Resist Clickbait News

Americans need to learn to separate entertainment from news and politics as a bloodsport. “How” the news is presented is as important as what is and what is not presented. Start to notice the words, the tone, and the emotion that is evoked.

Storytellers and novelists want to evoke a reaction and conflict creates drama. Media often uses these same techniques to draw attention. I’m not suggesting I know where the exact line is — but I do think we need to be aware of how and when these techniques are used, and to choose our news according.

Check out these headlines from a fake news source I found on Facebook. They make it clear what the viewer should think with terms like “slam” and “exploit” and “blaming.”  More than that they are generating the conflict between liberals and their viewers.  (fact: as a “liberal” I have never blamed Trump for the weather). Watching the actual video – the tone and intonation is theatrical at best.

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The Power of Agents

“I don’t worry about contract negotiations – I let my agent handle that. I just focus on playing.” The other day, a client mentioned that comment from a famous football player.*

“Wouldn’t that be nice?” she commented, referring to how much more efficient it would be to not worry about jockeying for the next job — but instead to focus on the work?

“Absolutely,” I agreed, “that is the dream.”

Agents help minimize the emotional cost and labor of rejection and help focus professionals on the work that matters. From my experience, and following the work of folks like Adam Grant and Adam Galinsky, it is also very common for people to be much stronger advocates for themselves than for others.

To take a non-professional example, consider matchmaking. I am nature wing woman, since

  1.  I am often way more confident in my friends’ value than they are
  2. My emotional detachment from the outcome allows me to be much bolder
  3. My natural sensitivity helps me shield my friends from the fall out of rejection
  4.  My ability to reframe situations allows me to understand when a rejector was a dork clearly wasn’t good enough for my friend anyway, and
  5. I’m wired so that helping other people gives me way more energy than focusing on myself.

When planning your next transition – consider and plan for how you can use agents, both paid and unpaid, to accelerate your results.


*sorry, I’m showing my lack of NFL knowledge here and I don’t honestly remember who it was.

Why you can’t keep good employees…

Richard Branson once said that if you put your employees first, they will take care of your customers. I’ve worked for many organizations that put customers first and I have to say, I think Branson has it right.

Client-first organizations can often lead to disrespecting co-workers.  (“Oh I’m sorry a client emergency came up.) High status / low-status dichotomy, with those with access to clients on top. To me, lack of dignity creates value dissonance and is a sign of a broken culture.

For 18 months, I worked on a digital app that used predictive analytics to identify “High Performers” at risk of quitting. After reviewing longitudinal data for thousands of employees – we found that certain high performers were 5X more likely to quit after getting a pay raise or promotion. This was counterintuitive because one would normally think a raise would engender happiness and loyalty.

A couple of theories were tossed out including “market validation” and “poaching.” However, after some digging and interviews, we found that such defections were an indication of deeper dissatisfaction. When you have a cultural fit, where people feel challenged and respected – people are happy and loyal – they are less extrinsically motivated, less expensive and less at risk to leave.

That experience reminded me of this facebook post – about a truly broken sytem.

It’s hard not to be struck by the visible emotion and the heartbreak displayed by these teachers struggling to take care of themselves and their families – over their calling. In the corporate world,  discussions abound about organization’s higher purpose. In my opinion, this situation demonstrates an abuse of leadership. Smart, heartless, politicians use these teachers’ conflict between their values (serving kids + their financial security) to keep them “trapped” in a thankless and undervalued job. It is interesting that everyone in this video expresses some kind of guilt for quitting. Even though, they intellectually understand it is because of their government’s decision not to play them what they’re worth.

Sidenote: “Guilt” blocks the third chakra – i.e. the source of self-esteem, ego, and pride.

I’m struck by how hard many of them seem to have tried to do the work that is aligned with their values — and I am disappointed in a legislature and a society that takes advantage of that motivation. Finally, what I like about this video is the end where the teachers catalog their different jobs – because I think it demonstrates their market value and the opportunity costs of their labor. Sadly, I think a lot of politicians are pretty heartless and don’t value kindness, empathy, and human decency. Which should concern anyone interested in how are future generations are being taught.

