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Archive for February, 2012

Feb
23

Life Wins

Just read a fascinating article in the NYT about living plants being grown from the fruit of a 32,000 year-old flower. Just for context, the previous record for oldest DNA to yield a live plant was 2,000 years.  Scientists are still double-, triple- and quadruple-checking to see whether this is for real, but so far it looks good.

The plant, a kind of campion, is very similar to the present-day version.  Looking at the picture that accompanied the article (at right), I was struck by how unassuming and even fragile it looks.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the sheer power and insistence of life.  I was walking outside with my husband last weekend, and I suddenly thought: Anything could kill us; yet here we are.  Before you start worrying that I’m in the grip of morbid fantasy, let me explain myself. I simply felt, at that moment, how tender the human body is, how easily destroyed.  A tree, a car, a fall the wrong way, a loose power line – let alone someone or something actually trying to kill you – and it’s over; a body so compromised that it no longer supports life.

And given that, how truly amazing it is that I (and you, and all of us) are alive.  That healthy babies are born, grow up, and live to be 30, 70 or 90.

It gives me joy.  This will toward sentience and continuation is so strong: thirty-thousand-year-old viable DNA; my 15-month-old granddaughter blooming fresh and full of life; me happy and vital and still growing at 60 – it’s all a testament to the  power of life itself.

It’s easy to overlook – but it’s worth celebrating and feeling grateful for, every day.


Feb
17

Book #3: Leading + Teaming + Love

I’m very very pleased and excited to share with you that my new book, Leading So People Will Follow, will be published by Jossey-Bass, probably this fall.  A number of publishers were interested in it, so my agent Jim put it up for auction – Jossey-Bass made the best offer, and we’re thrilled.

I realized sometime last week, even before the offers came in, that I really wanted J-B to be my publisher this time around.  It’s partly because they have such a great reputation and experience in the leadership space (they publish Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, Warren Bennis, Ram Charan, Patrick Lencioni and Mark Benioff, among others). But it’s mostly because I made such a great connection with Susan Williams, Jossey-Bass’ Executive Editor for trade business books.

When she and I spoke last month, and again when we got her offer letter, I saw and felt all the things I most look for in a partnership: honesty, smarts, heart, curiosity, enthusiasm and an innate will toward collaboration.  And on top of that, I felt as though Susan truly got what I’m trying to do with the book; why I think it will be important and useful for people.  Finally, it was really easy for us to communicate – we ended up talking for over an hour in our first conversation, completely free of conceptual stumbles, misunderstandings, or lack of alignment.

So when their offer came in and we decided to take it, I was doubly pleased – wonderful to have a great publisher interested in the book, period; and getting to work with the person/organization I was most excited about, as well.

And it made me realize how important partnership is to me.  I’ve blogged before about how much I love feeling so ‘partnered’ on every level at this stage of my life.  And with this book, there’s a lot more teaming than with my last two.  For instance, my business partner Jeff is deeply engaged with me and our outside partner Sue Gebelein in creating a fully validated assessment around the Leading attributes. (Each copy of the book will have a unique code; the purchaser can use it to get a free online self-assessment, and a discount on a ‘follower’ assessment.) He and I are also working together to build on and expand our existing Leading training offer.

I’m also relying more on my larger network (that includes you guys).  For instance, the members of the Insider List, my bi-weekly e-letter, helped us come up with the book’s title. and we’re planning on asking clients to be involved in piloting the assessment. As the publication date gets closer, I’d love to bounce marketing ideas off you guys, to see what you think.

Even within the book itself there’s a team element.  As a part of each chapter I profile leaders with whom I’ve worked who really demonstrate these attributes in their day-to-day leadership.  I’m thinking of them as members of the book team, and they’ve kindly agreed to be involved in various ways, as well.

And of course, the larger Proteus team will work together to coach and train around the Leading model, and to help us make sure it’s as seamless and as valuable as possible for our clients.

It’s a team-extravaganza!    And the offer came in on Valentine’s Day.  Leadership, Love and Team: a great combo.

Posted in Books,Community,News

Feb
11

Home Is…

I’m in LA, which is always a slightly surreal experience for me.  I used to dislike LA – a lot – but now I simply feel a little ungrounded when I’m here; like I’m wandering through a gigantic stage set. Though I feel connected to the clients I work with, and to my brother and his family and my niece and nephew when I visit them here, the city itself feels foreign to me.

And I got to thinking – what is it that makes a place feel good to us? That makes us look around a city or a part of the world and think, “I could live here?”  The first time I ever had that experience strongly was  when my ex-husband and I were considering moving to New York in the mid-nineties.  I remember distinctly driving across the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, and looking northward at the long gorgeous vista stretching up the Hudson River, and thinking “I could live here.  I want to live here.”  But it wasn’t just the physical beauty – I felt and feel the same way about New York City itself.  For all its dirt and sometimes crazy energy, brusqueness and clamor, I really feel comfortable in New York City.  In fact, I love it.

What’s that about?  Someone once said to me: “In LA, what you have and how you look are important.  In New York, what you do and how you think are important.”  That’s simplistic, but it seems at least partly true. And certainly, I’m more comfortable focusing on doing and thinking; perhaps there’s a “values consonance” for me in New York that I don’t feel in LA.

Which leads me to believe that feeling at home in a place is composed of many things: Do people share your values? Are you physically comfortable? Do you feel you can be yourself? Do you like the way it looks and smells and sounds? And, on a deeper level: do you relax?  When I’m in LA, I never quite let go.  When I’m in New York – and especially when I’m at our house upstate – I do.

