The irony of teaching is that it makes clear how little I truly know.
The beauty of teaching is that what little I know may still be useful.
Yesterday was the first class in The Art of Self-Coaching, a new course I'm teaching at Stanford this year. It's a topic I've been working on for years--I pulled together a loosely organized set of Self-Coaching Guides in 2009 and developed a more comprehensive framework a few years later (which HBR found interesting), and this year I integrated concepts from other disciplines in preparation for my Stanford course.
So as you can imagine, I was pretty eager to get started yesterday. I wanted to get to campus early to ensure that I'd have plenty of time to set up and be ready to go for my 10am class. Given the Bay Area's traffic patterns, I'd have to leave San Francisco by 7am to beat rush hour, which meant that I'd arrive at Stanford around 8am, and it wasn't going to take me 2 hours to get ready.
I decided I'd use the extra time to get in an early morning workout on campus, and then I'd shower at the gym and head over to my classroom. So yesterday morning I threw my clothes in a gym bag, pulled on some running shorts, and jumped in the car.
I left even earlier than I'd planned, made good time and arrived on campus around 7:45am. Perfect! I'd have a leisurely workout and still have plenty of time to get ready for class. I parked my car and reached for my gym bag...
It wasn't there.
I'd left it in San Francisco, having distracted myself as I walked out the door.
So there I was, in running shorts, two hours before my class started. OK, no problem--I'll just find a store and buy a pair of pants. Plenty of time...
Then I realized that my wallet was with my pants. In my gym bag. In San Francisco.
OK, new plan. I'll just contact someone I know near Stanford and borrow some money, and then I'll find a store and buy a pair of pants. I reached for my phone...
Then I realized that my phone was with my wallet, which was with my pants. In my gym bag. In San Francisco.
OK, another new plan. I'll drive back to San Francisco, grab my clothes, shower, drive back to Stanford again, and start all over. This time without the workout.
It was nearly 8am. I did the traffic math and realized it would never work. At best I'd arrive on campus just as my class was supposed to start, and more than likely I'd get caught in traffic and would be late. Not a great way for an instructor to start a new course.
OK, yet another new plan. If the Stanford bookstore is open, and if they sell pants, and if I can reach Amy, maybe the bookstore will let Amy pay for the pants by giving a credit card number over the phone.
Long story short, it all works out. The bookstore's open, and an amazingly helpful clerk takes pity on me and helps me find a pair of sweatpants that fit, and they call Amy, and the pants are purchased.
I don't have time for a workout, nor do I have any extra clothes, but I can clean up at the gym and look more-or-less like I'm capable of teaching a class. So I do, and I get to class early, and everything goes well. Big sigh of relief.
The punchline: I see a colleague later that morning, and she looks at my sweatpants and says, "Well, I should have had you dress me for my first day of class." Ba-dum-bum.
Photo by Raúl González. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.
The most popular elective course we offer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business is Interpersonal Dynamics--known to almost everyone as Touchy Feely. We currently offer 12 sections to a total of 432 students each year, and I estimate that roughly 90% of each graduating class of MBAs has taken the course. I took the course during my second year as an MBA student in 1999, and it's no understatement to say that it changed my life.
I learned a great deal about myself--most notably the fact that I had a long way to go if I wanted to be a truly effective communicator. Amy and I were stressed and unhappy after years of graduate school, and the course gave us the push we needed to see a marriage counselor--and we'll hit 30 years together in 2016. The faculty member for my section was Mary Ann Huckabay, who I asked to be my executive coach in my first job after earning my MBA--and who's still my coach today. And my experience in the course planted the seed that eventually led me to launch my own coaching practice in 2006. If it weren't for Touchy Feely, my life would undoubtedly be very different.
So it was deeply meaningful when I was recently asked by the current faculty to teach a section in the course next year, in Winter Quarter 2016. I've served as a facilitator in the course 16 times since 2007, and I've participated in a number of other groups that employ the course's T-group methodology, but teaching a section still represents a big step up for me, and I appreciate the vote of confidence by the faculty.
