Thursday, February 4, 2016

The new self-help book for entrepreneurs "Build Something Great!

Thinking of starting your own company... or you're already in it? There's a fun new self-help book out for entrepreneurs called "Build Something Great!: Fifty Best Tips for High-Tech Startups" that is a must read and excellent reference book for anyone wanting to win the first time.

Written by two of the Simplex founders, professors Resve Saleh and David Overhauser, it boils down valuable startup advice into 50 tips on how to build your own successful venture.

And yes, I admit I'm biased since Resve and David hired me to be their CEO. But we learned a lot together as we built a world class team and important technology family into a really fun company and a very successful IPO.

The book is full of useful and easy to consume advice on the steps you'll take in building your company. As Aki Fujimura, who was on our team and COO at Simplex, says in his foreward:

"There are a thousand ways to fail and only one or two ways to succeed. Trying to learn what not to do from a failure only makes it 1/1000th less likely to fail again. We all make plenty of mistakes of our own. We can learn from failures in real life without reading a book. The only way to learn from a book is to learn about what leads to success. The 50 tips here will guide you to help make your company more likely to succeed."

The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.

The authors in January 1996 (before we were introduced).
David is on the left, Resve is second from the right.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Why shareholder activists are now the long term holders

Activists have been on the rise over the last few years and it depends who you ask whether they are agents of the devil or the good guys just driving boards to create higher returns.

Some activists are now very high profile as the whole area of shareholder activism grows. You've got the attention getters like Dan Loeb of Third Point. His signature is pithy, hyper critical public letters to boards eviscerating management and often demanding a change, as he did at Yahoo. You've got the old salts like Carl Icahn who invests his own money and has been at the aggressive game of taking on companies for 30 years. And because the technique and approach is growing you've got any number of small firms getting into the game.

Activists are basically trying to accelerate a return from an investment strategy by engaging (forcing) the company into a discussion of what they should be doing that they are not doing. Replace the CEO, spin off a division, shut down a piece of the business, buy back stock - whatever the strategy is that they think management and the board are not doing but should be doing. They can be tough to take because the best ones do extensive research, they are experienced smart investors, and they are probably right more often than they are wrong. The board and management may even know it and agree, but the activist is forcing the timing of the discussion.

And because they are often driving for a different use of capital (such as buying back stock or selling the company rather than investing in more speculative, long term R&D) and they are typically aggressive (in your face) and gutsy (they buy at least 5% of the company's stock), and they are trying to make things happen on a faster timeline (than is natural for management) they have a reputation of being short timers.

But when you look at the data of who's holding the stock that is not necessarily the case.

I had the pleasure of being on a panel titled Shareholder Activism: The Good, The Bad or Just Ugly at Stanford Law School last week. The panel was moderated by David Berger who is a litigator at WSGR, and the other two panelists with me were Steven Davidoff Solomon who is a professor of law at U C Berkeley and writes a column for the New York Times and Jesse Cohn from Elliott Management. Jesse is another very high profile activist known for disrupting companies like Riverbed, EMC and Citrix - and it was fascinating to listen to his side of the world and how he views companies and their boards.

The panel was held by SVDX and so the general content is not to be discussed outside the room - but a fact came up that challenged everyone's assumption that activists are operating on a short time frame. The fact is that the average hold time of Elliott's positions is 2.5 years. It takes time to get into a company, and to drive the change they want. But, in contrast, the average holding period for a mutual fund is now 270 days. 270 days! That means most mutual funds are holding a stock for less than a year, and quite a bit less time than the activist who is trying to get the company to take action.

Also, once the activist holds more than 5% it is public knowledge - they have to file their position and typically when they do they are open about what they think needs to change. So while they may disagree with the company on strategy, at that point their financial objective is the same as management - increase the value of the stock.

There's no question the rise of activism increases the stakes for boards and management, and it has good and bad actors, and good and bad strategies. But it's no more short term than your granny's mutual fund is, and it's here to stay.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

5 Ways to Deal with a Workplace Bully ( Who is Your Customer! )

Customers are usually really fun to work with, but sometimes you run into a difficult one, a classic "tough customer". So what do you do when you have to work with a customer who is a true bully? You know, the customer who throws his weight around, talks over you, raises his voice if you push back, disrespects you and insults you with aggressive behavior.

I've dealt with my fair share of bullies over time and learned the following approaches to defusing the bully behavior. Note, all these tips refer to "him". I have never encountered a female bully (I am sure they exist), but then again, I have not worked with many female customers, so I will say "him."

1. Get to know him 

Most bullies have a hard time keeping up the aggressive and domineering behavior once they are on a familiar, social ground with you. Not always, but often. Invite your customer out to lunch with no agenda; don't talk business, just get to know one another. Be sure to ask lots of questions. Most bullies are insecure, so make him the center of attention. Ask about his family and interests, and listen attentively. You are more likely to enable him to relax around you, and you'll learn something new about him. This knowledge will help you connect with him in the future.

I had a customer in Arizona many years ago who was awful to deal with--short, angry and aggressive in every meeting, convinced, we, (the vendor), were trying to mislead him. By investing the time getting to know him I earned his trust, and we sold a significant contract to him. In the process I learned what he was deeply worried about; buying the wrong tool and losing technical credibility.

A word of caution--you need to be genuinely interested. If you are faking it your customer will know and you'll lose his trust.

2. Don't take his behavior personally 

As I said, most bullies are insecure. If you watch them carefully, you will notice their behavior is no different towards you than it is towards other people. They tend to also bully those below them in the power structure. So while their tactics may push your buttons, or make you so mad you want to punch something or cry, (this had happened to me more than once), remember it is not about you. It's about him; his fear, his need to assert himself to feel better. Take a step back from the onslaught, take a deep breath, and let it go. This small gesture will turn into a big investment in the long run.

3. Get to know his boss and peers 

This is your insurance policy. In most organizations the other people in his company will know he's a bully. They usually won't admit it, but they know. They might have a culture where it serves them to keep him around, or maybe they don't let people go, (more popular in the 80s than today). Find ways to meet and develop professional relationships with his peers. Discuss areas of common interest such as a mutual customer. Make sure you get to meet his boss, even if he keeps telling you that you don't need to (which is classic blocker behavior). This way you establish your own credibility, independent of how he portrays you. You will both gain from what you learn about the business as a result: you will be more useful to his company because you'll understand more of their needs, and your knowledge will help you cement a relationship with him when you are.

4. Stand your ground 

With all that said, you do not have to cave and agree just because someone raises his voice, talks over you or becomes aggressive with you. If you are in the right on a discussion point, or you need your customer to understand an aspect of your work together, hear him out and then gently assert yourself. Let him talk, let him bluster, wait him out. Don't disagree or cut him off or he'll increase his bullying. Think tai chi in your head. Let his energy flow over you, and then, when he gives you an opening, tell him what you believe he needs to hear.

5. Move on 

Finally, sometimes you are just incompatible with a bully. Either you trigger something in him, or he triggers something in you. If you've tried building a relationship, you've been professional and diligent in your service of the customer, and still he's a bully then maybe you are not the right person to work with him. It's important to recognize when you can succeed in changing someone's behavior towards you and when it is hopeless. And if it's hopeless, stand down and ask your team to put someone else in instead.