Disagree With Compassion: A Case Study

This clip of Beto O’Rourke has been making the rounds on Social Media. Politics aside (and I think you know where I stand on such things) — it is a great example of communicating and collaborating. There is a lot in this response that I really appreciate. I think it is one of the best examples of responding with empathy and communicating with stories that I have seen in a while.

Below is a quick annotation of my favorite points.

0:13 Beto O’Rourke, listens and nods acknowledging the question.

0:28 Thanks the questioner, honestly and sincerely

0:33 Acknowledges that it is a difficult topic (read: emotional and polarizing).

0:35 Repeats the question concisely – confirming that he has heard the full question.

0:54 Confirms a shared value, i.e. respect for those who have served in the military

0:58 I love the short answer. It’s clear, direct and honest.

1:07 Reiterates his respect for people on both sides of the issue.

1:20 I love that he reiterates that we are all on the same team (American) — and can still disagree. As someone who is craving respect and civility in public discourse, I am 100% here for that. Divisiveness only benefits those currently in power.

1:46 Compassionate and consciously Beto starts to bring in the stories of the counter POV – i.e. the experiences of black folks

2:02 “The young girls who dies in the church bombing” — man that KILLS me.

2:26 “dragged out by their collar at the Woolworth lunch counter” — as a story teller – details are key in evoking the image of other people’s stories.

2:33 Beto connects both sides – THROUGH military service.

3:15 After providing a history lesson – connects that back to the REAL protest.

3:30 “They are frustrated with people like me” – Wow I love the personal responsibility there!

3:35 “frustrated by those in positions of public trust and power.” — I think we ALL can relate to that sentiment!







2. 4. 6. 8 – Who Do We Appreciate?

I’m still not sure I believe in the universe, or god, or cosmic energy or Buddha or whatever. That said, whether or not he/she/it is real, one thing is certain – he/she/it has a sense of humor.

It’s like the universe has been saying, “Heather, you don’t have to believe in me or fate or anything — that’s fine — but I’m just going to keep tossing signs and coincidences your way, just to keep you guessing.” Continue reading “2. 4. 6. 8 – Who Do We Appreciate?”

Talking about suicide

I didn’t expect to write this, however, learning about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain hit me hard. I’m going to get personal and go all over the map with this article – you’ve been warned. I’ve been aware of the link between depression and creativity since childhood. “Crazy” runs in my family (i.e. bipolar, multiple personalities, ADD, ADHD, depression etc.) so does creativity. People I love have attempted suicide, a few have succeeded.

For a long time, I assumed extreme emotional vicissitudes – fluctuations between highs and lows was simply the price of being weirdly creative. I tried therapy. For me, it didn’t do much and kind of pissed me off.

I eventually found my therapy in sports, friends and yoga + meditation. Continue reading “Talking about suicide”


Dual Monuments to Our Nation’s Creative Destiny

The George Washington Parkway is one of my favorite drives — for many reasons, not least of which is that it offers many fantastic views of our nation’s capital and scenic natural vistas.  It was during a pre-dawn commute on my way to teach a 6 AM yoga, that I found myself contemplating creativity and the chakras.

Watching the scenery flow by, I noticed the Washington Monument across the river before exiting to jump on 395 past the Air Force Memorial. Thinking about balancing our physical need and metaphysical needs – it struck me that there were few more perfect symbols for yang & yin — than these two monuments. Continue reading “Dual Monuments to Our Nation’s Creative Destiny”


How the “Me Guide” can make you a better teammate

Instead of working on your resume – which most folks only do when they need a job —  consider developing and maintaining a “Me Guide” which will be helpful to you and your team!

I needed this guide when I went through a series of five leadership transitions in less than three years. It occurred to me that it would be helpful to have a document that would get me and my directors on the same page. I was working with the digital UX team who had just launched a slick onboarding tool, for new hires.  The next, obvious step would be … Continue reading “How the “Me Guide” can make you a better teammate”


Are you gig blocking your best employees?

