The Magical Decade

The Magical Decade

38…

Funny, I feel very different about hitting this age than I thought I would a decade ago. Which made me think – what was I doing at 28? Or 18 or 8 for that matter? I really had to think hard to remember. Because that’s how life goes, time passes, the pages turn, a chapter ends and another one begins and suddenly, today, I wake up as a 38 year old woman. Perhaps, technically a grown-up? We can debate that later.

From the tone of these first few sentences you might think I’m not too happy about this occurrence. But, actually, amazingly, and surprisingly (perhaps most of all to me) I feel pretty great about turning 38. Now that I’ve had time to think, I can recall what I was doing at 18 and 28. At 18 I was just beginning my second year at MJC community college and had a small celebration with some friends. I recall that my friend Adriel gave me a Matchbox 20 CD and to this day if I hear “walking on the sun” I’m taken back 20 years.

Fast forward a decade to 28. I was a little over one year in to my Assistant Professorship at LSU and had just landed a half million dollar grant! The topic of the grant was blueberry production and my husband took me out for a celebratory dinner at Fleming’s steak house where I recall enjoying one of the nicest meals I’d had up to that point in my life. Of course, I also enjoyed a blueberry martini to celebrate the grant.

So, let’s recap – at 18 I was in college in California. 28, a professor at LSU in Baton Rouge. Now 38, just beginning my second year living as an expat in Germany. I’m starting to see a trend emerge. The 8 decades appear to come with change and there also seems to be something about moving east…hmmm. Maybe I should take a vacation to China at 48 just to get to complete the eastern migration.

But, seriously, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had some time to think about what I believe, what I’ve learned and who I am now that I’ve reached 38.

I believe… that all those interviews I read with leading lady movie stars who talk about how amazing it is to get older and be more confident literally in your skin and know that all the other stuff is just noise. Well, it turns out that everything they said was TRUE! I didn’t believe it at the time but I’m here to tell you that now that I’m in my late 30s I’m finally starting to understand myself. The best part is that I like the person I have found.

I’ve learned… that I can, in fact, shape my destiny. It’s true that you are what you eat and it’s important to control your thoughts, because what you think will determine your attitude. And the crazy thing is that, it is possible to listen to your thoughts and then decide which part of your soul to feed. Finally, I’ve learned this delicate balancing point that, yes, some days are tough, but this too shall pass, and tomorrow will be better. But feeding bad thoughts for too long gets me absolutely no where that I want to go. I choose to surround myself with positive people, and yes, dark thoughts will come, but only for a time, because frankly, life is too short! Laughter feeds my soul and I want to nurture my soul.

I am… stronger than I realized and that strength can help me accomplish any goal I fancy. Which is a wizarding sort of power that I now know I should focus only to places where I truly want to go. Case in point, recently I decided that I was fed up with my creeping weight, yes, it’s true that with age metabolism slows down… Perhaps the biggest downside of aging. So, a month ago I decided to tackle the trifecta: increased exercise, smart food intake and reduced caloric drink (ahem) intake. I’ve tried this before and I was skeptical that I would have any success. This time I did it for ME (not for the world) and I’ve already dropped 4 kilos. Don’t ever give up on yourself, you’re worth it!

So, today I celebrate 38 years on this beautiful planet. To all the younger ladies reading this, particularly those of you in your golden 20s who dread 30, don’t put your energy into this worry. I promise that you are going to love this magical decade when you will confidently come into your own as a woman.

Now I’m off for a birthday coffee in the garden with my cat, Tony.

“Eye in the Sky” – a leadership challenge

I wrote this essay a couple months ago after watching “Eye in the Sky”.

Sunday afternoon was warm and muggy, so we opted for some movie time accompanied by Sweetwater 420 beer. Our movie selection was “Eye in the Sky”. I didn’t know much about the storyline and watched in anticipation as the plot unfolded. The movie contains many leadership challenges and character sketches and I found myself mulling over it in the days that followed. I present to you the observations and questions that popped into my mind. I found many interesting analogies to the decision making processes we encounter in the workplace. If you saw the movie, what did you think? What thoughts and emotions did it invoke in you?

The primary challenge in the movie is on first appearance a decision: go or no go. Underneath this main storyline I watched with increasing frustration the accurate representation of typical leadership characteristics and decision styles as new data surfaces in a stressful environment.

The main character was Powell a British military leader with one mission in mind : to track and capture a criminal. This task unfolded with multiple changes in course coming her way and she adapted nimbly. Utilizing new resources as needed to stay on course with the mission. At this time, when everything was going smoothly, all the leaders observing the process supported her with excitement and no reservations about her decision quality.

Suddenly, we were presented with a plot twist – similar to what happens sometimes in life and work – the risk level was immediately elevated. The criminal she was tracking to capture was now in the house with a person who was suiting up in a suicide vest. At this moment Powell’s mission switched from capture to kill. She had the resources on hand and made the call quickly to change her goal. But, and this is where it got interesting, the other leaders (who up to this point had been supportively watching) were suddenly paralyzed. Not only were they paralyzed, but they began to ask antagonistic questions, presenting one barrier after another.