Of course, if you are the CEO this is almost impossible. But even so, you can usually find someone compatible to front for you, someone you can bring into judicious scenarios and protect you from your bullying customer, and protect your customer from your temper!

Repost of my latest posted in Inc today

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Do I need to look nice for you?

I’ve been conditioned from an early age that what I look like to men matters. My mother was one who would put on lipstick at the time she knew my father was coming home from work and, based on 50+ years of conditioning, I have a part of my brain which worries all the time about what men think of how I look.

I had a chance a few days ago to remind myself of just how ridiculous this brainwashing is. It was Sunday and I had spent the whole day in sweats. I’d been to meet my best friend for coffee (she was also in sweats), I’d been to visit Bret’s mom (her Alzheimer’s is so advanced now she is just pleased to see me and doesn’t comment on my looks any more), I’d decorated the house for Christmas with my family and cooked dinner. A typical busy Sunday.

In the late afternoon my husband Bret had been watching the weather and decided to drive to Tahoe after dinner to snowboard; he coordinated with a friend to meet at the house and drive up together. We had roast chickens in the oven and lots of food and so I invited the friend to dinner.

And this is where my brainwashing kicked in. I found myself standing in the kitchen worrying and wondering if I should go and change. I did look like crap, I confess, but I was reasonably clean. Why did I care? Why such a concern that a man is coming to dinner and I am worried what I look like. If it had been a female friend it would not have even occurred to me. And I know for certain the friend did not care.

This sense of the need for women to please men and to worry about what they think is drilled into my brain and even though I am conscious of it now it frustrates me. The continuous voice in my head is perfectly captured in this powerful short video of the things women hear, over and over, throughout their lives that diminish them. Worth a watch whether you are male or female.

I know most of my male friends simply don’t have the same toxic voices in their head - and many of them, my dear husband included, don't care what they look like 99% of the time. I’m determined to learn a new way of thinking about myself through my own eyes, not the eyes of the men around me.

Top 3 things to look for in your first job

It can be hard to find that first job, and sometimes you need to take whatever you can get to start your career. But whether it is your very first job or a job search in the first five years of your career, there are three critical things you should not settle without.

1. A great manager

Having a great manager early on will by far create the strongest impact toward your long-term growth. Working for someone who is talented, generous with their time, and willing to teach you can be a powerful jumpstart. And working for a turkey is both demotivating and a waste of your time. Remember, for every way to do something well, there are a thousand ways to do it badly. Every year counts early on, so partner up with a strong leadership team, make sure that you are efficient with time and sponge every skill possible when you are young, hungry and hopefully don’t need much sleep. Strong management will steer you onto projects that stretch you and teach you, and catch you when you stumble. Poor managers come in a variety of flavors: micro managers, absentee managers, inconsistent managers, and the list goes on, but they share one characteristic, they deprive you of valuable learning. So pick wisely. Interview your potential manager so you get a sense of how much they will help you grow.

2. Growth

Just as a rising tide floats all boats, finding a thriving environment early on will create an opportunity for advancement. Think about the people who landed early in companies like Google and LinkedIn. Were they any smarter than their peers who joined loser companies? Probably not. But the diligent, hard-working ones took advantage of the extraordinary emerging opportunities to grow their own careers, fast. Even in modestly flourishing/booming times, you will find that growth creates opportunity. Early in your career, you should be alert for new tasks, projects and be sure to volunteer and raise your hand up when companies are searching for aggressive new talent. Take on new challenges, be a problem solver and stretch your skill set. Stagnant companies make it difficult to do this, so stay alert for rising tides.

3. Visibility into the business

Too often I talk with people early in their career, and they don’t understand the Profit and Loss principles of their company. Being able to distinguish between decisions that help or hurt the business is pivotal. Insist on acquiring visibility of cash flows from customer reports, sales deals, marketing expenses and product development costs. Looking at the cash trail of a company early on is essential to understanding how the company makes money. Whether you are the egghead designing a new product (which will make money), or you are the inside sales rep selling (bringing money in) or you are the accountant working on the P&L (watching the money) you want to see it and understand it. That way, later in your career when you are making decisions that directly impact the growth, profit or loss of your own company, or the company you work for, you will have a visceral feel for how the financials of a company actually work. And if you don’t understand basic finance in the first 5 years of your career take classes until you do. The knowledge is well worth giving up a few evenings for.

 Often, I am contacted by people who want a little coaching as they start their careers or who are looking for a change in direction. And so often I am asked my opinion about whether they should go and get an MBA. There are some circumstances where an MBA is worth the time and money – for example if you want to switch from engineering to finance – but in most cases it isn’t. It’s my belief, after managing so many talented people both with MBAs and without, that in most cases these three things are fundamental: a great manager, a growing company, and getting yourself familiar with the money trail.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Death smiles at us all - so smile back!

Reminders of death are everywhere, but never more so than exploring the past in churches and graveyards, and especially in Italy.

Before I went to Naples recently I understood the phase "See Naples and Die" as an encouragement to enjoy everything Naples has to offer, and posted in excited preparation. So death was on my mind, but I found it everywhere as a reminder of our mortality, smiling out at us from endless skulls.

And I mean endless. Consider the Fontanelle cemetery. Four millions skulls. Yes four million! Stacked up logically and beautifully within deep tufa caves, the relocated bones from hundreds of years of plague and cholera. And yet it is a fascinating and beautiful site. It's in a dangerous part of town, Matadei, where the locals told us the police are afraid to go, but being English we went anyway.

Deep at the back of the caves we learned about the cult of skull devotion. Locals adopt a skull and care for it, bringing it flowers and gifts and asking for favors. Some skulls are even celebrities with small piles of offerings including rosaries, candles, food, books, ribbons, hair, everything a well dressed skull needs.

But it didn't stop there. Everywhere we went we were reminded of our mortality through the art of skull symbolism. From the crypt under the Chigi chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome (famously featured as a murder site in Angels and Demons)

to the beautiful inlaid marble and floor brass of the Church of St Luigi del Francesi

Even the Romans in Pompeii (buried in AD79) remind us that death is the great leveler between rich and poor: Memento Mori - a fine, detailed mosaic you can see in the Naples Archaeological museum.

All good fun, but probably the most dramatic reminder we found was not in Italy at all, but in Westminster Abbey in London at the grave of Lady Elizabeth Nightingale who died young at 27. Her grave was erected in 1761 (same approximate era as the Fontanelle cemetery). Death comes lunging out from his underworld to throw a spear at the young lady to kill her! Macabre high drama - and distinctly creepy.

I'm not usually a morbid person, but after a week of endless skulls, images of dying saints, image of the dying and dead Christ, I had to find some humor in the situation. And as the immortal Maximus (Russell Crowe) says (in Rome) in my favorite film, Gladiator: "Death smiles at us all, all a (wo)man can do is smile back!"

