Angels and monsters. Across every type of culture and historical period, we have lessons in leadership. These reflect not just a search for meaning but the desire to understand our own nature as human beings. In most stories and legends, we encounter the monsters who seek to control, not command, and the angels who push the envelope, relentlessly. Our job is to land somewhere in the center: respectful of authority yet unswerving in pursuing truth. A big risk of following some managers blindly is, everyone suffers when even just a few of us are afraid to ask questions. Sometimes so-called leaders go a long way to dupe you, feigning interest in your opinions and nodding their heads — to make it seem they are considering your comments. The giveaway happens when, at the deciding moment, your compliance is demanded and expected, with uncomfortable-to-painful consequences if you resist. All hail the leaders who assert their authority with authentic respect and clear vision. They are out there. And when we find them, the angels sing.
Invisible to the eye. We all ponder the question of what is essential. It often feels we are merely chasing the concept and rarely experiencing it. We share the search and the journey, so why not open up to that which we have not considered and may, in fact, have avoided? [Except cults. Read on.] It could get us to essential.
Seen and heard. The Lombard Effect is named not after the Italian region but for Étienne Lombard, the French scientist who noted how beings of all kinds adjust their communication, both volume and content, to the ambient noise in their environs.
Birds in San Francisco began to adapt their singing to the reduced noise from traffic during the pandemic. Aspects of the beauty and originality of the birds’ singing were sacrificed as a result of emergency, which only goes to show that people aren’t the only beings who must adjust. There are moments in which we must sacrifice nuance to make enough noise just to be acknowledged, especially when we are not seen or heard, or when others shape a narrative that evades a larger truth. One case in point: the force we call Appalachia and the even wider rural community. In the current moment, some segments of contemporary society are labeled and then cornered, designated not as players but as mere receivers of taxpayer largesse, forced to chase amplification on others’ terms to participate in the discourse that, by rights, should be available to them free and clear.
Fortunately, humans also have the ability to layer thought over instinct, which is the essence of General George Marshall’s counsel in 1953. As we embrace reality, we most certainly have the capacity to lead, follow or get out of the way – by thinking, listening, sharing and altering course – and volume – when the situation calls for it.
When quiet is a signal. In actuarial circles, practitioners often emphasize the importance of knowing the difference between signal (facts, data, action) and noise (chatter, distractions, lethargy). As the story from FORTUNE illustrates, quiet on all sides of the employee-employer relationship – silence, disengagement – is a signal, too. The quiet thing works both ways. It always has.
Whether you are an employee giving less than what you get or an employer manipulating people you do not “like” to resign, you are signaling that the purpose of the organization comes second to what you desire and that you are thinking narrowly and, quite possibly, selfishly. You run the risk of fomenting an energy that leads to a suspicious, pernicious culture, especially when you withhold concrete, objective feedback and make decisions based upon personality and persona.
The purpose of a business is to do business. Much of what we see today, among employers and employees alike, is some strange judgment-making that has nothing to do with customers, products or growth.
Organizations that try to exist in this fashion are outdone by companies whose people live in the light, give one another the benefit of the doubt, and focus on the work and what is best for all stakeholders. Getting outdone by healthy competitors is not karma or even justice. It is inevitability.
Change agents. During the days of Spada Inc, my consulting practice, one of my clients was the Baskin School of Engineering, at the University of California-Santa Cruz. As part of the assignment, I spent one day a week at Moffett Field, in Mountain View. Today’s story about Jimmy Stewart cites his time there, which brings forth a realization about the energy of the place.
The spirits of past and present innovators from all time, not just wartime, pervade Moffett. Stewart’s story – what he did to become a pilot, how he pursued it relentlessly – is an archetype of the change agency that abides at Moffett. The story teaches that undeterred focus in the face of rejection is usually part of every innovator’s journey. Change agents will encounter resistance at best, politics for sure, and outright scornful sabotage at times.
We all have our Moffett Fields – the places and the times that present a moment to make change or to be a part of it. We may not always succeed in the mission, but it’s always worth the effort, if for no other reason than to stand with the change agents who propel civilization forward
Soundtracks. Lately I’ve been collecting theme music from the golden age of American television – the era when it was a young medium that opened the door to all forms of creators. Writers, film technicians, producers, actors, designers and composers poured into television from stage, film and radio. They gave it all the quality they had in them.
Instead of fear of something new or the need to change, the creators of the era, which lasted through the 1970s, jumped into the opportunity. They worked on teams that most certainly had their beefs. But consternation took a back seat to the purpose of creation, which alone made the endeavor important. And exciting.
The music themes created for programs like “Dr. Kildare”, “Peter Gunn”, “Ben Casey”, “Bonanza”, “Ironside” or “Room 222” – to name a few – are heralds. However conveyed or paced or styled, the music makes you feel something important is ahead: a good story, relevant to all, with profound insights, delivered with depth by actors who have a sense of purpose beyond calling attention to themselves. It is crucial to recognize the historical and cultural context of this programming, including the glaring flaws. Equally critical, though, is to observe how the music attains common ground. At their essence, the music themes aspire and thus inspire. When you hear them today, what washes over you is a renewed sense of anticipation for what can be.
How terrific to know that every single one of us has this capacity, whatever our work, to do something important. How lucky we are that artists set the example of how to put our passion to work and to approach our days with the thrill of doing something important for others as well as ourselves. How cool to anticipate the good that is ahead for us.
Strategy, trust and zombies. Sometimes we are working so hard just to get through the day, we lose sight of the factors, positive and negative, that could inspire us. A story about the renaissance of London’s Thames River illustrates how solutions to problems can meet a multitude of needs and opportunities, especially when the planning process sets doable priorities and injects some rigor. Getting to the solutions is the province of strategy. Trustworthy, grounded strategy inspires. Trust is earned through competence and professionalism, within the organization and enacted for stakeholders. Strategy without trust is not strategy. It is bad energy – an empty gesture bound for failure and destined to end in zombie organizations.
Examining integrity. We often think of friends and colleagues, even institutions, as having integrity. What would happen if we began to see integrity as a state of being, not as a goal or a feature or a descriptor? Today’s newsbrief features stories that might never even use the word but which demonstrate what it is to be in integrity.
