The week@work: Olympics close: memories remain, the power of vulnerability, workplace lessons from the cineplex, and Seattle’s millennials @work

This week@work the world’s best athletes headed to the airport and the rest of us, mere mortals, returned to our workplace. A CEO discussed the benefits of embracing vulnerability and a movie critic found workplace advice at the multiplex. In Seattle, the most recent additions to the workforce ‘gig’ their way to dream jobs.

As the Olympics came to a close on Sunday evening, there were three stories that continued to resonate from the ‘workplace’ of track and field.

‘That girl is the Olympic spirit’: After colliding, runners help each other cross finish line’ Marissa Payne for the Washington Post

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For track and field athletes, the Olympics offers the biggest prize of their careers. A gold medal is a tangible symbol of years of hard work and dedication. But on Tuesday, long-distance runners Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and Abbey D’Agostino of the United States proved hardware doesn’t always trump heart.

After the two collided on the track during the 5,000-meter race, resulting in a bad leg injury for D’Agostino, the two urged each other on and both eventually were able to finish the race, albeit seemingly sacrificing their chances at a finals berth along the way.

“Everyone wants to win and everyone wants a medal. But as disappointing as this experience is for myself and for Abbey, there’s so much more to this than a medal,” Hamblin told reporters after the race.”

‘This Great-Grandmother Coaches an Olympic Champion. Now Let Her By.’ Karen Crouse for The New York Times

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“The great-grandmother who could pass as Barbara Bush’s kid sister waded through the stands at Olympic Stadium on Sunday night, trying to get close enough to congratulate the South African runner Wayde van Niekerk, who had just captured the gold medal in the 400 meters and broken one of the oldest world records in men’s track and field.

This is Botha’s first Olympics. She competed — without distinction, she said — in the sprints and the long jump when she was young and began coaching in 1968 while living in her native Namibia, then a territory under the rule of South Africa. Her first athletes were her son and daughter, but when they reached a certain level, she passed them off to other coaches, she said, “because I feel that’s not always a good thing as a parent to coach your own children.”

The woman who didn’t believe it prudent to coach her own children has earned the trust of her athletes by treating them as family.

“She doesn’t see us as athletes or as people; she sees us as her children,” said van Niekerk, who asked Botha in late 2012 if he could train under her at the University of the Free State, where she has been the head track and field coach since 1990.

Van Niekerk won the race from Lane 8, considered a disadvantageous position. Botha said it didn’t bother her that he was in an outside lane. “Because every lane is the same distance,” she said.”

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Can Ashton Eaton Save the Decathlon?  Mary Pilon for The New Yorker

“Ten years ago, Tate Metcalf, a high-school track coach in Bend, Oregon, was trying to find a college that would give one of his athletes a scholarship. Ashton Eaton was a talented sprinter with a fierce long jump, but Metcalf received mostly lukewarm responses. His coach felt that Eaton would have the best shot at getting into a Division I college if he competed in one of track and field’s multi-event disciplines, like the heptathlon or the decathlon. Metcalf knew it would make Eaton, who was raised by a single mother and had never had any private coaching, one of the first people in his family to go to college. So he suggested it. “Sure,” Eaton replied, as Metcalf recently recalled. Then Eaton said, “What’s the decathlon?”

Eaton, who is twenty-eight, is now the defending Olympic gold medallist and world-record holder in the event. “He’s the face of track and field,” Metcalf said, sitting underneath a giant banner of Eaton draped over Hayward Field, in Eugene, Oregon, at the Olympic trials earlier this summer. “But nobody knows it because he’s a decathlete.” It’s true: though he has a gleaming smile, press-perfect interview skills, and historic talent, Eaton has remained virtually unknown relative to his Olympic-champion counterparts and even some of his decathlete predecessors. The one place he’s remained indisputably famous is Eugene: here, his face graces billboards and bus signs; the local minor-league baseball team recently distributed Ashton Eaton bobblehead dolls as part of a tribute night to him. “I haven’t seen them yet,” Eaton told me. “It’s a little weird.”

The decathlon hasn’t always been a path to athletic obscurity. Many consider the winner of the event, which can trace its origins to ancient Greece, the “world’s greatest athlete.”

On Thursday evening, after two days of competition in ten events, Olympian Ashton Eaton repeated as gold medalist in the decathlon. He continues to hold the title of ‘the world’s greatest athlete’.

One of the best series in journalism is Adam Bryant‘s weekly column in The New York Times, ‘The Corner Office’. Bryant poses five or six questions to a selected CEO, and their responses appear in the Sunday Business Section. This past week, Christa Quarles of Open Table shared ‘early leadership lessons’.