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

5 Reasons to Put Yourself in the Line of Fire as a Leader

My post in Inc a week ago:

While sitting at a restaurant in London Heathrow airport yesterday, I found myself between the unfortunate cross hairs of a helpless server and his useless manager. At noon, while the restaurant was full of customers from around the globe, the credit card machine stopped working. Many patrons, myself included, did not have enough British pounds to pay for our meals as we were on our way out of the country.

The waiter explained that I would need to pay my tab in cash. I opened my wallet to find scattered pounds, euros and dollars, and I knew it wouldn't be enough. The waiter suggested that I wait the 30 minutes it would take for their system to come back online, but I of course told him that this wouldn't be an option as I had a flight to catch. The waiter then left me to "talk with his manager."

Now the fun started. The waiter walked the six feet away from me to where his manager was standing. I watched as the 40 year-old manager told his barely-20 year-old waiter what to tell me. The waiter returned to my table to reiterate his manager's suggestion and I pushed back again. The poor waiter went back and forth as we tried to get close to the price of my bill counting the few pounds, euros and dollars that I had with me. I could not make the whole amount, which also meant no tip. During this entire exchange, the manager remained where he was, six feet away, and would not look at me or help the waiter by talking directly with me, the disgruntled customer.

As my gate was across from the restaurant, I continued to watch as the same encounter unfolded with other customers and the manager was still immovable to intervene. The young waiter was trying hard and I remained appalled by the lack of support and leadership from the restaurant manager to appease his customers or find solutions given the situation.

 The encounter was a prime example of one of the many ways managers can fail at their jobs, which should, at their centers, be to claim any and all responsibility. When something goes wrong with a customer do you automatically step in front of the bullet for your team?

Should you? I think so... and here's why:

1. You need to take responsibility. 
You're the leader, which means you should be out front and center, leading your team. When something goes wrong, you need to make sure the customer looks to you for the fault and not to your employee. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is so that the customer respects you when you take ownership and will be more likely to work with you to find a solution than if you hide behind your employees. Second, this helps your employee become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. A rare exception to this rule is when your customer thinks an employee of yours is the problem. If this is the case, you need to listen carefully and help your employee with a get-well plan, if at all possible, but you may have to separate the employee from the customer. Either way, this is still your responsibility.

 2. It's a teaching opportunity. 
Part of our responsibility as leaders is to cultivate and prepare the next generation of leaders. What better way to prepare the future of your company than to show them how to deal with a difficult situation? Lead with purpose and communicate your process when showing them how you step in front of an issue. If you lead by example and explain to them why you took the approach that you did, then they will learn how to do it for their own teams.

3. It's a learning opportunity. 
Most of us never learn true humility, especially in the superman-driven world of high tech. As leaders, we often struggle to hear and see the truth. Employees won't tell us things we might need to hear, so we must keep charging on, regardless of our performance. So when a customer gives us tough feedback--"Your product is too slow, too expensive, low quality," or "You missed your committed deadline"--it's a moment in time for personal learning, humbleness and to be reminded that the customer is always right.

4. Don't blame your employee. 
 This can be hard, especially if you are frustrated with a situation where your employee executed a task poorly. Yes, maybe give them tough feedback. Yes, maybe use it as a teaching moment. But never place blame or point fingers. 99 percent of the time, your employees are trying to do the right thing. When you blame them, you are probably missing the real issue.

5. Don't project weakness. 
Maybe you don't care if your customer or your employees think that you are a weak person, but if you are an ambitious leader, you probably do. And when you hide behind an employee rather than taking charge, you are acting weak.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why I’m stepping back from being CEO

I’ve loved being a technology CEO. It’s been 20 years, and the CEO journey has taken me from pride to humility, from exhaustion to exhilaration, from courage to fear and often all in the same day. It’s a fantastic job and a huge responsibility and I’m honored to have been trusted with the job not once but twice and in two very different markets. I’ve worked with talented executives, loyal investors, and customers who’ve become friends over the years.

And I’ve also always been incredibly conscious of the role I play in making it possible for other women to be high tech CEOs by simply showing it can be done in a world which is so biased against us.

But it’s time for me to step back. This has been a tough decision – and those of you who know me well will know what kind of war has been going on in my brain for the last 6 months – I’m not without ego after all! But I am very conscious that over the last 20 years I’ve traded so much as I focused on my career. Of course, my challenges are every working person’s challenges. Enough time with my children, supporting aging and dying parents, not enough sleep, not enough personal time. But I’ve become so much more aware of time passing since my mother died and now my father is 84 and far away and so I’ve decided to make different choices with my time. I feel very fortunate that I have that choice.

It’s hard, but balance is a myth if you are CEO (as I blogged in 2007). Every company deserves a CEO who is on 24/7. One who lives and breathes every aspect of the company, the future of every employee and the success of every customer. That’s just what it takes to succeed.

We’ve built a fabulous technology platform at FirstRain and one we’re proud of. It’s used by some of the biggest companies in the world and our customer engagements just keep getting deeper. I am truly delighted that YY Lee is going to take over from me as CEO - she has been with me every step of our 10+ year journey together at FirstRain. But more than that, she’s worked with me on and off across 3 companies over the last 23 years and I know she more than has what it takes to lead FirstRain through the next stage of growth. I could not be prouder of her. And I’ll be there to help her and the Rainmakers. I’ll stay involved as an active chair, work on strategy and continue to do the part of my job I love the most: working closely with our large customers.

And with the rest of my time? I very much enjoy my public company board work, and of course I’ll keep on coaching entrepreneurs and women (which I love to do), and being a feminist and a blogger. But more importantly I’ll spend more time with my father in England and with my family.

It’s not all perfectly clear to me but I’ll figure it out as I go along. I’ve been an obsessed CEO for so long now I can’t imagine too far ahead yet. But I’m sure I’ll work it out.

Friday, November 6, 2015

5 ways not to talk about yourself as a leader

My latest post in Inc.

Have you ever listened carefully to the language your leaders use when they talk about their plans and accomplishments? It can be very revealing, if you listen to the subtlety of their speech. There are leaders who are all about themselves and there are leaders who are all about their team, or their dream, and these two types of leaders sound entirely different from each other.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a group of executives from a large company and I was struck by how often they used “I” in their speech. These leaders even took personal credit and responsibility for accomplishments made by their respective companies, simply inserting “I” or “my” into their statements. Two different people said “my shareholders,” and “I have set expectations at XYZ.” Both executives implied that they were “the man” (and neither were the CEO!). Revealing isn’t it? For example, there is a huge difference in how you think about a business unit or project leader based on whether they say “my customers” or “our customers.” “My customers” sounds ego-driven and possessive, yet “our customers” sounds supportive and amplifies that the leader has a team behind her. Or consider “my strategy” vs. “our strategy” – there is a different set of implications between the two.

So here are five things to watch out for when using “I” in your speech:

1. Give your team all the credit.
When a project goes well, you win a customer or hire a great person; giving credit to your team for the win will earn you their loyalty. In this case, deflecting the attention away from yourself and shining the spotlight on the team doing the real work, will not go unnoticed. Saying, “The R&D team truly raised our quality over the last six months,” or saying, “Julie went above and beyond to help our customer,” will be so much more appreciated by your team and over time they will become loyal to you knowing you are going to make sure they are given credit where credit is due.

