6 Ways Jane Austen Would Have Survived Cubicle Life

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


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 Austen couldn’t afford the price and had to leave Susan unpublished.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.

PART I: Do You Innovate Like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? 5 Innovation Strategies of The Beatles

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The Beatles

In 1971 The Beatles’ John Lennon said, “Every f***ing thing we did, Mick [Jagger] does exactly the same—he imitates us.”

For Lennon, Mick Jagger’s The Rolling Stones weren’t innovators much as they were followers.

However, both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones developed unique techniques and strategies that allowed them to produce innovative, groundbreaking work.

The question is: as an entrepreneur or leader which band do you relate to more? Which approaches to work and creativity do you embrace?

Read More


By | Leadership On the Edge, Managerial Competence, Political Competence, Uncategorized | No Comments

blg-inc-edu-logo-v.2The Bacharach Leadership Group is excited to announce their exciting partnership with Inc.edu, a corporate university founded by Inc.com exclusively focused on helping entrepreneurs and small businesses leaders to drive growth. BLG will host two workshops, Master the Skills of Influence & Lead Your Teams For Growth, in NYC, DC, and LA in 2015.These two day workshops will help you grow your business, execute business strategy, more effectively market and sell your products and services, and get all of your employees in your business motivated. These workshops will help you get buy-in from employees, customers, business partners, and investors.

The Master The Skills of Influence workshops will be led by BLG co-founder, Cornell University’s McKelvey-Grant Professor, and Inc.com columnist, Samuel Bacharach. The Lead Your Teams for Growth workshops will be led by Yael Bacharach who is an executive coach, a practicing psychotherapist, and Cornell University Coaching course author. Inc.edu and BLG have worked together to tailor content used by industry leaders like Cisco, SunGard, and the Warner Music Group for entrepreneurs and small business leaders.
If you’d like to register for the upcoming workshops being offered by BLG and Inc.edu do so soon. The NYC workshop begins on February 24h. Space is limited and seats are available on a first come-first serve basis. Bring a colleague or your team to scale your business growth even more.

To learn more and register, please go to http://www.blgevents-incedu.com/

Here are the workshop outlines:

Master the Skills of Influence, February 24-25

In this 2-Day workshop, you will develop the political skills necessary to get buy-in for your ideas so you can execute, get results, keep your teams motivated and grow your business
Learn how to:
  • Master the skills of influence to grow sales & customer satisfaction
  • Persuade and win people over to attract investors and customers
  • Overcome & anticipate resistance to change
  • Map the political terrain for allies and resistors
  • Decipher the agendas of others
  • Pitch your ideas
  • Negotiate and mobilize a motivated coalition

Lead Your Teams for Growth, February 26-27

In this 2-Day workshop, you will develop the skills necessary to sustain momentum,  motivate your teams and keep the growth ball rolling.  More effective leaders and teams result in greater sales and customer satisfaction.

Learn how to:

  • Balance facilitative and directive leadership
  • Acquire a coaching mindset to build your team’s capacity to drive growth
  • Lead for engagement to drive and sustain motivation
  • Master the skills of constructive dialogue for difficult situations
  • Maximize the potential of your team to grow your business
  • Partner for goal achievement

Good Manners Make Good Leaders

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leadership and mannersEstablished in 1769 Derbrett’s is “the trusted source on British social skills, etiquette and style.” They have just released a 432-page guide that tackles modern dilemmas of etiquette. They have ruled that it is “selfish” to recline your airline seat and deemed it rude to smoke e-cigarettes in the office.