Reaching and sustaining a state of integrity requires understanding what impedes as well as nurtures it. Sociologist Martha Beck urges the gentle yet deliberate confrontation of lies – small, large, white – to discern, first on a personal level, whether we are valuing false harmony over facts and fairness.
Let’s extrapolate the concept of integrity-as-a-state to organizations. Are leaders actually encouraging, measuring and honoring performance aligned with stated purpose, mission and values? Or have they hijacked the organization with cultural, managerial or even spiritual tropes – often fueled by accounting tricks – that cannot mask or correct incompetence and duplicity? Beyond honesty and ethics, organizational integrity is a state of productivity that naturally leads to self-sufficiency for all stakeholders. Prosperity, not crisis, is the natural outcome of integrity.
The best years of our lives. It is one of Hollywood’s finest. Worth seeing over and over again, the William Wyler film, like the others he made, gives us another insight every time we watch it. There will be more powerful stories, told with and by new faces from every walk of human experience, many of whom – like the characters in the 1946 film, and even Wyler himself – made sacrifices that have cleared a path for the rest of us. They’ve given us a template. Doing the right thing, even when it means tangling with rocky situations or changing course, makes for the best years of our lives.
Renaissance people. Susan Wilner Golden has written a book, Stage (Not Age): How to Understand and Serve People Over 60—the Fastest Growing, Most Dynamic Market in the World. No surprise, her phrase “renaissance people” resonates. While Ms. Golden is concentrating on folks past 60 years of age, her concept is compelling for anyone looking to confirm their relevance and deliver to it – and to challenge labels. Maybe even defy them.
“I love the concept of renaming AARP for renaissance people because that’s one of the stages I articulate in my book. I think people who are at this later stage of life are repurposing, transitioning, and rethinking their life priorities. It truly is a renaissance stage. Most people really don’t want to retire. They may want to take a break, and they may not want to do the same type of work or career that they had, but they may want to repurpose, rejuvenate, and start in an area that has more meaning for them or that gives them more flexibility.
The concept that everybody over 65 is called a retiree or is of retirement age puts them all into one bucket. I think it’s important to abandon those kinds of words. It’s the same for senior and elderly because, again, it often has the connotation of the end, whereas you can have another 30 to 40 years of vibrancy to go.”
It’s only good to see every transition as a beginning instead of an end. My friend and mentor, Elias Bizannes, is a case in point. He’s also featured today.
Titanic. Epic fail or verifiable success. Tragedy or comedy. Disaster or discovery. Travesty or triumph.
The story told in every business endeavor can begin – and end – with its executive team. To earn the descriptor of leader, the manager must cross more than a few thresholds. Leaders are strong people who are optimistic and engage in the world they inhabit. They embrace reality and delight in employees who are real. They demonstrate respect for their stakeholders by listening and responding, with intention and an open agenda. They are fair, in conducting dialog and in setting compensation. They elicit and appreciate the best in every person they encounter. They are decisive.
And leaders understand icebergs. Leaders anticipate problems, analyze their depth and address them before they grow to titanic proportions. This is in the realm of possibility because leaders put in place the right people, team players who strive to help by telling it like it is – who take that risk because the boss is focused on judgments grounded in performance and results.
Many of the golden moments afforded the executive wait just beneath the surface, invisible yet integral to navigating strategy, operations, products and markets. How executives seize the golden moments can mean the difference between demise and survival … between mere management and leadership.
Discovering oneself. One of the best reasons to work is to learn. Work offers a rich platform for discovering ourselves and helping others to do the same.
Certain. This is not about Hell For Certain, Kentucky, or the short story “On Hell-Fer-Sartain Creek” by John Fox, Jr. (Although someone should do that some time.) This week’s collection is inspired by one of the stories herein, about the intersection of certainty and complacency. By Morgan Housel, the essay gives us a reason to explore the power and the impact of decisiveness.
Established beyond doubt is one of the dictionary’s definitions of certain. Giving safe harbor to doubt does little more than nurture complacency, the bain of leadership and a barrier to certainty. Always good to use doubt as a spur to act – not as an excuse for stasis. Because it’s hell for certain if we become complacent out of fear, greed or comfort.
Get loud. It feels as if everyone is shouting and as if that’s what we have to do to be seen, heard and taken seriously. There are moments when the situation may warrant an increase in volume, yet most of the time it’s possible to be loud sottovoce. If you have ever seen an episode of Leave It to Beaver in which the sons worry about their father yelling at them, you realize that “yelling” was the sons’ code for being told “no” or exposed for a bad decision. Demonizing the so-called yeller is an age-old diversionary tactic, in families and in organizations. Mature entities deliver to their values, above-board, when they permit the “no”, making it unnecessary to add volume to be heard or to enact one’s authority in dealing with everything from missteps to malfeasance.
Power and image. The best course of action – personal or corporate – emanates from the right thing: defining it and doing it. In the end, we have to live with ourselves. Whatever the triumphs or the disappointments. Useful power and a respected image derive from a robust mission enacted ethically.
Trigiani: Truth, justice and the Rural Virginia Way. Cardinal News, May 18 2022. The core value is in cultivating the opportunity to work and in rejoicing in the work that we do. Under the franchise of employment, within a clear business purpose, we open the gate to personal prosperity and collective stability, to individual wealth and community strength. To advance employment, our taxpayer investment in economic growth programs must be focused upon the joy of a work ethic, teaching people how to work, and welcoming companies that provide work as they plant in our communities.
Honest brokers. More than a question of financial compensation, work is a form of personal expression and contribution. The joy of work is accessible to everyone – as long as there is access to jobs. Job creation begins with the belief that work – with the focus upon delivering a product or service – is the common ground for a strong economy. An emphasis on production enables us to bat away distractions and disagreements that have no business in the workplace. When the ability to work is protected from anything other than the fundamental purpose of an organization, everyone finds meaning and possibly even prosperity.
Flying monkeys. Words get thrown around a lot, especially when we all have access to an unfiltered bully pulpit. Sound bites inflame instead of explain. For the professionals who are called to tell true stories and who choose their words carefully in telling them, this presents an opportunity. We must not only speak the truth, we must enact it. Here’s the thing. If you’re part of a system presenting a false narrative, and you cannot redirect it, you must decide what to do. A false narrative – and the character of those shaping and delivering it – always get outed over the long term. One way or the other. So we must make a choice in what roles we play. Are we truth tellers or flying monkeys?
