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Entries in business (97)

Wednesday
Nov022016

Sadness at Beauty and the Beast's Truth

My approximation of the Sesame Street version of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, cleverly crafted from a carpet and a dog toy. Houston, Texas. October 31, 2016.

Vividly, I remember a Sesame Street hand-puppet rendition of Beauty and the Beast.

On the floor between our casual dining table and the kitchen in our open-plan den, we had a small television housed in a cabinet that, when closed, looked like a dresser. After elementary school, I sat in front of it on the brown tile to eat my snack.

In my memory of this particular Sesame Street production, a hand puppet crafted from brown shag carpet with glued-on googly eyes imprisons a girl in place of her father, torments her, and then manipulates her into falling in love with him.

At which point, they kiss.

The moment their puppet faces touch, he screams in agony, his shag-carpet tendrils shake with violence, and he disappears below the platform. A moment later, he pops above the stage as a “handsome prince.” (Of course, all handsome princes have white skin and blond hair. Even—or especially—the plastic ones.)

I had nightmares for weeks.

Bad enough that someone will trap you, harass you, manipulate you, and damage you psychologically. Adds insult to injury that, when you kiss him, he transforms from what you loved into something else entirely.

I don’t want the human, nonfairy-tale equivalent. What sane person would?

The tale, I believe, aims to teach kids that a person’s insides matter more than a person’s outsides. Instead, it shows the opposite: A prince-as-beast uses a woman to turn back into his old self—which, as far as I can tell, simply has a prettier coating on the outside for a horrible person on the inside.

I remembered the Sesame Street segment and its aftereffects when I read an op-ed by Jessica Valenti in The New York Times about what a lifetime of leering, jeering, manipulative men do to women.

Valenti’s essay reminded me of how many ways I’ve modified my own behavior to protect against personal, professional, and reputational fallout from male misconceptions. And I felt sad that I’ve had to coach young women to do the same.

Once I started to develop into a woman, I hunched my back to hide my chest in voluminous blouses and wore baggy shorts and pants to deflect attention from the boys, teachers, and assistant principals at my junior high who stared and commented and groped me anyway. (Yes, even the “adults.”)

For years, I wore pants to work because I felt a need to avoid femininity in a business setting, my goal to remove from the substance of the discussion as much of my female aspect as possible. I still tend to avoid anything form fitting for work even now, when wearing dresses.

I have my reasons. I’ve had to playfully tell men in business “no” and laugh off their advances, from the married client who sexted me without encouragement to the unmarried client who interrupted my presentation to comment on my ass. (His term, not mine.)

More examples?

A business-owner friend took down her fitness company’s website because, though pictures of her in athletic wear felt appropriate for the purpose, she had too much harassment and too many expectations from men who called to “use her services.”

Another friend, an independent consultant, talked to a client’s human resources department about one staffer’s continued advances, despite her requests that he stop. The company fired her.

Oh, I’ve got more.

I've sucked up walking into a board room and having one of the men say I look “pretty today” in a you-cute-sweet-silly-little-thing tone. I bite my tongue when male contacts ask if I have kids. (Men acquainted only professionally never initiate small talk with other men through questions about children.) I've ignored when men in a business setting refer to me as a "girl."

I've grown accustomed to men trying to make me feel small.

I’ve coached my younger female colleagues on how to defend themselves. I’ve taught them phrases they can use, explained clothes they should wear and not wear, and demonstrated ways to position their bodies to minimize groping opportunities. We've role-played responses to demeaning and belittling comments. I can prevent and penalize harassment and discrimination in my organizational ranks, yet these young women will venture into the world to business events and client offices where I can’t always take disciplinary action. (Although, yes, I have fired clients for mistreating my team.)

Again, I could go on. Yet… enough.

I’ve learned not to trust a man until he earns the trust. I’ve learned to stay on high alert. I've learned to slough off the sleights. I’ve learned to ignore, dodge, and parry and to do so as gently as possible to save the guy’s feelings, minimize awkwardness, and avoid angry backlash. (What about my feelings?)

In elementary school, watching Beauty and the Beast on Sesame Street, I couldn’t understand what upset me so badly.

I get it now.

I just wish that it had stayed a fairy tale.

Though I’ve learned to expect and deal with men behaving badly toward women, entrapping them, preventing their advancement, and stopping them from fully inhabiting their womanhood, I feel sad that I had to do so. Sad that other women have had to do the same. And many have had far worse experiences than mine.

I feel sad for the men who society has raised to think this behavior okay. Men miss so much when they don't make genuine connections with women. And I feel sad for the men who know better and who suffer the fallout from those who don’t. I know and love so many men who would never, ever do this to another human being.