Leaders must not ignore these guidelines however inconvenient. “Politeness,” Theodore Roosevelt said, “[is] a sign of dignity, not subservience.” Emily Post, the famed etiquette scribe, best describes the utility of proper manners:

If you had a commission to give and you entered a man’s office and found him lolling back in a tipped swivel chair, his feet above his head, the ubiquitous cigar in his mouth and his drowsy attention fixed on the sporting page of the newspaper, you would be impressed not so much by his lack of good manners as by his bad business policy, because of the incompetence that his attitude suggests. It is scarcely necessary to ask: Would you give an important commission to him who has no apparent intention of doing anything but “take his ease”; or to him who is found occupied at his desk, who gets up with alacrity upon your entrance, and is seemingly “on his toes” mentally as well as actually? Or, would you go in preference to a man whose manners resemble those of a bear at the Zoo, if you could go to another whose business ability is supplemented by personal charm? And this again is merely an illustration of bad manners and good.

George Washington would agree with Post’s sentiment. As a young man he even wrote a handy list of rules not to be forgotten. Number 11 is a personal favorite: “Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.”

Leaders must not scoff at Derbrett’s new guide, but rather study its advice with care.

What are you Seeing?

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

lensPerhaps the most powerful sense we have in business is our ability to see.  By observing our products in action, our customer’s habits, and our supply chain and vender’s facilities we get a huge breadth and depth of information.  Arguably, seeing how your business works provides you with the most control over how you interpret the information you are presented with.

Yet how many of us spend the majority of our days holed up in our offices, sitting in meetings, and waiting around in conference rooms? Even when were active we’re probably running to catch the right train or hurrying to get home by a certain time.

You can always monitor interactions and relationships from your office in part, but how can you expand your view of business opportunities?  Can you really make good decisions when you rarely see your customers shop for and experience your product or service?  Can you generate “out-of-the-box” growth opportunities when most of your time is spent “inside your box?”

Is your world view unnecessarily limited because you are not seeing the world?  It is so easy for us — from entrepreneurs to corporate executives to professional service people — to fall into this routine. And it can be stifling your organization.

Designers and other creatives understand this more than anyone. Indeed, the very best creative people “see everything” and are constantly looking at everything. They know that through their eyes will come their next big idea or inspiration.   They have a sense that the more they see and the broader they see, the more they can inspiration they can tap into for future projects.

Managers, executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals need to adopt this mindset to be effective and innovative in today’s environment. You need to see more. You need to look wider.  And you need to look deeper. Your sense of sight will transform you, your organization, and, perhaps, your industry. If you remain planted in your Aeron chair (itself a product created by several very talented leaders who used their observations to create an innovative seat for the modern worker) you will never be able to grow, learn, or change.

This week do yourself and your organization a favor. Step out of the office.  Go someplace you haven’t been. Go see your customers or products in action. Go observe something new and really consider it. Keep those observations in the front or back of your mind. Do it the following week and see how it changes the way you lead.

Picture cred: Andrestand

Are You Acting Like the Victim of Your Customers?

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victimYour organization’s growth will be built on a combination of attracting new customers and growing business with your existing customer base.

If you have large, corporate customers sometimes that can feel daunting. Their huge size, relative to yours, may keep you feeling vulnerable. Culturally, the big fellas do things differently. They often have highly structured rigid processes, stringent quality control requirements, and policies that seem to control what you can and cannot do. These large customers often change the way you do business. Sometimes they change the way you like to do business.

It’s common for you or your salespeople to feel overwhelmed by your largest customers. Though they make your financials look good, their value can easily get lost when day-to-day demands and inevitable problems arise from the delivery of your products or services.

As a leader you have to choose the frame with which you talk about your largest customers.  To what extent do you frame your firm as the beneficiary of your largest customers?  And to what extent do you frame your firm as the “victim” of the corporate behemoth?  The answer could be the difference between a long-term and growing business relationship and the need to search for a new source of revenue.

It is easy to fall into the trap of framing your firm as the victim of your largest customers. You use phrases like, “they made us do it this way.”  Or, “they took advantage of us with that deduction.” Or, “their inflexibility is killing us.” These are the kind of comments that begin to frame your client relationship with a “victim’s” perspective.

In an odd way, playing the victim is seductive. Your people in the trenches are usually happy to commiserate about the tribulations they go through to sell and service the big customers. You’ll almost always find an audience eager to listen to your complaints (“at least the boss isn’t complaining about me!”).

