Category Archives: Film

Captains and floozies

On Monday, I wrote in the weekly newsbrief about how we can find talent on our teams in the unlikeliest places.  How project leaders who discover and promote talent can trust them to take work to innovative places.

These project leaders generally have the foresight, strength and confidence that equip them to let those they lead to excel — to enter and capture the spotlight — to extend the project message in other interesting, often unplanned ways.  The story of Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi serves as the case study.  The man was selected without any acting experience by a director who taught him as well as hired him and knew a good line when he heard it.  The ad-lib heard around the world is showing all of us, not just Hollywood, how to be delighted by the unexpected.  Not threatened by it.

By Tuesday evening, I was enduring the remarks of a so-called expert in talent who fretted that “token floozies” in companies like Twitter are not truly women of the tech workforce.  Who then refused to explain what he meant.  For two days now.

You see, he expects only to pontificate.  To not answer questions unless they are posed in a way that flatters his ego and sustains his superiority, both in the asking and the answering.  Should this man be challenged, watch out.  He cites Duke University, Stanford University, Singularity University, WASHINGTON POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and startup Trove as the stars in his CV, and so far, they see no need to call for an explanation, either.  Rumor has it he has a book coming out about how women are leaving tech employers in droves.

If tech women are leaving anywhere in droves, it’s for two reasons.  First, for being expected to behave, code and program in the manner of the teen tech stars who have captivated Silicon Valley for the first decade of this century.  Second, women leave because guys like this appoint themselves gurus of all things female and feminine without working — hard — with the founders and teams who are actually building companies, products, services and customer lists.  There is not a conspiracy to prevent women from succeeding.  But there is money to be made selling books that tell us there is.

Guys like this think the only good women are the ones who have multiple degrees in engineering related disciplines.  Guys like this think that women who write stories or build customer communities are not really women of tech.  Guys like this believe Minimum Viable Products spring forth unaided from engineers who need marketing, accounting, sales and legal experts only to serve them, not advise them or stand beside them as founders.

At least this is what I assume.  Because in the absence of a real clarification from Mr-Women-in-the-Tech-Workforce, I can only conclude he’s like a few, not the majority, of the guys I’ve encountered in my decades of experience:  suspicious of anyone in heels, assumptive that mascara and brains do not go together, and convinced he knows better than anyone else, including women, what they need and want from a career.  He’s a misogynist.  And the only woman he can begin to trust is one with a pure engineering pedigree.

Well, even the women with those kinds of pedigrees don’t tend to believe that.  In fact, one of the great things about women in the workforce is that we understand the importance of being open to the possibilities, wherever they emerge and from whatever corner.  I’d rather see this guy write about that than feather his own nest with nasty diatribes against the producers — like Twitter, Facebook and Google — who are hiring women and creating open opportunities based on merit, not gender.

Whether the talent was once a limousine driver or is a woman with a BA, we have to celebrate the people who are inviting them to the talent pool.  And we have to celebrate the talent.  Because even the business-side floozies deserve their moment in the sun when they engage users and customers in technological marvels.

By the way.  First rule of PR:  acknowledge your own missteps.  Second:  assume the questioner is sincere and respond with clarification, even if you think it’s a “mindless rant” [his words, not mine].  That’s the only way you get in front of your own mistake.  Own it and explain it or you’ll never move beyond it.

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Of King Coal and Cleopatra, and icons and leaders

Geraldine Ferraro.  Pinetop Perkins.  Lanford Wilson.  The gifts they, and many other Americans, have shared are almost too much to ponder.  Their presence and passing through this age?  A reminder to appreciate the many forms leaders take and the elements that turn them into icons.  

One look at Elizabeth Taylor and those elements were abundantly clear.  Or so one thought.  It turns out that things went a bit deeper than incandescent looks and a lust for life that shot through every performance.  There were loyalty and empathy, two traits that can, but should not, be hard to come by in a leader or an icon.  

As a young Virginian exposed to Miss Taylor's charisma during a whirlwind political campaign, on a night when it seemed every man left every woman's side just to catch a glimpse of her, I witnessed not just the power of glamour but the pull of celebrity.  Standing in front of her, though, I wondered what she was thinking about all of us.  Turns out that evening was probably one of many during which she sacrificed her own comfort to support her spouse.  Yet Miss Taylor not only made it look easy, she seems to have put this quality to use later in evangelizing the importance of compassion for others.

Sacrifice is not an element usually associated with stardom, God-given beauty, serial monogamy — or being a corporate CEO.  When it is, though, it's noteworthy.  

The March obituaries told us the story of another onetime Virginian who had as elite a pedigree as any of today's CEOs, if not moreso, but chose to hone his leadership style from the ground up.  Literally.  

Ted Leisenring was the easy heir to the mighty Westmoreland Coal Company throne, but he worked as if that throne were someone else's to steal.  Upon his graduation from Yale, he headed to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, to labor underneath the ground, side by side, with the people who would be his employees.  Years after that, Mr Leisenring represented the coal companies in a long labor negotiation with the miners.  

My guess is that, for someone who respected the union, Mr Leisenring's negotiating position was reached with clarity of conscience and purpose.  According to Dan Rottenburg, author of In the Kingdom of Coal, Mr Leisenring dedicated the company to opening the lines of communication inside it after the strike was over.  He didn't revel in the victory over wildcatters, he sought to anticipate the concerns that gave rise to action which hurt the miners as much it hurt the companies.  The miners were not remote entities or heads on a spreadsheet; they were people, like him, who had a job to do.  

Here's to the leaders who don't try to be icons.  And the icons who lead.