life lessons, music

Paying Attention


Not sure if you’re still here – if not, I totally get it, and if so – thank you for stopping by even though there is no rhyme or reason to the frequency of these posts.  First and foremost, how the heck are you?  What are you doing with your days that bring you delight without caveats?  Any epiphanies worth sharing with your Jewish pal over here (and yes, I think those in my tribe can have epiphanies too, of a kind)?  Thoughts that keep rolling around that you’d like to share (not mean-spirited stuff though, ok)?

There’s been little going on outside my head, given that I’m one of those immuno-compromised folks who are encouraged to adopt a hermetic existence until further notice.  I do try to follow the instructions – until I don’t want to follow them anymore (like when I stole all the Brownie merit badges out of my 2nd grade teacher’s desk, ’cause I wanted the swag, just not the stuff you had to do to get them).  I guess that makes me pseudo-compliant.

(And clearly a lover of the parenthetical)

So, here I sit with far more activity going on in my head than there was pre-pandemic.  To catch you up – Tom Brady retired and the bigotry in football management ranks is appalling; everything Lin-Manuel Miranda touches is gold – full stop; I despair over the amount of vitriol in the world; it feels like it is fomenting and growing more and more poisonous – a social virus.  Dave says it’s like we’re eating each other, some cannibalistic mindset that is fueled by polarizations and egocentric voices who have little good to say.  I’m trying to temper myself, for inside my temper is off the charts.  

And none of that is what I’m really thinking about right now.  My dad would have been 98 a few days ago.  I whispered happy birthday wishes to him and perhaps he was looking for a bit more.  A ginormous cardinal has been hanging out in our backyard for days; as I write this he is literally sitting on the retaining wall looking at me looking at him.  Dad loved to identify birds, and frankly I think he would wing it (ha! pun intended) and make up some non-existent species because if he said it, we’d buy it.  A message from the universe?  I don’t know – but there’s more…

I grew up singing, as you know.  One of my favorite singers to watch was Peggy Lee (pre-dating Streisand, Minnelli, Midler, etc).  My parents each had their song of choice – dad would sing ‘Fever’; mom would croon soulfully ‘Is That All There Is’  – a certain musical insight about both of them.  I gravitated to ‘Fever’ – even though I had no idea what I was singing about, the lyrics were easy and  I could snap my fingers.  There was something so sad about mom’s choice, even though the song encourages one to ‘break out the booze and have a ball’.  Party first, ponder later.

Why is this pertinent?  There was a segment about Peggy Lee on CBS Sunday Morning, and there she was, frozen in time singing as she did, without moving a muscle, yet emoting so much.  Fever.

And then a friend who seems to know me well without ever having met me, sent me a book recommendation “Lost and Found” by Kathyrn Schulz.  When I asked him why he though of me after reading it, he responded because of “her relationship to her father.  And yours.”.  I am in the middle of reading it, laughing, crying over some really dumb things, and nodding with an awareness of losses that are just rolled up into the very essence of who we become over time.

Now you tell me?  The convergence of all these messages right around his birthday – what is one to think?  Whether or not it’s all coincidence or kismet, star alignments or just the need to wish him a happy birthday, it brought me to this empty space deserving to be filled.  I’m going to try and see if I can offer up anything more – perhaps thoughts of more universal interest – in the days to come.  In the meantime, be well, hug everyone you can.

leadership, management, mindfulness, motivation, music, work life

The Rhythm Of Leadership (even if you’re tone deaf)

“Where you lead/I will follow/Anywhere that you tell me to…”  Ah, Carole…I was a rabid follower – Carole, James, Laura, CSN&Y.  I followed them (and others) because I loved their music, their words, the way I felt when I sang along (some of my fondest memories include sitting in my friend Allie’s house eating Cadbury wafers and singing..she had a pure, clear soprano; I had a rich and sincere baritone, sorta).

I followed a speaker at a peace rally in NY after the Kent State shootings. He spoke Spanish (I didn’t), but the passion and conviction of his words crossed the barrier of my linguistic ignorance (ok, he was cute too).  Following him to the subway to head home, we both got pipe-whipped by some indignant construction workers – the commitment I had to him almost justified the consequences.  I will admit it was embarrassing to have to stop at my pediatrician’s office for some salve before heading to a production of ‘Damn Yankees’ at school that night (the closest I will ever come to being a baseball player).

I followed one of my professors from grad school as avidly as one might a guru.  He was so incredibly smart, funny, intuitive (a good quality for a psychologist) and persistently coaxed me to figure out how I was going to best care for my two splendilicious babies and myself in the face of some very real personal challenges.  He encouraged me to figure out how to re-take control of my life.  How do you thank someone for that?  Live your life well and pay it forward, I guess.

And I followed my boss for 22 years.  I was inspired by his confidence in me, relentless teasing, incredible work ethic, integrity and generous heart.  He wanted results and accountability and expected more of himself than anyone else, which somehow drove me to try and keep pace.  Lucky for me, he is now a dear friend who has also retired from the firm.

There is a nexus between the leadership qualities I learned from those whom I have followed and the music that plays in my mind all the time.  There is a rhythm to the dynamics between and among people, a way that we try to maximize the strengths and talents of our people so that together, the orchestration is full and rich.

If you supervise people and as such are responsible for leading others, do you ever think about those who you once followed?  Why did you follow them?  What were the qualities that you most admired in the people who shaped your professional success and enhanced your development?  What were the deal breakers?  If you strove to emulate any one of them, what elements would be of greatest importance to you?  Imagine holding the conductor’s baton gently and assuredly in your hand as the orchestra warms up.  Your job is to make the music of your work days reflective of the talents of those waiting for your guidance, watching for your timing and interpretation of the notes.  I was once compared to Mr. Holland, the character from “Mr. Holland’s Opus” – a higher compliment could never have been bestowed upon me in the world of work.  At least not for me.  The sections of the orchestra parallel the unique talents of those with whom you work.  Lead them with the qualities and dedication evidenced in those you once followed.  The magic of that music will always remain in your head – and theirs.