Quiet heroes

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the invisible people at work that quietly go about their business and don’t strain their arms patting themselves on the back. It got me thinking about public figures who do their work in a dignified manner, not calling attention unnecessarily to what they do. Permit me to highlight a few.

In tennis, the bad boys of tennis seem to get the notoriety. These are the ones that throw tantrums, racquets, and verbal abuses of line judges. Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe could be quite the jerks on the tennis court and no one should emulate that part of their game. On the better side, Arthur Ashe was a class act as well as being an excellent player. The same could be said for Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer who seem to go about their business in a professional manner. These last four each have had more success, but they also achieved it without being a jerk on the court.

In football, it seems a player needs to draw attention to each good play they make, yet seem to be silent when they screw up. It need not be that way. Herschel Walker may have been the most gifted college athlete to ever play and was a very good pro player. Yet, when he made it to the end zone, he acted like he had been there before. He was not big into histrionics as it was not his nature. I also recall the time he was out jogging and he came upon a couple who had wrecked their car and the doors were jammed. Walker came up and after learning of their dilemma, ripped the door off the hinges, so they could get out. Once he confirmed they were alright and the police were on their way, off he went. He never made a big deal of it until a reporter later got the story and confirmed its truth.

In baseball, many know the Jackie Robinson story as the first African-American major league player and, if you don’t, please check out the movie “42” which came out last year. And, many may also know the name Hank Aaron, who before the steroid era allowed another player to pass his record, he had hit more home runs than any other player, including Babe Ruth. But, as the African-American Aaron was chasing Ruth’s record, the death threats mounted. It was similar to Robinson’s plight in 1947. Aaron always carried himself with a quiet grace and dignity. He did not brag much about his prowess and the tremendous Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, seemed to get more notoriety. But, in the end, neither Mays or Mantle could come close to Aaron’s records.

In politics, the narcissistic group tends to draw attention to themselves. The first rule of being a Governor or Mayor is to show up whenever there is a business opening, relocation or groundbreaking, even if you have little to do with the event occurring. But, the people who come to mind that served with quiet grace include folks like President Jimmy Carter, Senator Bob Dole, Ambassador Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State and General Colin Powell, NC Governor Jim Martin and new Senator Elizabeth Warren to name only a few. None of these folks are without faults, but they seemed to go about their business in a very gracious and professional manner.

I mention these stories, not to say you have to be less exuberant. You do not get to the positions these people have held without being confident. As a former manager of people, I have witnessed and shared with others, the more arrogant you are, the less team-oriented you are, the more difficult to tolerate you are, then you better be that much better. Because if you are not, most people will not tolerate your BS too long. Steve Jobs could be one of the biggest jerks around, but he was tolerated as he was showing people a new path forward. Yet, many chose not to work with him. The ones who had success seemed to have experience in “handling” his moods and condescension.

You can be quite accomplished in your endeavors without being a jerk. The people I mentioned are all very talented and successful people. So, my suggestion is to be confident, but work well others and share credit. Be a class act and good things will happen. And, per an earlier blog post, do not mistake kindness for weakness.

Leaning in – a few additional thoughts

My friend Emily January, who blogs at The Bookshelf of Emily J, recently reviewed the book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg. Emily does her normal wonderful job of summarizing her thoughts on the book and offering her opinion. Since she attracts a great audience, she elicits a number of thoughtful comments. Rather than repeat her write-up, I encourage you to check it out by hitting the enclosed link at the end of this post.

I shared with Emily I would read the book and share my thoughts. Emily and others have felt the book is a great conversation starter, but were looking for something more in-depth. They also felt the book is geared toward women who have choices and not necessarily for those who cannot afford to lean in at their jobs or they will be fired. I had heard the latter concerns as well. Hear are my few thoughts.