If you haven’t been judicious about your use of the victim frame, this may become the de facto attitude that your team adopts. Once that takes hold, an unproductive spiral can begin. Slowly…or not so slowly…the victim attitude seeps its way into your relationships with your customers. Over time, customer relationships can become contentious, your responsiveness erodes, and pretty soon your staff acts as if they are somehow entitled to your customer’s business.

It’s only a matter of time before a competitor comes in and takes the business from you.
Your positive leadership actions can nip the destructive victim cycle in the bud. You need to constantly act as if you are the beneficiary of your customers.

You must encourage and use proactive language.  Employ comments like, “they’ve (your client) helped us grow to where we are today.” And “their requirements may actually help us improve our processes and help us attract other large customers.”

You get the idea.

This doesn’t mean that you put a moratorium on complaints.  Sometimes complaining can release tension, especially if everyone can share a (temporary) source of frustration. But it does mean that when those complaints surface, help your team deal with demanding and persnickety clients. Keep reminding them of the value that these large customers bring to your organization. You want your staff to nurture and deepen customer relationships, not whine about them constantly.

You want a virtuous cycle to take hold. One where you can reap the benefits of improved  customer relations and increased sales. As you look around at your organization’s network of customer relationships, ask yourself: “When I talk with my sales and service teams, am I framing our organization as a victim of our customers or as a beneficiary of our customers?”  Your answer may provide the key to your future growth and your success as a leader.

Leadership Skills for the New Academic Reality

By | Features, Managerial Competence, Political Competence | One Comment

team work innovation

Program cuts, reduction in grant support, elimination of academic departments, reduction of organizational layers, centralization of administrative functions, constant changes in technology, and changes in pedagogy are just a few challenges that university and college leaders face today.

In this climate administrators and faculty members must make hard decisions on a daily basis, be aware of opportunities and risk, and be pragmatic in traversing the ever-changing terrain of higher education.

What makes it difficult to lead in higher education is not simply the obvious issues of fewer resources and additional external pressures, but the very nature of the institution itself.  The intransigent culture, turf protection, and multiple missions.  Universities, at times, appear to be fiefdoms, loosely held together by unstated good intentions and assumed commonality of purpose.

This veil of harmony has been sustained by the banal belief that things will, more or less, work out.  Now, as the rubber has hit the road, the pressure is on and leaders are forced not only to make promises and give commencement speeches, but also push agendas.  This calls for a new set of practical skills. At all levels of the university, leaders must be taught how to move agendas ahead in a world of differing mindsets, turf, and limited resources.

Today, at every university and college, new strategic plans are routinely put in place.  There are endless discussions and meetings about where to go. There is perpetual dialogue about aspiration and intention.  All this vision will amount to very little if our academic leaders do not learn the basic skills of moving agendas ahead. We can talk about where to go as long as we want, but we must make sure that at all levels of universities and colleges that leaders and potential leaders have the skills necessary to get there. Nothing will happen if academic leaders do not master the fundamental skills of political and managerial competence.

Political competence is the ability to understand what you can and cannot control, know when to take action, anticipate who is going to resist your agenda, and determine whom you need on your side to push your agenda forward.  Political competence is about knowing how map the political terrain, get others on your side, and lead coalitions.  More often than not, political competence is not understood as a critical core competence needed by all leaders at all levels of the organization. Political competence is often unstated.

Politically competent leaders develop a compelling agenda.  Few people are going to rally around you or your idea because they like you or feel that you are a good person.  The roots of long-term leadership success are in having an idea that serves a real need in the organization, makes sense, and generates excitement among a solid base of supporters.  The best agendas not only raise awareness of key challenges but also lay out a sound approach to achieving the desired results.

Managerial competence is about your ability to sustain the initiative and move toward a goal, and define who is going to do what, who is going to be accountable to whom, how people are going to be evaluated, how you’re going to keep the group together, and how you’re going to deal with obstacles and challenges.  Managerial competence is about your ability to implement and sustain momentum.