The right stuff. It is the title of a book by Tom Wolfe, in which he explored the drive of – at that time – men who were bound and determined to explore space. It is ethical. It is intellectual. It is physical. It is spiritual. And the right stuff is currently up for interpretation, a fact that can be distressing as many of us arise each day looking for the innocent sense of balance that seemed to be a birthright. Instead of thinking it was all so good, perhaps we should be waking up to the real story: many of us have the right stuff and this is precisely what threatens and even invites the wrath of the status quo. Recognizing and nurturing the right stuff in others is the true human birthright. In the hands of actual leaders, daylighting the right stuff in others makes for progress and leaving the world better than we found it.
Resurrection. Every single day brings the potential of reinvention, and it is a good time to think about its connection with luck.
I listen to the Stoics podcast by Ryan Holiday. This past Monday night, I caught up with his April 19 show, where he explored what Marcus Aurelius asserted about the actual power over circumstance. Simple, really. Good fortune is not luck or the decisions of others, what others do to you or for you, or your perception that you’ve vanquished an enemy or done better than your neighbors. True good fortune is the result of a personal commitment to do our best for and with others, made every day, in every moment. It is taking care with our assumptions about outcomes and containing wild leaps of logic. It is recognizing what is within our sphere of control. [Very important to strategy, by the way.] When I listened to this show, I was staying at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. The very next morning, I discovered something remarkable in my room. Carved into the frame of the mirror were these words: “Be not simply good, be good for something.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Sometimes, the messages we receive from the universe affirm our goodness and fuel us for what lies ahead.
Traps. Niceness is up for interpretation. In some companies, niceness is the equivalent of giving in to something that might be ineffective, or even wrong, just so you’ll be perceived as a team player or to rack up IOUs for something you’ll want farther down the line. Companies that nurture this definition of niceness send a signal that mediocrity is just fine. It can get worse. Under the cover of niceness, satisfaction with mediocrity creates the perfect condition for treachery. Better to blend candor with compassion, encouraging everyone to learn to take no for an answer. That’s nice.
Under the rubble. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality have entered the mainstream, even though it is safe to say we haven’t figured out how to deal with regular reality yet. Good to know: our time is just one chapter in history with its own set of technologies and change to manage. Perspective remains invaluable.
Elegance. Remembering and understanding. Elegance is not being noticed but being remembered. So says Giorgio Armani, fashion designer and executive. (Or it’s been attributed to Mr. Armani.) In a world that currently seems consumed with outsized gestures, in which we are encouraged to grab and hog the limelight, this sentiment is particularly compelling. The workplace offers us a multitude of ways to act elegantly, beginning with seeking to understand – not just to be understood. (A line from a prayer inspired by another famous Italian, Francis of Assisi.) Maybe it begins with understanding ourselves and our own motivations, then seeking alignment with others. Openly and fairly. The best workplaces exemplify stated principles only when their leaders enact them – not just spout platitudes or apply them selectively. Beyond being remembered, fairness is elegant in its subtlety, while its absence is abundantly clear.
Think about what companies need. The great thing about a business, of any size, is that it can provide a structure for people to think big and to deliver. Productive leaders find ways to include all points of view in the day-to-day decisions that advance an organization. At the same time, they focus the use of different perspectives on the shared goals – making goals the points of unity, not empty language or theatrical gestures that distract from solid strategy.
Captains and queens. Hierarchy is strange, useful and worthy of scrutiny. It is a human construct and while some say it derives from The Divine, hierarchy – in all its forms here on Planet Earth – is often the province of those who seek to promote exclusive beliefs and to protect what they think is their power. Always ask questions.
Influence, impact and power. The Medici family of Renaissance Florence still enjoys a level of influence that reaches beyond their final resting places – yet humble bacteria is what scientists used to clean their tombs. This story, along with the others in this week’s newsbrief, inspire the exploration of various expressions of power and what constitutes true impact – reminding us that we all possess power to exercise and impact to deliver, however humble our presence.
Fresh breezes. There is something in the air. Change is only the byproduct of a larger energy shift that is happening because thinkers and creators are leading us into new territory, fortifying us to diminish the resistance to the new and to bury the cliché. Everything – from workers reconsidering their positions, to rural denizens putting forth a new narrative, to entrepreneurs putting aside bias – is directing us beyond possibility to substantive accomplishment.
Where you least expect it.
This week’s stories point to the importance of navigating the unknown with curiosity, bravery and an open mind – and to realizing we can choose to consider every life step, joyous or challenging, as teeming with purpose.
Consider a few Virginians of the great southwest region. Jack Kennedy asserts that we can encounter innovation right where we are and brings blockchain technology to Wise County. Duane Miller and Will Payne see fresh opportunity in the embrace of remote work and deploying it wisely, making it the latest in a stream of projects designed to diversify the regional economy. Bill Kanto encourages scientific thinking about everyday vaccination and reminds us of the wonder of accessible medicine. Dwayne Yancey and Luanne Rife decide to do something with their reporting chops and wind up elevating journalism.
And then there’s the angel’s share. It’s a phrase new to me, about the aging of brandy. A certain amount of liquid in barrels evaporates during the process, so a wise soul somewhere chose to categorize it not as lost but as an angel’s share of the brew. In the same way, our accomplishments can linger as a sort of energy – especially if they’re made with good intentions and good will. By folks like the protagonists in these stories.
Pummeled by life’s daily drama? Today’s stories tell good tales, giving us a reason to climb out from under our pressures to enjoy wonderful people and things.
Trouble saying no? Today’s stories show that in many situations, we cannot get to “yes” without saying “no” first.
Are your chips down? Today’s stories and commentaries lift the spirit and strengthen the resolve to act, whatever is left on your table.
Fusion. Building relevance, facing truth, inspiring engagement. Economies are not only like people, they are people. In many ways, our human journey through the past few years has highlighted the importance of relationships and the fact that we have more ways than ever to build and sustain connection. We just have to focus on shared objectives that serve us all, pushing away the distractions that weaken our relationships.