2. The future is shared.

You don’t own the future and you certainly can’t create it without your team. You can create a strong sense of shared destiny if you use “we” or “our” for your future plans. Try saying something along the lines of, “We are planning a new, magical set of features which we will release in beta this June,” or, “We are committed to turning a profit by the end of the year.” Your team will know they are part of your vision for the future.

 3. No one admires a boaster.
It’s so transparent, and yet so many mediocre leaders do this: they boast about their accomplishments, name drop, remind you about their education, and some even feel a need to tell you how smart or important they are. It’s boring and it means nothing to the listener, so don’t do it. The only exception is when someone specifically asks you to tell your story. Otherwise keep your mouth shut and win their support based on the merit of your ideas and your work.

4. Don’t cross the line by over sharing.
Yes, a certain amount of sharing is OK, it makes you human. However, “I did this and I did that” again and again gets boring fast. If someone asks you how your weekend was, a short, amusing answer should suffice. I find this one hard because I enjoy sharing and I enjoy entertaining, but I am learning to keep it short. It is very easy to cross the line between the level of detail that is office-appropriate and what can be shared at a later time with friends.

5. A leader should take all of the blame.

This is one of the few places that the word “I” should be used. Don’t be too proud to admit that “I made an error in judgment when I hired Joe,” or “I misjudged the rate at which the market was going to change,” etc. When there is a major problem, you want to take as much responsibility for it as you can. In private you may vent to a friend that so-and-so dropped the ball and you’re paying the price for it, but never in public, never in front of your team. A good leader doesn’t make excuses.

The exception to the rule here is when a very visible leader, such as a large company CEO needs to share vision. “I believe” is powerful and can be inspiring when your deeply held belief helps your team to see the future, or fills them with a sense of optimism about the path you are going to take together. “We believe” feels weaker. So when visioning, go ahead and say I, but when talking about your operations and your projects say we.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Preparing to See Naples and Die!

Life is about death, as a dear friend said to me this week. Certainly if you are a Buddhist. But even if you are not, every day is sweet because our days are numbered, and we will all die.

And it's just because life is about death that we need to make sure we live! Which for me means experience. Rich, fascinating, delicious experience. Experience such as can be found in Naples - where the locals say "Vedi Napoli e poi muori" or "See Naples and Die".

So next week I am headed to Neapolis, literally the "new city"  of the Greeks (because when it was founded by the Greeks in 2nd century BC it was replacing the old city of Cumae, just to the West, which had been founded 600 years earlier). And it's been continuously occupied since then...meaning it's been Greek, and Roman, and Byzantine, and Norman, and Angevin, and Bourbon, and Fascist, and then pummeled by the Allies, and now recovering... and I am skipping a few rulers in between.

The resulting city and it's surroundings are a feast for the soul. Whether you love the terracotta red wall art of Pompeii, or the almost vulgar decorations of baroque churches, or the visual beauty of the art in the Capodimonte. Whether you are a lover of pizza (the margherita pizza was invented there for Queen Margherita of Savoy in 1889 - see the red, white and green!), or fish so fresh it looks you in the eye before they cook it, or volcanic red wine or the sweetest tomatoes. Whether you enjoy hot water springs or cool autumn Amalfi beaches. It's glorious and inspiring, poor and dangerous, and one of the most stimulating places you can explore.

So, in preparing to die one day, Naples is a must, and this time I'm spending a week in the area (rather than the 3 days I've given it in the past).

Goethe said it well - and he, and the scandalous fashionista Lady Hamilton, made Naples a must stop on the Grand Tour for the young elite gentlemen of English society wanting to get a classical education (and it's reassuring to know they would often also get educated in the ways of women and wine on the way). I'm following in the footsteps of the poet Virgil, the great Lord Nelson, Caravaggio and thousands more. It's going to be fun following their ghosts.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Are you Epicurean?

What do you think of when you hear the word epicure? Food, right?

But you'd be wrong. Yes that's the modern use of the word, but long before epicurean meant food, or a website you use to research your favorite recipe (, Epicureanism was a school of Greek philosophy - and one that is pretty attractive!

The philosopher Epicurus founded his school in his garden in Athens in the 4th century BC. His philosophy was based on the belief that our purpose is to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by peace, freedom from fear, the absence of pain—and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. His students were called the Garden People (that sounds good right there) and the focus was on pleasure (but not too much because too much leads to pain) and on friendship.

Sounds to good to be true, perhaps? Of course. The school of thought was soon opposed by men to whom happiness was not the end in mind. Justice, religion, politics and power are stronger forces than happiness. Epicurus' teachings were opposed by Cicero, and the Roman Senate, and eventually by the Christians, and so the word Epicurean was abused as the more Stoic values became fashionable.

To be epicurean began to mean to be indulgent, to be devoted to sensual pleasure, good food and comfort, with the negative connotation of self indulgence which was not part of the original philosophy of the simple life.

But to me it is marvelous that a word that originally was about living a happy life based on friendship and freedom from fear is now associated with food. It's the logical derivative. After all, where is the center of happiness typically in a home? It's the kitchen table. It's the community formed around the preparation of food, the sharing of food, the discussion of food. Food plays the glue in many family and friend relationships. There is so much more joy and pleasure in the sharing of the food than in the food itself. So food... happiness... friendship are all intermingled.

As I finish a delicious salad, sitting on a lawn chair by the beach on the big island of Hawaii, I think about how luxurious and sensuous the experience is. Taste on the lip, sun and wind on the skin, a stimulating history book in my hand, the absence of fear. My friends waiting for me back at the house. I am convinced. Yes, I am an Epicurean.

Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times

Monday, October 12, 2015

Do stereotypes keep women out of tech?

A friend sent me a NY Times article this weekend titled "What Really Keeps Women Out of Tech" and I was struck by how different the current experience of young women is from when I read Maths at Cambridge in 1979.

Yes, then it was unusual. Less than 5% of the Maths class were women in my year. But beyond that it never felt hostile. I never felt like I didn't belong, or Maths was too hard for girls, or I shouldn't be doing it. And when I graduated I needed a job and Texas Instruments was willing to teach me how to program so I leapt in with both feet, learned how to touch type, and then learned how to write code. I admit, I was the only girl on the team, and I looked in envy at the TI Dallas software team that had plenty of women in it, and in leadership, but I never felt I did not belong.

The big difference between then, when girls majoring in CS in college was at it's peak and now, when the number has dropped precipitously, is captured in the article:

"The researchers also found that cultural stereotypes about computer scientists strongly influenced young women’s desire to take classes in the field. At a young age, girls already hold stereotypes of computer scientists as socially isolated young men whose genius is the result of genetics rather than hard work. Given that many girls are indoctrinated to believe that they should be feminine and modest about their abilities, as well as brought up to assume that girls are not innately gifted at science or math, it is not surprising that so few can see themselves as successful computer scientists."

I simply don't remember the stereotype of the nerdy young man when I was coming up. CS was not cool, it was not a way to make money back then. To make money you'd go into finance and investment banking. I was the only one of my peer group who went into industry or, as one person said to me at the time in an attempt to put me down, "trade".

