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What Leadership is NOT

Leadership is NOT spoon-feeding information to the workers in little dribbling bits of Gerber baby food. We won't have that anymore. We are not babies. We are old enough to vote, marry, drive cars and think for ourselves. Give us the tools and let us have conversations on company networks with leadership blessing and permission.

Leadership is NOT hypocritically saying one thing and then doing another, or being wishy-washy about what you mean. It IS modeling the vision in behavior - taking a hit for the cause - being unpopular if you have to.

Leadership is NOT taking credit for the work. It is using your power to renovate the organizational structures that hold people back. And then unleashing the workforce to do better it ON THEIR OWN.

Leadership is not a monologue but a conversation. It is recognizing that the value in the organization stems not only from the service provided or the knowledge produced, but from the SOCIAL FABRIC itself. The stronger that fabric the more durable the organization.

* Originally a comment posted at All opinions my own.

Everything Begins With A Tracking Number

There was a lady who ran a graphics service department. Everybody wanted that service.

She would make them log the request in first.

"But it's urgent," they would say.

"Don't care."

"There is no time."


"The Commissioner said so."

"Have him call me."

Nobody could get past this lady. And she had a great enforcer.

Time has passed and I lead a communication service now.

At first it was tempting to fly spontaneously all the time. There is a certain excitement.

But at some point we all have to grow up. Customer service is a marathon not a sprint. To do a marathon you need process.

1. Create a job.
2. Log in the job.
3. Create a shared folder with limited permissions.
4. Use a template.
5. Get the background on the request - talk first.

All of this may seem very basic. But in an high-volume, rapid-response environment you can forget it.

Don't. Because everything nowadays is urgent. And if you set unrealistic expectations, in the end they are going to eat you for lunch.

A false kind of liberation: 10 one-sentence stories

Screen shot via Jezebel

"How do the best writers convey grief without alienating the reader or lapsing into melodrama?" - Emily Rapp

"A Clear View of Raw Emotion," (Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2013) by Emily Rapp is about the experience of losing her son to a terrible disease. 

Rapp's way of dealing with the grief was to write. But she had the writer's dilemma of not being able to distance herself from the subject she most needed to talk about. 

Sexism completely infuriates me. So maybe I can't really write about it. But I can share just a few stories, assorted, heard over the years:
  1. The one about the man who breaks up with the woman, then calls her to ask for relationship advice, but they weren't married, so it "didn't count."
  2. The one about growing up poor and having to join the military or take a minimum-wage job. Then, in the army, sexually harassed.
  3. The one about the husband who cheats because he feels neglected, even though the woman is working to pay the family bills.
  4. The one about going out for drinks with the crew from work because you have to in order to "fit in," then one of the men giving her a ride home, because "it's not safe." Then this person forces his way into the apartment and nearly rapes her, before G-d saves her as somebody knocks on the door.
  5. The one about someone being out with her boyfriend, then another man tries to buy her from  him. (Yes, literally.)
  6. The one about the young man from a good family who tormented his wife as soon as the wedding was over, until she had to leave him with only the clothes on her back.
  7. The one about going to play in the playground in elementary school, and being lured somewhere isolated, and then sexually assaulted. The girl had to leave school.
  8. The one about the girl who committed suicide rather than admit to the religious community that she was a lesbian.
  9. The one about attending work meetings only to have the men shout her opinions down, until she finally walked in dressed as a man and said "Now will you listen to what I have to say?"
  10. The one about the female boss who insisted she leave her son for three months and stay in a hotel for a work assignment, even though the work could have been done at home.
Is copying men the best response to sexism? Jezebel (April 5, 2013) quotes from a Vulture magazine interview of actress Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy Olson from Mad Men, in "A Different Kind of Feminist." 

Olson's character seems to think so. She is at the bottom of the advertising food chain but determined to reach the top. She doesn't want to talk, she wants to do, says Moss:

"She's the one who works really hard, and concentrates on her job, and wants to move up in the world of her business." 

But part of her career path is about emulating the dark side: 

"She, I think, is trying her hand at being Don. I think that's all she knows. That has been her image of leadership."

The hopeful part of the interview, and of the character, is where Moss speculates that Olson will turn about better than her sexist boss:

"Her journey is about discovering how to be her own style of leadership, her own style of management. And I think that she as herself, as Peggy, if she can find that, she will be a much better boss than Don. Because she has a positivity, she has a sensitivity; she’s a woman, and I think that that makes a difference."