Times change. Brand shifts, workplace flexibility, art forms. If we’ve never been on the receiving end of open scorn, surreptitious contempt or duplicitous maneuvers, it can be difficult to recognize pain in our fellow travelers on this earth. It could be even more difficult to understand how markers that began as jokes and slurs have worked their way not just into our language but into our world views. We have a marvelous opportunity, right now, right on our doorsteps, to consider how we try to escalate empathy and propel civilization forward.
‘Splain this to me, Lucy. NFTs, AirTags, boundaries. For the spouses who have contemplated imbedding computer chips in their mates’ arms for search purposes: no longer necessary. We have AirTags🤦🏻♀️.
Forest versus trees. Negotiation, data, focus. Leader is a descriptor getting thrown around more than ever. This includes the automatic assumption that every CEO or senior executive is a leader. Many have just navigated their way into these positions through a variety of intriguing maneuvers. How to suss them out and separate the leaders from the posers? Check the micromanagement tendency, which is an earmark of two things: not listening and improper focus. On their own, these factors can send organizations in the wrong direction as well as signal bigger issues with the executive. In the toolkit of the micromanager, they can be devastating.
Critical knowledge. Shining a light, transforming, helping. Throughout many eras, people have used different technologies to tell their stories. We have painted with everything from chalk, to tempera, to gold. And we paint with our words. At work, language can illuminate intent or mask it. Our choice of words can lead to new understanding or deliver an exercise in duplicity. The first order of business, as illustrated in today’s stories: seek to understand before dominating the conversation with what we think.
Against all odds. Pursuing purpose, creation, attention. I write a great deal about renaissance. It is within our grasp. We can generate positivity and progress amid the teutonic shifts in all our technologies. We can make the essential change required for fairness and deep prosperity. One place to begin? Proofreading. When we give attention to spelling and syntax, we demonstrate respect not just for grammar but for the people reading and listening to our words. A call to all communications departments: bring back the copy editors. Or at least put your work in front of a second set of eyes.
Negative and positive. Whistleblowing, influence, strengths. Telling the truth begins with what we tell ourselves. If the narratives weaving through our brains are truth-seeking and truth-telling, we can always find the right words. And deeds.
Clearing the fog. Consumers, employees, gigs. You know how we are taught to dim the car’s headlights when we drive through fog? It could work when we are navigating through the fog at work, too. Low beams and slowing down = more time to think, without reducing the sense of urgency that helps to propel decisions.
Learning to love. Handling, surviving, taking the hard jobs. When we flee from hard and take the path of least resistance, we run the risk of diminishing our opportunities. Most of the time in most of our lives, fights can be averted. However, we must prepare ourselves for the moments that require a fight, embrace them, and get the job done.
The role of talent in renaissance. Optimism, balance, engagement. Forging another renaissance is more than a challenging proposition or a call to action; it’s a deep dive into the reality we share, right now. From the comforts of working for a tech behemoth, which includes waking up to how difficult it is to get a job there in the first place, to how we treat employees, to pondering what spurs American dynamism, we must recognize the unevenness of the economic playing field and how much we must work on achieving fairness via academic parity, clearing paths to wealth creation [not the same as redistribution], and fending off elitism. Today’s writers open a window into our current state. Clearly it’s time for fresh air.
Blazing trails. Cheetahs, founders, scientists. Learning about ancient predators – like Petra the Lee County, Virginia cheetah – is fun. Keeping up with business terms and the more recent history of women’s contribution to scientific breakthroughs has merit as well. It is important to amplify them all, for the benefit of keeping predation where it belongs – in the wild.
Coin of the realm. Strategy and tactics, testing ideas, Henry III. Henry III apparently was considered by some to be quite the strategist. One of his actions was to bring back the gold coin to England. The recent discovery of one of those coins, in a field, prompts a question. What will be written about today’s leaders, when their organizations’ results are analyzed in a far-off future? We have something they had not articulated in the 13th century: the understanding that the coin of the realm is what we do – the results – with our strategies and resources, not just what we preach, assert or hammer.
Friction. Brand value, change management, scent. Experts assert that when we apply fragrance to the pulse points on our wrists, it is counter-productive to rub those wrists together; the action messes with the chemistry and changes the desired effect. While it is good form to be just as careful with friction in business settings, at times friction is the catalyst for change. It’s all in how we challenge one another and why: are we doing this for some short-term satisfaction or to propel organizations and people to new heights?
Constants. Keeping customers, building regions, working humans. The truth of growth – personal, professional, commercial, industrial – is that we have to tweak the roadmaps we use. This takes collaboration and standing together on a foundation of facts and hard work. Nothing less.
Tumbling up. Hierarchies and silos, soft skills and remote work, Appalachian music and health. As we remove silos in companies and society, it’s easy to think of the process as destructive. Better to perceive this phenomenon as progressive – a disruption that clears the path to the Wonderful Next. Throughout history, we have invented legends and symbols to signify such transformation. Like the phoenix. Let’s count on the phoenix in each and every one of us.
How we spend our days. Creativity, organization, wardrobe. If you’ve participated in strategy setting – or even hold the responsibility for it – you know the whole set of activities can be pretty random. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Overly-managed strategic planning can reflect a manipulative agenda or exclude important data. Random or not, success depends upon the team you gather; their dedication to the organization must be an element of their self-interest. Of course, healthy executives know how to align personal goals with organizational mission, and they know they’ll survive change if they make themselves useful. It’s a bit like deciding what to wear. If we know who we are, our sartorial choices serve as a foundation and enable us to put our minds to the bigger things, like teamwork, transparency and grand purpose.
Chains. Closing gaps, building value, making sense. The term supply chain categorizes a centuries-old operating element of every industry. But who ever obsessed about supply chains, except for operations people, accountants and consultants? Now these chains are front and center and there is a lot we can do with all the drama. Such as learn what builds value inside companies, for their people and with their partners, to make things not just more efficient but more rewarding in every way.
Conduct. Young ladies, Venetian painters, curiosity. Etiquette is the portal to equity. Good manners – deportment, as Virginia’s Wise County school system called it – meant that the children of garment manufacturers, coal miners, lawyers, doctors, welders and professors were to commune on a playing field leveled not by financial position but by the ability to understand one another and to find ways to connect. When we read the advice given to young ladies in Jane Austen’s day, then, we might leap to dismiss it. Instead, we should consider stripping away our prejudices and rejuvenating its essence, extending the guidance to all, not just women. Etiquette enables curiosity, which calls us to open our minds and hearts. Those who stifle curiosity are into judgment – not justice, or progress, or art, or even investment.