I agree the book is not in-depth, but I do find it of value in pushing women (and men) to advocate for themselves. I like Sandberg’s using examples where she encourages women to sit at the table when they gravitated toward the side chairs in a conference room. I like that she seeks her partner out to do more, as raising a family and working in a stressful, travel filled job is hard. I like that she speaks of career progression as more of a jungle gym of moves rather than a ladder upward. I like that she acknowledges that it is OK to move after giving a job a fair chance and benefitting from the experience.

And, I like her noting that you have to disconnect from work, otherwise you will burn out and be less effective. The quote from Colin Powell on this is priceless where he notes there are times when the job can be very time consuming, but there are times when it is not. When it is not, use that time to go be with your family. Don’t feel like you have to be present at work after hours when it is not needed.

However, I do agree that book is written more for women (and men) who have choices and a better education. Also, for people with jobs that can be done from home on occasion, it is a better guidebook. For those women who work tirelessly in jobs they are not fond of, or in jobs where you could be fired if you don’t show up or are routinely late, it is less applicable. I do think there are takeaways for those women and men, but these folks need to be more mindful of when they choose to lean-in.

I think it is a good read for women and men. It will definitely start the conversation. Now, link up with Emily’s post and offer comments. I would appreciate any thoughts here as well.

http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/05/07/women-at-work-leaning-in/

Colin Powell’s Advice to Graduates (and all Americans) Rings True

My oldest son graduated yesterday from college (a big yay!) and we attended his outdoors graduation on a beautiful, sunny and pleasant morning. We also looked forward to the commencement speaker, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell. Powell’s speech was humble, poignant and inspiring. The part that resonated with many of the graduates was his academic record, which did not hinder his success.

Powell attended City College of New York (CCNY), as that was the only college he could afford to attend. He said he was not a great student and, in fact, the only way he was permitted to graduate was when CCNY’s leaders decided to add his ROTC straight A’s into the mix. He said his GPA increased to a 2.0, to which the graduates laughed heartily. His point was meaningful. First, he said they have named all of these buildings for me due to my success and my old professors are probably rolling over in their graves.

Second, he said just because you did not graduate with a 3.5 GPA does not mean you cannot be successful. Find your path and work hard. This meant a lot to my son who would be among the significant majority in the beneath 3.5 crowd. It resonated with him to hear words of encouragement that yes, if you work hard, you can succeed. The fact that any graduate can remember portions of a commencement speech, is pretty telling. Powell humorously mentioned that when you think back on this day, remember it was C-O-L-I-N P-O-W-E-L-L that spoke at your graduation spelling it out for everyone.

Powell had other words of advice. Get involved with your community and know the issues of import. And, go vote. He said if you are not registered to vote come see me afterwards. You are the people who must keep politicians honest. And, if you don’t like what they do, vote them out. Our is a great country, but you have to be engaged.

He also noted the beauty of compromise. He said our founding fathers came together and passionately argued over how to govern. The Articles of Confederation were insufficient and they argued over its replacement, our constitution. He said from the outset, we have benefitted from the ability of different points of view to compromise. He encouraged people to use their passion and knowledge to influence others, but be in a position to understand the opposing arguments and compromise.

Finally, he said take care of the environment. He said I am not a climate change expert, but it does not take a scientist to recognize we need to stop putting bad stuff into the air and in our water. We have to be better stewards of our earth. An article in “Stars and Stripes” about his commencement speech can be read with the following link: http://www.stripes.com/news/us/colin-powell-urges-grads-to-work-hard-give-back-1.281445

Let me close with two final comments. First, Powell agreed to shake the hand of every student, all 940 who graduated that day. Some shakes came with hugs from more demonstrative folks and he took it all in with a great sense if humor. This meant a lot to the graduates and parents.

Second, I am so proud of my son and proud for his achievement. He worked hard to make it and he did. He will be a better citizen, a better employee and a better person because of his education. The esteem of accomplishing such a great task is significant. He is closing this chapter with equal parts excitement, trepidation and melancholy before moving on to a new one. The sadness is he is leaving his home for four years before making a new one. He is leaving friends, but will stay in touch and make new ones. But, the future is in front of him. Places to go and things to see and do. Well done, son. I love you very much.