But I can see it now. From Big Bang Theory to HBO's Silicon Valley (which is so true I simply don't find it funny) the young, white, male, nerdy, non-showering, stereotype is alive and strong. And we have to change that. Another reason the new film The Martian is so good. It is gender balanced, in both technology and leadership roles; and it follows Gravity which was of similar balance and quality. Something aspiring young female nerds can look up to.

Friday, October 9, 2015

5 Practical Ways You Can Keep More Women On Your Team

Published in Inc on Oct 5, 2015

At long last, the world is paying attention to the issue of gender diversity. In May 2014, top tech companies started reporting the dismal numbers of women in their workforces. When these statistics were released to the public, a spotlight shone on this disparity, sparking a conversation on the need for gender equality amongst corporate America.

While this conversation has been discussed at length in the media and exhausted by panels at conferences all over the world, the fact remains that little change has actually occurred. We have a long way to go. As a new report from Lean In and McKinsey shows, we are more than 100 years away from gender equality in the C-Suite. To top it off, NY Times reports, the modern workplace is "toxic" and "the ranks of those women still thin significantly as they rise toward the top, from more than 50 percent at entry level to 10 to 20 percent in senior management."

It might have taken 100 years for women to be able to vote in the U.S., but it shouldn't take 100 more years before we achieve gender equality at the office. If you want your company to benefit from the economic advantage of a diverse team, there are five actions you can implement at your own company to grow the number of women on your team. Here are some actions you can take now to act locally and change the number of women on your team.

1. Women attract other women.

Do you have at least one, preferably two, of your operational leaders who are women? "Operational" is an important distinction. There are plenty of teams where the HR person is a woman, or the communications person (occupying the pink ghetto), but when you start looking for R&D leaders or P&L managers, the number of women thins out drastically.

What few people realize is, if you have women in technology and operational leadership they will attract other women. Women want to see other women ahead of them in the company they are joining so they have positive proof that they can get ahead in that company. Likewise, if there are no women for your younger employees to look up to, you will lose them over time. Before you say you can't find them, determine going in that you will interview both women and men for your open positions. In your interview process you will find highly qualified women and you will hire them. These highly skilled women will be magnets for other women considering your team and open your talent pool up significantly.

2. True, not fake, flexibility.

Many teams talk flexibility and yet the subtle competition and mindset of one-upping each other that some teams exhibit can make working flexible hours feel unsafe for many women. True flexibility means actively respecting every employee's wish to get their job done where and when it works for them. If you can establish a culture where it's completely acceptable to call into a meeting if you need to be home or use video to hold one-on-ones to support a teammate that needs to leave early (rather than look down on it), you can keep women (and men) on your team who have to juggle their home responsibilities with their job. But you have to be proactive and out spoken about your support for flexibility (provided people get their jobs done of course). Passive support is not enough.

3. Talk about diversity openly.

It takes courage to talk openly about your belief on diversity. Many of your team will agree with you, but some will not, and not everyone will tell you. I have found that a few men will complain to each other and be passive aggressive on the issue, but you still need to speak out so the women and other minorities on your team hear you. There is enough evidence now that diversity creates better financial results and better products. It makes no sense to omit 50% or more of the potential talent from your workforce. By having the courage to speak out, be consistent and be fair you will keep more women on your team and improve your company in the process.

4. Invest in your women.

Many fields are hostile to women, especially technology. Facebook's Mary Lou Jepson is just the latest in the long line of women to speak out about it. Knowing that the workplace can be toxic or hostile, one way you can be better than your competition at keeping and growing women is your willingness to invest. Send women to female career oriented conferences like the Grace Hopper Conference or the 3% Conference. Support them forming Lean In circles. Speak openly about your wish to see them invest in staying with their chosen field and find ways to grow within their field rather than dropping out or moving to a more female friendly industry.

5. Hire a few good men.

There are many men today who believe strongly in the need for gender diversity. Their motivations are varied. Sometimes they have daughters and want their daughters to have every opportunity. Sometimes it's "just right." Other times it is understanding the need to hire the best and the brightest and not wanting to miss out on half the talent. Whatever the reason, these male allies are important in the quest for gender diversity.

Bring men into your team who want to work on a diverse team. Find men who don't tolerate prejudice towards women and will support the advancement of the women on your team. Make a conscious effort to support these men when they work hard to bring women onto the team and identify unconscious bias in the people around them.

It's time. The dearth of women at the top of companies is not just a pipeline problem that stems from companies not proactively working to improve their culture for women. We need to address the culture that causes 50% of women to drop out of tech within 10 years of graduation because it's hostile. They don't stop working, they just leave tech. However, you can change the outcome for your team if you work hard to bring women in and to keep them; your company will be stronger for it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Did I get away with murder?

As readers of my blog know, I have had a high pressure career while being married to a man who also has a career, and raising two children. That's the backdrop to something my father said to me last weekend which stopped me in my tracks.

Talking about a woman we know whose husband is divorcing her, my father said "Well you got away with murder!"

Wow. Talk about judgement from your Dad. Now it's important to note my father is absolutely one of the good guys. He's always been very supportive of my career and proud of my accomplishments, but even he carries the unconscious bias about women working.

When I was a new CEO, working hard, with two young children, my parents would often say "poor Bret" - feeling sorry for my husband that I was not taking enough care of him. They would feel bad for me that I was working so hard, and my mother many times said she wondered if she had done the right thing raising my sister and I to be so independent because the result was that we had stressful careers. I know she'd do it all over again because she believed strongly in women's equality and I learned to ignore all the comments eventually because I knew they understood really. But when my father said I got away with murder I had to think again.

What exactly did I get away with? Staying married. Being in a partnership with a great guy. Raising two amazing children who are now powerful, fully functioning adults who I adore, and who adore me? Keeping my health despite a few trip ups along the way? Finding amazing young women to partner with in raising our children? Choosing to work with like-minded business partners in my own companies? Having a handful of friends to lean on when my schedule got too crazy? Raising dogs and cats together in peace?


And yet I know I have been silently judged by many people far more seriously than my father's quip. Men in the workplace asking me if I would come back to work after my pregnancy, asking why was I working with young children at home. Asking me if I feel guilty, asking me what my husband thinks about my working, asking me if I could manage both children and my career. I have experiences a mile long - I could write a book but it wouldn't change anything.

Maybe I did get away with murder. But maybe not. Maybe I lead a rich and rewarding life surrounded by great people who help and support me, and whom I help and support back. And, after a good debate last weekend, my father says he agrees with me.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

How to Deal with a Horse's Ass (in your head)

I love my job and I love meeting 90% of the people I have the privilege to meet, but sometimes, just sometimes, I have to spend professional time with someone whom I have a hard time respecting. Of course I don't let on, and of course I am professional and respectful, but I have to find ways to manage myself through my reaction to the behavior.

What is the behavior I have to manage my head around you may ask?

What I find really hard is the person who has to be the smartest person in the room, and makes sure you and everyone else reflects that back to him/her. The person who is so sure they have the answers they don't listen. Who talks over people more junior than them. Who is dismissive of other people they consider lower in the power structure. Who posture to make a point, instead of just being open and direct.