I've written about various aspects of the course many times before: Feedback I received as a facilitator and what I learned as a weekend facilitator; the role of the course in promoting self-knowledge and self-awareness; how T-groups support double-loop learning, and help to build trust and establish boundaries; and even the continued existence of T-groups despite rumors to the contrary. And I expect that experiencing the course from this new perspective will prompt a number of new reflections.
I wouldn't be in a position to take on this role without the support of many people over the years, starting with the 192 students with whom I've shared a T-group and 13 amazing co-facilitators: Karin Scholz Grace, Sue Neville, Zoe Dunning, Inbal Demri Shaham, Chevalisa Bruzzone, Lisa Kay Solomon, Liselotte Zvacek, Erica Peng, Michael Terrell, Chris McCanna, Jimena Galfaso, Saraswathi Ram Mohan, and Agnes Le.
Thanks also to my colleagues on the Stanford faculty and coaching staff: Andrea Corney, Carole Robin, Chris McCanna, Collins Dobbs, Gary Dexter, Hugh Keelan, John Cronkite, Lara Tiedens, Richard Francisco, Ricki Frankel, Scott Bristol, and Yifat Sharabi-Levine. As always, thanks to Mary Ann Huckabay, who's been the best mentor anyone could ask for.
Photo of Peter Wegner's "Monument to Change as It Changes" by Ed and Eddie. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.
Fifteen years ago, in the Spring Quarter of my second year at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I took a course on real estate from Joel Peterson, who'd previously been CEO of Trammell Crow, one of the largest developers in the United States and who today runs his own private equity firm and sits on numerous boards while continuing to teach at the GSB. I was interested in the topic in part because my grandfather had been a developer, but I had no plans to pursue a career in the field. I took the course primarily because I'd heard Peterson was a thoughtful and informative teacher, which turned out to be a tremendous understatement.
Peterson had a big impact on me, and I've written before about lessons I learned from him in that course, such as knowing the difference between importance and urgency, and understanding why we work. I've continued to follow him over the years and have written more recently about his perspective on the importance of organizational culture and the emotional dimension of trust.
A few weeks ago Peterson's post If I Could Start Over, Here's What I'd Do Differently reminded me of the notes I took during his last lecture in that real estate course, and I'm struck by how useful I still find them 15 years later. The numbered comments below are the notes I originally took in Peterson's classroom, followed by my current reflections on each topic.
1. Have a life plan.
I'm not a planner. I've quit jobs 4 times in my life without knowing what was going to happen next. Each time I had a sense of direction, but I felt the need to move before every detail was worked out. You could say that I'm a searcher, with a preference for flexibility and responsiveness. But at age 47 I find that I'm more fulfilled, more effective and happier than ever--not every moment of every day, but on balance. And this sense of well-being has clearly resulted from my decision in 2006 to become an executive coach and from my daily commitment to this work over the past decade. Have I become a planner? No--but I do have a plan for my life that gives me a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.
2. Don't skip steps.
And don't take shortcuts. Recognize when temptations to save time or effort will be counterproductive in the long run, either by undermining our ethical standards or by lowering the quality of our work below an important threshold. This isn't to say that we should allow ourselves to be hobbled by perfectionism, but understand the difference between A) moving fast and getting things done and B) moving too fast and making mistakes.
3. Beware false peaks.
What seems like the top may just be a local maximum, so while we should enjoy our successes, we should also step back and look at the larger picture. The jobs that I mention leaving above all had much to offer, but had I stayed longer at any one of them I very possibly wouldn't be an executive coach today, and I might have missed out on this tremendously gratifying career. Another aspect of this concept is the importance of not getting too excited when things are going well, because that's a necessary skill if we are also to avoid getting too upset when things are going badly. We build resilience not only by managing our distress, but also by tempering our excitement.
4. Organizational interconnecting ("Belaying").
Belaying is a technique that allows rock climbers and mountaineers to take bigger leaps at lower risk because they're connected to others who are providing them with support. The analogy in the professional world is making connections throughout our organization. Look beyond our role, our immediate colleagues, and our function to build these relationships. More specifically, I've always looked for opportunities to connect with IT and administrative staff, and investing authentically in those relationships has been an important source of support at some critical moments.