Expensive. The elevator pitch, glass, a monk. I received some terrific guidance when I was a speechwriter, early in my career: remember that the speech isn’t yours. It fortified me to make it about listening to what the speakers wanted to say and their manner of talking and phrasing. My role was to help the speakers express themselves, which made everything about them. Not me. This was absolutely liberating. Fast forward to things like the elevator pitch, or a career change, or a spending choice. We can learn to ask if that word is necessary, if this job is worth it, is that glass special. If we’re lucky, we learn when expensive is the thing we must do.
Guardians of the bright. Spreading joy, starting up, playing the piano. Did you ever think that best business practices would come to include spreading joy? This is one of the happy outcomes of the epic adjustment in our midst. We can finally admit that there is joy to be found in professionalism – as long as we are open to talent, broaden how we define compensation, and recognize the economic corners to build.
The nature of progress. Jazz, data, family. Progress does not just happen. Beyond vision and concept, it requires preparation and effort. Progress is a cocktail of dreams, grit, and focus. It is the province of the fearless who approach their tasks with light hearts and rolled-up sleeves, who greet the inevitable obstacles with optimism and knock them down through teamwork.
Punch. Business tools, conscious communication, Mr. Dickens. His stories were essentially about fairness, and they inspired reflection and the study of one’s own accountability to others. The man who reminded us about the true meaning of a beloved holiday loved gathering and entertaining. Here’s to Charles Dickens and all he taught us.
Symbols. Shaka, emoji, the presepe. I love knowing what things mean.
Intentional. Grains, entrepreneurs, a place for Appalachia. For many of us, carving a place for ourselves in the world is a lifelong journey. It can be joyful as well as poignant, especially when it seems as if others we meet along the way have known their place all along or, at least, have found it. Appalachia’s place in the world has evolved, from its origin days as the dominion of Native Americans, to its colonization by what are now foreign powers and domestic corporations. I’d like to think we are on the dawn of not just a new economy but of the mindset essential to self-determination: setting an intent of abundance and contribution, as investor Ben Horowitz might say. Intent is critical not just for achieving prosperity but the kind of fulfillment we all desire.
Risk takers. Italian American women, anthropology, the workers of today. One of the many aspects of the American promise that I hold dear is the embrace of risk. Not just tolerance of it, but the capacity to explore how to use the process of taking a chance. There will be times in every life that a professional or personal gamble does not deliver the desired results. We just have to absorb these times without deterring from action we know is right, action we know will help others, action we know will advance all of us over the long term.
Innovators. Manufacturing in Virginia’s Southwest, overcoming resistance, Black Olympic gold. One step at a time. Be patient. Your moment will come. This type of counsel is meant to soothe, yet it actually can be a barrier to essential change and true progress. Or a wall to hide behind while protecting the status quo. In the rural parts of America, there has been significant taxpayer investment in economic studies and projects for decades. Some of this has delivered results, a healthy percentage of which is the building of bureaucracy that serves the empire builders of what we can call the agency class. These folks need a new call to action, centered in a new definition of return-on-investment. Shift gears and put muscle into delivering jobs and a broader tax base, an open path to prosperity for all, and a more welcoming attitude to newcomers and new concepts.
Puppets. Misery, collaboration, epic stories. This is the time of year for joy, reflection and connection. Yet many of us feel like hostages to the “shoulds” of daily life, which we think will deliver that joy and help us to reflect and to connect – while what actually happens is a sense of overwhelm. The things we seek to control wind up controlling us. Time to hit pause and stop feeding the overwhelm. The answers are waiting for us there.
The great resignation. Reputation, complexity, talent recognition. Word gets around. And not just because people talk. They watch. The talent base in every community – large, small, urban, rural, remote, on-site – is comprised of people who are beginning to realize the value of their own sense of accountability and expect nothing less from their employers. This is a significant opportunity for organizations who break free from command-and-control mindsets that limit agility, force incorrect values on employees, and contain performance. Managers who open doors will find that workers want to enter and stay.
Useful beauty. Cosmos, virtual exploration, STEM, Caligula. Lousy Roman emperors met different fates than today’s ahem non-performers do. Or maybe we’ve just evolved into conducting a different type of bloodbath. Anyway, we do know that acts of beauty manage to outlast us and can be a way for future generations to digest otherwise distasteful episodes. Those who deny the relevance of creating beauty are doomed to endure ugliness.
Setups for success. Decision software, website traffic, deep feedback, productive meetings. This is a good time of year to ponder improvement. And a lot of specialists are sharing their thoughts on exactly how to do it.
Giants. Appalachia’s renaissance, Mr. Sondheim. I knew Stephen Sondheim, even though we never met. I encountered him as a teenager when, on a Sunday afternoon, Dad put a brand-new Time-Life Records Broadway collection on the stereo and “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch”, in the trust of Elaine Stritch, hit me right between the eyes. Hearing those words and that melody delivered by Stritch made me want to know the world she and Sondheim and the musicians were painting. Beyond honoring the essence of every art form – provoking curiosity and wonder – Sondheim taught me that embracing new thoughts, questions and challenges, out in the open, is the first step to making good change and including others in the process. As we tangle with what makes for influence and impact, it seems that fearlessness and focus are the hallmarks of the giants who, just by being who they are, help us to move forward out of comfort zones and swamps alike.
Positioning. Appalachia’s economy, serving customers, brand advantage. There is a boatload of taxpayer-funded grants and incentives floating on the sea of economic development. If yours is an area currently suffering economic distress, it can be pretty easy to prevail upon the sympathies of public sector leaders to “help”. You follow the buzzwords and get those funds under management – and your performance measures are rarely those a business organization would use to report production. So: a true economy is built upon understanding the twists and turns of a marketplace, figuring out the needs you can turn into opportunities, producing, and portraying your region as an answer within reach.
Tangible. Appalachia’s promise, people and machines, the whole public-private thing. As a fervent believer in the power of execution, within the corporate model of business management, I hope that our renaissance is upon us. Most of us who have logged time in companies have encountered the disappointment of the dangerous cocktail of duplicity, unprofessionalism and ineptitude. Or even been damaged by it. So we must be realistic. The company we keep in our organizations is more important than ever. We begin with uniting around this question: what promises are we making and how do we keep them?
