And in anticipation of the heat wave that is rapidly approaching my part of the world, I bring you a moment of universal cool…
Today may very well be the day when you choose to open your eyes to one new experience, thought, and/or moment in time, that you previously hesitated to see. Today you may break free from the ties that have bound your senses and enhance your life a gazillion-fold just by untying those figurative binds that have precluded you from reaching, daring, touching another soul in need. That’s what makes today so magical – anything can happen. And I hope you let it happen. And then I hope you tell me what your day brought you in return.
Yesterday the University Of Virginia Board Of Visitors reversed its decision and reinstated Teresa Sullivan as the school’s President. The Washington Post provided front page coverage about the closed-door political nonsense that fueled her immediate suspension and the passionate populous reaction that drove her reinstatement. The bottom line? Ms. Sullivan is a leader that faculty, students and alumni want to follow. The paper quotes one department chair – “You can move fast, or you can move incrementally. But it doesn’t matter unless people follow you…People follow her.” I have often said, one of the biggest failures in leadership is the hubris to think that you never have to change your position and turn around to see who’s there. Your perspective on your team must be as comprehensive as possible. You have to move around.
Ms. Sullivan’s misstep rested in her immersion in the U-Va culture without keeping on eye on the education politic – the Board. Her dismissal was orchestrated behind closed doors, by people who rued her patience and thoughtful approach to issues. They were looking for sweeping change – in what areas I don’t know. In my view, such dramatic action would have resulted in the Board creating a scapegoat as well – I don’t think she could have won regardless of her approach.
This is a bit of an attenuated way of writing about why every constituency associated with the University passionately advocated for her return. Here are but a few of the takeaways that I think are worthy of consideration…Rather than clean house upon arriving, she asked her team to give her eighteen months to prove herself and for them to prove themselves in return. She traveled solo from campus event to campus event, alumni fundraiser to alumni fundraiser, sporting event to sporting event. She involved herself in truly understanding the needs of the student, the faculty and the alumni – her informal and consistent communication was welcome. Sullivan’s efforts to maintain transparency included reports that weren’t filled with fluff, outreach that was personal and consistent and worked to establish a “relationship-centered presidency”. Of no less importance, she honored her commitments and had a ‘set of rules’ that were easy for her team to get behind (i.e., no surprises, don’t filter bad news, if the going gets tough make sure everyone is aware of what’s happening and finally “people and time are our greatest resources; don’t waste them”).
She established and maintained trust.
There is no doubt Sullivan has vision and strategy. Her professional experience is as impressive as her degrees. But none of this would really matter if she hadn’t fostered the trust and confidence in the people she served. Leaders serve. Such a concept suggests a different approach to people, strategy and vision than that which we typically consider in any for-profit environment. Her weakness was in not learning how to bob and weave, and one can’t minimize the need for that kind of facility. As Sullivan notes, “There are aspects of administration, they’re like a chess game…You’re looking forward three or four moves.” Apparently Theresa Sullivan was looking forward – and probably around her as well. She just wasn’t paying attention to the knife in her back. I think her approach should resonate with every leader; I think it probably won’t. I wish there were term limits on department heads and leaders in companies – and their tenure was predicated upon votes from more than a board and/or shareholders. I believe it would foster an urgent review of what it takes to really have unanimous support. For U-Va? Today is a good day.
People who don’t know how to hug. This is a pet peeve of mine. It’s more than a pet peeve, it can be a deal breaker.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the Hollywood ‘air’ kiss? Well there’s an ‘air’ hug too. I’m sure you’ve felt it – or more accurately, haven’t. Someone leans his/her upper body into yours, vaguely placing one arm within breathing distance of your back and perhaps patting your shoulder. I realize this isn’t very generous of me, but I jump to some pretty quick conclusions about people who don’t know how to hug – really hug (a caveat – I am culturally aware enough to know that in some places around the world, open affection like this is not common practice – you lucky people are exempted from my gross conclusion-jumping, which I know is wrong, but I do anyway – sometimes).