5. Reward negative feedback.
People are keenly aware of the risks of speaking up in organizational life, and the most effective leaders build a culture and establish working relationships in which critical feedback is invited rather than squelched, appreciated rather than punished. Unpleasant truths are precious gifts, and should be treated accordingly. This doesn't make the process fun--I can still find negative feedback hard to hear, even after years of dedicating myself to the process. But I value the lessons it brings more than I resent its sting, in part because I try to be open to it without allowing it to undermine my sense of self-validation.
6. Learn to work with people.
Recognize that as leaders we succeed or fail not on the basis of our personal accomplishments, but on our ability to attract, retain, motivate and manage others. I've worked with many clients and students whose initial success result from their effectiveness as individual contributors and who struggled in more senior roles until they learned to do less and lead more.
7. Finance (2 years), Marketing/Operations (5-7 years), People (10+ years).
This is Peterson's advice for a post-MBA career path, and it's not necessarily relevant to everyone. But his larger point is that the first stages of a career are focused on mastering technical skills, and the later stages are all about managing and motivating people. Our technical expertise may help us rise to leadership positions, but once there we need to lean on (and possibly develop) an entirely different set of skills.
8. Align yourself with other peoples' interests; learn what they want and help them get it.
Peterson isn't suggesting that we subjugate our goals to those of others, but rather that we bear in mind the principles of David Bradford and Allan Cohen's reciprocal influence model. We're all motivated by different "currencies," from material compensation to public acclaim, from autonomy and independence to a sense of teamwork. We need to recognize that others' currencies may differ from our own, and we need to understand the specific currencies of those around us--peers, superiors and subordinates.
9. Don't be made bitter by disappointments.
Because they're inevitable. We will be disappointed in our professional lives, over and over again, and if we allow ourselves to become embittered by those experiences we will waste precious time and energy ruminating over them. This isn't to say that we should pretend we don't feel disappointment, sadness and loss when things go wrong; we must embrace those emotions in order to work through them. But having done so, we must let them go. Ultimately it's not our circumstances that matter, it's how we respond to them.
10. People must be capable, high-character and empowered.
Seek out people who not only have the requisite skills, but who also possess a clear moral compass and a sense of personal agency. And two-out-of-three isn't enough; we have to get it right in all three categories. Note that as leaders we have a significant influence on #3, and once we have talented, ethical, self-motivated people in place we need to get of their way.
11. People need recognition, to learn, grow, and be loved--not just money.
As a leader it's critical to bear in mind the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and to be keenly aware of the limits of the former. Not only are there constraints on how much compensation we can offer someone, but there are also diminishing returns to material rewards because of the inevitable process of hedonic adaptation. By becoming skilled in providing people with recognition, learning, growth and even love, leaders can evoke and enhance their intrinsic motivation, a tremendous source of power.
12. People are smart and will figure things out over time.
So trust them, and look for opportunities to build their trust in you. This requires a growth mindset and will certainly entail a willingness to tolerate mistakes in order to learn from them as people grow into new roles and responsibilities. In my work with MBAs at Stanford, I help to prepare our second-year Leadership Fellows to guide groups of first-years through our Leadership Labs course and to coach individual students one-on-one. I've learned that when I trust my students' capabilities and encourage them to push their limits, they accomplish much more than when I emphasize avoiding mistakes.
13. In human relations, slow is fast and fast is slow.
Relationships matter, and they take time to develop. Moving too quickly may push people beyond their comfort zone or raise fears about our motives and intentions, causing them to pull back. It's important to invite people in, so that they maintain a sense of agency and choice in the relationship. This inevitably takes more time at first, but it pays off over the long term. (I'm also reminded of Tom Peters' wisdom: "Hard is soft, soft is hard. The readily-manipulable numbers are the true 'soft stuff.' The relationships/leadership/'culture'...are the true 'hard stuff.'")
14. Not every important issue falls into your Inbox.
Earlier in our careers we're told what to do. The many people around and above us decide what's important and point us in that direction. But the more senior we become, the less guidance we get, and eventually it's up to us to decide what's important. If we fail to notice this transition--which doesn't always correspond with a new job or formal responsibilities--we wind up waiting for instructions that never arrive. Further, if we allow our Inbox to set our priorities, we let other people to chart our path indefinitely. Ultimately we need to develop the ability to manage our attention, to focus on some things and actively ignore others.