So, what does this all have to do with work? I think we have the same reaction to organizations that we have to places.  When people say so-and-so isn’t ‘a fit’ for a particular organization, I think it comes down to a lot of the things we’re talking about here.  My husband is in the process of changing jobs for just this reason.  His current organization is a highly respected non-profit that does important work in the world — but it simply doesn’t feel like home to him.  I’ve watched him get increasingly uncomfortable with it over the past year or so, so that even though he often likes and is excited about the work he does, he feels continually off-kilter: the way people deal with each other, and what that reveals about the values of the organization, simply doesn’t work for him.

If you want work to be something you look forward to most days, and you want to do your best work and grow and develop as a professional, find an organization that feels like home to you.  It’s not silly and it’s not superficial: feeling connected to and supported by the company you work for is an important foundation for excellence.

I encourage you to find your “work home,” if you’re not there now.  Settle in.  Do good things.

 

 

 


Feb
3

Reflecting on Business with Robert Morris

Dear readers, this is the second of a series of guest posts with folks I’ve gotten to know online, and for whom I have the greatest respect.

Bob Morris and I ‘met’ about five year ago when he wrote a wonderfully clear and supportive review of my first book.  Bob is by far the most prolific and most insightful business book reviewer I know, and I’ve come to look forward to and set great store by his perspective. I think you’ll enjoy hearing what he has to say:

 

Q: I’ve really been enjoying your daily blog “Blogging about Business”: http://bobmorris.biz/.  It’s quite a commitment on your part!  What made you decide to do it?

A: During the past decade, I have reviewed more than 2,300 business books for various Amazon websites, interviewed more than 125 thought leaders, and posted at least 500 commentaries at others’ blogs. I wanted to establish a “home” for all that material as well as new material I continue to add. Also, for the first time, readers can click on individual categories: Book Reviews, Interviews, Profiles, and Commentaries.

Q: Why do you prefer to review business books?

A: Probably because I am comfortable discussing the material they provide.  That is not true of fiction, especially of poetry. I read very little contemporary fiction, preferring the so-called “Great Books.” I enjoyed studying them in college and graduate school, and discussing them with professors and classmates. But I have no interest in reviewing Hamlet, although I would love to interview its author!

Oddly enough, I am very comfortable reviewing films, perhaps because I think films are especially effective when dramatizing important business lessons. On leadership, for example: Twelve O’clock High, 12 Angry Men, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Or how about teamwork? I’d suggest The Sting, The Great Escape, and Remember the Titans.

I am especially interested in reading and then reviewing several books that discuss the same general subject such as performance measurement or organizational transformation, but view it from significantly different perspectives.

Q: You shared with me that there was a turning point years ago that set you on your present career course.  What was it?

A: At age ten, I made four decisions: To become an Episcopalian, to become financially independent while being raised by a single-parent mother, to attend the Art Institute of Chicago, and to become the first of my family (either side) to earn a high school diploma. I achieved all four — by becoming a member of St. Margaret’s Episcopal parish; obtaining various jobs (delivering newspapers, caddying, setting bowling pins, working at a paper stand, stocking grocery shelves, etc.);  winning scholarships to the Art Institute; earning a high school diploma; and then – with full scholarships — adding an undergraduate and then a graduate degree.

Since earning an M.A. in comparative literature from Yale, my career path has wandered a bit; I guess the only constants have been an insatiable curiosity, an obsession with learning, and a passion to share what I’ve learned with others, hoping to enrich their lives at least as much as they assuredly enrich mine. I still don’t understand why I made those four decisions at such a young age but am glad I did.

Q: What changes in business have you seen over the past 10 or 15 years that you think are the most positive or exciting?

A: There have been so many; here are three. First, the WorldWideWeb. Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision about 20 years ago, we can connect almost immediately with almost anyone else in the world or with almost any source of information. Next, the development of electronic devices that can accommodate almost all www communication applications, but can also produce, duplicate and distribute documents.

Finally, I think there have been some very important changes in how supervisors view and – more to the point – treat those entrusted to their care. The command-and-control leadership style was run off years ago but only recently have executives – in significant numbers — begun to embrace Robert Greenleaf’s concept of the servant leader and I credit Daniel Goleman and his research on emotional intelligence for helping to make that happen.  I am encouraged by the fact that more executives than ever before consider it a privilege to be entrusted with supervisory responsibilities.

As you correctly suggest in your brilliant book, Growing Great Employees, all great leaders have a “green thumb.” It is no coincidence that most of the companies annually ranked as “most highly-regarded” and “best to work for” are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value in their respective industries. They really do resemble a well-tended garden in which healthy growth is carefully nourished…and sustainable.

Q: As you look ahead, what do you believe is the biggest challenge that C-level executives will face, and how should they address it?

A: In my opinion, the biggest challenge will be to coordinate communication, cooperation, and (especially) collaboration among members of a diverse and de-centralized workforce.

If asked for advice about how to do that, here’s what I would recommend:

• Determine the nature and extent of the challenge for the organization and its leaders

• Focus on what must be done to respond effectively to it

• Make sure everyone understands the ultimate objective and how they can help achieve it

• Provide brief, specific progress updates (at least weekly) from CEO

• Establish a secure online information center that offers answers to questions, solutions to problems, access to resources, etc.

In addition to Growing Great Employees, here are two other sources I highly recommend to C-level executives:

Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution
Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson

Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success