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Young Government Leaders Key Note

Young Government Leaders Key Note

4/17/2014 6:30:00 PM EDT

Workplaces Evolutionaries Webinar

Workplaces Evolutionaries Webinar

4/24/2014 11:00:00 AM EDT

Old Dominion University Procurement and Contract Management Symposium

Old Dominion University Procurement and Contract Management Symposium

4/25/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT

FIRE: Youth Led Service. First Presbyterian Church, Annapolis

FIRE: Youth Led Service. First Presbyterian Church, Annapolis

4/27/2014 8:30:00 AM EDT

Old Dominion University Master's Class Speaker

Old Dominion University Master's Class Speaker

4/28/2014 5:45:00 PM EDT

Carroll County Racial Equality Conference Key Note

Carroll County Racial Equality Conference Key Note

5/16/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
Conference topic: Embracing Our LGBT Community Board of Education Building, Westminster, Maryland

Independent Book Dealers Convention, NYC, Book Signing

Independent Book Dealers Convention, NYC, Book Signing

5/31/2014 8:30:00 AM EDT

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

Here is a list of recent blog articles.

Don't Get Stuck in a Job!

Don't Get Stuck in a Job!

4/15/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
yesterday

You can read my resume in two ways: either I can't keep a job very long OR I have had a fantastic set of different roles that have given me great experience and wisdom. I prefer the latter interpretation!

Yes, I have changed jobs often. I have been an English teacher, consultant, government leader, and factory manager. I have worked in four countries, six states, and over 20 organizations as an employee and more if you count where I consulted. I have actually never counted all that out before -- I can see how it might leave one wondering about stability.

Only a few of my job changes were necessitated by my husband's career. He has also adjusted to mine, so it's been fair. Many of the jobs came because I went looking: "Want Ads," word of mouth, local employment agency, and college career office job postings. It's mostly been a deliberate thing. And, it has been a great ride.

It might not make sense or be possible to plan a career like mine. I'm not holding it up as ideal. It does, however, lead me to make a specific point. My career has been rich and varied, and I have never felt stuck -- stuck in the wrong job or miserable working for a particular boss. There were a couple times when things weren't going well but in each case I took a new direction (a different role in the company or a different organization altogether) and I kept on keeping on. My point? Don't Get Stuck.  Make sure you don't box yourself in. Keep some angle open. My career didn't flatten out on a plateau. I did not bang into a ceiling. I was always able to hang onto my confidence because I never felt I was out of options. I always held open the possibility of making a move. I strongly recommend it. 

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It's Appalling. Yale SOM Chooses to Grade on the Curve

It's Appalling. Yale SOM Chooses to Grade on the Curve

4/15/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
yesterday

I have been saddened by the recent brouhaha at my alma mater, Yale University's School of Management. The faculty has voted for an adjustment in the grading system that puts students on a curve. It's appalling. 

Business Week Article: Yale Has A Retro Plan To Push A Tenth Of Its MBA's To The Bottom Of The Class

Every notion I have held as an executive is that if you expect failure, you will get failure. Baking in failure by using a curve does just that. 

Faculty members, like any managers, are paid to give good, helpful, timely feedback. This is not easy but no one fully develops those chops if they can hide behind dictated percentages.

Yes, Jack Welch introduced this idea and rode it to success. However, in this new day of deep collaboration, transparency, 24X7 communications, and the need to develop talent, we have to focus on the feedback, deep learning, and successful behaviors. Putting businesses on a curve is done in order to win the tournament. Putting the individuals on a team on a curve cultivates something other than good coaching and healthy teams. It encourages backbiting, competition, poor alignment, and more. Yale SOM is now essentially inviting students to come to a school that pits students against each other. Aaargh.

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Leadership and Hospitality

Leadership and Hospitality

4/14/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
2 days ago

I was startled. One of my former colleagues and I were guests at a lecture/event. The Q&A's were underway and we were discussing leadership styles.

My colleague said, "I think of Martha's leadership style as that of a hostess presiding over an absolutely terrific dinner party."

I admit my first internal reaction was to blanche. I've been working a long time trying to be accepted and taken seriously in a man's work world. It felt like a twist of irony to be described as a great hostess.  Did I have the linens and china arranged properly? Yikes.

My second reaction was more measured and honest. Hosting a dinner party is all about inviting a variety of people to share a meal and argue their opinions. The hostess has a host of goals. :)  Her purpose is to suggest topics, encourage all voices, stop any attempts at throwing food, laugh at the jokes, and introduce new angles on the topic to keep the conversation lively.

In other words, a good hostess has an eye for diversity, honest thinking, convivial atmosphere, and a view into the future.

Sounds like great leadership.

I like the idea of thinking about leadership as hospitality. There are some extremely valuable nuggets in that notion. If leaders felt more like hosts and hostesses and less like the domineering head-of-the-table, we all might benefit.

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What Do You Leave in the Car Every Work Day?

What Do You Leave in the Car Every Work Day?

4/11/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
5 days ago

Every workday people go to work. Perhaps they drive, bicycle, or take public transportation. However, I'll bet that before they pull open the door at work, something is left behind -- in the parked car or the bicycle basket or on the train, so to speak.