15. We do well on Important/Urgent and on Not Important/Urgent, but we fall short on Important/Not Urgent.
Tasks are urgent when there's a deadline attached and someone else cares about them. But there are many tasks that will never be urgent and yet are extremely important: Regular exercise. A good night's sleep. Meaningful time with our loved ones. It's essential to make time for these activities, to set boundaries that help us keep these commitments, and not to allow others' sense of urgency to dictate our priorities. (I discussed this at greater length in 2006.)
16. Do whatever needs to be done.
Sometimes we need to roll up our sleeves, grab a bucket, and start bailing, so to speak. Saying "That's not my job" is profoundly unhelpful at these moments, and people will remember whether you helped out or watched them struggle. That said, once the crisis is past, we need to figure out what was leaking in the first place and why the waters were allowed to rise so high. And if those responsible resist making the changes necessary to prevent future crises, we can't keep rescuing them indefinitely.
17. Be responsive to the market.
Don't get stuck on a fixed definition of who you are as a professional and what services you offer. We can't change with the tides, nor should we lose sight of those deeper values that define us as individuals. But we need to be attuned to the ways in which we create value for customers, users, clients and colleagues, and we need to evolve as professionals in order to maintain those relationships. Sometimes this requires a big jump--developing a new set of skills, or obtaining a new credential--but more often it's a subtle shift over time, and we're well-served by paying attention to signs that the markets in which we operate are changing.
18. Move to where the needs are.
It's important not only to sense external opportunities, but also to understand the internal markets within our own organizations. The ability to sense these internal needs and respond to them, in some cases by seeking out a new position, but more often simply by offering to help, can play a significant role in our success.
19. Don't bury the lead.
When speaking or presenting, make our most important points up front, and bear in mind that what matters to us may not matter as much to our audience. Learn to sense what others are most interested in, and tailor our approach to meet their needs. Don't stick rigidly to a script or a chronological recitation of facts, but be prepared to improvise and flex along the way.
20. Start with the conclusion.
Before embarking on a new project--or a new career--clarify our goals and have a sense of where we want to end up. Goals aren't an unalloyed good thing--if we're too fixated on them they can diminish our sense of satisfaction and cause us to abandon our efforts prematurely. But they're important in helping us choose a direction and initiate action.
21. Hire for brains and heart; you can give them experience.
When hiring we too often look to minimize the downside risk by prioritizing past experience--we want someone who's done it before, because that gives us confidence that they can do it again. But a consequence of this approach is that we also limit the upside opportunity, and we may overlook those people who are rich in potential but lack experience. When we find worthy candidates with short resumes, trust not only in their capabilities but also in our leadership.
I've worked with many leaders who've wrestled with this decision, and a common theme is that they wish they'd done it sooner.
23. Be the scribe whenever possible.
The victors write the history books, but those who write history are also likely winners. Offering to take notes in a meeting not only guarantees that our views will be accurately represented, but also builds goodwill as a form of service to the team. The key is developing the ability to participate actively while scribing, and ensuring that we don't become side-tracked into a support role while others take the lead.
24. Run your own PR campaign.
Peterson didn't use the phrase Brand You, but that's what he was talking about. We need to take responsibility for promoting ourselves, which involves both developing a personal brand and getting the word out through a variety of channels. This does not mean putting style over substance, or misrepresenting ourselves, or being inauthentic in order to attract attention, but, rather, finding ways to tell our stories in a credible and personal voice to people who might be interested. This is why I started blogging in 2004 and tweeting in 2007, and these two channels have been the primary means through which I've connected with the world of people who care about coaching.
25. Preparation is essential.
The more I work with senior leaders, the more I know this to be true--and the more I understand that "preparation" means something much different at higher levels of leadership. Earlier in our career being prepared means "knowing our stuff," being able to readily answer questions and solve problems. But that form of preparation often comes at the expense of other activities, such as sleep, exercise or reflective time. For senior leaders being prepared means "being in the right frame of mind" in order to handle stressful and complex interactions. And that form of preparation requires an ongoing commitment to activities such as sleep, exercise and reflective time--what were once luxuries are now job requirements.
