6 Ways Jane Austen Would Have Survived Cubicle Life

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Managerial Competence, Political Competence, Proactive Leaders | 3 Comments

austen

Jane Austen is credited with creating some of literature’s first “modern characters.”

“Modern characters” are just normal people doing normal things. They aren’t powerful warriors in the vein of Achilles or tormented queens like Lady Macbeth.

They’re just the ordinary people you meet every day.

But these characters are hardly boring. Instead, modern characters are recognizable personalities that can teach us a lot about the frustrations and joys of social interactions and institutions.

Jane Austen helped shape this modern movement from a small rectory in North East Hampshire, a few rented rooms in Bath, and a modest house in Hampshire. Her life was quiet and filled with financial stresses, a failed romance, and numerous family dramas.

Austen had little schooling and she never had the time or money to discuss literary theory with London’s primer authors. Yet she wrote six novels that were well regarded both in her century and in ours.

Austen’s ability to observe and her persistence helped her become an accomplished writer–but would these same skills and sensibilities help her survive the modern office? Would her independent and sharp nature thrive in a world of lay-offs and “action-plans”?

These silly questions led me to think of a few reasons Jane Austen might have succeeded in the modern office:

1. Austen Knew How to Deal With Boredom

It’s easy to see Austen making copies and collating documents when she writes in Mansfield Park, “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Indeed, Austen has the mental fortitude and the jaded wisdom to survive the minutia of office life. Her ability to look at cubicle life as a collection of minor actions will afford her the opportunity to pursue larger goals to stave off ennui. Boredom often produces brilliance.

2. Austen Would Deal With Failure

In 1803 Austen’s brother, Henry, went to a London publisher named Benjamin Crosby. He showed Crosby Austen’s first novel, Susan, an epistolary novel centered around a brash young women. Crosby liked what he saw and bought the book for 10 pounds–but he never published it. Later, Austen wrote a long and angry letter to Crosby asking for the rights to Susan back. Crosby agreed–if Austen could pay back the 10 pounds. Austen couldn’t afford the price and had to leave Susan unpublished.

Lots of writers would lose confidence after a slow, dragged-out rejection–but Austen kept writing and trying to get published. In today’s business world, Austen’s determination would have earned her a few promotions and the respect of her peers.

3. Austen Understands the Golden Leadership Rule

It’s odd when you read an interview with a CEO and they DON’T mention the importance of having a smart team. The golden rule in business demands that you surround yourself with people who can do crossword puzzles faster than you.  Austen agrees. In her novel Persuasion the following dialogue occurs between the obstinate Anne and Mr. Elliot:

“My idea of good company…is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”

“You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company, that is the best.”

Austen would only mix with the hard-working, book-loving, strivers in any office and this would propel her career.

4. Austen Could Take Constructive & Un-constructive Criticism

The most scathing critique of Austen comes from Mark Twain. Twain wrote to a friend, “Jane [Austen] is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.” Thankfully, Austen wasn’t around to hear Twain’s remark.

However, Austen faced critics in her own time with little irritation.

In 1811 she published Sense & Sensibility and made a good profit and collected favorable reviews. Soon after, she published Mansfield Park which was panned by critics, but was extremely popular. Austen didn’t let high-brow criticism drown her ambitions and she went on to write Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey.

5. Austen Could Work From Home

We hear the real Jane Austen, momentarily, in Mrs. Elliot’s character in Emma.

She says to the meddling Emma: “Ah! there is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort. Nobody can be more devoted to home than I am.”

Austen rarely traveled and rarely expressed a desire to see the corners of the earth. She was the most productive at home and her mother and sisters would do extra chores so Austen could write without disturbance.

She would have been at home in today’s virtual economy where everything is done remotely, out-of-office, and through email or video chat. Austen could have climbed the corporate ladder without leaving her settee since she was self-motivated and didn’t need a boss or a commute to inspire her to action.

6. Austen Didn’t Like Stupid People

Austen was a master at reading people, mapping out their actions, and dissecting their intentions. All six of her novels prove this point.

But ultimately Austen could judge a person’s intellect by using one criterion.

In Northanger Abbey Austen’s urbane Henry Tilney says, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

While these words don’t necessarily echo Austen’s sentiment–they probably aren’t too far off. Austen, it would seem, wouldn’t tolerate stupid co-workers.

But the quote also illustrates that Austen valued self-improvement. Novels helped Austen learn more about her craft and the world around her. Her efforts to learn, develop, and grow would have been valued at any firm.

Top 10 Compelling Proactive Leadership Links: Dec. 1-5

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Leadership On the Edge | No Comments

quirky-chair

1. Couldn’t agree more. “It’s not enough to have a good idea.” – Walter Isaacson

2. How to be Chief Innovation Officer. Step one: Go on stealth mode.

3. Companies aren’t creative because they have quirky chairs.

4. Timeless tips to put an end to meetings that drag on and on and on…

5. Perhaps the secret ingredient to creativity is, wait for it… stupidity?

6. Introverted leaders can and should harness the power of social media.

7. A pragmatic guide to dealing with dull, boring assignments.

8. What’s your email password? I bet there’s a story behind it. 

9. Practical advice for handling the inevitable workplace conflict.

10. On a lighter note: A news story leaders should fix.

 

A Small Leadership Lesson From Margret Thatcher

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Features, Managerial Competence | No Comments

margrat thathcer black and whiteWith the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death this week much has been said about her achievements, political savvy, and courage.

