BLG Leadership Insights Features

Get to Know Your Work Neighbor

I have been in the same office on 34th street for many years and, like all of us, I’m caught in the patterns of routine. But every so often I’m reminded that we are enriched by getting to know the people we work with.

We’re enriched by the side conversations, the extra cups of coffee, and  the extra discussions that allow us to build intimacy with those we work with.

A younger colleague of mine began working in a research & administrative capacity at our Cornell office about a year ago. Essentially we had no real work interface with the exception of him doing me a favor every once and a while. Our quick chats grew over time and soon they developed into genuine discussions. Soon I found myself dropping by his desk asking him for his feedback on some ideas that had just caught me. A mutual exploration began to occur as we both found common interests about what makes people proactive.

I began to marvel at his world outside of work. Little to my knowledge, he had been actively involved with a group of community friends and colleagues who were developing a new charter high school in Plainfield, New Jersey called the Barack Obama Green Charter High School. It’s set to open this fall and it will give many young people in Plainfield a different type of education.

Outside of his work at Cornell my friend has been involved in the grass roots movement to help his community create an innovative charter school. With my interest in leadership, I became more and more enthralled about how my ideas on the subject could be integrated with his efforts.

Last week, I was in Plainfield for a fundraiser for the new school. We heard Professor Cornel West speak about issues of leadership, race, and class. He delivered an impassioned and an intellectually artful presentation, linking the efforts encapsulated in the charters school to the wider issues of poverty, opportunity, and local control in the 21st century. Professor West delivered a presentation grounded in the American ethic of mobility, enriched by cultural history, but at the same time pragmatic in its implication, well worth the traffic jam on the Pulaski Skyway.

I was enriched by the evenings experience and I have already began to explore what implications it has for my own thinking. Had I not reached across the cubicle, made a friend down the hall, I would have just gone to the gym that evening, watched a little PBS, read a book, and would not have learned as much I did in Plainfield.

Today, I’ll head into the office, my friend, the social entrepreneur, will be back in his desk and I’ll be meeting with my students, but we both will have shared an outside work experience that has enriched our lives and our work.

The next time you walk down the hall thinking you don’t have time to get know the people around you, think again.

Picture Credit: Somedesignerguy

BLG Leadership Insights

Discovering the Roots of Leadership

Recently I had the opportunity to address the President’s Council of Cornell Women (PCCW) on the theme of leadership. In so doing I faced the unique challenge of trying not to preach nor to present myself as an expert on what I could not experience. The challenge was to find those thematic leadership issues that are common to all regardless of race, culture, and gender.

I walked away from the experience with a sense that the key set of skills that we all need are the necessary skills of execution. While certain groups face greater obstacles, the basic skills of execution demand a common language and a focused discussion on how to make sure that everyone has the minimum tools for moving agendas ahead. While clearly this field is not leveled, nor will it be leveled for a long time, we as teachers and trainers have to ask ourselves, what are the leadership skills we need to impart so that everyone has at least the same common skills on this uneven field?

Have been given this opportunity to talk to this group of outstanding women leaders it is something I had to ask myself and give much thought to. It is a question I think that more of us need to ask.

As a side note, in preparing for the talk, I had the chance to review one particularly insightful collection of essays, Women & Leadership: The State of Play and Strategies for Change edited by Barbara Kellerman and Deborah L. Rhode. It is an excellent compilation of theory and superb research summaries on women in leadership. It is, in my mind, the most innovative integrative material on the subject. Some of the excellent pieces in the volume include a an essay called The Great Women Theory of Leadership? by Todd L. Pittinsky, Laura M. Bacon, and Brain Welle. I also found the essay entitled Overcoming Resistance to Women Leaders by Linda L. Carli and Alice H. Eagly to be very helpful.

It’s a volume I’d strongly encourage anyone interested in leadership to review. It will force you to ask the same question I was forced to ask when I gave the PCCW talk: Where is the common ground between men and women? We know the differences, our challenge as teachers and trainers is to also deal with the commonalities.

It was a remarkable and wonderful learning experience.

BLG Leadership Insights Features

Does Hustle Have to be a 6-Letter-Word?

Hustle. Not exactly a word that carries a lot of weight in the business world. Perhaps it does in the sports arena, but even then it’s just a nice way of saying you’re not that talented but you try really hard.

Hustler. Even worse. The word itself brings horrifying visions of shams, card-sharks, drug dealers, and gigolos. That extra little “r” takes you all the way across the respectability line and plants you firmly into “oh, you don’t want to deal with him, he’s a hustler” territory.

It’s time to redefine the word.

The world’s political and economic landscape is changing every day. There’s no longer one concrete and well defined path to attaining and maintaining success. You can go to the right school, get the right job and live in the right town, but trust me you can still end up divorced, unemployed, 40 and living in your mom’s basement. And even then, what passes for success in our society (e.g. money, cars, fame, prestige) doesn’t carry with it the promise of longevity and stability that did in decades past. You must have flexibility. You must be dynamic in your thinking and in your goals. You must know how to hustle.

For a long time those in the creative community have lived by one motto: You hustle or you die (or end up being a professional waiter which is the equivalent of death to an artist).

The act of hustling isn’t a dirty thing to actors, artists and musicians; it’s a survival tool, a way of life. Now, you might be saying to yourself “I am a proper, highly trained business person, why would I lower myself to the level of a common hustler?” The answer: It’s too late, the hustle has come to you.

The skill set that allows a painter to paint, pay his rent and keep his loved one’s happy, turns out to be the same skill set you need if you’re an investment banker, who gets laid off, is underwater on his mortgage, and has to find a way to keep Timmy and Tommy in private school. It’s the same skill set that will keep your business afloat during a market nose dive. You gotta hustle or you die. The higher-end folks who don’t survive, either never thought they needed to learn how to hustle or just don’t want to admit they have to.

Perhaps your curiosity is peaked and your level of disdain has receded enough to ask, “So what exactly is this hustle you speak of?”

It’s not stealing, it’s not lying, it’s not cheating. It’s not Bernie Madoff, Pablo Escobar or Heidi Fleiss. It’s the common sense of knowing how to survive well within the collective ethics, but just beyond the accepted style. It’s learning how to lead a life, a family or a company through difficult times by bobbing and weaving without losing your moral compass.

So the next time you pass one of those wacky creative types on the street and you’re tempted to feel sorry for them or even dismiss them completely, remember, they just might have something to teach you about success, survival and happiness. Because odds are, they know how to hustle.

Photo Credit: Queensland Australia