– I think you’re emotionally self-protective
– I think you’re not comfortable in your own skin
– I think I’m going to spend most of our time together trying to knock down your walls
– You’re missing out on one of the most renewing, reaffirming, loving gestures in the world
– You don’t like me
– You’re not into nurturing
I could go on, but I won’t. You know how much I dislike a lot of negative redundancy (positive redundancy however, is completely ok). There is nothing in the world that feels as wonderful as a really good, wrap-your-arms-around-someone-with-all-you’ve-got-hug. When the boys were little, we would often drive up to Westchester to see my parents. My dad was their primary male role model – and he filled this role with enthusiasm. He would come into the driveway as I was extricating the boys from their car seats, and they would start yelling for the “boa constrictor”. They’d all run into the house and dad would sit down at the first opportunity and the boys would stand in front of him as he slowly began to coil his arms around them, one at a time. “And now” he would say, “the mighty boa constrictor winds his way around his prey”. The boys would start to giggle and put their arms around his neck mimicking him “and I’m the boa constrictor…!”. Slowly they would squeeze each other until their laughter dissolved the embrace, dad kissing their baby cheeks, each boy giving himself completely over to these powerful hugs. The memory makes me cry – sadness yes, but I can feel their delight. That man knew how to hug. My friend Jo is an amazing hugger – she hugs so well that though we see each other rarely, I feel her hugs all the time. Lori writes with hugs in her words – I want to learn how to do that.
I want to feel a hug so I can carry it with me. Hugs send a message – a message of love and delight, of support and friendship, of spirit and life. Hugs make you laugh, they can prompt your tears. They help explain our humanity. They let us throw our arms wide open to the world and then hold onto something so we don’t fly away, carried by the sheer magnitude of it all. I hope you get a hug today – and I hope you give one. Hold on with both arms. Put your heart into it. Tell me you don’t walk away feeling that much more connected to something wonderful. Feels pretty terrific doesn’t it? I told you.
It’s 3:15 in the morning – a ridiculous hour to be doing anything other than sleeping or sitting outside listening to the night breathe. Here was my first thought when I came into the kitchen…
And this was my second thought (that’s not true, it was more like the ninth or tenth) that I wanted to share with you before you begin your terrific Tuesday..
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but that person you keep conjuring in your head? It’s an avatar in an alternative universe. That person that all of us see and marvel about? That’s you. Believe me.
More later – I’m off to the porch with my coffee.
Hi all…please join me out here on this branch..careful, I don’t want you to fall as you consider just how much you’re willing to ante up at work.
There was a fascinating article in the New York Times this past Sunday about Dov Seidman, CEO of the company LRN. The mission of LRN is intriguing to HR nerds like me – helping companies “inspire principled performance in their operations”. Pretty cool, don’t you think? He has written a book (which I have not yet read) titled, “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything”. In short, he has taken his company in a surprising and challenging direction – developing a form of self-governance that boldly eliminates many of the sacred cows that few have ever dared to sacrifice. He threw out the org chart, eliminating titles (but for his). The structure is as flat as possible, with authority and decision-making viewed as part of their shared, collaborative mission. There are no titles; performance reviews for each employee are completed by a personally selected group of reviewers and a mentor. Self-evaluations include perspective on performance as well as a score. Employees are “trust[ed] to weigh the feedback they collect into their own ratings”. All of these scores are published internally. Vacation time is unlimited – presuming that people will be candid and plan their time off with an appreciation for their colleagues and the good of the organization. Management committees do exist, though my sense is that there are a very discreet few. In an effort to reflect his commitment to transparency, Seidman opened his own review for comments from anyone who wanted to offer his/her views, and published his own assessment along with all the others.
He feels that empowering employees is a hierarchical phenomenon, and fuels supervisory power rather than individual initiative and commitment. His approach is to give each employee as much ownership over their career as possible. After completing a study of companies world-wide, he acknowledges that few companies are practicing self-governance. And, he admits that the process within his own organization is far from complete, and has been “enlightening, frustrating, nerve-racking, authentic and urgent”.
There are many companies that give lip service to such ideology, and place questionable value on walking the walk defined by their mission statements. Whether you are a department head, chief officer, vice-president, king…doesn’t matter. What do you think about the pros and cons of such a daring premise? Could you do it? Would you do it? What would it take for you to step out on a limb and try something totally new to see if it flies? I am most impressed by Seidman’s efforts to be authentic in the workplace, to ensure that his personal philosophy is in sync with his professional environment and do more than shake the tree, but actually climb.
…and I can’t. Yesterday was one of those days where time and I faced off in the ring. As I made every effort to grab it, time was bobbing and weaving like Muhammed Ali (oh, the irony of how this metaphor dates me in and of itself), coming near and taunting me, daring me to bring it and then sprinting out of my grasp. I understand why I’d never make it as a boxer – over and above my true abhorrence of being rewarded for knocking someone’s brains loose, I’d lose each match, for I think I’d keep my gloves up and my eyes closed.