Is Moss right? I don't know. Gender difference is an elusive thing. Generally people struggle to survive. Often we mistreat each other, regardless of what category we are or the other person falls into.

One thing I do know is that women's voices are not heard enough. The issues we face are not figured out yet. The home responsibilities, that really are valuable work and are a full-time job on their own, are not treated as such. The inequities are not talked about because it makes us look bad to talk about them. 

Until we can have a real dialogue about the persistent and subtle forms of sexism that exist even today, women aren't really free. It's just an illusion.

Misc. Lessons - April 10, 2013: Emotional & Rational Intelligence

* Don't fall for drama. Stay even-keeled.

* Don't jump to conclusions especially about others' intentions toward you. Ask directly if possible but not in an attacking way.

* Communication is symbolic as well as literal. Understand when your words and deeds may be misunderstood because of their symbolic value.

* Look at people's true intentions.

* Read interactions not just actions. Study the dynamic.

* There is no such thing as an unimportant detail. If something strikes you as off, it is.

* Respect the desire to not be bombarded with useless information. Offer value and don't make your listener sift the wheat from the chaff.

* Somebody stopped to help you today. Say thank you.

Big Data, Big Fear, Big Potential

Big Data can solve the world's problems, potentially.

--If we know how to feed and house and clothe the masses
--How to cure disease
--How to curb violence
--and so on, at low or no cost

Then we have the tools to bring the vision of global peace into reality.

But Big Data creates scary problems of its own.

--Who defines what the data is? This is the meaning of a thing - like "married couples" -- if same-sex marriage is legal then the data will be different than if only heterosexual couples are recognized.

--Who controls it? Is it the sheriff and his best friend who have access to the database? Are medical records shared with the police and the schools as part of your "Universal ID?"

--Will people be out of a job? When computers collect, process and spit out information sufficient to think for us, where will all the knowledge workers go? How will the resulting inequity of income and wealth affect the population as a whole? Will there be looting?

--Will political dissenters be targeted? Waves of ideology come and go. If I have in the database every vote you have cast, every donation you've made, and I am in power while you oppose me, what will I do to you and your family? Where are the controls?

--Will privacy be possible at all? If not have we lost our freedom altogether?

We don't like to think about scary things and so we either avoid the questions or focus on the technology.

But the governing social structure -- values, norms, controls -- is more important than the sheer geeky pleasure of building a powerful tool and well-designed user interface.

When you align the social and the technological you emerge with a model for progress that takes into account the human factor. Which is the ultimate purpose for building all this in the first place.

On the values side I think most people would agree that basic human rights, human dignity and human physical care should be protected. So there should not be a promotion of inequality so drastic that freedom and opportunity are gone.

As far as norms -- rules of behavior -- it seems we can agree that abuse of power cannot coexist with such a colossal production as a Big Data repository.

Which leads us to social controls. If we are each - individually and as part of social groups - a part of the system as empowered owners then Big Data can work.

In practical terms we will all need access to the data input center, access to the dashboard, recourse to oversee and hold data owners accountable.

Business, government, schools, hospitals, prisons, religious centers, etc. all will need to be a part of it.

As should be the individual as well.

The solution to a problematic system cannot come from within the system itself. We have to face that and get comfortable with the anxiety of trying new solutions till one sticks.

* All opinions my own.

Branding Takes Time: J.C. Penney Edition

Yesterday J.C. Penney fired its CEO and announced they're bringing the old CEO back.

According to experts interviewed for a report tonight (April 9, 2013) on National Public Radio the CEO made five critical mistakes:

  • Overlaid a past turnaround formula onto an incompatible present situation
  • Confused very different brands
  • Moved too quickly
  • Took away the coupons
  • Didn't use a data-based process (e.g. piloting changes, mining customer data).

Partially I agree:

  • It is true every situation is different and Apple is indeed not J.C. Penney.
  • Piloting is a good idea.
However there are other points that I take issue with:

  • There are times when radical change is needed - and J.C. Penney had become a crap store - physically even, it looked dingy.
  • Consumers move extremely fast.
  • The coupons were absolutely worthless because everybody knew you paid the same price no matter what. 
But those are just marketing points. The bigger picture has to do with the brand. And this is where the Board should have given the CEO more time:
  • The basis of the brand is its customer. J.C. Penney's customer was unknown - vague - mixed up with Sears.
  • Ellen DeGeneres was an important brand symbol but the Board did not allow enough time for the store to explore what she meant.
  • Brand value lags -- so what happens today is a reflection of the actions taken yesterday. It takes time for the brand to turn around.
Now they are bringing the old CEO back, so there will clearly be even more brand confusion and the gains achieved thus far will be wasted. 