Accessible joy. Baroque art, a new novel, ale, whiskey, vines. What it takes to live life well: a prevailing sense of gratitude for the surprises that make us laugh, collaborate and gasp in amazement. Bernini and his contemporaries in Virginia’s Great Southwest. A new novel from a sister. Ale made with friends. Whiskey deconstructed. A valley called Tramonti.
Old is new. Evolving expertise, the updated resumé, a valuable cohort. Ageists reject the relevance of experience, while stubborn seniors reject new information. The key to relevance is the willingness – in fact, the passion – to evolve. And the evolution of personal or professional strategy and perspective requires open minds.
Saying and doing. Costumes, follow-through, values. Boundaries are never easy and these days, they are particularly difficult to set and respect. Some of us feel the goalposts keep moving and some of us think it’s generous to think we even have goalposts. A good first step is to remember when you make a commitment and to deliver to it.
Maps. Virginia grain, native American commerce, employee moods. Embracing history often inspires the writing of new chapters – economic, societal, industrial – to reveal and surface strategies that do a better job of righting wrongs than any rhetoric can deliver. We are the mapmakers of a prosperous future.
Cracking codes. Medieval alchemy, return to stakeholders, HR craziness. Those artists of the operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan, captured one of the basic risks of being human in these words, put to music: “things are seldom what they seem… skim milk masquerades as cream”. How often we get caught up in the wrong perception or worse, give it fuel. For those seeking a laugh and some satisfaction regarding the brokenness of the corporate HR function, the story here about the fake resumé is a case in point.
Basics of strategy. Writing with depth, understanding the customer, freeing company cash. Strategic planning is critical and, in some cases, complex. Whatever the organizational environment, strategy is best done by breaking everything down into practical realizations about the current situation and engaging in grounded goal-setting. It should go without saying that honesty and transparency are critical. But we must say it.
Healthy resistance. Horticulture, universal human characteristics, job hunts. If we focus too much on history, we might wind up living in the past. If we ignore history, we are pretty much guaranteed to repeat it. It’s all because human nature is essentially the same, in any chapter of civilization. Our opportunity is climb out of the cave, learn from history, honor experience, and do better.
Tech centric. Defining antitrust, choosing a career, planting data centers. Information is what we do – as people, businesses, communities, governments. Our choices for handling information have multiplied. Instead of being overwhelmed, these choices should inspire understanding, action, and invitation to those not in our backyards or backrooms.
Momentum. Technology’s impact, data’s professions, rural’s surge. All the deliberation over infrastructure funding should inspire us to ponder the potential of technology in our age, to empower every single human being into self-sufficiency and contribution. For Americans, this means using our strength to help urban and rural areas understand their advantages and integrate them. America is designed for this – to show how zero sum gaming is truly irrelevant.
The spend. Old companies, new initiatives, potential waste. Back to a look at the infrastructure spend: Americans must become obsessed with following the money, whether it’s company funds or taxpayer resources. This is a productive obsession because, in tandem with real management thinking, a watchful eye daylights alignment of priorities and honorable stewardship of other people’s money.
Where stuff is. Shipping infrastructure, libraries, architecture. For a couple of decades now, we have been looking to information technology, as the solution in and of itself, to fix business inefficiencies, to replace costly human talent, to expand financial portfolios. Through much pain and stress, we are now served up an opportunity to understand new technology for what it is: a force for innovation under human control, which fortifies reason and extends prosperity to all. Of course, the study of history has shown us, all along, over and over, what every iteration of technology can do, in the right hands.
Once and future earth. Distributed economy, traditional food, foliage. Ideas are flowing. There is life left in this planet and its inhabitants, many of whom honor tradition by expanding definitions of responsibility and stewardship. Action is flowing, too.
The tales we tell. Created value, tarnished brands, Merlin. The past half century, in corporate years, has delivered twists and turns in company stories – as well as many gyrations in the format of communications strategy and operations. New facts always emerge, so it’s best to set a priority for truth. This way, you’ll never have to back-fill your position with suspicious spin or specious logic. Your honor remains intact.
Celebrity wisdom. Lucille Ball, Ringo Starr, Galileo. Celebrity wisdom: two words you rarely see in a phrase or a sentence. Yet we can find wisdom and corresponding inspiration all around us, even if we merely stumble upon it. For example, I’ve always admired Lucille Ball, for all the usual reasons. When I came across a new podcast featuring radio interviews she did with other celebrities in the 1960s, it felt like a treasure trove. Miss Ball gets to the essence of subjects through her elegant way of conversing with interesting people. Genuine interest, kindly expressed, always brings out the real story.
Origin. Accelerating startups, remembering names, baking cakes. Origin stories, for families or businesses, often become important aspects of their identity. It’s important to keep them in the realm of the true, and not just because it’s the ethical thing to do: true stories, well-told, are often more interesting than fiction. And regarding cakes: the practice of the dumb cake is not something I’d want in any origin story.
Decency. Work, the siren call of power, the danger in success. As we search for signs of a true meritocracy in the workplace, solid thinkers initiate their pondering with transparency, honesty and fairness. When they learn that the meritorious among us are often stuffed down – suppressed – the thinkers emerge from the shadows to make things right.
Watching. Workers, innovators, demons. As we dig out of bacterial and managerial toxicity, on a national level that has trickled into every corner of American life, it is good to know that we are not the first generation of civilization to step in waste matter. Let’s make our generation the last. If you read nothing else today, check the interview with Safi Bahcall. He has a prescription for corporate achievement that works on a personal level as well.
Paradigms. Job agglomeration, talent attraction, reality re-shaped. Economic development practices in rural regions are influenced by cultural markers, habits, and legacy powerholders that remain unquestioned or unchallenged. To reach new heights of growth and prosperity for all, the best first step is to take a fresh look at the factors that generated economic decline or achievement. It clears the way to seeing solutions. Not only those missed, but those which can serve to unite people and to make bias, favoritism and turf irrelevant.