We all adjust as we go to work. We put on our game faces. We clean up our language. We replace languid with earnest. We also, too often, leave significant talent and special parts of ourselves behind.

Everyone does this, it seems. I asked a class of graduate students about what they left in the car before going to work. They weren't surprised by the question and their answers came readily. They mentioned things like "my emotions" or "my willingness to take risks."

If I were asked that question, my answer would be that I have always left my sexuality behind. At work I carefully projected myself as a person who avoided any signals communicating physical attraction, winks, romance, bawdiness, oh là là, or any other insinuation of sexuality. I studiously and completely avoided displaying any of the flirting, attracting, seducing, or sexual part of me while at work. In large part, I believe, this was because I was often a woman in a man's world -- or a woman in the minority. I did it for safety's sake.

We all hope for a workplace that will be a safe place -- safe for our ideas, our creativity, and our identities.

Leaders hope that we have the best part of people coming to work and applied to our vision and enormous challenges.

There is a gap between the two. The workplace is still struggling to be fully inclusive. Leaders -- if you have left creativity or imagination in the parking lot, go get it and apply it to this challenge so that we can all show up fully ready to do the important work at hand.

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

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Leadership Sayings: Efficacious or Sanctimonious?

Leadership Sayings: Efficacious or Sanctimonious?

4/10/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
6 days ago

People have been offering pithy advice since the days of Confucius. We have loads of sayings that seek to capture a nugget of truth or insight. Every modern speechwriter thanks the Google gods for the ability to search for good quotes. The right bit torques up in their scripts.

And then there is Twitter, which has made snappy quotes a real art. We are nearly drowning in sound-bites of wisdom.

This last year I have been paying some attention to quotes about leadership as I write and blog. I've been generating a few myself such as: 

  • "Yell up, not down"
  • "Fail Fast, Fail Forward, Fail Fruitfully"
  • "Trust:  Leaders Go First"

However, I've been wondering about how much these billboard declarations help. Having a maxim in your head is good for meditation -- but for leadership? It is true that audiences love to hear a leadership speaker spell out the job in a couple pithy points. But, that barely begins to do it justice.

Yes, leaders should be scavengers of ideas. The work of leadership is constantly evolving and leaders need input. Famous sayings or ideas that are pre-packaged as one-liners are easy to remember and fun to quote. However, the deep work of becoming a leader is about blending action and self-awareness.

As we sloganize leadership wisdom, reduce it to 140 characters, let's enjoy the tip of the iceberg but remember there is a lot more beneath the surface. 

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Leaders, Are You Writing Mysteries?

Leaders, Are You Writing Mysteries?

4/9/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a week ago

I love mysteries and I am particular enjoying a series right now by Louise Penny about Chief Inspector Gamache, head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec. The writer creates some very tight problems, ones that seem insolvable because they occur inside closed communities such as a monastery or a small out-of-internet-range village in the mountains.  

Each story is a complex meditation on the possible explanations for the crime that present themselves as small clues are revealed over time. The clues (a scrap of vellum with Gregorian chant, a forensics report on a wound, a data-stick sewed into the seam of a dress) set up the investigators and characters for another round of speculations.

A good detective novel is wonderfully entertaining but the endless ruminating is exactly NOT what a leader wants in an organization. It's much better to be aligned and heading in the same direction rather than petting theories about where to go and what to do. 

Why is it, then, that so many leaders seem to encourage speculation and fuel the spinning of possibilities. If they allow information out in the style of Louise Penny, no one sees a full picture until the end of the story. Frankly, an occasional update, a quarterly all-hands meeting, or sporadic blog postings heavily edited by staff don't cut it. Employees can't be fully informed with the occasional tweet or three?

Organizations are hungry for information and will grab at any clues. If the clues aren't connected, the organization will connect the dots with whatever they can -- imagination, concern, or vitriol. The conversations over lunch or in the bar after work are, believe me, robust ones.

Leaders, please stop competing for the mystery writer award! Avoid playing a game of Clue with the organization and get serious about real, authentic, full, and interactive communications. 

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

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Culture Rupture and Rapture

Culture Rupture and Rapture

4/8/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a week ago

There it was on the front page of the Washington Post. General Motors issued a recall quite late in the game with regard to a simple ignition switch problem. Why did they wait so long? What delayed their response?

The answer is Culture. It said so in black-and-white on the front page of the paper.

The culture of the automaker, it seems, has discouraged people from bringing bad news forward. The leaders were working in the dark.

Let me take a brief break and bang my forehead on the cover of my laptop. Bam! Bam! Bam! This is so frustrating -- it is such a familiar problem.

Culture. Why is it so important? Oh -- just a few reasons: it's core to brand, seminal to employee behavior, and the rare asset that cannot be copied or stolen.

The problem is that we label it as "that soft stuff," ignore it during due diligence reviews, offload it to human resources and then cut the training budget, and treat it like a bad smell when it isn't working.