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“The importance of embracing vulnerability. Early on, especially when I worked on Wall Street, God forbid that you declare any granular weakness, because people would pounce on it.

But the paradox of owning what you know and what you don’t know is that you actually seem more powerful as you expose more vulnerability. I’ve become more comfortable with exposing my vulnerability and not being afraid to go there.

When I give criticism now, I’ll talk about how I failed in a similar situation. I try to humanize the criticism in a way that says this is about an action, it’s not about you as a person. I want to make you better. If somebody feels like they’re in a safe place and they can hear the message, they’re more likely to change.”

Theater critic A.O. Scott may seem an unlikely source of management wisdom. This week he suggests ‘Even Superheroes Punch the Clock’.

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“This summer, your local multiplex is home to an extended business seminar. There are sessions on crisis-management and how to deal with office romances (“Star Trek Beyond”); on office rivalries and mission-statement drafting (“Captain America: Civil War”); on start-ups (“Ghostbusters”) and I.T. disasters (“Jason Bourne”). Every action movie is a workplace sitcom in disguise.

What is “Suicide Squad”? A bad movie, to be sure — and yes, I’m aware of opinions to the contrary (thanks, Twitter) — but also a movie about difficult personnel issues….The central problem of “Suicide Squad” is one that bedevils department heads and midlevel employees in every corner of the modern economy: team building.”

The last story this week is journalist Kirk Johnson‘s profile, ‘Debt. Terror. Politics. To Seattle Millennials, the Future Looks Scary.’

“Part of Jillian Boshart’s life plays out in tidy, ordered lines of JavaScript computer code, and part in a flamboyant whirl of corsets and crinoline. She’s a tech student by day, an enthusiastic burlesque artist and producer by night. “Code-mode” and “show-mode,” she calls those different guises.

This year she won a coveted spot here at a nonprofit tech school for women, whose recent graduates have found jobs with starting salaries averaging more than $90,000 a year. Seattle, where she came after college in Utah to study musical theater, is booming with culture and youthful energy.

But again and again, life has taught Ms. Boshart, and others in her generation, that control can be elusive.

Even for someone who seems to have drawn one of her generation’s winning hands, it feels like a daunting time to be coming of age in America.

“I don’t just expect things to unfold, or think, ‘Well, now I’ve got it made,’ because there’s always a turn just ahead of you and you don’t know what’s around that corner,” she said.”

A final thought this week @work – When we find that ‘dream job’, in an uncertain global economy, we realize there is more to what we do than the compensation: money or medals. The Olympics is our quadrennial reminder to honor our values. Thanks to @abbey_dags and @NikkiHamblin.

 

Photo credits: ‘Fireworks explode during the Rio 2016 closing ceremony’   Robert Gauthier Los Angeles Times, ‘Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin’ @NCAA, ‘Ashton Eaton’ Matt Slocum for AP, ‘Ans Botha and Wayde van Niekerk’ Twitter, ‘Suicide Squad’ courtesy of Warner Bros.

The week@work – agents of change, NY values and imagining a windfall

The week@work was dominated by stories of the small group of workers in entertainment, sports and politics. It was also the week that everyone had the opportunity to imagine entry into the world of celebrity via the purchase of a single $2 lottery ticket.

On Sunday evening the Hollywood Foreign Press Association handed out their annual Golden Globes, with the surprise winner being Mexican actor, Gael Garcia Bernal for his role as conductor of the fictional ‘New York Symphony’ in Amazon’s Golden Globe winning ‘Mozart in the Jungle’. “I want to dedicate this to music, to all the people that find the music and common ground for communication, for justice for happiness.”

As Huell Howser might say, “This is amazing!”, that a series about classical musicians led by a talented Mexican actor, wins an award in a year of political polarization and classical music’s declining prominence in our culture.

On Thursday, the actor who played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, Alan Rickman died. “With the last film it was very cathartic because you were finally able to see who he was,” Mr. Rickman said “It was strange, in a way, to play stuff that was so emotional. A lot of the time you’re working in two dimensions, not three.”

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Agents of change in theater, music, and the workplace challenge our thinking. On Monday we learned of the death of another transformational icon, David Bowie.

“In his dazzling artistry, daring style, unabashed intelligence, intensity of emotion, cultivation of magic, mystery and imagination, Bowie was a figure who bridged high and low culture, reverberating on so many different levels.”

On Monday morning, NPR replayed his 2002 interview with ‘Fresh Air’ host Terry Gross.

