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Change Requires Trust From All Parties

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/vexrobotics/17795865460/

Sometimes — more like most of the time or at least too often — we all say things without thinking through the full ramifications, especially those gleaned from experiences we’ve never had or opposed to what we think.

Yesterday I mentioned a startup CEO who said he was concerned about hiring more women, “It just seems like such a huge risk as CEO,” which brought the social media house down on him.

Although he apologized, etc., I noted that his words and actions probably didn’t do much to change his mind.

After reading the post a friend from back east wrote me his thoughts as a man-of-color/founder/CEO.

Sadly, everything he says is true and has been for decades — and I say that from first-hand other-side experience.

In the 80s and 90s I was three things that weren’t supposed to align: a successful tech (hdwr and sftwr) recruiter who was female.

Back then it was assumed that, as a woman, I acquired most of my clients in the same way Hollywood starlets got parts — on my back.

But, as I always said, if that were true I wouldn’t have had time to go to the office, let alone recruit anyone.

Here is the email; my only editorial change was to delete the name of the incubator.

Miki,

When I expressed skepticism regarding real change, you said that it’s better because now people are speaking about it. I replied that it will probably be worse for women in general, because now they will be seen as a risk factor. Unfortunately this is my own experience — I am afraid of mentoring women because they will often take it the wrong way, as several have interpreted my well-meaning advances as attempted pickup. It’s just not worth it.

Most recently, I saw a young black woman at an incubator I was visiting and decided to pay attention to her in a purely social way to make her feel welcomed. There were NO black people there, and since I am viewed as somewhat of a star and important, I believed it would be a boost for her. I never had a conversation with her, and the contact stayed on the level of smiles, fist bumps, etc.

While I was in SF, I received an invitation to a Y-Combinator invite-only event on women and leadership that I could not attend. I approached the woman and told her about the event and asked if she was interested in going. She said, “Absolutely!” and I said — “Send me your email and I’ll introduce you to the people who are leading this effort within YC.” She wrote her email address on a piece of paper and I made the introduction. 

Unfortunately her email bounced. I tried several different approaches. Then I went to her a few days after the event and said that I tried to make the introduction, and that her email had bounced. She looked at the piece of paper that she’d written her email on and confirmed it was incorrect without correcting it.

It then dawned upon me that she’d purposely provided me with the wrong email address, probably because she interpreted my friendliness as sexual advances. The sad thing is that I subsequently observed her whispering with other women and looking over at me, and that other women were avoiding contact with me. 

I then resolved that it’s just not worth it. I’m never going to make friendly advances to a woman in a work situation in the US again.

I do it all over the world, and have mentored men and women in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the US, but here is the only area where I’ve had negative experiences doing so with women (several). I’ve never had, or been interested in, a sexual relationship with any woman at work, in any country where I’ve worked or lived (except my partner who was my teenage girlfriend). 

The inflamed, sexualized nature of everything regarding female/male relationships in the US work environment does much to damage women’s advancement.

Which men will take the risk of staying late to mentor a woman after everyone has left the office — not me. Which men will take a woman out for drinks to have an informal chat about the politics at work — not me.

Which men will associate informally and socially outside of work with women they work with — not me. The reputational risk is simply too great. 

Who is the loser? Obviously both men and women, since there is greatness among them both.

Culturally it is more difficult to mentor women in the US than in Pakistan. Who would have thought…

The following came as a PS about an hour later.

Sexual advances are something most women, and some men, have to learn to deal with.

This has always been the case, and there have always been successful women. There are more successful women now than ever before.

The worst thing that can happen is to scare away the men that genuinely mean well.

Haven’t you ever asked yourself why women in more misogynistic societies are surpassing US women in societal and professional advancement to an increasing degree?

May it be because there is no cost to supporting women for those men who choose to do so? In fact, there is often great benefit, as they will have access to a more motivated and competent pool of people.

All that said, I am not recommending turning a blind or benign eye to the kind of behavior and toxic cultures that have been making headlines.

Image credit: VEX Robotics

Sheryl Sandberg’s Better Idea

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheryl_Sandberg

Everywhere you turn today you hear a reference to a person as a brand, with dozens of pundits telling you how to use social media to “build your personal brand.”

Four years ago, in another post, I said “In an oracular vision of the Twenty-first century Henry Ford said, “A bore is a person who opens his mouth and puts his feats in it.” These days it’s more accurate to say, “A bore is a person who opens their social media and puts their feats in it.””

The result is still a bore, but on a wider stage.

Branding yourself supposedly makes you more valuable, which is laughable, as is the current idea that being busy increases your value.

Sheryl Sandberg has a different take; she believes brands are for things and voices are for people.