We really need to get a grip. This isn't rocket science. There are books, examples, cases, and consultants -- a vast array of resources that can be brought to bear. The job of nurturing and improving organizational culture is, frankly, rather straightforward:

1. Name it. Describe it. What's the current culture of the organization? (Carol Pearson is my favorite resource for this work but there are plenty out there.) 

2. Describe the ideal culture. What are the aspirations that the leadership holds for the organization? (Get a facilitator and book some team time to get this done.)

3. Figure out the gap between the current and ideal culture. (Again, get a facilitator, book some team time and nail it)

4. Name three ways to bridge the gap and get started. Now.

For heaven's sake, it's pretty straightforward. A healthy culture needs to be an explicit agenda item. It requires strategy, resources, attention, and work.  It's not wishful thinking. It's part of leadership. 

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Closing the Circle

Closing the Circle

4/7/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a week ago

Last week I gave a key speech recently to GSA. No, I did not return to the beloved federal agency where I worked for seven years, two as the administrator. The speech was to the county GSA officials of the State of California.  

I had a blast, signed dozens of books, and enjoyed the San Diego blue sky and shirtsleeves weather. We talked about sustainability, ARRA, risk, resilience, bi-focal leadership, and a hundred other things.

I doubt, however, that many of them fully appreciated the gift they gave me by inviting me to their conference. Two years ago when I resigned from the US GSA, events moved quickly. I was not able to say goodbye properly to an organization that had been my home for seven years.

In San Diego, two years later, I had a chance at a surrogate farewell. I was given a moment to close the circle, finish the sentence. Over meals, in small gatherings in the hotel lobby, I fell into familiar conversations about subjects I know well and interests I have long held. It felt natural and reminded me of all the good memories I have of those GSA years. Some faces were familiar -- people I had known who had left the federal government to work at the county level.

Rituals are important. We need to greet people, welcome newcomers, mark important life events. In our careers, it is crucial that we honor passages, recognize performance, and express our gratitude.

I am back home from the trip, unpacked and in the familiar routine. I am grateful to have found a way to fill out what was lost in my abrupt farewell two springs ago.

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Leadership Farewells

Leadership Farewells

4/3/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a week ago

My dear friend, Bob, recently retired from a long and truly distinguished career in public service. His farewell party was quite remarkable with testimonials, tears, and a beautiful gift of a quilt constructed around badges and emblems of organizations he had worked with and influenced. He was clearly beloved.

When I saw him recently, he talked about having some remaining business with the old workplace -- needed to turn in keys, handover some files, and things like that.  And, this worried him. "You have to make a break. Going back even for minor transactions feels funny."

Leaders have to make a clean break. They have their shot when they are in the job. When they leave they need to get out of the way or the next person won't have the same shot. The organization also needs to move on and not live in the past, reminiscing about the good ol' days.

It's hard, however. Leaders are very entwined with the people, the work, the culture, and the purpose of the organization. Their shared history is important. It should not be ignored; its lessons should be used.

It's hard, too, because there are many examples of leaders who step away (retire, resign, etc.) but who live on. Their shadows haunt the institutions. The great literary example of this is George Smiley, who is called back to the British Secret Service to figure out if it is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, or ... who has betrayed the organization.

The gracious thing for a leader to do is to leave cleanly, say goodbye, get on with life, and avoid becoming a haunt. But, all is not gone. It's not a forever thing. After some time has passed, things have moved on, and the new leadership is well under way, reconnecting can happen. Organizations are communities and their ties and shared history are important. Reunions, celebrations, historic retrospectives, social media -- there are many avenues for picking up the relationships constructively.

Farewell. Stop. Hello again. 

 

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

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Leading ... A Church Youth Group

Leading ... A Church Youth Group

4/2/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
2 weeks ago

The word, FIRE, has so many meanings. It can be a bonfire, an energy in the belly, the pulling of a trigger, or the Olympic torch representing our world family.

For me this month it means things like burning bush, chariots of fire, and the Pentecostal descent of tongues of fire.  In other words, I am working with the young people in our church to create a service (about fire) that they will lead at the end of April. It is the annual Youth Sunday.

Over the years as a leader of organizations, I worked hard to learn and practice skills for inviting, focusing, and challenging people. I held staff meetings, gave performance reviews, and put strategy into stories that would energize employees. I tried every trick in the book...

The best leadership lessons, however, have always emerged in the spring when I help 7th-12th graders create a service of worship.

This year is not unusual. We are collectively writing a sermon and, believe me, it is not an easy collaboration. For one thing, concentration varies; big ideas occur and then fade; connecting ideas is - shall we say - loose. Listening skills are nowhere in evidence.

We are also making chariots-of-fire out of shoeboxes for the offering baskets. When words don't work, gold paint is a good inroad into creativity. When and how can I get staff to break away from habits and re-engage their enthusiasm?

One of the best things this year has been writing poetry prayers about our human worries. We are using strict Haiku construction. The group was seriously quiet for a few minutes as they searched for words and counted syllables on their fingers:

            Instead of green earth

            We put concrete everywhere

            We have lost our way

 

            We've forgotten You

            We ask Siri what we want

            We have lost our way

When a leader can reach into people's hearts and find earnest and thoughtful energy, the rest of the job is easy.

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