Invincible. 007, reengineering, innovation. We can learn from every story and every situation. Over the centuries of human experience, the characterization of what we mean by invincible shifts and changes. One constant: even business organizations must be mindful with their intentions. Best to focus on the innovation opportunity, the tools, the work – because we might run into a form of invincible we never anticipated.
Uh oh. More new stuff: the metaverse, an explosion of choice, flipped learning. By now, those of us who have our high school years behind us know that we have reached an entirely new pace of research and innovation. Oh, why not.
Saga. Family attics, totality, like everyone else. When we listen to others and invite them to hear us, our stories show that more elements bond us than divide us.
Boss. Factors, funding, facing truths. Amid all the wackiness surrounding us, rational thinking endures. New discoveries and realizations amplify the reason that abides in a productive executive suite. Reason? You know it when you see it, so honor your instincts.
Inspiration. Colliding innovation, getting ahead, finding solidarity. Life feels hard right now. But to one way of thinking, taking on the challenges will get us to better places of productivity and contribution.
Flying the world. Viking warriors, leadership potential, earned autonomy. To fly through this planet often requires sacrifice, which itself indicates the capacity for long-term thinking and for channeling ambition to serve a vision. This is our generation’s moment to propel the world forward, by including people with energy, intestinal fortitude, and talent. And turning them loose.
Rural Virginia. Big Tech’s role, energy’s legacy, reinventing news. It is a national conversation: how the infrastructure spend can serve Americans who choose to live a life in rural regions, by strengthening and even rebuilding local economies. Some answers are emerging. And so are many experiments. Virginia is turning into a lab on several fronts, not the least of which is how true stories are daylighted and told.
Trigiani: Kismet and Virginia’s Great Southwest. Cardinal News, September 23 2021. McKinsey & Co. partners Erik Roth and Laura Furstenthal study innovation. They have distilled, into a pretty basic formula, what it takes to get real results from any investment in innovation. And while their focus is the corporate setting, the formula stands out as relevant to public sector investment.
A Call for Renaissance. Mary Trigiani’s speech to the Leading Tomorrow Summit, June 2021.
Unsung heroes. Transforming organizations, taking pictures, defending the lagoon. September 23 2021. Every day, every one of us bears witness to the intellect and the accomplishments of unsung heroes. As we deal with our modern-day plague – and I hope, make a renaissance of our own – we can derive much joy from our companions on the journey who innovate and produce, in the shadows and behind the scenes.
Hurry. Consistent leading, humane augmenting, better socializing. September 22 2021. It is super easy to blame the new kid on the block – whether it’s a person or a technology or a company – when negative things surface. More often than not, though, new players merely daylight things we might have been denying. As C. Northcote Parkinson said, “delay is the deadliest form of denial”. Renaissance thinkers hurry. They not only embrace the new, they welcome the data and they promote the truth.
Healing. Under pressure, with entrepreneurs, over cookies of joy. September 21 2021. Roughly three centuries ahead of the Italian Renaissance, Hildegard of Bingen was defying labels. She truly had a sense of self, the starting point of contribution, which also served as a sort of armor against challenges, silly and significant. And she knew that cookies help to fortify us as we seek solutions and opportunities.
Off the bench. Brand-new careers, employee retention, experienced workers. September 16 2021. From the earliest days of working, I have avoided labels such as “young” or “old”. (As well as a whole bunch of other ones, frankly.) There were times when being young was a liability and being older meant irrelevance. Labels just do not matter, unless we use them about ourselves to tell our stories in ways that forge connections and establish parity – not to assert dominance or to put others in convenient compartments, locking them out. We must get back to making the story about the work we do, because – especially in business settings – all that should matter is one’s ability to perform and to contribute to the stated objectives. Renaissance is on the other side of that door.
Intricate. The customer experience, energy as we know it, thoroughbreds. September 15 2021. Economic development is, for some, the game of redistributing taxpayer money and sustaining agencies for that purpose – without reporting ROI back to taxpayers or marking real progress. When it’s done right, however, economic development is an intricate process of modeling businesses, vetting partners, and building bridges – so that people can find jobs, prosper, and enjoy life. This shift in definition is a condition of today’s renaissance. And I believe Virginia’s Great Southwest will show the way.
What’s smart. Partnership, breakthroughs, a fresh look at expertise. September 14 2021. We are all looking for light these days. How fortunate we are to have the tools to find and share information that propels us to new levels of thought and action. In a renaissance, a society converts distress into progress.
Let’s extrapolate. Austin, attrition v. attraction, the tears of the sun. September 9 2021. Real economic development delivers a return on the taxpayers’ investment in the form of companies creating jobs that produce more tax revenue and, hypothetically, more ability to protect shared public infrastructure. How to get there, rurally speaking: consider that areas like Appalachia possess some of the same challenges minority workers face – access, equity, image – and the same strategic calls to action companies must answer – comprehensive employee health, fairness, balance. The path to true economic development is revealing itself. Renaissance ahead.
Finding things. Buzzwords, advisors, ancient structures. September 8 2021. It’s essential to stay on top of new terms and concepts. However, we should use them only if we understand their meaning and if they are of true significance. As a former consultant, I know there is often a thin line between jargon and an innovative thought. Fact-based communication is essential to innovation. And renaissance. Especially when it comes to the taxpayers’ investment.
How to spend taxpayer money. Examples from Virginia, cluster strategy, the value proposition. September 7 2021. Renaissance – as a call to action, not just an era – has held my interest since my days as a student in Rome. (Maybe it’s hardwired into my DNA😁) Since my re-entry into Virginia five years ago, I’ve been speaking and writing about what makes a renaissance while studying what others are researching and reporting about how to keep America’s economic spend focused and legitimate. Conclusion: our renaissance must create wealth, not merely redistribute it.
Trigiani: Innovators are helping Southwest Virginia forge a new business identity. September 5 2021. Guest editorial by Mary Trigiani for THE ROANOKE TIMES.
Playing games. Political awareness, boardroom lessons, theory. September 2 2021. When we endure disappointments and enjoy triumphs, if we do it right, we recognize that it’s more than doors and windows opening to a next phase. What we have is an opportunity for an individual renaissance that can radiate to the others around us. Of course, it never hurts to use every experience to get savvy – or to celebrate the fact that you already are.