I had lunch yesterday with a woman who used to work at the firm. She was a manager in the DC office – exceedingly talented and funny with professional ambitions that extended beyond the walls of a branch office. When I last heard from her she was heading to NY for a larger position in another well-known law firm. She was on her way. That we re-connected is a wonderful surprise. And when she told me that it had been seven years since we last saw each other, I was stunned. Seven years?? In seven years, lives change. She survived cancer, wrote a book, moved back to the DC area, is happily employed as the administrator for a smaller firm where she runs the operational ship. Her face still lights up when she speaks about her husband and family, she looks wonderfully the same and now has four cats instead of the two I remember. The niece and nephews who were still small children when we last spoke, are in the process of leaving from, attending and moving on after college. Excuse me? When the heck did all of this happen? I realize that time stands still for no man, but surely it would slow down for a woman – right? Just kidding…
Later in the afternoon, I spent close to two hours speaking with a woman who was my closest friend in high school and college. She was a bridesmaid at my first wedding (I’m not going there – the wedding, that is). Our last sighting was close to thirty years ago. Thirty years…decades of years cascading upon each other. She still has a laugh like a song. Her voice has the timber of someone who has had her share of weight to carry as an adult (see my earlier post about the increasing baggage we carry as we get older). Her life experiences have been varied, rich and happily more love-filled than not, though the times of ‘not’ were profound and etched tattoos that not everyone can see. I saw them – for even after thirty years I know her voice, could see her face and remember her courage and singular, determined spirit. We spoke of our respective lives today – husbands, children, careers. We tentatively went back to Jackson Heights – our friends, our parents – my memories of her mom and dad are as clear as glass – I see them in their apartment, at school events. Her mom wore Pucci (not sure if they were derivative – probably not, but either way, I loved the colors), deep, alluring voice, perhaps a bit tempermental – nonetheless, she’d come home and endure our singing to Laura Nyro and James Taylor. Her dad was elegant, soft-spoken and very tall. I remember he always seemed to look amused by the two of us. That’s probably right – we were a pretty amusing duo, even if we did take ourselves very seriously.
We will speak again and see each other at some point. We are both in no small part who we once were, and connect to that understanding with a familiar comfort that few get to re-visit. Certainly there are new loves and layers and priorities – life has happened in between these years. And that has me a little turned around this morning. So much life has happened. So much time has passed.
Another blogger celebrated her 25th birthday yesterday and was struck by how quickly she had arrived on the brink of being a grown up. I get it – even though I regard her disbelief with a smile, for she has so many more years of being tricked by time. The moments fold into each other with increasing speed, days and weeks pass and though we can live wholly and fully, we can’t hold time. And yesterday I wanted to hold it, just for a minute – look it in the eye and implore it to please, please slow down. I need a moment to take this all in with nothing else happening in the interim, while I stop and look with wonder at all that has happened over the years. All that inconsequential stuff that passed in a day that I didn’t notice, and that in retrospect make up huge, life-changing events. I don’t want to chase time, it is clearly out-pacing me. I just want to hold it still for a moment and ask what the rush is all about.
It is too unbearably hot to focus on any topic for longer than the time it takes for a bead of glow to travel from my forehead to my chin, or to consider how ridiculous it is that a walk down our driveway leaves me feeling like I’ve been on a steeply inclined treadmill for an hour (the driveway is flat by the way). Such forced lethargy and abbreviated attention span sent me with mild curiosity to my spam file where I found 159 spam comments in the queue and another 657 in inventory. I now get why they call it ‘spam’ – you have no idea how it came to be, what its content really is nor why the hell it lives longer than most messages do.
Spam..I’ve never tried to eat the stuff in the can, but I am amused by its literary counterpart. Here are some excerpts from my spam file –
– “What I don’t understand is how you are not much more liked than you may be right now”
– “Wie wil let nou nut? …Sexdating is naturlik helemaal gratis en anoniem”
– “I have certainly picked up anything new from here”
– “Have you tried Viagra?”
– “Cialis works! Contact us @_______”
– “Incredible article, great sex dude”
– “Keep functioning, impressive job”
– “Hormone replacement therapy – no prescription needed”
– “Please cover protein shake diets in the future”
– “Definitely believe that which you have sated. Nice site: check out sexdating – thanks for visiting”
– “Hello I have three children to register and didn’t see the registration form on the site. Their names and ages are ….”
