seems, like surgery or sculpture; the fun

Neither love nor money

But taking necessary risks, the test

Of one’s skill, the question,

If difficult, their own reward. But then

Perhaps one should mention

Also what must be a comfort as they guess

In times like the present

When guesses can prove so fatally wrong,

The fact of belonging

To the very select indeed, to those

For whom, just supposing

They do, there will be places on the last

Plane out of disaster.

No; no one is really sorry for their

Heavy gait and careworn

Look, nor would they thank you if you said you were.

W.H. Auden 1948, ‘The Oxford Book of Work’ 1999

Leadership: When arrogance trumps common sense, no one wins

There are memories of life @work that are etched in your brain forever. One of those for me was the morning I received a call from one of my managers. A member of our team had walked into a location late at night, inebriated, and punched a security guard when he was denied access to the building.

This sounds like one of those exercises created by consultants for leadership assessment. What would you do?

It’s not a far fetched scenario and it’s one that many of us will encounter in the course of our career.  Today, in a very public way, the leadership team at the University of Southern California is forced to address a similar situation with their head football coach. And it’s heartbreaking because arrogance trumped common sense.

I do not know Steve Sarkisian, the head football coach at USC. But I do have another memory @work when I was invited to be a guest coach for a day with the USC women’s volleyball team. I joined the team for dinner prior to the match in the athlete’s dining hall. It was past the normal dining hours and the only folks in the room were the volleyball team, coaches and at another table, Steve Sarkisian with Matt Leinart. At the time, Matt was the starting quarterback and Steve was his position coach.

What I observed that evening was a coach committed to his player, taking the time to sit, listen and offer advice and counsel. They were there when we arrived and there when we left. Given the circus atmosphere around NCAA Division I football, this quiet moment formed my perception of Steve Sarkisian.

Many years have passed. The pressure on Division I coaches has increased. Coach Sarkisian accepted a head coaching job at the University of Washington. Matt Leinart was drafted into the NFL. The coach returned to USC and Matt is now a sportscaster for Fox Sports.

Coach Sarkisian’s days @work pass in the glare of media in a town where there are no NFL teams. It’s difficult to imagine the pressure on both players and coaches to perform at a consistent level each week in an environment where losing is never an option and every decision is questioned.

There was an incident in August at a fundraising event. Yesterday, another. And now, former players from UW are sharing memories@work on social media of other incidents. It may be cathartic for them to ‘pile on’ at this point, but where is the humanity that separates a college athlete from a tackle dummy?

You may argue that folks fear retribution, loss of scholarship, lack of playing time and a missed opportunity to play on Sunday. But these are the ‘big guys’ that employers clamor to hire because of their team and leadership skills. Leading from behind carries far less risk than a conspiracy of silence. And can we not forget we are talking about the health of a human being here?

And then there are the adults, the stewards of the workplace community, the folks who are paid for their leadership skills: emotional intelligence, listening, taking action. There are few public details, so innuendo will fill in for facts. But in an environment so preoccupied with rankings, success and winning, we are witnessing an epic leadership fail when it came to empathy toward a key member of the Trojan family.

When you fumble the football, it’s difficult to recover. For the USC leadership team, the clock may have run out. But I hope there is an overtime opportunity for Coach Sarkisian and that he gets well and returns to pursue his dream job.

What did I do? I followed the facts. My team member was going through a divorce and his partner had just denied him visitation with his toddler children. It didn’t justify his behavior. But it did provide a context for a leadership response. The day of the incident he entered rehab, knowing the alternative was losing his job. When he returned to work, he worked every day to stay sober and continued to add value to the organization.

Leading is difficult. But the most valuable assets a leader can possess are a catalog of memories@work and common sense. When it comes to the really tough, human issues @work, there is no proxy for common sense.

The week@work – Jobs report, valuing low-skilled workers, succession in fashion and another college scorecard

This week@work ended with the release of a disappointing September jobs report. On Thursday, an English instructor and restaurant server in Las Vegas shared her views on the value of unskilled labor. In the world of fashion the transition in leadership at Ralph Lauren was the most publicized succession news, but a number of fashion houses are facing business continuation challenges. And, potential college students have one more metric to use to select a college, the Obama administration’s ‘College Scorecard’.

Patricia Cohen provided a detailed analysis of the September jobs report from the Labor Department.

“The Labor Department found that the jobless rate held steady at 5.1 percent in September, but wage gains stalled, the labor force shrank and employers created many fewer positions than they had been averaging in recent months. While the latest report is only a snapshot of the economy and the weakness may ultimately prove fleeting, it made clear that ordinary workers are still failing to take home the kind of monetary rewards normally expected from a recovery that has being going on for more than six years.”

