Why are these senior leaders in the news? Female Stereotypes and Glass Cliffs

Posted by on May 29, 2014 in Leadership, Self-awareness | 0 comments

Why do the stories of Jill Abramson, newly fired executive editor of the New York Times, and Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors matter?  Are these two leaders facing stormy situations because they’re women?  Is one about a woman paying for exhibiting male behavior, and the other about the glass cliff syndrome of letting women take the hit? Abramson was fired by a privately held company.  We’ll never know the whole story.  She was said to be a poor collaborator, and difficult on her staff, according to owner Sulzberger, even though he acknowledged she produced a great version of the paper.   There’s also a “he said-she said” buzz about the underlying reason being salary sexism – that Abramson was being paid less than her colleagues and her approach to getting that changed was the final aggressive behavior that tipped the scales.   But wouldn’t this behavior be expected of a male editor? And if she hadn’t been tough and aggressive, would she ever have even made it to that career pinnacle? In a New York Times article, columnist David Carr addressed that issue.  “Some might suggest that these traits are all in the historical job description of a man editing The New York Times, but Arthur concluded “she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back.” I like Jill and the version of The Times she made. But my reporting, including interviews with senior people in the newsroom, some of them women, backs up his conclusion.” But could it be that the same behavior her colleagues (both male and female) would have accepted from a male editor, they couldn’t or wouldn’t accept from a female?  Their internal filters built from years of experience and culture reframed the behavior from a woman as unacceptable and shifted their judgment toward the negative.   Perhaps she was expected, as a woman, to be more collaborative in their leadership style, and she turned them off by violating their expectations? I surely don’t know the answer but I am interested in the larger issue of how cultural stereotypes and expectations can color our judgments. So what about the other woman in the news, Mary Barra, having to defend GM against allegations that they hid defects that should have prompted immediate recalls?  Was she appointed in January because of something called the “glass cliff?” Coined by researchers in 2005, the term glass cliff refers to the pattern of appointing women to positions of power when companies are going bad.  The research says the rationale is two-fold:  highly competent men scatter because don’t want to be left holding the bag for past mistakes, leaving less competition.  Plus women don’t have the same networks and access to information that might make them reluctant.  Possibly, companies may hope that women will be seen as more empathetic when the problems go public. The research has been limited so far, so it hasn’t gotten a lot of traction.  Some offer a different view of the phenomenon...

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Off the Grid – Pros and Cons of Unplugging on My Vacation

Posted by on Apr 30, 2014 in Self-awareness, Technology | 0 comments

I recently made a conscious decision to fully unplug on vacation.  Sitting under the shade of a thatched palapa on the beach in Aruba, I noticed the Americans around me always close to their cell phones.  Not so the Europeans and South Americans.  Do you wonder who was smiling and laughing the most? I don’t always unplug.  I’ll go away and check emails, answer important messages, stay in touch.  But this time I decided to leave an out-of-office message on both phone and email, tell my clients when I’d be back and my kids how to reach me in an emergency.  With my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease, each vacation becomes more precious. Too many people feel they can’t make that choice.  They feel indispensable.  Some tell me their company expects them to always be available.  I get that there many be phases of a project or times of the year when you may, in fact, have to stay in touch with your business.  But other than that, it may be more habit, an unfortunate affliction of over-developed sense of responsibility, or the myth of self-importance, or an unwillingness to set appropriate boundaries. As I sat on the beach relaxing, reading my book, the all too frequent chirps of incoming emails from a nearby phone sent the tan American man into action, breaking off conversation with his wife and son to read, frown, and text.   The family seemed to know the drill, ceasing conversation immediately. Actually my mind knew the pattern, too, as the chirp kept capturing my attention away from my book, sending me into work mode.  I wanted to tell him to knock it off. I also wanted to say to him “look at the message you’re sending to your family about what you value.” I wondered why those folks speaking foreign languages seemed only to bring out their phones for photos.  They seemed fully engaged with their families and companions, fully engaged with the experience of being on vacation. Don’t assume you have no choice.  That makes you a victim or a martyr.  Plan ahead, talk with colleagues, clients, staff.  Prepare for a slower re-entry, giving yourself time to catch up. Instead of thinking about work, practiced awareness.  I savored the salty turquoise ocean, the warm breeze, the feeling of my husband’s hand in mine as we walked the ribbon of shiny white sand where the waves washed it smooth, erasing our footprints. Life is too short.  No one dies saying “I wish I’d spent more time working.” Sure, I had lots of emails to answer upon return.  But I came back with a clear mind, new perspectives, and memories of being fully present. What do you find works on your vacations? Email me at