A good takeaway from this debacle is that branding takes time. You can't rush it - it's not an ad campaign. While a retail turnaround can be done quickly in physical terms, mentally you have to support and reinforce what the transformation means.

This was a very big screwup, and it's a shame because I liked the way J.C. Penney was going. 

In With The Awesome, Out With The Jerks

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch

"The firing Wednesday of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, for shoving players around, firing basketballs at them, and screaming that they were [expletives deleted] reflects universal condemnation....while that behavior had long been tolerated if not celebrated, his off-court actions clearly crossed the line of acceptability." - "The Basketball Bully," Slate, April 3, 2013

Study after study shows that fear and anxiety inhibit learning:
* Fear = externally imposed, e.g. by a bullying coach
* Anxiety = internal, e.g. a condition you feel regardless of what's going on outside
* Despite our theoretical understanding that learning is itself anxiety-provoking and works best with a relaxed and receptive mind
* Despite the critical nature of continuous learning to the modern workplace
...we continue to think that fear-inspiring leaders are somehow better. (See "Love and Fear and the Modern Boss," Harvard Business Review.)
The problem is that we confuse awe-inspiring leaders with fear-inspiring ones.
* An awe-inspiring leader commands our respect because of their sheer brilliance, or operational competence, diplomatic skills, and so on (think Margaret Thatcher may she rest in peace) - whether we agree with them or not.
* A fear-inspiring leader just scares us, because they do not hesitate to legitimately use (and sometimes unfortunately abuse) their power.
Leadership types can coexist in the same person:
* A single person can be both awe-inspiring and fear-inspiring.
* The same leader can be fear-inspiring for legitimate reasons as well as for illegitimate ones. 
Some people would like to abolish authority as inherently corrupt and corrupting.
But in the real world someone has to take responsibility.
Rather than making everybody falsely equal, we can instead get comfortable and fluent with concepts associated with power.
Some of it is good and useful. Some of it is bad and should be tossed away.
Let's encourage people to be awesome, and awe-inspiring. And at the same time eliminate from leadership positions those who are the equivalent of the former Rutgers Coach who cursed his own players.

Blog Life vs. Real Life & "The Matrix"

My work/life balance campaign is going swimmingly well. I managed to put the computer away for an entire 24 hours this weekend. Did not touch it! Amazing!

In the process I learned that I am a little the characters in "The Matrix" who exist partly in an alter life and partly in the real one. And that I find life challenging without a computer attached. Here's why:
  • Control: You've seen the Bounty (TM) paper towel commercial: "Life's messy. Clean it up." Writing about things lets me put the puzzle pieces together in an orderly way, giving me the illusion of control. I like that.
  • Optimism: Real life can be disheartening. There always seems to be "something" challenging going on. And you look around you and see how things end: basically people end up alone, and disabled, and miserable. Writing puts you into another space where everything turns out alright. Which brings us to -
  • Justice: It is true that really great fiction, like great movies and TV, is honest. That means it does not always end well for the characters. However there is a sense of justice that prevails. Nobody wants to read a murder mystery where the killer isn't revealed. Or watch a show where the villain gets away with it. But in real life it does seem that bad people prevail a lot, while good people are mistreated and misunderstood.  
  • Validation: When you're experiencing life -- as opposed to capturing and writing about it -- you are essentially alone in your experience. Your thoughts, your perceptions, your way of taking in the world is never fully shareable. When experience is transformed into words, into common language it becomes possible for others to see what you are seeing, and often to validate it. 
  • Creative Joy: In the movie "The Pink Panther" there is a line about Yuri, "The Trainer Who Trains." The whole movie is slapstick but it makes me think about "The Writer Who Writes." It's sort of silly to say this, but also true, that a writer -- like an artist or a musician -- doesn't really feel themselves unless they are engaged in their craft. 
At the same time, as difficult as it was to take a very short sabbatical from electronics, I think the benefits outweighed the challenges. The computer is very easy - and that makes it an easy crutch. 

When you put down the crutches you force yourself to walk. Maybe you stumble a bit and you're not so good at it, but it's those human moments that are the most valuable. They're the ones you remember over a lifetime.