26. They can't take away the stuff that's really important.
Like most successful people Peterson has also suffered some big career setbacks, and he was candid about that in our class. He emphasized that those losses are trivial when weighed against what really matters in life: our health, the love of those around us, a sense of meaning and purpose. And he added that those who control our professional fates, whether superiors or board members or investors or customers, do not control our health, our loved ones, our reasons for being.
27. It's your job to be your kids' cheerleader.
Peterson isn't suggesting that this is a parent's only job, but as he wrote recently, if he were to live his life over again he'd "be a cheerleader, not a policeman" at home. I'm not a parent, nor do I think of my MBA students at Stanford as my kids, but in my work with them over the past 8 years I've certainly come to prioritize cheerleading over policing. My experience has been that when people feel truly supported, they tend to rise to the occasion--far more often than when they feel policed. This isn't to say that I don't hold my students accountable--I do. But I've come to believe that being a good cheerleader makes it easier, not harder, to be both supportive and challenging.
28. Give where you have no expectation of return.
Recent research notes the positive psychological effects of volunteering and other forms of charitable giving, and there may even be a biological basis for our generous impulses. But another dynamic I've noticed in my own life is the need to "pay it forward." I've been helped by many people whose generosity I can never repay, most notably among the GSB's alumni community. So today when I'm contacted by current student and recent graduates I gladly offer whatever help I can, knowing that I'm replenishing a general pool of goodwill from which I benefited in the past.
29. Seek out blame and accept it.
I made a big mistake this year, and it would have been easy to avoid taking responsibility or to shift the blame onto someone else. It was embarrassing, but I stepped forward and made it clear that I and no one else was at fault. I got this email in response: "Thanks for the clarification, Ed. I appreciate your sense of accountability and honesty. You are a true gentleman." It's not easy to live up to this ideal, but I'm inspired to do my best to try.
30. Go to a funeral every year.
It's important to be reminded of the shortness of life, to reflect on the things that truly matter, and to ask whether we're living our lives accordingly. Attending a funeral accomplishes all three at once, and we should embrace these opportunities, not shrink from them. Painful losses have taught me much, and while the learning doesn't justify the suffering, it does give it meaning.
Photo courtesy of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
It's been an unusual year. There have been some very high highs: I believe I'm doing the best work I've ever done with my clients and students; my brother David realized a long-held dream and opened a bar; I began writing for HBR; I stepped into a new role with Stanford T-groups; and I realized how much I have to be thankful for.
And there have been some very low lows: I failed at an important project; I blew out a disk and was in pain for months; I'm no longer in pain, but I'm still struggling to exercise regularly (and to meditate at all); I wrote almost nothing from March through August; and I was reminded (several times) of one of my greatest weaknesses.
There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living: there is nothing that is harder to learn. It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and...it takes the whole of life to learn how to die... [I]t takes a great man and one who has risen far above human weaknesses not to allow any of his time to be stolen from him, and it follows that the life of such a man is very long because he has devoted wholly to himself whatever time he has had. None of it lay neglected and idle; none of it was under the control of another, for, guarding it most grudgingly, he found nothing that was worthy to be taken in exchange for his time. [Ch. 7]
I'm a long way from living up to that standard, but I'm closer than I've ever been, and that's something.
Tonight Amy and I walked along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz and watched the sun set; it was a good way to end a year. See you in 2014.
A corner bar where all are welcome and there's a little something for everyone.
All Souls seeks to be a neighborhood bar. We’re not a sports bar, a gastropub, a wine bar, a speakeasy or a restaurant. We will be none of these things, yet we will have something for everyone. You will be able to find the craft beers of a gastropub and the interesting labels of a wine bar. If you prefer a cocktail it will be crafted with care and attention to detail. The food will be simple, but elevated, not your typical bar food. And you’ll be able to enjoy all of it while listening to good, eclectic music or watching the game quietly playing in the background.
David's a longtime DC bartender and bar manager, including a number of years at Jaleo and Zaytinya, and running a place like All Souls has been his dream forever. Opening a new bar in DC takes a tremendous amount of work and patience, and David's poured his heart and soul into it.
Tonight David Garber, Commissioner of DC's Navy Yard neighborhood in Ward 6 was walking down T Street...
And we had the following exchange...