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Earthquake or Fog – Leading When You’re Lost

Posted by on Apr 17, 2014 in Change, Problem Solving, Self-awareness | 0 comments

Too many leaders today are trying to solve the new challenges they face with the old thinking that served them in the past.  They’re using the wrong map, so no wonder they’re lost.   Lessons from survival research shows that’s a flawed place to start. I was working with the leader of a decades old  business that has always had high levels of individual customer service.  But now they have a problem with the economy and new competition forcing them to figure out how to provide the high service they are known for with far fewer staff, and manage the seasonal swings of their needs. As we talked she kept saying “we have to…” or “we’ve always…”  She was using her old mental map, her old paradigm.  It made me think of some research I read recently on who ends up surviving when they are lost in the wilderness and it turns out that the key factor is accepting that you are, in fact, lost! I have friends who are active hikers.  Last year they climbed Mount Washington, not high by Rockies standards, but the highest peak in New England, and known for the most extreme weather.  While they were hiking a thick fog rolled in.  They had to react.  They stayed very close together.  They stopped often to be sure they were on the right path, and verified the terrain against their maps. But what if, instead of a fog – a temporary condition, there had been an earthquake, and the paths had actually shifted?  That’s what some leaders are facing today.  The old maps don’t work. So this leader and I talked about whether she was dealing with a fog bank or an earthquake?  Was the ground the same and the conditions temporary or was it different permanently?  Could she accept that it was different?  She rejected the idea and wanted to just pull out the same old spreadsheets but then she began to see how that might not be the place to start. I asked how could she look at a new service paradigm?  What other industries offered ideas?  What about the service did the customer really appreciate and what could be dispensed with?  Could she replace staff all trained the same with different levels of skills, a bit like doctors with physician assistants, nurses, and receptionists. She couldn’t begin to even think about these questions, however, until she was willing to admit that the conditions had shifted enough to leave her lost in the wilderness.  Only, a bit like the stages of grief, after she could accept that fact,  could she start to assess and think creatively how to do things differently.  It’s true with hikers in extreme situations – those that continue to press on without acceptance are often those who don’t make it out, because they are fighting too hard against reality and not taking stock of what’s possible. If you are a leader facing trying times, really begin to assess whether you’re...

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Transitions are Messy – 3 Lessons from Nature

Posted by on Mar 13, 2014 in Change, Self-awareness, Teams | 0 comments

Transitions are messy – they don’t necessarily feel good or look good, in the yard or at work.  But maybe we can learn three lessons from the weather.  I came back after a weekend away in New Hampshire full of cold weather and snow, but at home it had been warm.   The lawn that had been snow covered for months was now bare, showing all the detritus and damage of winter.  What a mess!  I was seeing nature’s transition – the awkward  time between winter and spring. It got me thinking about other transitions that feel so awkward.  New roles at work, new processes, new people on teams.  The past, just like the winter, contained lots of good – lots of beauty.  The snow softened our landscape, reflected more light, and accentuated the details of tree branches.  The past work role, old process, or former team often were just fine, special in their own way, and perhaps even better in retrospect. Then along comes the new change – raw at first.  It’s not smooth, or pretty right from the start.  It’s awkward and there are ups and downs – just like the temperature spikes up and down in the transition from winter to spring.  There is lots of work to do to usher in the new season, just as there is lots of work to do to create a new team, or step into a new role. At times it seems like the transition won’t ever occur.   On Cape Cod where the ocean surrounds us and the winter cold water extends the chill of winter longer, it frequently feels as if spring will never come!  The transition drags on and on… and we can’t do anything about it. Lesson 1:  In life, you may have more control of how long your transition period lasts.  First of all, enter it knowingly, with awareness.  Pay attention to the impact of the transition on everyone it touches, even peripherally. Expect bumps.   The new team member gets impacted, but so does the whole team. Lesson 2: Next, do the work that’s part of the transition, whatever that might be.  With a new team, for example, address whatever needs to be changed up front – deciding on new rules, new roles, ways to resolve conflict, joint expectations. Lesson 3:  Last, remember to have hope.  A rough transition, just like a rough end of winter, doesn’t mean that the future will be awful.  Spring just may be beautiful....