Interestingly a lot of the spam is in languages I don’t recognize – I don’t read Chinese, Arabic, Russian and though I can limp my way through French, that’s the one language that never appears. A lot of the spam comes from some American Airways site – which is peculiar, given that United was the firm’s carrier of choice and the holder of all my personal information. Other than that, the only other pattern I could find was in the number of comments about sex and the presumption that I was male. Also amusing, given that I’ve never written about sex and I am confident that I’m a woman. After enjoying the silliness and complete olio that defines spam, I did find one comment that pretty much summed up my view of the entire file – “Hi Max: You have a fatal error”
Yup, I’d say so…
Oppressively hot here in DC today – the kind of day where the lead story on the news is the weather (when we tip the thermometer at over 100 degrees, it’s a big deal. You would think with the perpetual disharmony on the Hill, such elevated temperatures wouldn’t be newsworthy). The good news – you can feel drenched as soon as you go outside, so if you like the feel of air conditioning against slick skin, this day is for you. The not-so-good-news – if you’re like most of us, you will have to breathe the air with a straw and you won’t delight in the film of sweat that develops as soon as you get out the hair dryer. So for anyone needing to start the day with a smile…Here you go – Happy Hot Humid Hump Day!
It has certainly been an afternoon rife with instruction. I sit here before you a far brighter soul than I was this morning (ok, I’m looking at a computer screen, but that didn’t sound nearly as wise). How much can one learn in an afternoon? Prepare to be amazed..
1. Do not try and untangle the vacuum cleaner hose in a swimming pool while it’s on. Definitely do not do this right before you are heading out the door. Unless you like driving in wet clothes, in which case – please invert this lesson and go right ahead and try this regularly. You will get the result you seek. That said, you could also just hop into the shower after you’ve got your clothes on, make-up done and hair dried – it will serve the same purpose..
Although this isn’t a picture of me, the resemblance is uncanny. I will say, that if you can do this while your dogs are happily barking at said dancing vacuum, or better yet, while you have people around watching you wrestle – even better.
2. My sister can still silence me with one sentence. This time it was (I’m paraphrasing) ‘the one who drives the narrative, drives the response’. Now you tell me – how lyrical is she? How smart? Yeah I know I have typical younger-sister-syndrome – I think she rocks the world every which way the world can be rocked, but come on – who comes out with stuff that good off the top of their heads? The good news for me is that we’re genetically connected, so I may come up with something like that without a script or an edit one of these days.
3. Laughing over lunch with a new friend is the best way to spend part of an afternoon. Perhaps sitting outside when it’s ridiculously hot and humid isn’t the best idea, but if you’re both glowing it makes it okay.
4. While we were away, I was given ‘The Commentator Award’ by the very inspirational and candid author of the blog GenieSpeaks.wordpress.com. My understanding is that this is an acknowledgement of my comments when she posts. She makes it easy – I enjoy her blogs and her sheer delight in the world around her. Travel.Culture.Food.wordpress.com was kind enough to give me ‘The Sunshine Blogger’ award. If you ever want to be transported visually and carried away in your daydreams, visit this blog. You will enjoy the commentary – the exuberance is almost palpable. I have received this award once before from SimonMarsh.wordpress.com, but have just figured out exactly how to post these images without the assistance of one of my kids or kids-in-law. If there’s a ‘Really Smart Blogger Award’, I hope no one ever thinks of me as a possible recipient – it would be disingenuous, I think.
5. I don’t want to minimize this praise, nor diminish the fact that I am continually surprised by such largesse. I am beyond appreciative and I thank you. But today I learned that there aren’t sufficient written alternatives in the English language (or perhaps it’s my limited vocabulary) to express the sheer joy that I have found in this welcoming, forgiving and generous new group of friends. For I feel that those who read this blog have become my friends. I look forward to your posts, I run back to the computer to read your comments, some of us have emailed separately, others reblog…And in this way, we continue to get to know each other and show each other who we are without some of the filters that might exist were we to be introduced in person. I started writing this blog in January – since then it’s been visited by over 10,000 people (presumably most of them have come in error) and there are hundreds of people who are following with intention. I’m not sure why. I do know that five months ago I thought I would try this and see where the road led. It led me to you. You give me far more than awards – you give me your laughter, your stories, your tears, your encouragement, your opinions, your perspective, your talent. Certainly you have given more than I could have asked for or expected. How do you thank people you feel you know but have never met, for the gift of trust and love and friendship? This is a meager attempt to express the abundant gratitude and joy that you have given me. Which leads me to…
6. There are surprises in each day. There is krazy karma and indescribable, head-shaking moments of wonder and humility. And if you know that, no matter how drenched you may get, you’re never all wet.