Women in Charge: end-table edition

Scene: On the end of a long table sat a five-some (including myself and Emily Cavalier who compiled her own musings). Another six folks sat on the other end, our conversations decidedly separate due to the ambient noise and laws of group dynamics. It’s not that we’re unfriendly, it’s that they were aurally very far away.

The following hodgepodge are my reactions and thoughts that, had I been taking notes, might have been captured more accurately. Sorry.


Our moderator asked two questions: Why aren’t more women in charge? and What do you think is holding women back? These are basically the same question, and so the answers are closely coupled.

Our thoughts, to wit:

Biology

  • The Choice: making children interferes with career ambitions. Men do not share this existential concern—their physicality doesn’t change to the same extent during his babies gestation period. It’s far less disruptive to current work paradigms.
  • Timing: a female professional’s career-defining years, when compared to a males, overlap with prime baby-making time. This alone can skew the availability of female candidates for leadership-track roles.
  • Further inquiry: Assuming gender equality, how does a normal distribution of women taking reproductive sabbaticals affect leadership opportunities compared to the current statistics?

Culture

  • Good-ol’ gender bias: Assertive women are not as well liked as assertive men. There are statistics to back this up. Correllary: women aren’t well liked for leadership roles, because leaders are traditionally thought of as assertive.
  • Confidence vs. Assertiveness: These two concepts are often conflated. I’m overgeneralizing here, but assertiveness is a good stand-in for confidence, and since assertive women aren’t as well liked as assertive males, confidence (and competance) might be harder to demonstrate for females. (Again, I’m generalizing.)
  • Infiltrating “boys’ clubs” has proven challenging for all involved—even for the more progressive members of each gender. It requires a culture shift and people, by and large, resist change.

Skills

  • Approach: There are measurable differences in how men and women tend to lead, but, on the whole, they have similar efficacy. The approach to leadership is different—this can be jarring.
  • Tradition: Certain occupations have a gender bias, particularly for industries focused on care. These roles aren’t typical to the C-suite with respect to traditional corporate structures and skill requirements.

Ultimately, after this conversation, I’m hopeful that we can indentify leaders and thinkers without a gender epithet. It will take time; but, if our Essay Club discussion was any indication, we’re on to a good start.

Next Story — This is a Well-Reasoned, Even-Measured Thought Piece on Donald Trump
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This is a Well-Reasoned, Even-Measured Thought Piece on Donald Trump

Image Credit: Gage Skidmore

And you’ll notice it’s a two-minute read, so you’ll continue on because there’s a banner image and the copy looks tight.

And you’ll know it won’t change your mind, but additional perspectives help reinforce your convictions and tend to comfort you.

And yet you’ll feel a bit of angst snowballing in the pit of your stomach as maybe—just maybe—this is the argument that shatters your deeply held beliefs as only artful single-sentence paragraph-statements can do.

And you’ll conclude: no, you’ve settled that matter, so you’ll begin to wonder what the author is prattling on about.

And suddenly—yet subtly—you’ll be asked to take a moment and think about what entertaining a thought-piece about “Donald Trump” at this point in the election cycle means in contrast with all of the other things that you could and should be reading, learning, and doing that are of far greater relevance to you, your interests, and your community than a self-published opinion on a presidential candidate.

And you’ll be encouraged—less subtly—to consider how much this candidacy has occupied the world’s collective mindshare, estimated by how much it has occupied your own, and if the statement “think globally, act locally” might have relevance to your own reading habits.

And you’ll be reminded that you got here because someone shared a link to a thought piece that referenced “Donald Trump” in its title, and that you clicked on it, and that publications monitor those clicks to divine content which will capture more advertising dollars.

And then you’ll feel sheepish as you scramble to think about those things that you read about and cared about before the term “Donald Trump” dominated headlines, tickers, and your attention.

And you’ll be frustrated that you can’t really think of something on the spot… and that’s troubling.

And you know you’ll still have temptations to click on the next headline that covers That Thing He Said or That Thing He Did.

And this author will ask you not to because there are many things far more deserving of your attention.

We are all depending on you to give it yours.

Next Story — Write Like An Adult
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Write Like An Adult

Preface

After ten years in the workforce I’ve concluded that:

  • a surprising number of adults can’t write,
  • the problem is getting worse, and
  • I should do something about it.
Like folding laundry or shooting whiskey, writing is something adults ought to be able to do without too much trouble.

Nevertheless, writing is hard. While the mechanics are straightforward, the process usually isn’t.

Mercifully, most writing is transactional and conversational: relaying ideas, managing logistics, and other short-form communication. The longer, harder, stand-alone expositions are often now reserved for special occasions (like hate mail) or are the responsibility of professional writers. (Or, users on medium.com.)

And yet, many adults suck at even basic short-form transactional writing.

Some fault lies in our educational system.

In academia, when writing matters it’s formal, structured, and long-form. Students receive feedback and criticism on essays and exams, and are graded for both content and clarity. But for writing beyond their coursework, students receive virtually no feedback.

What’s more: the Five Paragraph Essay format, a technique deployed several hundred times before students finish puberty, is an unwieldy framework for selling an idea. Unfortunately, in my experience, it is the format of choice for new graduates, and they apply it to almost every piece of writing they deem important; as the adage goes: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

For those of you who weren’t traditionally schooled (or if you’ve plain forgot), here’s what the Five Paragraph Essay looks like.