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Want to increase your focus? Practice!

Posted by on Feb 13, 2014 in Mindfulness, Self-awareness, Time Management | 1 comment

A client called at the end of the day with fourteen open files representing fourteen different projects.  Starting but not finishing is a common problem of time management that comes, in part, from lack of focus.  Dan Goleman (think emotional intelligence) offers these thoughts and tips on focus in an interview reported on Linked-In. If you struggle with maintaining focus in meetings, this post ends with three tips for you.  “There are two obstacles to focus. Both of which have to do with how we manage our inner world. First: emotional distractions. These are the things in our lives, often relationships, that trouble us, but we can’t stop thinking about. Rumination is the most powerful distraction. On the other hand, thinking them through, and let the worry go is a good thing. Second: mindlessness. Our mind wanders and loses focus. The good news, mindfulness can be strengthened like a muscle. We can develop a habit of monitoring our attention and bring it back to what’s most important. “  “The benefits are very real at the brain level, shifting moods toward the positive, enhancing concentration, and speeding recovery from stress arousal.”  To increase your ability to focus, to control where your mind goes you need to practice it as a skill.  Here’s a one minute clip of Goleman talking about the skills practiced in a focused classroom in Spanish Harlem in New York.  (Hint – bring a teddy bear to work) Goleman offers three quick fixes for managing your wandering mind in another post : Manage the temptations around you Monitor your thoughts and become aware when you go off-track (the second thought, he calls it) Practice mindfulness daily And finally – what is grit and how does it relate to focus???? “Grit is the term psychologist Angela Duckworth uses for the ability to keep your focus on long term goals and strive for them despite setbacks. The ability to focus is the center this capacity. Cognitive control, being able to focus on one thing that’s important and ignore distractions, is essential to every step toward that larger goal. Both grit and cognitive control can be classified as self-regulation, which is a major part of emotional intelligence.”  Here are three tips to help you maintain focus in meetings from Duke University professor Cathy Davidson: Take notes to engage your brain and think critically Contribute to the discussion Refocus on the task at hand if your mind starts...

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Questions for personal and business perspective in the New Year

Posted by on Jan 8, 2014 in Measurement, Optimism, Self-awareness | 0 comments

  I have a New Year’s tradition of pausing to assess the prior year, and starting intentionally into the new year.  It’s more internal exploration than calculations of success against goals or making resolutions. Here are the five questions that give me perspective. I answer in two categories – business and personal.  Because memory has a recency bias (we remember the end of the year more clearly) I take time to review my calendar, my journal, my task lists. Question 1:  What did I learn? In the personal category, I learned about hospice and how to sit with someone as they are dying.   I learned how to move out of fighting against my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease and  away from being a victim or a martyr.  I learned how to focus intently on the present moment when life starts to feel overwhelming. In the business category, I learned about the world of publishing and book promotion (and how to work through the awkwardness of self-promotion).  I learned the little technical skills of taking credit cards and creating an online magazine in Constant Contact.  I learned new ways to approach strategic planning.  I learned more about the neurology of leadership and how to use it to inform my coaching. Question 2:  What did I achieve? In my personal life, I sold my mom’s house and settled her estate.  I supported my son’s Appalachian Trail journey and departure for grad school across the country, and coached my daughter in her first leadership role.  I took my first week-long painting workshop.  I asked out how to be a better wife to my husband’s disease and less of a nag (well, sometimes.) In business…  well, you get the picture Question 3:  What was I hoping to achieve this year and how did I do? In summary, I didn’t do everything but by taking time to look back at my hopes for 2013, I discovered I did more than I thought. Question 4:  Who did I help and how? After all, why are we here? Question 5:  What can I do that will make 2014 great?  What do I want to work on or learn? I want to stay present in the present and not worry about the future.  I want to bring the sense of possibility the new year gives me through  the whole year.  I want to make a difference to others.  I want to eliminate wasteful meetings.   I want to own that knowing the reasons behind my procrastination of my book marketing isn’t helping me get it done, so I will look for other solutions. I want to be more compassionate to myself and others.  I want to remember to pause, so I make good choices about food, drink, what I say, how I work.  I want to be grateful each day. WHY THESE QUESTIONS AND NOT OTHERS???  You’ll notice I didn’t ask myself what I could have done better.  I didn’t ask myself who I failed.  I didn’t ask myself what...

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