The low skill areas of the economy continue to be the hardest hit. It’s this group that was the topic of an opinion piece by Brittany Bronson, an English instructor with a perfect view to comment from her other job as a restaurant server. She posed the question, do we value low-skilled work?

“We’re raised, in the culture of American capitalism, to believe certain things, without question, namely that the value of work is defined by the complexity of the task and not the execution of it, that certain types of work are not worthy of devoting a lifetime to.

The labels “low-skilled” or “unskilled” workers — the largest demographic being adult women and minorities — often inaccurately describe an individual’s abilities, but play a powerful role in determining their opportunity. The consequences are not only severe, but incredibly disempowering: poverty-level wages, erratic schedules, the absence of retirement planning, health benefits, paid sick or family leave and the constant threat of being replaced.

…When you witness a great restaurant server or see a particularly effective janitor at work, you aren’t observing a freak talent, but someone who took the time to learn his or her job and improve on it. Now imagine if more “low-skilled” workers were given the compensation, job security and encouragement to do the same.”

The conversation about valuing the work of low skilled labor has recently centered around raising the minimum wage. While important, it plays into the narrative that value is validated by the size of a paycheck. Ms. Bronson addresses the bigger issue.

“But the more difficult challenge is to redefine the language and perceptions that trap large segments of reliable workers in poverty. All work can be executed with skill, but denying that fact is useful to those who justify the poor treatment of, and unfair compensation for, millions of workers.

Convincing those workers that their treatment is temporary, that if they just keep working harder, learn to do their tasks more quickly, more efficiently, more fluidly, they will eventually surpass it — this is a myth we can’t keep telling.”

On the other end of the economic spectrum, Nikki Baird examined the implications of the transition at the Ralph Lauren company as its namesake and leader leaves his chief executive officer position.

“Ralph Lauren, the company, will undergo a critical transition as its namesake founder steps down, to be replaced by the former president of Old Navy , Stefan Larsson. The transition comes at an interesting time for high-end fashion brands, and for the Ralph Lauren brand in particular.

It’s always tricky when a personality-driven brand’s primary personality steps down, though granted in this case, Mr. Lauren will remain the company’s chief creative officer. New blood means new opportunities, and even brands with very established values and specific lifestyle appeal can lose relevancy during a leadership transition.”

“But Ralph Lauren is making this transition in the midst of a much larger change happening within specialty retail, a change driven by the rise of the internet and consumers’ cross-channel shopping behaviors, and exacerbated by consolidation in the department store landscape.”

The challenge of leadership continuation is not restricted to the fashion industry. Many of the changes that have occurred in other business sectors can trace a direct line to disruption from players outside traditional marketing and delivery channels. Now the spotlight shifts to the world of fashion as a generation of designers departs and executive recruiters seek leaders who will be both relevant in imagination and design, and grow revenue in an increasingly competitive global, digital market.

“The question of succession is a pressing one for many major brands, not just labels with leaders d’un certain âge (Karl Lagerfeld, of Chanel and Fendi, is in his 80s; Giorgio Armani, 81). Even among young designers, turnover is a regular occurrence.”

“The responsibilities of branding in a rapidly changing digital age — not necessarily the skills honed in fashion colleges 20 or 30 years ago — have put a new premium on youth and comfort in the digital space.”

“If a brand is not meaningful through the screen, there is very little hope that you can really build a success,” Ms. de Saint Pierre said. “I think we are at a time when the majority of the consumers are coming from non-Western countries. Their education to luxury, their education to brands has not been generational. It has been through a screen. This is a major shift of paradigm for the 21st century, and this is not going to change.”

The last story of this week@work comes from James Stewart, ‘College Rankings Fail to Measure the Influence of the Institution’.

“The bottom line is that no ranking system or formula can really answer the question of what college a student should attend. Getting into a highly selective, top-ranked college may confer bragging rights, status and connections, but it doesn’t necessarily contribute to a good education or lifelong success, financial or otherwise.”

The week@work Leadership lessons from Pope Francis, John Boehner and Martin Winterkorn

During this week@work three leaders representing the religious, legislative and corporate sectors, demonstrated their leadership strengths and weaknesses on the global stage.

Pope Francis on a visit to the United States, challenged national and world leaders to take the lead on major global issues. One of those leaders, John Boehner, internalized the advice and resigned his position as Speaker of the House and Member of Congress the following day. At the same time as the Pope was demanding action on the environment, Martin Winterkorn, the CEO of Volkswagen resigned as his company became the latest example of corporate fraud at the expense of ‘our home’.

On Friday, Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations urging world leaders to provide the essential minimum: lodging, labor and land as well as education, religious freedom and civil rights. It was his use of a quote from the poem, ‘El Gaucho Martin Fierro’ which could be easily applied to the competitive atmosphere of corporate life.