“I’m not actually a very keen performer. I like putting shows together. I like putting events together. In fact, everything I do is about the conceptualizing and realization of a piece of work, whether it’s the recording or the performance side. And kind of when I put the thing together, I don’t mind doing it for a few weeks, but then, quite frankly, I get incredibly, incredibly bored because I don’t see myself so much as a – I mean, I don’t live for the stage. I don’t live for an audience.”

David Bowie event planner? When we think of careers, we make assumptions about success, only to realize that each of us holds a unique definition which sculpts our approach to a calling.

“People often forgot, but up until his death, on Sunday at age 69, Mr. Bowie was a New Yorker

And though Mr. Bowie was enormously wealthy, he wasn’t one of those rich guys who kept an apartment in the city, along with a portfolio of global real estate holdings, and flew in. Aside from a mountain retreat in Ulster County, N.Y., his Manhattan apartment was his only home.

You may not have considered all this because Mr. Bowie was an apparition in the city, rarely glimpsed. You heard it mentioned that he lived here. Somewhere downtown, someone thought. But seeing him out? Good luck.”

Which brings us to the political discourse on ‘New York values’ and its relevance to job search. Relocation is a major consideration for many seeking career advancement. Understanding the character of the community you join outside of your workplace is equally, if not more important to understanding the values of your workplace community.

How many folks have decided to take a job in New York or LA only to later realize a major disconnect? This is not a value judgement, just a realization that we all need to find a place where we can be successful. Unfortunately, the job perks sometimes outweigh the geographical/cultural component in the decision making mix and it’s only when we are fully committed to our workplace that we begin to realize our success is being eroded by deficiencies in our neighborhood.

On to the world of sports. On Monday evening, two college football teams competed in the College Football National Championship game in Arizona. The University of Alabama’s team won by a score of 45-40 over Clemson. A few days later at the NCAA’s annual meeting, “NCAA president Mark Emmert praised student-athlete activism during his annual speech Thursday at the NCAA convention.”

During his 20-minute address at the NCAA’s opening business session, Emmert urged schools to continue to emphasize academics, fairness and the health and well-being of student-athletes.”

And yet, actions speak louder than words. Inside Higher Education reported“While the time demands on college athletes ­became the central focus of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual meeting here this week, several proposals to deal with the issue were seemingly tabled the day before the NCAA’s five wealthiest conferences were scheduled to vote on them.”

Here’s the thing. With the exception of college coaches, everyone is in agreement that the ‘student’ in the ‘student-athlete’ equation takes priority. ‘Official’ time demands don’t begin to reflect the ‘unofficial’ time requirements of competing in Division I sports. And with only a select few moving on to compete in their sport as professionals, these students need the flexibility to explore career opportunities and participate in internships.

“Roderick McDavis, president of Ohio University, said it would be a mistake for colleges to wait for NCAA policy changes to prompt that shift. “Policies don’t change behavior,” he said. “People change behavior. We can hope that the NCAA catches up with us all one day, but what I know I can control is I can go home tomorrow and make a difference on my campus.”

And then there were the omnipresent billboards advertising the Powerball Jackpot at $999 million. Except the amount had grown to over $1.5 billion, which gave us all an opportunity to contemplate what we would do with that amount of money.

On a CNN broadcast the night before the drawing, international anchor Richard Quest asked anchor Anderson Cooper what he would do with the winnings if he had the lucky set of numbers. (You may know that Mr. Cooper is a Vanderbilt by ancestry.) His response, “I would buy a watch.” And he would be back at work the next day.

Here are a few additional articles that you may have missed from the past week.

‘Why I Always Wanted to Be a Secretary’ by Bryn Greenwood – Does your work define you? What if your dream job is central to an organization, but society’s definition is demeaning?

‘At Work And Feeling All Alone’ by Phyllis Korkki – In the world of telecommuting, new research indicates those left behind in the office have ended up feeling lonely and disconnected.

‘60% of Women in Silicon Valley Have Been Sexually Harassed’ by Lydia Dishman – Results of a survey of 200 women demonstrates a serious level of dysfunction in the tech giants’ workplace.

‘Yahoo’s Brain Drain Shows a Loss of Faith Inside the Company’ by Vindu Goel – “More than a third of the company’s work force has left in the last year, say people familiar with the data. Worried about the brain drain, Ms. Mayer has been approving hefty retention packages — in some cases, millions of dollars — to persuade people to reject job offers from other companies. But those bonuses have had the side effect of creating resentment among other Yahoo employees who have stayed loyal and not sought jobs elsewhere.”