Paragraph 1: Introduction of your thesis (i.e. What’s your point?)
Paragraph 2: Evidence to support thesis
Paragraph 3: Evidence to support thesis
Paragraph 4: Evidence to support thesis
Paragraph 5: Recapitulation of the thesis with, perhaps, further topics to consider or pre-emptive rebuttals to conflicting evidence.

Or as my grade-school teachers jest: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.”

For essay writing, this is sound advice. For transactional writing, this can be wholly counter-productive because outside of academia shorter messages are king. Here is better advice:

Tell them.

This book will explain how.


Above is the Preface to my latest book, Write Like An Adult, available for free on the Kindle Owners Lending Library and for purchase on amazon.com. Pre-order the hardcover here.

Next Story — The Day Ann Coulter Wished Me “Happy Earth Day”
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The Day Ann Coulter Wished Me “Happy Earth Day”

On Earth Day 2004, some friends and I went to a neighboring college campus to watch Ann Coulter give a talk. Well, rant. She’s more of a ranter, really. The stuff of hyperbole.

It was her usual schtick: liberals are assaulting America, climate change is a hoax, etc. etc.

(Side anecdote: during the talk, some khaki-wearing, blue-blazered undergraduates sporting conservative haircuts forcibly removed another gentleman for not yielding the floor. Melodrama at its finest.)

Afterwards, there was a book signing. Though there were hundreds of people at the talk, few stuck around. I thought it a fine opportunity to see the woman offstage. Having spent years on technical crews, I know that onstage/onscreen personalities often fade when the person lacks an audience.

I bought her book and waited my turn. In front of me, some more outspoken liberals were trying to get in their final jabs, but Ms. Coulter would reply politely and say that she’s done discussing politics for the evening. “Thanks for coming!” she’d say, happily signing their book, the price for a one-on-one opportunity.

Finally, it was my turn. I said, “Ann, it’s very nice to meet you. I was wondering, given the subject of your talk and today’s holiday, if you’d sign my book and wish me a Happy Earth Day.”

Ms. Coulter looked at me, smiled, and said without any thought: “Oh, that’s so ironic!” But then, her face shifted. It was a shift as if what she said betrayed her character. It was slight, but noticeable, and her tone of voice went strictly professional to ask, “What’s your name?”

“Michael,” I replied as her attention went to the copy I handed her for signature and Earth Day wishes. My friends and I then gathered around her for what proved to be a most juvenile picture.

Ms. Coulter, for all of her rhetoric, seems entirely self-aware of the character she’s presenting. I’ve been thinking about that interaction over the years and she is, in my mind, something of a less-humorous Stephen Colbert… but where we’re not in on the joke.


Postscript: I still have that book and will upload the signature page later. I’m also wondering if anyone has had similar experiences with the off-screen Ann Coulter.

Next Story — Five Habits that Radically Improved My Life
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Five Habits that Radically Improved My Life

Over the past year or so I’ve adopted a few habits that I thought would enhance this little experiment called life.

I didn’t start them all at once—I kneaded them in over time, giving each new habit three months to stick. Then, on the next.

I thought to share them in the hope they’d help you, too. In order of appearance:

Skip breakfast

The habit returned 30 minutes to my morning and reduced my caloric intake by about 300 kilocalories a day. Each week, 3 hours and 2,100 kilocalories back in my favor.

The first few days were rough, but after a week it was a non-issue. I lost fat mass, gained time, and made better food choices throughout the day since I only had two meal decisions to make, not three.

Breakfast may be “the most important meal of the day”; but, for me, it’s marginal at best.

Wake up consistently

I wake up at 8:34am EST every day—weekend or weekday—regardless of bedtime. I don’t use an alarm.

8:34am? When I started, sunrise hit my bedroom window at 8:35am, and I figured I could use the bright light to my advantage. After a few weeks, I started waking up 30-60 seconds before my alarm went off. Now, 8:34am. No alarm.

I sleep better, fall asleep more easily, and have a sunnier disposition despite my curmudgeonly ways. Oh, I also don’t require caffeine, a fact that shocks nearly everyone.

Unplug

I don’t kid myself that I can multitask (no one can) so I remove all unnecessary distractions to focus on the task at hand.

When working, especially on longer projects, I disconnect my e-mail, silence my phone, and put on some big ‘ol headphones to tune out the world.

In result, I do better work in fewer hours.

Also, that nervous twitch to check my inboxes, cellphone, Twitter, etc. has faded. On the occasions where my own intellect interrupts me, I shunt its random, off-topic musings onto a nearby notepad for later consideration.

Lift heavy

Like most knowledge workers, I exercise regularly to offset the more sedentary hours. However, unlike most knowledge workers, I push myself to failure every time.

While useful for preventing injury, reducing stress, shedding fat, growing muscle, and increasing energy, lifting heavy also makes end-of-day sleeping incredibly welcoming. Quality sleep yields quality thinking, generating better work.

I can also, on occasion, eat with reckless abandon without fear of meaningful repercussions.

Keep a daily journal

Every day, I spend a half-hour chronicling my life into a 500 to 2,000 word narrative that forces me to reflect on my choices, accomplishments, and failures since my last entry.

Of all my recently-formed habits, this has been the most transformative.

The exercise makes each moment more memorable—each day more meaningful. Even on days with twelve contiguous hours planted in a desk chair, life seems fuller.

Blank canvases feel inviting, not daunting. My word choice more vivid, precise. My thoughts are more organized, and my work continually improves in quality.

Writing matters. So, I practice on myself.


Skip breakfast, wake up consistently, unplug, lift heavy, and keep a daily journal.

Next up: Dress Smarter.


Further reading recommendations: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. LeanGains by Martin Berkhan.

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