“…government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labor, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.”

“War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.”

El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside”.

The Pope once again communicated the urgency to protect the environment. “Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.” Simultaneously, the global story of Volkswagen violating emission standards by using sophisticated software in diesel models to ‘trick’ environmental testing was made public.

“In 2012, a group of researchers at West Virginia University won a $50,000 grant from the International Council on Clean Transportation to do performance testing on clean diesel cars. Arvind Thiruvengadam, a research assistant professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, told NPR this week that the team was merely excited do the research—which involved driving the clean diesel cars outside the lab—and write a journal paper based on the data. They never expected that they would discover one of the biggest frauds in automotive history.

When Thiruvengadam and his colleagues tested Volkswagen’s clean diesel cars, they found discrepancies up to 35 times the expected emissions levels. The researchers suspected cheating, but couldn’t be sure. David Carder, another researcher on the West Virginia University team, told Reuters that the fallout at hand is surprising because this data was made public over a year and a half ago.”

Are you following this? In 2012 – that’s three years ago – academics accidentally discovered one of the biggest frauds in automotive history. And yet, in those three years, the CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn maintains he didn’t have a clue.

“I am shocked by the events of the past few days. Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group.

As CEO I accept responsibility for the irregularities that have been found in diesel engines and have therefore requested the Supervisory Board to agree on terminating my function as CEO of the Volkswagen Group. I am doing this in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrong doing on my part.

Volkswagen needs a fresh start – also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation. I have always been driven by my desire to serve this company, especially our customers and employees. Volkswagen has been, is and will always be my life.”

Leading by resignation. Nice try. It’s the culture that defines behavior and that’s set at the top. Whatever the vision Mr. Winterkorn communicated to shareholders, the means to the end derailed the company and the reputation of a respected brand. His accountability ended with an exit. Not the best lesson in corporate governance.

On Friday morning, as the Pope was about to address the United Nations, word leaked that the Republican Speaker of the House of Representative, John Boehner was resigning.

“My first job as speaker is to protect the institution,” Mr. Boehner said. “It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.”

Here is the perfect example of ‘fighting among yourselves to the advantage of your outside adversaries’. Apparently moderate, constructive, cooperation is not valued in the legislative branch of the U.S. government. When the folks at the extremes have the ability to create distraction and avoid the real work in their job description, is it the role of a leader to step aside to protect the institution?

What are the leadership lessons of this week@work? If you follow the lead of Pope Francis and are a bit more humble, listen to your constituency and lead by example you get it. If you are not paying attention, you will end up with a legacy of scandal. In the end, no matter how hard you try to lead, when values disconnect, it’s time to go.

The topic of leadership was also in the air with the publication of the Inc. magazine annual survey of executives in the fastest growing private companies, ‘Inc. 500 CEOs are more concerned with managing growth than with politics

“Which attribute is most accurate in describing your success? See opportunities – 40%, Persistence – 38%, Leadership ability – 10%, Salesmanship – 4% and Understand basic business principles – 8%.”

Seventy percent are in favor of raising the minimum wage.”

These CEOs are almost unanimous in their positive view of economic opportunity, but still struggle with leadership skills. Among the shortcomings: patience, the ability to communicate consistently, and manage well.

I think it’s safe to say that we will not be Pope. And most of us will not sit in the C Suite or behind the President during the State of the Union Address. But in our corner of influence, we can demonstrate the traits of a strong leader: humility, empathy, confidence, consistent communication, integrity, and fairness. And bonus points if you are a leader who can employ a quote from 19th century literature to make your point.

‘The Saturday Read’ Pope Francis’ Speech to the Congress of the United States of America

On Thursday morning Pope Francis addressed the a joint session of the 114th US Congress. He challenged his audience to address issues of immigration, climate change, poverty, family and to abolish the death penalty. Throughout his delivery he demonstrated his quiet but firm leadership style and structured his remarks to reflect American values in the stories of four American careers.

‘The Saturday Read’ this week is the text of Pope Francis’ congressional speech.

“My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice — some at the cost of their lives — to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.”

“Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.”

He included remarks that provided insight to his view of leadership.

“It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue — a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons — new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.”

But, as noted by NPR, the pope omitted a section in the text challenging the influence of money in American politics.

“A potentially controversial sentence in the prepared text of Pope Francis’ address went unspoken when he delivered the speech to Congress.

The line appears to challenge the dominant role of money in American politics.

A paragraph in the prepared text quotes briefly from the Declaration of Independence — the passage on self-evident truths — and then says, “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.”

The paragraph defines politics in terms of the “compelling need to live as one” and building a common good that “sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.”

The text is written to be read. It is a model of how to craft a message: connect with an audience, employ storytelling to illustrate that message, and insure individuality shines through.