The idea of developing your personal brand is a bad one, according to Sandberg. “People aren’t brands,” she says. “That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.”

“Who am I?” asks Sandberg. “I am the COO of Facebook, a company I deeply believe in. I’m an author. I’m a mom. I’m a widow. At some level, I’m still deeply heartbroken. I am a friend and I am a sister. I am a lot of very messy, complicated things. I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice.”

Focus on developing your voice, she says. Figuring out what’s important to you and being willing to use your voice for that purpose is incredibly valuable. “If you are doing it to develop your personal brand, it’s empty and self-serving and not about what you’re talking about,” she says. “If you’re doing it because there is something you want to see changed in the world, that’s where it will have value and depth and integrity.”

Sandberg’s comments on building a voice are just part of her thoughts on how to have a career that is successful and meaningful.

Additional thoughts from Emily Esfahani Smith, an editor at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the author of “The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness” contribute to that goal.

Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that.

It’s worth your time to read both articles no matter your age or situation.

Hopefully you’ll agree and send them on to colleagues, friends and the young people in your life.

Find your voice; live the wisdom that’s been shared, and help change the world for the better.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ducks in a Row: Influencer For Sale

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/8409186334/

Or not…

Although yesterday’s post about influencers focused on founders, influencers are everywhere.

Influencers effect the entire global population, because they populate social media, new media, old media, and your entire offline world.

Some influencers are real people who are paid real money to endorse a brand, movement, or some other effort, lending credence as well as a halo effect.

Others are faux.

The symbols that identify “real” influencers and provide immediate legitimacy are sold in a black market that is an open secret among those who earn their living as influencers — and they are willing to pay.

For example, Instangram’s little blue check sells for anywhere from $1500 to $7000

More importantly, it’s a status symbol. The blue emblem can help people gain legitimacy in the business of influencer marketing and bestows some credibility within Instagram’s community of 700 million monthly active users. It cannot be requested online or purchased, according to Instagram’s policies. It is Instagram’s velvet rope.

In addition to verification, there are black markets for attractiveness, Likes, followers, and anything else that boosts profiles and Klout scores.

We live in a world where everything is for sale, so when it comes to influencers, caveat emptor is the watchword to live by.

Image credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie

If The Shoe Fits: Guys’ Fault / Guys’ Responsibility

Friday, September 8th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf you’re a guy and have a daughter/niece/sister/mom/female friend this post is for you.

If you’re a bro this post is especially for you.

You’ve all heard the stories of women who weren’t taken seriously as founders and couldn’t get funding.

You’ve heard it as anecdotal evidence, directly from women founders, and from those around them.

In fact, there’s finally enough data-driven proof that the fact can no longer be denied or blamed off on something else.

https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/19/in-2017-only-17-of-startups-have-a-female-founder/

It’s not just investors; but suppliers, partners, and vendors who ignore/condescend/etc., when the other party is female.

Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer experienced all these problems when they launched Witchsy last year.

So they took a time-honored approach.

Having noticed that the mostly male artists, developers, and designers they were working with took their sweet time to respond to requests and were often slightly rude and condescending in email— “They’d say things like ‘Listen, girls…,’” Dwyer tells Quartz—they decided to bring in a male co-founder named Keith Mann to make communication easier.

Pre-Keith, Dwyer explains, “it was very clear no one took us seriously and everybody thought we were just idiots.” When “Keith” contacted collaborators, Gazin says, “they’d be like ‘Okay, bro, yeah, let’s brainstorm!’”

Keith only lasted six months, but, by then, being Keith had taught them to stop being communicating “like a girl.”

Neither the approach nor the result is unique; women have been obscuring their sex to get ahead for centuries. But…

In era that touts gender equality, even school-age children are still absorbing warped messages about the sexes. A recent study published in the journal Science revealed that by the time most girls are six, they believe that only males can be geniuses.

That means by the time a female hits first grade she’s already convinced she’s second best.

And that’s on you.

Image credit: HikingArtist and TechCrunch

Golden Oldies: The Idiocy Of Ideologues

Monday, August 14th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Echo Chambers. They’ve been with us since humans first stood erect. We hear what we want to hear; listen only to those who agree with us. Seek out the likeminded with whom to spend our time. And, when all else fails, people have been known to go beyond the acceptable to prove they are right. But when this happens at work, what’s a manager to do?

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Last week I had a call from a “Rick,” marketing manager, with what he thought was a unique problem—sadly it’s not as uncommon as you might think.

Short version. “Chris” is one of his top producing marketing people and extremely valuable to the team and the company. Recently, the team had a vehement disagreement on a marketing plan, but finally decided to go with an approach different from the one that Chris had championed.

Since then, Chris has made a number of comments and suggestions that undermine the current effort and has privately said that she hopes it fails because the other approach was better.