Rescue. Skills, dynamic talent, hiding Cupid. September 1 2021. We are in a collective state of overwhelm – and if you research it, the word has been used, ironically, as a noun since 1596 – so the workplace is an appropriate lab for testing ways to create a better reality. Hiding the ideas and contributions of others is rarely the path to innovation, though. Today I’m hoping our renaissance doesn’t force the producers to retreat, only to be validated 350 years later.
The changing universe. Telescopes, landscapes, plans. August 31 2021. Tellers of truth often encounter the most resistance of all. Across history, disruption begins when someone observes there is a better way, or a new thought, or a breakthrough discovery. In our renaissance, we must be vigilant to those who promote disruption, i.e. progress, but, in reality, do everything they can to maintain the status quo and the power structures they understand.
Heritage. Egyptian pyramids, Anglo Saxon queens, American suffragists. August 26 2021. History is our story to tell – not just to preserve. A renaissance amplifies the truth of the human experience and bears witness not to repeating mistakes or sustaining them or positioning them as worthy heritage. In a renaissance, we advance.
The good life. Rich, lies, mastery. August 25 2021. I am all for expanding our definition of wealth – beyond the realms of finance and influence. Our renaissance must change the game. We must design a new perspective on what constitutes true value.
Cognition. Nuanced perspective, owning the weight, dark hours. August 24 2021. The scholarship on decisions is abundant. Driven greatly by the work sponsored in the world’s business schools, from psychology to case analysis, we learn that sound decisions come from open minds and even open hearts. In a renaissance, we decide to optimize the worst as well as the best.
The test of time. Stonehenge, spirits, heroes. August 18 2021. Indestructible is a worthy characteristic of products and services in a business, and it might even be a good goal for developing intestinal fortitude in a person. We just have to realize that there is disruption, and even a little destruction, on the way to a renaissance.
Vectors and vaccines. Honey and mead. Emblems and sculptures. August 18 2021. It’s funny how etiquette became a way to level the playing field, the theory being that if all people can perform to the same standard, they might have the same opportunity. We still have a long way to go. But if it had been left to the barons, serfs would never have had a chance to take a seat at the table. In any renaissance.
Choosy. Reading, community v. audience, attention span. August 17 2021. We all are stretched. Choosing where we put our attention is not only personally rewarding, it’s professionally productive. Renaissance players value thinking, not reacting, and connecting, not bloviating.
First person. Scapegoats, innovation coaches, board members. August 12 2021. The desire to succeed is something we pretty much all share. It just manifests individually. Power and control remain in the sights of some, but as we learned in one renaissance, the lasting elements of success often reveal themselves from unexpected corners of society. This is what we must hold dear in our own renaissance.
Drop the clutter. Images, scripts, optics. August 11 2021. The acronym “PR” has outlived its usefulness. I know a lot of communications professionals stand by “public relations” as a functional title or activity, but it’s time to move on to better descriptors. Positioning, public affairs, media relations. In a renaissance, you de-clutter by forging a transition from terms that reek of -isms. All via proper grammar, of course.
Markers. Norton and inclusion, founders and expertise, strategy and uncertainty. August 10 2021. The Italian Renaissance covered a period of roughly 400 years and included both ongoing bouts with plagues and extraordinary accomplishments. Virginia’s coalfields present an intriguing parallel. Their enduring legacy of fairness from many corners, despite what many might think, offers a lesson to today’s investors and strategists alike.
Indispensable. Money, tech companies, the Sistine Chapel. August 5 2021. Things change all the time, so it is always good practice to determine what is indispensable in an organization. Because they are results oriented, renaissance thinkers and doers remain open to altering what they think is essential and acting accordingly.
A dent in the universe. Intention, adaptability, common sense. August 4 2021. Did Steve Jobs ever ponder the Renaissance? Whether or not he did, he clearly understood what it takes and wound up encouraging a generation to ask questions and challenge things.
Distilled. Metaverse, true power, respect in football. August 3 2021. As our world continues to expand – to enter another renaissance – some will be tempted to contract, in fear, competitiveness, scarcity. Best to tap the best in ourselves: curiosity, collaboration, abundance.
Microenterprise. Orchestration, new creation, progress. July 29 2021. In a renaissance, building institutions is not nearly as important as clearing paths to products, prosperity and fairness. We are learning that sometimes the most effective agencies disband once their work is done.
Disruption. Hiring, hypotheses, the alphabet. July 28 2021. At the same time we are using tools invented thousands of years ago, we are tasked with disrupting practices that, if they ever worked, are way past their due dates. Making a renaissance requires wisdom.
Gilded. High wealth, blessed investors, cursed diamonds. July 27 2021. The question, debate, and ultimately, call to action in making a renaissance: are we creating wealth or merely redistributing it?
A Renaissance for Southwest Virginia. By Robbie Harris. July 23 2021. Interview of Mary Trigiani for WVTF, Virginia’s Public Radio.
Gimmicks. The better bank, the right documents, the smell of fuel. July 22 2021. Gimmicks may have worked in burlesque (See “Gypsy” by Sondheim, “You gotta have a gimmick If you wanna have a chance”, etc.) but in most businesses, they can be trouble. Especially if the audience is being deliberately tricked. A company does not grow via spin or stunt and neither does a renaissance.
Endurance. Jazz, architecture, leadership. July 21 2021. Things swirl during a renaissance and it can be so satisfying to hang on and create, whatever the challenges.
Sketch. Math, Wingdings, Van Gogh. July 16 2021. All innovators must be welcomed on the scene. Even and especially the mathematicians, who are often the overlooked artists in a renaissance.
Electric. Beethoven, Alma Thomas, Digger Phelps. July 15 2021. Feeling inspired by the individuals in today’s stories, because they demonstrate the importance of the unconventional in life. Renaissance-makers stick out their necks. With gusto.
Women in Public Affairs to Know: Mary Trigiani July 6 2021. This interview is part of a series on “Women in Public Affairs to Know,” by the McGuireWoods Consulting Women in Public Affairs initiative. To learn more about the initiative or recommend a woman for a future interview, please visit the McGuireWoods Consulting website. The interview was conducted by Michele Satterlund, senior vice president on McGuireWoods Consulting’s Virginia State Government Relations team and Margaret Rockwell, assistant vice president on McGuireWoods Consulting’s Infrastructure and Economic Development team.