I'm really glad Garber shared that, because it reminds me how truly proud my brother Matthew and I are of David. Many, many people have made All Souls possible--most notably my talented sister-in-law Soung Wiser, whose awesome design firm did the logo you see in the window above (along with many other contributions.) And yet I do take a unique sense of brotherly pride in all of David and Matt's accomplishments, and it'll be a particularly special moment when the three of us get to pull up stools at All Souls and have a drink together. I hope you get a chance to stop by.
Alyson Madrigan and Kate Billing are two people who've taught me something about gratitude over the past few years. Alyson is a friend here in San Francisco I get to see every few months, while Kate is a consultant in New Zealand I've tweeted at but never met, and they've both made an effort to express and share their gratitude for things in life that most of us typically take for granted.
Alyson's nearing the end of a year-long project on #littlejoys, one post each day on something that brought her joy, like a view from a mountaintop in South Africa:
Kate's often posted about #3goodthings, usually accompanied by a photo of a note on which she describes three positive things that happened to her that day. One of my favorites includes 1) "Having our fab bus driver save us from certain death," 2) a "crazy intense thunder, lightning and hailstorm while I'm tucked up," and 3) a memorable Class of '84 reunion. I love it:
The Thanksgiving holiday is a perfect moment to be reminded of Alyson and Kate as I look back on this past year, because it's been a difficult one for me and Amy. We've both dealt with with physical ailments, professional challenges and personal frustrations, and we frequently just wanted 2013 to be OVER.
But while I can certainly get caught up in my mini-tragedies, I'm well aware of all the things I have to be thankful for on this day, which include...
Tomorrow the new school year begins in earnest for me at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where I've been an Instructor and Leadership Coach since 2007 and where I was an MBA student myself 15 years ago. This past year has been full of lows and highs for me, ranging from a painful back injury to a book and a brand-new blog, so tomorrow's milestone is prompting me to step back and think about what I appreciate about Stanford right now and my hopes for the coming year.
I'm keenly aware of what a privilege it is to have such talented and dedicated students. I've worked in some capacity with roughly 1,000 Stanford MBAs over the years, and I can count on one hand those who I'm reluctant to think of as my fellow alumni. I'm not suggesting that our students are candidates for sainthood--they're young people who can lack perspective, make questionable choices, and spend way too much time on elaborate social activities, as young people do. (I sure did.)
But 99.9% of them work their asses off and seek to make the most of their abilities. And they all believe that they can do well by doing good in some way, shape or form. They are MBAs, of course, which means that they're competitive people who keep score, but very few are seeking simply to maximize their earning power; they want to make a difference in their professional lives, to leave the world a better place than they found it, and they expect to make a good living in the process. Will all those dreams come true? No. But I know how important it is to have those dreams in the first place, and I'm eager to do what I can to help as many of my students as possible realize theirs.
For the next six months I'll coach 12 Leadership Fellows as they in turn each support nine first-year students, and in the first half of 2014 I'll work with 24 students in two sections of Touchy Feely, our most popular elective (officially known as Interpersonal Dynamics), helping them develop a range of interpersonal and leadership skills. I'll wear some other hats too, but those will be my biggest responsibilities, and they're certainly the ones I look forward to the most.
I keep a list of the students I've worked with most closely over the years--a total of 311 at the moment--and this year I had several opportunities to reach out to them. I wanted to let them know about the writing I've been doing, which I hoped would be a useful resource to them--and I also just wanted to learn more about their post-MBA careers. The response was gratifying, although not surprising, because so many of them are doing such cool things:
Now, is everyone out there doing something this awesome? No, of course not--as I said, not all dreams come true, and there are plenty of alums I know who are less-than-thrilled by what they're doing at the moment. In some cases they're working off their B-school debt, while others knowingly played it safe because they wanted a brand name on the resume. But even those who aren't finding their work fulfilling now have the opportunity to ask their peers for advice and guidance--a resource that was invaluable when I made my own transition from management to coaching in 2006.
I often work with GSB alumni in my private coaching practice, but this year I'm also looking for more opportunities to tap into the wisdom of the alums I know so that it can be shared with my current students.