The team was starting to notice and some were losing confidence—a sure way to guarantee failure.

Rick said he had talked a bit with Chris; she denied that she was sabotaging the campaign and if it failed it would be because the wrong choice was made.

When I asked if Chris was always such an ideologue Rick was startled. He hadn’t thought of her actions in those terms, but after thinking it over he decided that she was a bit, although normally not to this extent.

Rick went on to say that it was ironic, because during the election Chris had been adamant that the “hide-bound ideology on both sides was creating problems for the country” and that she thought Obama was less locked into a specific, narrow ideology than most politicians.

More recently, she had been furious with Rush Limbaugh’s comment “I hope Obama fails,” seeing it as destructive and unpatriotic.

And therein, as I told Rick, lay his solution. Here is what I suggested.

  • Arrange a conversation without interruptions, such as an off-site lunch.
  • Make a production of turning off your cell phone (if Rick isn’t answering his, Chris is unlikely to interrupt to answer hers).
  • Keep the tone conversational; avoid anything that sounds like an accusation or makes the lunch feel like a confrontation.
  • Remind Chris’ about her previous thoughts regarding ideologues.
  • Once she confirms her thoughts gently draw the parallel between her attitudes and an ideologue.
  • Use her own words and feelings to refute whatever defense she raises (again, without attacking her).
  • Keep it conversational and take your time leading her to the recognition that her actions are the same as those she dislikes, just in a different arena.

Rick called today to say they’d had lunch that day and the conversation went exactly as predicted. It wasn’t perfectly smooth and there were some dicey moments, but when that happened he backed away and tried another route. He said that it would have been impossible to do in the office with interruptions and turning off their cells created a whole different mood.

He said that when Chris realized that she was doing a highly watered down version of Limbaugh she was openly shocked and very apologetic.

Instead of leaving it there, Rick took extra time to walk through the competing plans and why the team had chosen the one and not the other. He explained that it wasn’t that Chris was wrong, she just held a different opinion and that was OK, but it wasn’t OK do anything to undermine the program—even unconsciously.

With a more open mind Chris grudgingly agreed to the reasoning. She said that in spite of still feeling the other plan was better she would do everything in her power to make the project work. She said that the success of the project was more important than being “right.”

Rick was lucky because a critical member of his team was also a rational thinking person who could see a parallel when it was pointed out and not enough of a hypocrite to claim “that’s different…”

Chris was lucky because she worked for a manager who valued her and was willing to take the time to help her change and grow.

How do you control your inner ideologue?

Or do you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last week I wrote Time To Get Off Your Ass And Lead (Yourself) and Ravi Tangri added some very intelligent thoughts in his comment. I hope you’ll take a moment to click over, read it and add your own thoughts to the conversation. It’s an important one for all of us.

Image credit: Gurdonark on flickr

This golden Oldie dates back to 2009 and includes a comment worth a click.

If The Shoe Fits: Travis Kalanick And Spin

Friday, August 11th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mArrogance seems to be a constant, whether in the cowboy heroes of yesterday or the “leader heroes” of today. Or perhaps we should say “unhero.”

Travis Kalanick is a true unhero and a good, if overused, example of above and beyond arrogance.

He publicly claimed he would be “Steve Jobs-ing” his dismissal and would return as CEO.

He still claims this in spite of a statement from Uber co-founder and director Garrett Camp, who says Kalanick will not return as CEO.

His “Steve Jobs-ing” comment refers to Jobs being forced out, but ignores the full story of how Jobs came back and what he did in the meantime (founded another company that Apple ended up acquiring).

What Jobs did NOT do was hire an advisory company that specialized in “CEO & Leadership positioning.”

“Through our close relationships with the world’s leading editors, reporters, producers, and hosts at top-tier print, online, and broadcast outlets, we develop and execute strategic, results-driven media engagement programs for CEOs that leverage traditional and social media platforms.”

More prosaically, it’s called spin.

In public relations and politics, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor or against some organization or public figure. … “spin” often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics.

In short, spin alleviates the necessity of actually changing.

All Kalanick needs to do is write a check, probably a sizable one, and Teneo, the company he hired, will sell the “new” Kalanick to the world.

All hail personal growth and authenticity — the myths of Silicon Valley — along with meritocracy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you are interested in authentic personal growth be sure to check out this month’s Leadership Development Carnival.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Filler Word Help

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/44412176@N05/4197328040/Yesterday I cited John Mackey’s town hall speech as an example of poor communication, even at ­CEO level.

Saturday Business Insider was kind enough to post this video on how and why to stop using filler words, especially in a professional setting as you can clearly see in the transcript of Mackey’s speech.