Most of all, I feel sad for my niece. Sad that only time divides me and the younger females of this world from the rude shock of their first encounters with the Beauty and the Beast's truth. And yes, yes—experience it, they will.

Your thoughts? Your experience?

Wednesday
Sep072016

Summer 2016: My Review

This post marks an attempt at something new on this blog, something more diary-style, though necessarily selective in its details.

We’ll see whether I keep it up. This may turn into a one-of-a-kind. Yet in case it becomes a regular feature, I’ve decided to craft it as a season in review, and to cover June through August.

Here goes:

Work, Work, WorkWorkWork

The FrogDog team's two wins at the IABC Bronze Quill Awards. June 2016.

Let’s get the professional matters out of the way first, as they probably have less interest for the most of you and, out of necessity, I can only and always keep relatively mum on specifics in this life facet.

In June, my FrogDog strategy team and I won two Bronze Quill Awards from the Houston IABC for our work helping a client redirect its marketing strategy and message through primary research and analysis.

Otherwise, the summer brought a number of evolutions to FrogDog:

  • We worked on setting an aggressive road map for the rest of 2016, for one.
  • For two, we started assessing our strategy for the year ahead.
  • And third, we had some staff changes: In addition to bringing on board an amazing new FrogDogger I’ve tried to team with for a couple years at least—a big win!—one of our staff transitioned out due to her husband’s transfer back to Australia and another left as planned a full-time MBA program at The University of Chicago. A couple other teammates moved on to other roles. We miss them!

Ahead for fall: Our end-of-year plan and our strategy work will kick into action, which excites me. Also, we’ve applied for the next award up from the one we won in June—the regional Silver Quill—for which the IABC will announce nominees in late September or early October.

Friends

For one reason or another, spending time with friends became a big focus of this summer. No huge doings: Just getting together over food, drink, fireworks, parties and celebrations, porch sitting, and even pedicures.

In most cases, these friends and I live near enough in Houston to see each other more often than we do—and shame on us that we don’t—yet a few of the occasions brought in friends from as near as Corpus Christi and as far as Guelph, Canada.

Life feels better on all levels with close friends to share it. Not long ago, I took my friendships for granted. Not so much in recent years, in which nurturing my friendships has taken priority.

Family

The gardens across the street from The French Laundry. July 2016.

In July, my mother and her husband, my brother and his wife and two young children, and I met up in Calistoga, California, for a long weekend of family time.

Nonstop time, actually, as the swimsuit and extra books I brought for relaxing and reading by the pool went untouched: We visited a couple wineries, saw some of the Redwoods, feasted at The French Laundry, ate at other fabulous restaurants (frankly, I munched my way through Napa Valley), and had a photographer come along to take varieties of posed and candid family photos.

After that, I needed a vacation from the vacation. (Didn’t happen.)

In August, a cousin threw a housewarming party that brought together members of the family I rarely get to see though with whom I grew up.

We didn’t have nearly enough time together as I’d have liked; it feels melancholy, a bit, to spend so little time with people you saw weekly as a kid. Though distance makes it a challenge, I call for more such gatherings in the future. (Too bad I don’t have a backyard pool to lure people!)

Dating

I’ll say here that dating this summer has held some interesting surprises. And I will leave it at that.

When I have more distance through which to distill the lessons learned, I might. Stay tuned.

Fitness

My blindingly, awesomely vibrant new Adidas boxing shoes. August 2016.

Can’t say much changed in the fitness arena—I still ran four to six miles four or so times per week and boxed on the nonrunning days—except that the importance of exercise increased with my eating. Even when not with friends or on travel, I managed to feast on everything terrible I could find, from cookies to chips to crackers to cake to… You name it.

This fall, I’ll need to keep my mouth shut in addition to keeping the body moving to atone for my sins.

Thankfully, I now have a pair of super-sweet Adidas boxing shoes that help. (Think I’ll blind ‘em?) And watching Claressa Shields, Heather Hardy, and Shelly Vincent fight on the national and international stages gives me motivation, as does a 10k with a good friend coming up on Thanksgiving morning. (Love when I can mix two loves at once: Friends and fitness!)

World Events

I can’t hark back to a golden era—a time during which truth and beauty and light infused the majority of this planet. Yet this summer, the world looked sad and dark, indeed.

I have so much more to say—and have written so much already on some of this summer’s predominant tragic themes—but I’ll hold the additional words for some other, future post.

Tell me about your summer.

Wednesday
Jul132016

The Monthly Postmortem

Setting up in my home office-nook for my monthly postmortem. June 2016.

In January 2014, I began a process of sitting down to postmortem the month just passed.

In writing “postmortem,” I use the same business jargon you may have heard in the office after a project for which the team wants to review what went well, what went badly, and how to apply the lessons from the effort in the future.