I've seen this behavior by execs to people on their teams (sometimes in front of me when I am the vendor). I've seen it towards my employees, and sometimes to me because I am selling, or because I am female, or because I threaten them in some way. I've seen it in groups which should be peers but where one person thinks he's better/senior/more experienced/smarter and so throws his weight around. In board meetings, on panels, at dinner parties.

So it happens. You've seen it. But enough of the negative. How to deal?

I am inspired by Caravaggio in this circumstance. Caravaggio was commissioned by Tibero Cerasi to paint two paintings for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome in 1600. One of the conversion of St Paul, the other of the Crucifixion of St Peter. At the same time Cerasi commissioned Caravaggio's competitor Carracci (a conventional Baroque painter, and Caravaggio's contemporary) to paint the altar piece.

The first versions Caravaggio painted were rejected by Cerasi (only one is known to survive and it is glorious), and the history hints to their rejection being maybe motivated by Cardinal Sannessio's desire to take them into his private collection. But whatever the reason, the net result was Caravaggio had to paint two more, and this time he chose to paint them in rich, high drama, and to send a message.

Meanwhile, Carracci painted the altar piece and the Assumption of the Virgin takes center stage of the Cerisi chapel. The Assumption is a beautiful, classically baroque painting in romantic pinks and blues replete with cherub angels, but it's no match for Caravaggio's stunning, dramatic flanking paintings.

So how did Caravaggio make a point of his opinion of his competitor Carracci?  He painted a horse's ass pointed towards the Carracci painting!

Here's the chapel. The Assumption is in the middle above the altar.

You can see the Conversion of Saint Paul on the Way to Damascus is on the right. The horse's backside is directed squarely at the Carracci painting. And it's been expressing Caravaggio's opinion for 415 years.

This is a truly glorious, extraordinary painting. It is Caravaggio at the top of his game, changing the world of painting forever. It has incredible depth, drama and detail and the horse is alive!

So when I have to play the game and be respectful and polite to someone I don't respect I think about this painting, and how Caravaggio had the last laugh, and remind myself not to take any of this too seriously.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Queen… and my mother

A little something to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II being the longest reigning English monarch today.

Here she is with my Grandfather, Sir Ambrose Flux Dundas, visiting the Isle of Man where he was Lieutenant Governor early on in her reign.

But just as importantly - there is my lovely mother, so young and pretty (on the right), greeting Prince Philip with my Grandmother, Lady Mary Dundas.

We still have the agenda for her visit, plus the table seating plan and the menu. Mummy sat with the Queen and used to tell us she had beautiful table manners, except that she would squash peas onto her fork. That, however, did not make it OK for us to do the same!

Friday, August 28, 2015

5 Ways To Talk With Your Boss About Money

My Inc post today

For most people, it's not easy to talk about money. It can be difficult, nerve-racking and even fear-inducing. However, being able to talk about money will directly influence how much you make and the opportunities you get. We don't (yet) live in a world where your pay is solely based on your competency; which means you have to be assertive and find positive, constructive ways to engage in a discussion with your boss. For those of you who are uncomfortable with the subject of compensation, here are five non-confrontational ways to talk with your boss about how much money you make and ways you can make more:

Check your bonus

Once you get into management most companies provide some level of variable component to your pay. It may be based on your performance (such as MBOs), the company's performance or both. Nevertheless, bonuses are typically set as a percentage of your base pay.
It is entirely reasonable for you to ask about the bonus percentages for different jobs at your company: What percentage does a manager get? A director? A project lead? Are the bonuses consistently applied by level or are there ways to earn a higher bonus percentage? Asking these questions will give you an understanding of the levels you have available to increase your variable pay. Additionally, asking these questions allows you to understand if your variable is set fairly relative to your peers, and it puts your manager on notice that you are paying attention.

Ask early

Some people put their hand up for a bigger job before they are ready. Some wait until they are more than ready. Guess who gets ahead faster?
Building your confidence to raise your hand early and ask for a bigger responsibility before you are perfectly ready makes you more valuable to your company. As a leader, it's great to have team members who will jump on challenges and volunteer, even if they are a stretch. Stretching yourself and taking risk will lead to you more opportunities and you'll be rewarded earlier and more often than your peers who hang back. Asking you manager for more challenging projects and for promotion opportunities will naturally lead you into a discussion about your pay and how you can grow it.

Understand the bias in the system

The debate continues to rage about the pay gap between men and women (women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, in full time work) and a recent study shows the gender pay gap is even greater when it comes to incentive pay.
It's such an active discussion that if you are in a minority (or even if you are not) it is OK to ask about the company's approach to understanding and correcting gender or racial bias in their pay practices. Ask if they have run an audit on pay differences and if they have a plan of action to correct any existing gaps (which you can be sure exists).
Some companies, like GoDaddy and Salesforce, say they are aggressively going after this issue and plan to remove the gender-based pay gap over the next few years. It's a fair conversation for you to have with your boss and HR, provided you stay positive and don't play the victim.

Negotiate positively

"You get what you negotiate, not what you deserve." This is the motivation behind the thousands of self-help books and classes on negotiation, and it's true. That said, when it comes to your pay, it really helps to come from a positive perspective.
Approach your conversation with your manager from a perspective that you know you are contributing but you want to contribute more and in doing so, make more money. Let her know you want to negotiate, but don't focus on how you are paid relative to others, instead focus on your impact and ways you can advance the company as well as your own career. Asking for more responsibility naturally leads to more pay over time.

Pick your timing

Timing is everything. Be smart about when you open up the conversation. Don't do it when your boss is about to go on vacation. Don't do it when she is slammed with preparing a presentation to the board. Don't do it around quarter end or a project deadline. Find a time when your boss can listen with both ears, when you can bring up your questions in a relaxed atmosphere, and then go for it!

Speaking Truth to Power

My Inc post - August 14

What is it is that prevents us from speaking truth to those in power: Fear of punishment? Fear of attack? Fear of being noticed? There are many reasons we don't deal in the truth, but great teams, whether a small company leadership, a public company board, or a political team, learn to speak and deal in the truth.

Knowing the truth about whatever situation you are in, or the problem you are solving, is absolutely critical, and yet so often people can't overcome their own barriers to tell those above them the honest truth. From my experience, here are five reasons that people don't speak up and some ways you can conquer these concerns for yourself:

  1. "I can't get to her"--If you've ever tried to reach a senior executive at a large company, you know how hard it can be to steal a few minutes of their day. They have layers of people protecting them and their time: a chief of staff, a fierce admin and a busy schedule that seems to create walls of unavailability. However, the best executives will make themselves available if you bring value. Some of these executives answer emails, sometimes they eat lunch in the cafeteria, and if you explain what you want to talk about in serious terms, their admin will make time for you. Be persistent and when you get your 15 minutes, be sure that you bring a solution or suggestion for improvement, as well as the problem you believe they need to know about. As a CEO there is nothing more frustrating than someone bringing me a problem, dumping it on my lap and having no part in helping me solve it. I'd still prefer to know, but it is certainly easier to hear a problem when it comes with a proposed solution.
  1. "It's not my place" -It's a self-limiter to believe that just because someone is in power above you in the organization chart that they are in some way better than you, or superior to you. Everyone has a role to play in the organization, and as human beings, everyone is equal. Some jobs carry a greater span of decision-making than others and a wider range of responsibility, but no one is "better" than anyone else. It's true that in some company cultures executives start to believe that they are better and look down on people they don't consider their "peers," but they are weaker for it and I can tell you from experience that when they are looking for a job later they forget that they once thought you were beneath them. Remember, you have a place and a voice; your perspective is valuable to power and you have a responsibility to share it.
  1. "He won't like it"--Some people don't like to hear bad news. They would rather you wrap everything in the positive, especially if they are conflict averse. You need to be aware of your audience's personality to figure out how to deliver a tough message, but don't be fearful. Fear will only prevent you from getting to the real problems and finding solutions. People don't get fired or shut out for telling the truth. If you are constructive and are doing a quality job, you will not be fired for expressing your opinion on a situation (and if you do, go and work for a better leader). Good leaders want to hear the truth, even if it's painful to hear. So, speak up! Have confidence in yourself and don't worry about whether the power player you are speaking with will "like" your message.
  1. "She should already know" - It's a myth than people in power have all the information. In an ideal world, they do, but in a fast-paced business, there is no way that your leaders knows everything. You can be sure leaders are talking with customers, sales people, your manufacturing leads and your engineers to try and getting the information they need to make the right decisions, but they never know everything. If you know something that you think they should know, tell them. If they were already aware of your concern, you just confirmed it. If they were unaware of your concern, you were able to bring value and help them be better leaders.
  1. "He shuts me down"--Getting shut down is the one obstacle I find the hardest to overcome. This is the person who raises his/her voice, gets aggressive and bullies to intimidate a speaker into silence. It's important to remember when someone does this to you that it's a tactic that has been learned because it can be effective. I have particularly seen men use this on women, but I have also seen men do it to other men. This often happens when someone raises a controversial point, particularly if she is "pushy," and a man will get angry as a way to shut down the conversation. If this happens to you, remember that others in the room probably do not respect this behavior. However, most people will not run to the aid of the person who spoke up, because they don't want to draw the anger in their direction. When you speak up and someone attacks you with anger, don't back down if you believe in the truth you are speaking. Stay calm and stick to your guns. You might be surprised to know that many people in the room agree with you.

One of the biggest reasons people don't speak up is not about their leadership, or fear, it's about being liked. I've always been outspoken and I am very conscious about speaking truth to power, but not everyone likes it. I have found that some people admire me for it, and when I leave a team (a company, or a board) those people will thank me for my contribution. But others think of me as too aggressive and controversial. For those people, it's a relief when I leave the group. It's hard not to care when people don't like you, but not everyone will like you, so get used to it.

Finally, I realized I can't please all the people, all the time. It's most important to be authentic, stop worrying and speak the truth. You will find that when you do, the people--the power - that matters will thank you for it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On turning Fifty Five - Am I halfway there yet?

Turning 50 five years ago seemed like a big deal at the time. When I wrote the post Fifty is Just a Number Isn't It?  in July 2010 I was musing on the minefield that the fifties looked like to me, and the challenges of aging, without having a clue what was actually going to happen and what it was going to feel like.

Now, turning 55, navigating my way through the minefield, I find myself wondering if I am halfway there - and if so halfway to what?

Maybe it's halfway to 40 from 50. After all, the internet tells me "60 is the new 40". Life expectancy is going up, we're healthier than we have ever been, and so why should you not be running your first marathon at 60? Retirement age is going up and so there is no reason not to enjoy working until your late 60s now.

It's more than halfway to the end, I think. When I plug my age and habits in to various life expectancy tools like Deadline and Living to 100 the answer always comes out the same... 92. So in that case I'm 59% of the way there, just a little more than half way. And of course these tools all tell me the same thing. Reduce stress, exercise more, and drink less. Hah!

Maybe it's halfway to acceptance. Accepting the death of my loved ones. No, I don't think I'll ever accept that. Accepting the tragedy of a loved one who wants to die, but she has Alzheimers and keeps on living and is miserable. Managing the strain that puts on my husband and our marriage. Definitely striving for acceptance on that one and gradually getting there.

I hope it's halfway through my marriage. If the online tools (which are worth what I paid for them which was zero) are right and I live to 92 I will be married for 70 years (since Bret is an athlete I believe he will live longer than me). We've been married 33 years so we are not even halfway! Of course he may think about that and say "yikes, time for a new wife!" but here's hoping not. We've built a happy life together and while we are as different as chalk and cheese it works and we love each other.

It's all the way to having adult children. Wow, what a joy that is! Charming, lovely adults who are delightful to be around and finally do dishes and cook. Hopefully it's still a way to grandchildren though! I hope we're waiting another 10 years for that pleasure.

I'm always halfway to being the perfect weight and physical fitness. I suspect that is a road I'll travel forever. Although I do get fitter every year because every year I care more about being healthy. 

And it's definitely halfway to true friendship. My friendships have gone through stages of pleasure, competition, shared challenges (little kids, work), craziness (going to extremes to escape) but, at 55, they are moving into a phase of deep trust. Time has taught me that I have a very few real friends, but they are marvelous. They are accepting, supportive, and joyful even at the worst of times. They just get better with age.

And I'm grateful for all of it. Every day above the dirt is a good day.

This year's milestone celebration:
a dinner party in our garden with friends, wine and fabulous food!

5 Ways That Leadership Is Like Acting

My latest published in Inc today.

If you are a leader, you are a performer. You may not be conscious of it, but you are, and people are watching you. Your followers (remember the definition of a leader is that someone is following) trigger off you, your mood, your actions and every word you say. This means that you need to be a performer and an actor to carry your followers with you consistently and you need to do it in a way that is authentic and trustworthy--an interesting balancing act! Here are five ways in which you need to be a star actor as the leader:

  1. You need to be positive. No matter how you feel inside, to lead you need to see the positive and find a way through the maze. Some days it is easy because you feel positive, but on the days when you can't see how to win, or you are exhausted, you need to get so good at personal transformation that your team cannot tell. If you lose faith, they lose faith. If you feel tired, they feel tired. On those hard days, you have to put yourself into character, step out onto the boards and act positive.
  1. You need to carry the crowd. As a leader, you are the one in front creating the passion and drive for your group. Being able to project an idea with conviction and charisma is critical to bringing a large group of people with you. Now, you do not have to be as good as Richard Burton playing Mark Anthony in the classic film Cleopatra, but learning some of Marc Benioff's skills of whipping up a crowd will help you lead and carry your ideas into your audience.
  1. You need to stay on message. The bigger the company or group you lead, the more you need to be consistent and stick to the strategy message and brand. Whether you are in front of your team, on social media or being interviewed on TV, you must repeat your key messages over and over, and over again (sometimes until you are sick of the sound of your own voice!). Only after several reminders will your audience truly absorb and believe what you are saying, but you cannot afford to let it sound rehearsed. Whether it is the first time you say your spiel or the 27th time, it needs to sound as enthusiastic as the first time you ever said it.
  1. You need to select your cast. No one wants to be on stage with someone without talent, and as the leader, you are the director. You have to decide whom to put on stage and who gets the lead role. Maybe you are the lead actor, or maybe your star is your CTO or your top sales girl. As the director, you need to know how to cater to your audience and when to take a back seat. At the end of the day, you are responsible for who is on your team and who is in the performance with you.
  1. You need to pay attention to your body. How you stand, how you sit, how you hold your hands (don't fidget)--these things subconsciously influence how people see you. Hold yourself confidently, stand up straight because someone is assessing how you feel and how much you believe in what you are saying (or selling) based on your stance. Learn confidence poses like the Wonder Women: stand tall, legs in a wide stance, hands on your hips.