Not motivated? Then focus on the fact that filler words make you sound dumb.

Image credit: gorfor  

Golden Oldies: Hiring Newbies

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

I wrote this post four years ago; the problem wasn’t new then and its gotten progressively worse since.

People today, not just Millennials and not all Millenials, don’t communicate well. People at all ages and levels, including CEOs are poor commicators — and if you doubt that, take a look at Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s speech at the town hall meeting after the Amazon acquisition. Written communications aren’t much of an improvement, even ignoring grammar and spelling errors, they often have little clarity, flow, or even coherence.

Texting has resulted in still worse writing, especially as people disperse with details like capital letters that can totally change the meaning.

“Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.”

And thanks to the overall focus on STEM education you can expect it to get even worse.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/evoo73/9140462500/Do you groan at the thought of having to hire and manage new-to-the-workforce people?

Do you wonder what’s wrong with today’s college graduates?

If so, remember two things.

  1. The problems are not a product of your imagination.
  2. You are not alone.

Multiple studies find the same problems I hear first-hand from managers.

“When it comes to the skills most needed by employers, job candidates are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving.”  –special report by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace

“Problems with collaboration, interpersonal skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity, flexibility and professionalism.” –Mara Swan, the executive vice president of global strategy and talent at Manpower Group

What’s changed?

Helicopter parents, crowdsourced decisions, me/my world focus, and the constant noise that prevents thinking.

The result is that many new hires require remedial actions from already overloaded mangers that go well beyond the professional growth coaching that typifies the best managers.

Flickr image credit: evoo73

Why Fake News Spreads

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

Fake news is on everybody’s mind these days.

Where does it come from?

How does it start?

Is it intentional? An accident? Honest error based on erroneous assumption?

A few days after Donald Trump was elected, 35-year-old Eric Tucker saw something suspicious: A cavalcade of large white buses stretched down main street near downtown Austin, Texas.

Tucker snapped a few photos and took to Twitter, posting the following message:

Tucker was wrong — a company called Tableau Software was actually holding a 13,000-person conference that day and had hired the buses.

OK, a wrong assumption by a social guy who had to tell his network.

But why didn’t the actual facts refute it when they were tweeted?

A new study published June 26 in the journal Nature looks into why fake posts like Tucker’s can go so viral.

Economists concluded that it comes down to two factors. First, each of us has limited attention. Second, at any given moment, we have access to a lot of information — arguably more than at any previous time in history. Together, that creates a scenario in which facts compete with falsehoods for finite mental space. Often, falsehoods win out.

Also, people consider the source of information more than the info itself. Trusted source = valid info.

The tweet was shared 350,000 times on Facebook and 16,000 and Trump added his two cents.

The corrected information was shared only 29 times.

Why didn’t Tucker tweet his network a correction when he it turned out to be false?

“I’m … a very busy businessman and I don’t have time to fact-check everything that I put out there, especially when I don’t think it’s going out there for wide consumption,”

In other words, he couldn’t be bothered.

Research and economists aside, Tucker provided the real key.

People aren’t bothered whether it’s true or not.

They just care that they get their 15 seconds of fame.

Image credit: Business Insider

Golden Oldies: Does Education = Thinking?

Monday, June 26th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

With the rise of tech and AI, there’s a big question on what education will give kids a leg up in the future. Pundits and media focus almost exclusively on STEM to boost career opportunities, but is STEM really the answer? What should Gen Z and the following generations study now to assure themselves of a career path in the future? And what is the downside of continuing our current approach?

Join me tomorrow for a look at the kind of education that solves the future, while assuring the continuation of our democracy.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeanlouis_zimmermann/3042615083/Today I have a question for you, what is the real point of education?

Bill Gates emphasizes “work-related learning, arguing that education investment should be aimed at academic disciplines and departments that are “well-correlated to areas that actually produce jobs.””

Steve Jobs says, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing…”

So is the end goal of education to provide the knowledge, skills and tools to work or to teach critical thinking.

The choice is likely to be described as pragmatic and based on available funding.

Years ago a successful business executive I know commented that if people had full bellies, a job and a bit left over to see a movie now and then at the time of the election, then the party in power would be reelected, but if the reverse was happening they would “throw the bums out.”

There are more sinister reasons to find a positive way to avoid graduating legions of critical thinkers.

  • Non-thinkers don’t make waves.
  • Non-thinkers follow the pack.
  • Non-thinkers are easier to control.
  • Thinkers are more creative and innovative.
  • Thinkers are more likely to reject ideology.
  • Thinkers are more willing to take risks.

You have only to look at what is going on in the world to see the effects of an empty belly and education, formal or not, grounded in questions, not answers.

What do you think?

Flickr image credit: jean-louis Zimmermann

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