Despite the warm feelings I have about our students and alumni, I'm not one of those people who think Stanford is the center of the universe. It's an organization, like any other, and it's subject to the same dysfunctional pitfalls as any other. I think it's critical to step back and assess where Stanford falls short of its lofty rhetoric, not to assign blame but to look for opportunities to live up to our ideals.
To take just one example, the number of women enrolled at the GSB continues to hover around 35%. This is consistent with other MBA programs, and it certainly has more to do with the number of women applying than with a blatant bias at the school--but it's still a problem. I don't think the GSB's culture is as sexist as Harvard's, but I consistently hear from my women students that at times they feel unwelcome, and the school can do better.
That said, while I've had my share of frustrations with the GSB over the last seven years, I also truly believe that it's become a better place and continues to improve. Like any elite institution, it can be slow to change--but it does change. The culture isn't entirely flexible, but it's not rigid, either, and there is a collective desire on the part of everyone involved to aim high and get there. My colleagues and I on the school's coaching staff were hired seven years ago as part of a major revision to the school's curriculum, a process that grew out of the recognition that, as Dean Garth Saloner has said, "What [employers] really tell us they need are leadership skills. It's what you might think of as the softer skills, or the people skills. Those are the things that are in short supply in managers who they want to rise to the most important and significant ranks in their companies."
That's a big change in what we mean by management education, and even though I learned a great deal at the GSB 15 years ago, I believe that today's students are much better off than I was. I feel lucky to be playing a small part in that process, and I'm excited to make a modest but meaningful contribution this year.
Photo by Neotake Murayama. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.
Photo © Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
I moved to San Francisco in 1990 with no meaningful loyalties to any sports teams, and I quickly fell in love with the city, so it's no surprise that I became a 49ers and Giants fan. I don't write about sports often, although occasionally they provide useful examples and counter-examples that are relevant to my work with leaders and MBA students. So today I want to express my appreciation for Colin Kaepernick, #7 above, and Alex Smith, #11, the current and previous quarterbacks for the 49ers.
Smith was a long-suffering (albeit well-compensated) talent on the poorly coached, horrendously mismanaged and perennially terrible Niners teams of the second half of the last decade. He deserves some blame for those failures, of course, but in my opinion he was repeatedly let down by leaders who simply had no idea what they were doing. New leadership eventually turned the team around and seemed to rekindle some magic in Smith, who in 2012 was having his best season by far when an injury knocked him out of the lineup.
Kaepernick, a second-year player, took over and never looked back, keeping the starting job even after Smith had fully recovered. Some fans felt, as I did, that Smith was being unfairly denied this opportunity to finally lead a decent team, and we couldn't quite embrace Kaepernick, the new guy, the stranger. Through it all Smith was a model teammate, although I have to imagine it felt like a cruel twist of fate to lose his position just as the team was on the cusp of greatness. And I can't even fathom what Smith felt when the team he led for years fell just short and lost the Super Bowl with Kaepernick at the helm. Half-misery, half-schadenfreude, I guess.
But the off-season heals, and I'm happy that Smith was able to move on and find a new professional home in Kansas City, and as the 49ers traded scores with the Green Bay Packers (Boo!) in the season's first game this weekend, I found myself equally happy that Kaepernick was on our side. The Packers had been threatening before the game to shut down Kaepernick by intimidating and overwhelming him, and what finally marked the transition for me and made me think of Kaepernick as our guy was this quote after the game:
#49ers QB Colin Kaepernick: "If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one."— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) September 9, 2013
I love it.
I'm not suggesting that Smith and Kaepernick are role models--they're entertainers. (And as Charles Barkley once said, athletes and rock stars aren't role models.) But I find it interesting to think about their different approaches to leadership, at least in the narrow realm of NFL quarterbacking, and to wonder what we might learn from them and apply in the wider world: Smith, the stoic veteran who refused to complain and refused to quit, and Kaepernick, the joyful upstart who refuses to be intimidated, who refuses to be anyone but himself. These approaches aren't mutually exclusive, and I suspect Smith would have benefited from a little more defiance earlier in his career--and I suspect Kaepernick might benefit from a little stoicism some day in the future.
There's value in finding the balance between those two poles in ourselves, being able to regulate and self-manage and stoically persist through times of intense stress while also being able to tap into our defiance, our anger, our power and, when necessary, let someone know that we won't be intimidated.