“Everyone has a side-gig these days, I have a side gig!” Michael Dumlao, Booz Allen’s Director of Brand, exclaimed after his presentation on their re-branding efforts.  I was impressed with his response. I’d been skeptical when Mr. Dumlao described Booz, the grandfather of management consulting firms, as “a 100-year old start-up.”

I’ve been part of enough change initiatives with large organizations to know the difference between “talking” about being more creatively innovative and actually making it happen. Mr. Dumlao’s answer suggested that their brand transformation had indeed crossed the talk/do chasm.

Earlier that week I had been discussing potential opportunities at a well known consulting firm, let’s call it Firm A – only to discover it has a policy not to allow “side-hustles.” Needless to say, I was bummed.

I left my last company; let’s call it Firm B, because a similar policy left me feeling stifled and bored. My old firm had good reasons for its policy, it was risk-averse, and had strict compliance rules, especially relating to their audit work, and it makes sense not to allow employees to “compete” with the firm.

The reason the Firm A gave me for disallowing side gigs was that they expected all their employee’s energy to go to their work. (As a creative consultant I have to say, that logic reflects a lack of understanding and appreciation for the creative process.) For firm A’s policy to make sense, there has to be perfect alignment of interests between the firm and the individual and very probably perfect information exchange, as well as a shared view of risk. While I can imagine this to be possible, I think it unlikely.

These policies mitigate both value & risk

I remember reading once that in Silicon Valley, investors should look at what programmers work on in their spare time. Looking at these passion projects makes sense. Whenever I was assessing pilots and proof of concept pitches for the data innovation group, I found that the enthusiasm of the data scientists and programmers was a significant indicator of a project’s success, exceeding even the impact of senior leadership’s enthusiasm, and far exceeding expected financial gains. IMO, passion projects are incredibly efficient in terms of time management because folks access flow – an optimized often generative energy state. Also,

People learn by doing

Restricting side projects to a “hobby” – i.e. you can’t test out market viability, means that your best people can’t test and calibrate their impact. Such policies are disempowering and kill entrepreneurial drive. This is a problem if you want to retain “impactors” – a term I lifted from Jenny Blake’s book NYT best-selling book, “Pivot.”

Off the top of my head some benefits for allowing employees to engage in side-gigs

  • Potential cross-pollination of ideas – across industries
  • Empowering under-represented groups to understand their impact
  • Helps employees mitigate financial risk
  • Encourages employees to think like an owner
  • Mitigate “boredom” and develops new skills
  • Encourages external networking
  • Allows impactors to “test” out ideas without the constraint of firm oversight or approval

Lastly, and most obviously, side gigs are rapidly becoming the new norm. According to Upwork, it’s estimated that 50% of millennials are engaged in the gig economy and that number is only expected to grow. I suspect that the most prestigious firms will find that side-gig restrictions will hurt their ability to attract and retain top talent.

Interested in understanding how side-gig can factor into your career habit?

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The Future is Feedback 

Blind-sided, crushed, devastated, hurt, frustrated, confused, that’s how folks have described the feeling of an unexpected negative annual review.

Communicate like an adult

Long before I became a consultant I came up with the fundamental rule with roommates. “If you don’t tell me something’s wrong – you can’t be annoyed.” It’s a solid rule that has held up in multiple aspects of life and is increasingly important for the relationship economy. I had learned the hard way that if you don’t establish clear expectations, i.e. no dishes in the sink, no borrowing my shoes, no cheese fondue parties chaos reign and issues build up that ultimately wreck your friendship, sexiest coral pumps, and sweet pad.

Continue reading “The Future is Feedback “

Pushing back on “Lean In”

Mary Rose McCaffrey, Vice President of Security at Northrup Grumman did not hold back in her keynote address to McLean High School Women Leaders. In this age of #metoo, she reminded the young women assembled that there are still be plenty of men who will block you and tell you women can’t do the work. Her advice?

“Smile and do it anyway.”

