Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yahoo panel: There's no such thing as work-life balance

Oh the irony of posting on this right after my post on the Iron Lady! She had no balance too.

For a while now I have been outspoken that I think balance is a myth and we are unfair to young women coming up to spin the myth that they can have it all. They can't any more than men can. Business is just too competitive.

So it was fun for me last week to be on a panel at Yahoo on Breakthrough Leadership Lessons and to be asked about work-life balance. Never the shrinking violet I just went for it as you can see here - and was relieved they laughed instead of chasing me out of the building!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tears for the Iron Lady

I did not expect to cry in the film the "Iron Lady".

For many years now if people ask me who I most admire I would say Margaret Thatcher. She was the first politician I ever voted for. I lived through the disfunctional 70s in England and I watched in admiration as she rose to power, broke the back of the unions and got England back onto a healthy financial footing.

But as I watched the movie my chest felt a crushing ache and tears kept sliding down my cheeks.

Tears slipped out as I watched Meryl Streep's extraordinary portrayal of Mrs Thatcher's dementia. Living on a daily basis with my mother-in-law's dementia is upsetting for us and so painful and frightening for her. We help with the confusion, try to explain what's happening at any moment and grieve for the loss of her confidence and clarity. For a woman as brilliant and powerful as Margaret Thatcher to lose her mind must be heartbreaking for her at the moments she realizes it, and for her family.

Proud tears leaked out as I watched Mrs Thatcher win the leadership of her party and then became Prime Minister. She was the first woman in the Western world to win the elected leadership of a country. England has a history of very strong female leaders in Elizabeth I and Victoria, but Thatcher broke the thick glass ceiling of the English white male establishment (which is hugely powerful still today in English society) and smashed it with her drive, intellect and conviction. She was charismatic and extraordinary as she did it and I will never forget the thrill I felt as she won.

I listened to my mother's tears sitting next to me in the dark movie theatre as the film showed the day Airey Neave was killed by the IRA with a car bomb. Lord Mountbatten was also killed by an IRA car bomb in 1979 and I still remember her crying that day, grieving the man she had known as a little girl.

Don't get me wrong - it's a wonderful film and Meryl Streep's skill in her craft has to be seen to be believed. But if you connect with the tragedy of dementia yourself, or the intensity of the politics of the time, take tissues.

33 years after I voted for her the first time I still think of Margaret Thatcher as one of the best role models for me that I have ever seen. I saw her in person once in San Francisco, years after she was out of power, on stage with George Bush Snr and Mikael Gorbachev. Even then she was a force, leaving the other two in the dust with the power of her personality, her intellectual clarity and her conviction. Simply marvelous.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Progressive states of long offsite meetings

Long meetings can progressively sap energy and create altered states of being. Yes they can.

We went offsite as a management team for 2 days this weekend to talk through our strategy and 2012 planning. 11 of us in 2 houses at Pajaro Dunes, lots of flip charts, heated discussions, cooking together, walking on the beach and generally spending time together thinking about our business. It was really fun but, even so, it was intense and, combined with long discussions late into the night about the state of the world accompanied by some excellent wines, pretty tiring for some.

Two of our jokesters memorialized their progressive states of mind as they helped clean up after the meeting. They sent me the photos - the editorial is all mine.

Yeah! This two day offsite thing is a great idea, they're ready.

A few hours in and Ryan is already wondering, he's seen enough of these type of meetings to be healthily cynical, but Nima's still gung ho.

Second day and Ryan's mind is wandering but Nima's using caffeine to push through - "There's the mountain guys let's go for it!"

Ryan's rolling his eyes at Nima's enthusiasm, just as Nima starts to wind down .

But as Nima finally falls asleep in response to Penny's energizer bunny, Ryan stoically keeps pushing forward.

Thanks Nima and Ryan - it was fun - and despite the warm sun and sand, amazingly productive!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Techniques for Advantage-Makers

I had the great pleasure of traveling to Bangalore before Christmas to attend the first full India Grace Hopper Conference. I'm on the board of the Anita Board Institute so I had two hats on for the conference i) as the resident board member to meet, greet and press the flesh and ii) to be on a panel hosted by our India MD, Aparna Gupta.

The first was fun to meet so many new people who are running India-based operations. The second was, as these things usually are, very interesting.

The term "advantage makers" comes from a book by my friend Steven Feinberg called The Advantage-Makers: How Exceptional Leaders Win by Creating Opportunities Others Don't and the panel put together experienced execs from the US and India to talk about some of the techniques that work.

Some good stories in here - from IBM experience, from old Oracle days, from ThoughtWorks and what we've learned -- and my experience building companies. I spoke on the need to pull back and look at problem more completely - pulling back above the traffic to see how to get through it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The best and worst of days at the Hanakapiai Falls

Everything hurt. The backs of my calves, my ankles, my lower back, much of my exposed skin from bug bites. How, I asked myself, did I end up in this situation?

It was completely self induced, and it was one of the best of days.

Yesterday we hiked the Kalalau trail on the North shore of Kauai - starting from the end of the road past Hanalei. First leg was the 2 miles to the Hanakapiai Beach up and over about 1000 feet. This beach is stunning with crashing turquoise waves - but a killer. The sign above the beach says the beach is "Deadly" and uses notches to show the number of lives taken by the waves. Over 60 notches. Is that the value of a life - one notch?

Then the hike up to the Hanakapai Falls. Up, up, up, often climbing hand over hand over rocks and dragging our feet through fudge. Walking on a 2 ft wide ledge of red sludge. Crossing the river four times in our hiking shoes and walking on in wet socks and oozing shoes.

And about 1400 feet up I was having to talk myself into finishing. Everything hurt and I had a pounding headache. The "trail" was continuous climbing over boulders and my 20 year old hiking buddy was scampering in front of me with chipper comments like "not far now" and "keep on coming". But I just won't quit. A stubborn witch.

It was, of course, worth it. The falls are indescribably beautiful, the water ice cold (exactly what I needed to cool off) and the water crashing down pulsed and massaged my aching deltoids. Bret arrived 5 minutes after us (taking less than half the time on the way up!) and observed that I had lost my sense of humor - but a bag of Maui chips later and some electrolytes and I was once again smiling.

Down was harder than up! Mud, slick rocks, a dropping sun, mosquitoes, and my lovely husband whistling along with useful comments like "honey, it's like childbirth, you'll forget the pain and want to do it again".

Maybe I'll only remember the spiritual beauty of the Falls and forget the pain by the time the spectacular bruises on my butt fade!

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