My personal monthly postmortem extends beyond business, although I do include my professional efforts in the mix. After all, work takes a lot of space in my life, but work doesn’t consume my entire life—or it shouldn’t.

All this preface to say: You should try it.

The Basics

I schedule my monthly postmortem shortly after the month ends. With so much underway at any moment, I can easily forget what happened only a few weeks before.

Call me old fashioned, but I do my postmortem in writing, with pen and paper. I have my reasons:

  • The process feels more reflective and meditative. I can type much more quickly than I can write anything by hand.
  • I rarely write by hand. Infrequency makes taking the time to sit down and scribe out my thoughts in pen on paper, as they arrive, special. Further, typing and writing by hand have a different tactile sensation and use different motor skills, which rarity makes feel more intense.
  • It seems as though I internalize what I’ve written better when I’ve scrawled it out longhand. Science may back up this impression: Subjects in a Princeton−UCLA study about, yes, studying found that people who wrote notes by hand had a better conceptual grasp of the material.

Setting Up

To get started for each postmortem, I pull up my goals list for the year as a refresher on my key areas of focus and my calendar in Outlook, which gives me a quick reminder of the month and its major moments. (Even shortly after the month ends, I seem to easily forget what happened during the course of it.)

I have a dedicated notebook for my postmortem musings, so that I can go back and review previous months and see patterns.

The Postmortem Process

To get the bad stuff out of the way first, I start by outlining what I call my “losses,” which can refer to actual losses and setbacks and also can include steps I didn’t take, mistakes I made, and opportunities I missed.

Rather than develop a simple laundry list of woes, I assess each one in turn with the following questions:

  • Why did this happen?
  • What can I list as key takeaways? What can I say I learned?
  • How will I apply my learnings to address or avoid a similar situation in the future? Or how can I ensure important steps in my forward progress don’t fall off my radar going forward?

Starting with the bad gives me the chance to end on a high note—with my “wins.” What did I handle really well? What did I get done that keeps me on course?

As with the losses, I review each win with an eye to preserving the positive:

  • What did I learn?
  • How can I ensure I keep up the good work or behavior?

Results

More than I expected I would, I’ve found that I internalize the lessons from my postmortems each month.

When I flip back to past months to review historical wins and losses, I see that my reactions to given situations have improved—sometimes without my even fully realizing the positive change. Problematic behaviors have eased and good behaviors feel so entrenched that I almost don’t remember reacting in any other way.

Why?

Mostly, I credit taking dedicated, focused time to think through needed changes and externalize my thoughts in writing. I feel the surveillance factor has a role as well. After all, who wants to have to write down the same failures each month? Or, when reviewing past postmortems, see the same missteps over and over again?

Do you do any sort of postmortem?

Saturday
Jan022016

I Made It: Bring on 2016

Proof-of-life photo. Somehow, I managed to survive 2015. October 26, 2015. Houston, Texas.

Maybe every year is peculiar in its own way. A lot happens in twelve months.

Yet, unlike many other years I can remember, 2015 had soaring highs and lows. Amid a lot of intense, nearly overpowering craziness in my personal and professional life, I stood witness with all of you to mind-boggling insanity in the world near and far, from race relations traumas to the rise and entrenchment of terrorist groups.

Goodbye, 2015.

Each year, I set goals. In this process, I review the year past to look for successes and failures and to reset my thinking for the upcoming twelve months.

In review, working through my professional goals in 2015 took more bandwidth than I’d anticipated. Further, I had a few adverse-event surprises (maybe I’ll write about them someday, but not now, not in this post). Together, this double whammy knocked me off course in almost all life facets.

Including writing. I didn’t get back to it. At all. Not on this blog—obviously—or elsewhere. I can’t quite articulate why. I lost my writing mojo to intense stress and the concomitant mental exhaustion. Even today, it hasn’t quite come back.

Of course, we can only plan for so much. We can point our course in one direction and strive our best to head that way, despite buffeting from winds, weather, and sea monsters.

Although I didn’t reach my destination for 2015, I made good strides in some areas—progress I wouldn’t have made without a general direction in which to strive. I learned quite a bit in the process. I made some positive personal and professional changes based on my experiences. And though I got knocked down, I didn’t get knocked out.

And amid all the ridiculousness, the good and the bad and the crazy, some truly beautiful things emerged. As they will, when you pay attention.

Let’s focus on the good things.

  • The People. Circumstances in 2015 forced me to watch my friends and family step up in times of need—and I felt astounded and humbled by each person who provided physical and moral support. The people in your life influence your physical wellbeing, your happiness, your contentment, your fulfillment, and your personal and professional growth. Choose your associates wisely; all of us have limited time to invest in building relationships. And please: Tell and show the people in your life what you value and appreciate about them. We never have enough time to say and do the things we’d like to say and do.