Taking questions from the audience, her gaze alighted on one impossibly slender hand thrust up from the crowd.

The girl, no more than sixteen years old, stood up. Her voice strong as she aseked.
“Can you tell us about a time you had to deal with bias and how you overcame it?”
Mrs. McCaffrey, a veteran with over 31 years in organizations like the CIA, National Intelligence Agency and Dept of Defense laughed softly – as did many of the other mentors in attendance.

We all have stories.

“Honestly, I’ve spent most of my career, not focusing on the folks who wanted to hold me back.” She began, then paused to consider.
“There was a time early in my career. I was assigned to a team, and I was the only woman, which was normal for the time. I knew working with this particular director would be rough, and it was. He would send me to attend the de-briefs he didn’t want to attend. In those meetings, however, they needed decisions from our team. So I made them, and…”
She paused then explained how when she went back to the team, the same director would overturn every one of her decisions. Not for any real reason. It was clear that his goal was to undermine her. Basically, he was being an unreasonable pain in the ass and this happened again and again. 

Her solution? Document it. She kept track of ever occurrence for well over a month. When she had more than enough examples she went to his boss with her evidence.

Long story short, he was removed from that position and she took over as director. I’d like to report,

The crowd went wild.

Well as wild as a bunch of high school girls on their best behavior can be. It was the sort of encouraging Lean-In kind of story that women need to hear to take on the world.

Still, I was uneasy, sitting there with over twenty years of work experience, the story made me pause. Frankly, I resent the need for CYA maneuvers. I admire Mary Rose McCaffrey, her poise, her stoicism and her strength. I don’t think I could have done what she did. The truth of the matter is,

I wouldn’t want to. 

I’ve been in similar situations and have not handled them with such grace. By the time I realized just how biased and messed up the situation was, I didn’t feel like it was worth my effort to document it all. During the networking fair that followed the speech, I mentioned my response to another mentor. She reminded me, 

“She’s the one telling the story– the actual story may have been a lot messier.”
That gave me pause. Women hear these kinds of pithy success stories – all the time. But we often fail to think of the broader context, the white space around the story. There are often numerous assumptions taken for granted that lead to that particular success. Things like:
  1. Objective Power. She had enough perspective and “power” to recognize that her director was gaslighting her. Too often as junior members of a team, without explicit power, we’ll defer to authority – and conflate objective truth with subjective difference. That got me thinking about where her power comes from.
  2. She was married. Clearly, she is extremely talented, but it also helps that she is married. As women put off marriage fvariousous reasons is important to consider what impact this will have on mobility. I remember a 2002 Women in Management leadership panel I attended right before business school, specially that 5 out of 6 of the women panelists were married. All of those that were married credited their success, at least in part, to having a supportive spouse. As a single woman this struck as kind of scary – truth be told it still does.
  3. She was committed. She wanted to be where she was, which speaks to her grit, but also that she had some agency. She was fortunate to have selected a field which was aligned with her strengths. All of which combined to make it more likely that she would put up a fight. Unfortunately, I see too many under-employed folks getting stuck, depressed, and disengaging.
  4. Luck. Finally, there is some modicum of luck having a supportive male leadership. All of which was helped on by her talent, her reputation and frankly her stoicism, which is typically a male style of leadership.
This dissection is not meant to take away from Mrs. McCaffrey’s extraordinary success, talent, and grit. Rather it is to acknowledge that there is a lot more that goes into success than simply grit, and documentation.  If hard work was the answer, we’d have a female president.
We need to learn to listen to this leanin type of stories with a grain of salt. The truth is women are still vastly underrepresented in leadership. It’s not lack of talent or determination or even “babies” that hold women back – let’s face it, it’s bias. If the current systems are too distorted to properly value talent, that talent must create new systems and organizations that will make proper use of it.

Women need to cultivate their personal power on their terms.