There is little we can add to the compelling, moving obituaries.

However, there is one Thatcher anecdote that I think leaders can make use of and learn from.

Paul Johnson writes a chapter on Margret Thatcher in his book, Heroes. He applauds Thatcher’s heroism and ability, but he says Thatcher had an “irritating habit of feeding you back your own ideas.”

He remembers that while she was PM he told her a clever phrase about the government’s roll within society.  Thatcher stopped him, took out a pen and notebook from her purse, and wrote the line down. Weeks later Johnson was watching Thatcher on the news and without missing a step Thatcher repeated Johnson’s phrase verbatim.

Johnson found this to be “annoying” and we can see why he feels slightly miffed by the whole ordeal. However, the anecdote teaches us a valuable lesson about Thatcher’s character and leadership style. She had a tremendous ability to listen and, more importantly, to learn. Though Johnson wasn’t happy with the phrase theft, he admits, “No one was ever keener on acquiring knowledge, and correcting her faults and deficiencies.”

Like Thatcher, leaders should carry around a notebook to record ideas and lesson. It helps leaders listen and learn key concepts. However, I’d recommend not repeating phrases word-for-word.

7 Productivity Tips From Ernest Hemingway

By | BLG Leadership Insights | 14 Comments

hemingway

Ernest Hemingway may go down in the history books as a hard-drinking, big-fishing, Nobel-Prize-winning writer, but he was also a productivity guru. Throughout his career he often gave advice to young writers and openly talked about his work habits and writing style. Even if you aren’t a writer Hemingway’s tips and tricks can help you increase your productivity.

Follows is a list of productivity tips that come from Hemingway himself…and they aren’t just for writers.

1. Don’t Waste Words and Be Clear: Hemingway is famous for getting to the point and killing unneeded adjectives. When he was challenged to write a six word story, he wrote “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” Clearly, he knew how to be economical with his words. If you want to get things done you need to exercise the same verbal restraint. Meetings, email exchanges, and conversations often spill into the late afternoon because people employ too many words. Keeping it short, simple, and clear will save time, cut down on confusion, and get everyone back to work.

2. Make a Schedule: Everyday Hemingway would  wake up at 7am and try to write between 500 to a 1,000 words. The rest of his day he devoted to a combination of fishing, hunting, and drinking. Give yourself a schedule. As Jeanette Winterson, another writer, says, “Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.” Routines and schedules give leaders the ability to be creative and consistent.

3. Quit While You’re Ahead: Hemingway said “The best way [to write] is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day…you will never be stuck.” If you do one task well and you know what to do next, it might help to pause and tackle it the next day. Getting something done every day will increase your confidence and keep momentum going.

4. Keep Your Mouth Shut: According to Hemingway, it’s bad form for a writer to talk about his work. He said discussing writing takes off “whatever butterflies have on their wings and the arrangement of hawk’s feathers if you show it or talk about it.” Don’t discuss your project or new idea until you are certain it is clear and well thought out. Talking about a new proposal or plan too soon can give your competition time to coalesce against your idea. Productivity will suffer if you spend more time talking about your idea than acctually moving it forward.

5. Don’t Give Up: Hemingway once told F. Scott Fitzgerald, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” You need to be able to be critical of the work that you do complete. Not everything you do will be perfect. Increased productivity will help you make a lot of progress, but you need to approach it with a critical eye. Don’t get frustrated and give up because you feel you are doing a bad job. Keep producing and moving forward. Eventually you will do one thing very well.

6. Work Standing Up: Hemingway wrote standing up because of a minor leg injury he got in World War I. But, his vertical habit isn’t that odd. Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, and Donald Rumsfeld, among other popular figures chose to stand up while they work. Standing while working can increase productivity by fighting fatigue, the allure of napping, and minor distractions. According to the New York Times, it can also help you lose weight.

7. Lastly, Hemingway said, “Never mistake motion for action”:  Leaders have to remember that productivity is about action and getting things done–not running around in circles.

Photo Credit:

This Week’s 10 Best Leadership Links

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Features, Leadership On the Edge | No Comments

relaxHere are some of the week’s best articles, infographics, and videos that can educate leaders:

1. This article tells you how to make mundane topics interesting. It’s mandatory reading for any leader who needs to make a presentation interesting.

2. This man has always had one dream: to make shoes. An inspirational interview that will motivate even the most weary leader.

3. Your ability to lead well may hinge on what you had for lunch.

4. Here’s a man who has done a great amount of traveling without a car. All leaders should know how to hitchhike.

5. This author may promote himself too much via Twitter. Leaders can learn from his success and his detractors.

6. An infographic showing five weird habits of successful people. Worth a quick study.

7. Your going to get into debates every now and then so you minds well prepare for them. Here are three ways you can “fight right.”

8. A helpful list of advice for aspiring leaders. Good, concise pointers.

9.  20 Signs of Leadership Indifference. Title says it better than I could.

10. Ahhh, some comic relief to see us out.