If you are in a leadership position, remember that people are always watching you. Grab your script, learn it inside and out, smack on a smile, be consistent, hold a rigorous audition to get the best cast possible and have strong body awareness. Remember, even the best know how to "act as if" or "fake it 'til you make it" as they learn to lead.

By the way, there is a group of kids who probably understand this concept better than you or I ever will. The All Stars Project transforms the lives of poor youth using the power of performance. A kid growing up poor in a violent neighborhood who has never dressed formally or stepped inside an office can learn to show up on time, dress professionally, give you a strong handshake and look you in the eye. This group of kids are able to gain the confidence to change their lives by performing in talent shows and practicing improv. The same applies to you as a future leader.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

When Uber Made Me Think About Terrorism

Uber and terrorism. Not two things I would have thought about together until today.

Under normal circumstances I'm a happy, relatively frequent, Uber user. I grab taxis for short trips around NY but when I know my ride is going to be 10 minutes or more I'll whip out the app and make the request. The car shocks are usually better and I am less likely to arrive at my destination green to the gills than I do from riding with the average New York cabbie.

So today started out as a normal Uber experience headed to JFK Airport. Make the request, 5 minute wait, the driver arrives... but he's very young... maybe I should have stopped and thought then. A few blocks driving down a crowded NY street and my driver pulls over and turns off the engine. He then said he needed to go and get money from his brother for the toll. He got out, took his phone but left the car keys and took off out of sight.

Now I am a polite customer. I tip well and often chat amiably with my drivers. I want to support them making a living.

But when the driver leaves how long is a polite period to wait for him to come back? Will he come back? It's coming up to July 4, the terror risk is high, the SWAT teams are already on the NY streets, and here I am sitting in an abandoned car at a busy intersection! And it's an SUV so lots of room to pack explosives. Of course my brain went into analysis mode - an interesting problem I think - Jack Bauer would know what to do. Stay, go, call 911, find and dismantle the bomb with my nailfile? A few seconds into my internal debate and I decided if the car was going to explode I probably couldn't get away anyway, and it would be a quick death, so I decided to give the kid 5 minutes.

But I couldn't just sit there, so I tweeted the question and got a prompt answer from Uber support

That didn't help! Despite trying every screen I could not see where to send Support in-app in the Uber app. Clearly a usability issue in a crisis!

At 4 minutes I got smart and decided English politeness be damned... and got out of the car. I lifted my case out of the trunk and began walking determinedly away - towards my driver running back with a $20 bill. He begged me to get back in and clearly I'm a sucker.

Needless to say, when we got to JFK I gave him a piece of my mind in no uncertain terms. Leaving your passenger alone in the car for 5 minutes was very uncool.

Reflecting back, the whole experience will make me think twice about using Uber again. My driver was not the person registered with Uber but in the traffic melee getting to the car I didn't stop to check that it was the same guy. His car was the right color but looking back on it now, not the right type. But I was not used to being concerned about my safety so I did not think to check carefully. Silly really. There are enough Uber assault cases now that I should. And why do I assume it's safe to get into an unlicensed stranger's car in New York during a terrorism alert?

The bottom line is my experience changes my view of the Uber brand and the service. Do I really want to use a service where now I feel I have to check the details when the driver arrives before I get in the car? Though it's clearly easy for the driver to not be the driver Uber has on file. And do I want the stress of refusing the car if it's not the right driver with the unleasantness that could go with it? Probably not. Until the next time I can't get a cab.

Monday, June 29, 2015

5 Reasons You Need To Work Hard To Get Ahead

My latest in Inc from June 25, 2015

So many times, I've been asked, "how did you balance your career and kids?" Many young people want to hear that I found the answer to balance and hope I have the formula, but I don't. Unless you have a fairy godmother who can guarantee early success in the next big thing, then you are going to need to work hard to get ahead, make a great living and have a strong career. In my experience, there are no short cuts and there is no such thing as "balance."

We live in a competitive, global world, connected 24/7. Understanding the implications of that is half the battle:

1. It's a competitive world (part 1). Yes, the person sitting next to you wants your job. Or they want to get promoted ahead of you. You are competing, whether it is visible to you or not, and it has always been this way. The ambitious ones among you know that getting a promotion is very competitive. Unless you are computer scientist (in which case there are more jobs than people), you need to work hard to hold your job and advance, and you need to be better than the person next to you. When opportunity knocks in the form of a new project, or a request from your boss, do not say, "that's not my job" or "I'm trying to keep balance in my life"--instead, grab it with both hands and show your boss that you are ambitious and that you understand your hard work and smart results will be rewarded.

2. You can lean on your partner. This one is probably easier for many men reading this than women, since women typically spend twice as much time doing housework every day as men. However, whether you are male or female, learning how to lean on your partner as you push your career ahead is critical because you are going to need time to work. Everyone in the household needs to step up and learn how to cook and clean the kitchen! For many women that means learning to give up control and letting their partner take an equal role in running the household. The good news is that a natural shift of equal responsibility in the home is happening as millennials are twice as likely to have dual income families. This younger generation knows better than their parents do that a happy, functioning, two-income household means sharing the work! Of course, if you are single, you are probably trying to find the time to date, which can be a challenge and interfere with everyday chores.

3. Your business is global. Unless you are an hourly worker it is likely that your job is increasingly around the clock. This is the side effect of globalization as you bring together teams from around the world to solve problems and meetings happen at 11 p.m., 1 a.m., or 5 a.m. Sometimes this can feel grim, and yet it is actually an opportunity to spend more time with your family. Unlike 20 years ago when I would have to stay in the office to be connected, I can now go home, work out, have dinner with my family and then login to work from my home office.

4. It's a competitive world (part 2). Not only are you competing in your global workplace, your company is also competing in a global world. It is very likely your company has competitors in China or India with employees who are driven to improve their economic status in the world and for their families with their time and dedication. To use the old cliche "a rising tide floats all boats"--you want your company to be the rising tide so you and your teammates can grow your careers. Your global competitor is willing to sacrifice balance in their lives to get ahead and so should you.

5. Kids are resilient. This one was a hard lesson for me to learn and my guilt was the enemy, but I did learn. In my experience, kids do better when they learn to be independent and they are incredibly resilient if they are loved unconditionally. Yes, you want to be at their games so they know you care and so you can share your pride with them, but I don't think the phenomenon of the helicopter parent is good for kids. They will be stronger and more competitive adults if they have learned independence and they will have a better understanding of what it takes to compete when their turn comes.

6. Life is not fair. It just isn't. You need to make your own luck. For 99 percent of us that means hard work.

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