That includes figuring out their finances and learning how to make their own money early, so that can eschew and push back on the gender tax (currently at about 25% for white women + one degree).  Women also have a unique advantage when it comes to building deep, trusting connected networks. Women should be empowered to tap into these “softer” strengths authentically and help each other build and sustain opportunities.  In fact, men should as well. We need an inclusive powerful approach to leadership that is not male or female but human and humane.

Career advice is not one size fits all.

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Imposter Syndrome just IS

Things got a little spicy at last week’s panel discussion on “Imposter Syndrome (IS).” This was not entirely unexpected – as Robert Dempsey explained in his intro, he’d purposely put together a diverse mix of forthright folks who weren’t afraid “to go there.” With that kind of permission, how could we not? All four panelists, myself included, are upwardly and have experienced feeling “outside” the norm – be that by gender, economically or culturally.

The inmates are running the asylum

Danielle Smalls, the moderator asked what role “fitting in”, had in our experiences of Imposter Syndrome. Taking a step back, it should be acknowledged, the need to “belong” and “fit in” isn’t in our heads. The desire for connection and understanding is fundamental to the human experience. As nearly every teenage movie. from Mean Girls to  DrumLine, reveals, dominant groups, i.e. those with “power”, often actively exclude those on the “fringe” – either out of fear, jealousy, or bias. Rivals or new entrants are given absurd, often contradictory feedback and assignments to prove themselves. Which is really just say they are submitting to the leader’s view of reality.

How this plays out in the workplace

As an example much has been written on how women are given conflicting feedback and put in the double bind or the tightrope dilemma, that specifically that they are both too tough, and unlikeable AND also too passive and lacking in confidence. It’s so common that when I asked the women in the audience if they had experienced this – all the hands went up. A fact which seemed to startle the men on the panel.
Most women can relate to the frustration of feedback which is basically telling them to “act like a man”, or worse “we wish you were a man.”  At the same time, many of us have watched as our male peers are applauded for being kind and empathetic, while we are asked to suppress those instincts.
This “double bind” as Adam Galinsky points out in his Ted Talk , is not about “gender” or race or socio-economic differences – it’s about power.
Once you understand that, it’s easier to not take actions quite so personally. We still need to deal with it.

Release the Kraken Feminist!!

Of course, even those of use with the best of intentions can appear to fall into this trap. Towards the end of the discussion, Rob, applauded the male panelists for being vulnerable and empathetic. (To be fair, our male panelists were incredibly forthright about dealing with depression and anxiety.) I had to point out, however, that he inadvertently illustrated the point that women are often expected to possess the ability to be vulnerable and empathetic – it’s almost taken for granted, unrecognized and unrewarded. Still it helped that we had such a safe space to discuss it, in real time, candidly. It also helped that I know Rob fairly well.
I knew he did not disagree and I trusted him. He is actually the first one to agree that vulnerability and compassion are undervalued leadership qualities. It also helps that I understood the context for the comment. A big part of Rob’s personal motivation and focus is helping men unwind the effects of toxic masculinity. As a coach, he actively works on his own blind spots and helping other male leaders safely explore their own. In fact, that’s how the panel came together.

Some of my takeaways from the panel

  • Imposter syndrome often makes you feel like you are alone, or isolated. One counter to IS is to actively seek out and actively cultivate and maintain a trusted tribe, who can give you the right kind of feedback.
  • IS seems to affect innovators and folks creating their own path — with that in mind one can consider it to be a part of the process.
  • IS also seems to affect those who are humble and possess a modicum of humility — as a coach or a manager, it should be considered a GOOD sign of an intellect that is confident enough to question themselves.

Final takeaway

Diversity and inclusion is a big area of interest for me, especially now in the political climate. Having worked for some fairly conservative clients, I’ve rarely been so forthright and candid about my values and those things that I know to be true – including many gender and social inequities. At the end of the panel a few young women, including those of non-white backgrounds, thanked me for saying the things that would have been uncomfortable saying. It reminded me that there is power in simply stating the truth out loud and repeating it. Making folks aware of our different realities, and their blind spots (like how everyone has been put into the double bind position) — is the only way for folks to acknowledge and deal with these problems.