Powell deftly maneuvered the “gaps”, you could call them, to move the team from the original goal of capture to a new goal of kill. She did this by logically presenting her case of sacrificing one to prevent the loss of 80+ others. Although this choice was one that was decided quickly by Powell, I watched with increasing frustration as she sought authority to execute the task. See, she didn’t have the authority to actually execute the mission. She needed permission from above. She also needed loyalty from below, from the man who had his finger on the trigger. The perfect example of a middle manager.

Those above her (as I mentioned Powell is a woman – a very tough one) continuously sought approval from layer upon layer of upper managers. They clearly knew that whatever action was taken would wind up on the front pages of newspapers. They needed to identify who would take the blame if the mission failed or was interpreted badly by society. This part of the film filled me with disgust. In my eyes, they were letting their egos get in the way of Powell completing her mission.

Around this time, the plot took another dramatic twist. Just after Powell received her approval to strike, a girl entered the scene and change the risk scenario once again. Now, here’s where I will acknowledge that military decisions are clearly different than most corporate decision. We are talking about balancing the value of human life. For the sake of analogy, though, please stay with me because I felt this part of the movie perfectly illustrated something that happens regularly in business decisions.

As the intensity around a difficult, risky decision climbs and we near closure, an analyst, or someone secretly opposed to a decision, throws out some new piece of data to derail the process. What often happens in business also happened here: the person responsible for executing the plan is asked to re-analyze the entire decision.

While the reanalysis was underway, we watched with frustration as the suicide bomber continued his preparations and the girl sold her bread in front of the house. Suddenly, the camera feed inside the house was lost – as often happens in business – we lose a data source and have less clarity in the ongoing decision analysis.

Simultaneously, the decision was taken to do something to change the risk profile – a man was sent to buy the bread. This decision represented a value call by the leaders. The life of the girl was more valuable than their man on the ground. We nervously watched his failed attempt to buy the bread followed by a chase which distracted everyone from the mission at hand.

After this distraction, the leaders were forcibly returned to the task of making a decision. Advisers weighed in. Having re analyzed the risk and political fallout – sacrificing one (it was likely the girl would not survive the strike) to potentially save 80+ people – all we’re in agreement with Powell’s plan to issue the strike.

The order was given and the drone pilot, with anguish written across his face, pulled the trigger. As the dust settled all watched in horror to see if the girl survived. She did, although, ultimately she perished due to her injuries.

Every single leader had mixed feelings about the result. They had accomplished their mission, but with collateral damage they all wanted to avoid. As I said before, this is very different from many business decisions but I observed a few productive and destructive leadership behaviors.

1. Flexibility – adapting quickly to a change in circumstance (risk profile) to proceed swiftly and cautiously toward an evolving goal.

2. Decisiveness – taking a decision versus causing delays by “referring up” (in this case all the delays had no impact on the final decision quality and result).

3. Challenging Intentions – some characters appeared to be taking an ethical stance when their true motivation was to stall the decision process as a power play. Their intention was not to improve decision quality or influence an ethical decision. It was simply to flex their power.

At the end of the movie no one celebrated, and all were exhausted by the ordeal. The most disturbing part was when the drone pilot was instructed to go home and sleep and be back in 12 hours for his next shift. What he needed was someone to talk with to process what he’d just done. A debrief, and then return fit for service.

Which reminded me of some advice I’d received recently triggered by a Paulo Coehko writing on defeat. Just as trees rest in the winter, so leaders and the teams they lead, need time to debrief, process, and rest before moving on to the next campaign or project. Perhaps, if we deliberately slow down between decisions, we could move more confidently and efficiently when it’s all on the line?

Paralyzing Prague

Rain
Sun
Laughter
Tears
Simplicity
Luxury
Prague is a city ripe with contrasts.

Beer flows and the babble of a hundred languages saturates the air. City squares pulse with people, necks bent, faces tipped upward admiring buildings looming overhead. To call these works of art buildings is to fall short of their grandeur.
For these are much more than buildings. These are structures, elaborately and painstakingly decorated to send a message to every soul who gazes their direction.
“I am important” they scream.
“I am valuable” they bellow.
The noise too intense, I flee the city center for a quieter part of town.
Here I find a green oasis rising above the city, hillsides cut with cobblestone switchbacks. Climbing to the top, I look down upon the luxurious city skyline and my ears are filled with whispers of trees, birdsong, the stirring of grass. I study the green space and find a welcome respite from the cacophony of buildings and people.
Slowly, carefully, I stride down the hill, picking my steps across the slippery stones. Hands hovering at my side, ready to catch me should I spill.
On the climb up, I felt bold, each step placed with confidence. Now, descending, I step lightly, careful to avoid a mistake.
As I near the bottom, the volume of the city increases. The rumbling of a train fills my ears as it rushes by. Through steamed windows I peer a crowd of passengers. I can almost smell the sweat and closeness of the people. People once again crowd into my camera viewfinder.
As the rain builds, I search for my next escape and quickly duck into a quiet art shop. The city is filled with Ateliers hawking pens, pencils, notebooks and canvases. This place compels creativity. It appears to be bursting from every corner.
Perhaps I misinterpreted the message of the fine buildings in the squares. Perhaps they spoke another message. Do they instead call upon us to reach deep inside, into the messy, beautiful part of each of us and pour ourselves into paper as art, words, expressions of our love for the world?
Perhaps it’s time to adjust the signal, listen differently. Find the quiet places to complemplate the noise and translate the message.