  • The Work. I’ve nearly completed some large professional operational changes. I have a few finishing touches ahead, yet the heaviest lifting is complete. As with all changes, I wish I’d made these a long time ago. You know how it goes. Hindsight, 20-20, and so on. Having it mostly done, even later than I’d have liked, feels really, really good.

  • Service. At midyear, The Johns Hopkins University named me the chair of its Second Decade Society, one of the boards of its school of arts and sciences. I’ve had an incredibly rewarding experience that has deepened my appreciation for the institution. I’ve met some amazing current students, faculty, administrators, and staff; I’ve built connections with incredible fellow alumni; and I have learned more about my alma mater than I feel I’d known even as a student. As a result, I’ve gained far more than I’ve given, even though I’d intended the opposite upon accepting the role.

  • Ramona. The two of us? Still a dynamic duo. We beat the doctors’ timelines. Maybe she sensed that in this challenging year, I couldn’t face her departure; she rallied well after we sorted her medications. Yet I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that she will die, just like all of us. And I don’t think I ever will.

So what does 2016 hold?

Let’s hope for goodness and beauty. For us all.

This 2016, I’ll focus on loving more, experiencing more, deepening more. In the last few years, I’ve grown immensely professionally through some rough knocks. In 2016, I will stay the course to carry through the initiatives I put into play at work in 2015. Yet, now that the intense generative effort has gained the momentum needed to assume a life of its own, I’ll take time to nurture myself, experience a little more of the world, and appreciate ever more deeply the amazing people I’m lucky to know.

And maybe, in the process, I’ll find my way back to writing. Even a little.

Tell me: How does 2016 look for you?

P.S.—For all of you who read this and engage me in dialogue as a result, thank you. You enrich my world.

Monday
Oct272014

Why I Missed the Real Value of Business Coaches

The term “coach” evokes someone with experience in a specific sport or activity. A coach has done or studied intensively—and over an extended period of time—a specific field and shares this particular expertise with others.

I have a boxing coach. I have had a running coach. I can understand why people hire coaches for childbirth. Also for weight loss and nutrition.

But a “business coach?”

Business has too many nuances and implications. A person doesn’t claim to have history expertise—she professes specific knowledge in an era or geographic region (and probably both). You can’t have a “sports coach.” That just doesn’t make any sense.

Although all areas of business have overlap, the general field has too much breadth and depth for any one person to coach in all its facets. Wooing from business coaches with backgrounds in supply-chain management for manufacturing or franchise management—two real-life examples—puzzled me.

I figured that, someday, when it made sense or the need grew acute, I’d hire a business coach with highly specialized expertise in a field or area in which I could use improvement. (I have plenty of those.) Once I got up to speed, we’d wrap. Down the line, perhaps I’d need a different type of business coach for strengthening another facet.

Maybe I still will.

And when I do, I’ll call her “coach.” Yet recent experience has taught me that the term misrepresents the real value of many professionals classed in the category.

We need to find a new term. Adviser? Confidant? Guide?

I’ll go with adviser. Because I’ve hired one, and now I see what I’ve missed. (And it isn’t coaching.)

Sounding Board

Executives don’t have natural in-office sounding boards.

When you hire a business coach, you hire someone under strict confidentiality who stands outside your organization. She has no taste for your company's particular flavor of politics. Having “inside information” doesn’t give her currency with her coworkers.

Further, she doesn’t need to see you resolute at all times. You can have wobbly moments—you won’t shake your team's mission-critical confidence in the company or its leadership or direction by debating a decision with her or expressing to her your frustration and uncertainty.

Perspective

A business adviser has worked with a number of other executives. Many good ones have done so for years.

She may not have exact knowledge of your specific type of business, products, or areas of improvement—as would someone I’d agree to call a “coach”—but she has walked through a number of challenges with a number of people similar to you. She can suggest resources she’s seen others use. She can suggest avenues of thought that she’s seen work elsewhere.

She can comfort you that others have gone through the same challenges and survived (yes, sometimes we CEOs wonder)—and even thrived. And she can congratulate you when you achieve a “win” that your employees would simply take for granted, because she’s watched you and potentially others struggle over the same mountain.

Me, Me, Me

Friends who work with psychologists say that one of the pleasures of therapy is having a set time period in which you guiltlessly talk about yourself with someone who focuses on nothing but you.

A business adviser provides the same outlet.

I have fantastic accountability partners, though our sessions rarely focus solely on me. Instead, we support each other in achieving our goals. I gain from helping them as much as I get from their support. I value them highly and that won’t change.

Yet I’ll confess: Talking through something without any expectation of reciprocity feels really, really nice. In fact, simply knowing I have an adviser if needed gives a sense of relief.

Have you hired a business coach? What did you experience?