Managerial competence implies your capacity to stay focused on the goal while adjusting resources and activities to deal with constantly emerging contingencies.  Leaders who are managerially competent have both close and distant vision—they can deal with minutia while looking ahead and being aware of what adjustments have to be made.

Political competence means developing the ability to rally your team around your agenda. Managerial competence is your ability to support that team and sustain their momentum for results. The challenge is to create those programs that will give university and college leaders the specific skills necessary to move change in these complex settings.

Entrepreneurship and collaboration are essential to the modern university, and both require the skills of political and managerial competence.  Leadership in academic organizations, as in all organizations, requires the capacity to rally people around great ideas and see them through—whether in pursuing grants, centralizing IT, conducting research, decentralizing HR, establishing an off-campus distance learning program, conducting research, or creating a new professional programs.  The successful entrepreneurial leader—academic or administrative—is able to initiate, implement and execute an agenda.

Why Infographics are an Important Leadership Tool

By | Features, Managerial Competence, Political Competence, Social Media | One Comment


You can’t look at a magazine, a newspaper, a Web site, or a TV channel without coming across infographics. USA Today is acknowledged as a pioneer of the widespread use of infographics – in the lower left-hand corner of each of their sections. Today, infographics have become an art form, of sorts. They’re also becoming a valuable tool for leaders.

To put infographics in context, think about the road/highway metaphors we routinely use to communicate our goals and describe our progress. We develop strategy “road maps.” We hope to “drive results.” We try our hardest to avoid “blind spots.” And we either “step on the gas” or “put the brakes” on our projects.

But the most useful tool on the road, road signs, have not been part of a leader’s vocabulary—but that may be changing. Infographics may well become the leader’s road signs en route to success.

Infographics can help you quickly get your point across with visuals. It’s an engaging medium of communication and helps focus large, abstract, and complicated ideas and concepts.

Here are four reasons why infographics are efficient, helpful, and quick tools to help you engage and communicate with not only those you employ, but also clients.

1. Learning styles are different – words and numbers alone do not reach everyone

Some people like reading dense pages of text. They like details and don’t mind thumbing through binders of notes and numbers. But most don’t have the time for concentrated study. An increasing majority prefer to scan infographics because they communicate an idea with speed.

Infographics help you communicate with a wide audience that doesn’t have the time to root through long texts. Better yet, infographics are an important tool for reaching out to visual learners.

2. You need to simplify your key points to engage

With social media, mobile devices, and online distractions it’s harder than ever to engage people with your ideas. Even your own people.

A good infographic captures attention because it’s easily digestible, arresting, and informative. Like a great road sign, a great infographic can instantly communicate a point. By grabbing your colleague’s attention it can buy you enough time to discuss your idea further.

3. Great infographics have a depth of information behind them…and force you to think deeply

Just because an infographic usually only contains a few words, inhabits a small space, and doesn’t illustrate a lot of data, it doesn’t mean that it is intellectually light. On the contrary, a good infographic often tells a rich, deep story that’s been painstakingly distilled into a compelling image, words, and numbers.

Infographics, though appearing simple, often require more thought and work to compose than a long memo, plan, or report. Condensing, isolating, and conveying key data points in an attractive, concise way is an intellectual and creative challenge.

But there’s a big payoff. You are forced to simplify your story and your peers will understand your idea with minimal effort. Sounds like a win-win, right?

4. The best info-graphics tell stories

Your initiative, indeed, any organizational effort, is a story. A story that needs to be told and retold. A great infographic tells a story with clarity and precision. It is not simply a smattering of images, words, and numbers that look good when you add some design elements. A great info-graphic is a highly integrated collection of content that tells an important narrative. Done well, it can be an effective storytelling tool highlighting progress, change, development, and thought.


As you plan your next initiative consider creating an infographic to build awareness and a wide degree of support. Infographics may take extra effort to create, but they will take little effort to be understood by many people. By creating infographics you are creating road signs for your team and organization that will drive people toward common goals and projects.