Series: Q&A Leaders On Leadership


Q&A (unedited) On Leadership

Charles Michael Austin, Ed.D. (“Dr. Chaz”)  is President at Dr. Charles Michael Austin.  He is a Career Mentor, College Professor & Curriculum Designer at various colleges and universities in Southern California.

How important in the roster of leadership qualities are attitude, habit and discipline? What weight would you assign them?

I assume discipline is present – in any professional. And certainly in a leader.
Habit can – and usually does – have a downside. As in, “that’s the way we do things around here.”
Attitude is the key. Are you open to new ideas? Can you make course corrections as needed? Can you give credit to a subordinate for something you didn’t think of? Can you get your own ego out of the way? We’ve probably all had bosses who’ve said to us, “My door is always open.” Going for the bait, we’ve gone in to pitch a new idea, only to leave the office like a flat tire because of the boss/leader’s needed to dominate.

What others, in your opinion, are coveted qualities of business leaders?

A.  The ability to shut up and listen.
B.  Making the people that report to you feel valued for their contributions.
C.  Being crystal clear about what you want – and by when you want it.
D.  Perspective. Except for hospital emergency rooms, no one is going to die if a deadline is missed. But so many leaders behave as if it’s always a life and death situation. It’s not. If you can lighten up, it goes a long way towards making those who report to you feel safe. People are more likely to take risks if they feel safe.
E.  Allowing people to fail. If you’ve hired good people and let them do their jobs, they will occasionally screw up. There is no need to berate them. You’re not their mom/dad and they’re not your “bad” child. They’ll learn from their mistakes and probably not repeat them.

Do you think there is finally equality between men and women in the work place?

No. Things have improved, but we need to be continually vigilant. Sometimes it feels like the Womens’ Movement never happened. Look at the ongoing popularity of “laddie magazines.” We’ve reverted to objectifying women, and that sort of attitude no doubt spills over into the workplace. As Erma Bombeck said, “We’ve got a generation now who were born with semi-equality. They don’t know how it was before, so they think, this isn’t too bad. We’re working. We have our attache cases and our three piece suits. I get very disgusted with the younger generation of women. We had a torch to pass, and they are just sitting there. They don’t realize it can be taken away. Things are going to have to get worse before they join in fighting the battle.”

When most companies are tightening their belts and employees are not shaking things up, how much does risk taking (challenging the corporate orthodoxy) play a part in your advice for executives seeking to stand out in a corporation?

My advice is: don’t. Companies say they want “outside the box” thinking, but in practice they don’t. You want to take risks, start your own company.

Brevity is becoming a communications fact of life. When is brevity not such a good idea?
When it replaces genuine communication. Human beings are inclined to avoid confrontation. A quick tweet or text or email helps us dodge the uncomfortable face-to-face meeting where bad news needs to be conveyed. I think one of the things that has helped make me successful is that confrontation is one of my hobbies. I’ve always found that being direct with people deepens relationships. Not direct as in “you’re bad and wrong, and here’s why,” which is verbal vomiting that disempowers people. I’m talking about collaborative communication whose context is “what worked/what didn’t.” That takes it away from the personal attack, shifting the focus to problem solving.

You are a specialist in career development. What are the differences between setting a career path in your twenties and in your forties or even fifties?

Presumably, by the time you’ve hit forty, you’ve gained some wisdom and developed some sense of what your talents are and where and how you can make a contribution to others. My clients and students who are in their twenties very seldom have a career path. They may have a passion (or so they think), and my advice to them is to get to work in some capacity in their field of choice to learn where and how they fit.

The meta-conversation, though, is that most people do things in their careers that they never would have imagined in their twenties; that career choices are usually unplanned accidents or matters of serendipity. If someone would have told me in my twenties that I’d hold a Doctorate in Education and (among other things) be a college professor, I would have told them that they were crazy and that that would never, never happen. You need to be open to the unexpected.

What is one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

Ego. “I’m the boss. I know best.”

Your Ed.D. dissertation discusses the inherent value of career coursework in higher education. What is your summary finding on planning for a career when college is often a place to “find ourselves”?

That’s both the subject of my dissertation and my book (to be published later this year).
Having some career direction by the time you graduate is part of finding ourselves. Unless you’re a trust fund baby, you’ll need to make money after you graduate (if only to start paying off your student loans). There’s enormous pressure on college students (from their parents, usually) to find “the perfect job,” and so many students have no clue what that might be – or even what they want to do.  So, just get to work. If it’s not what you (think you) love, then at least have it be something you’d like to do. Get started. Meet people. Learn things. Trust that you’ll find your way – and eventually discover you passion(s). That’s plural because most people in their twenties can expect to have five or six careers. So even if you do find “the perfect job,” there will most likely be others during your lifetime.

What expectation is realistic when it comes to setting today’s career path?

Corporate loyalty is dead. Everyone is a freelancer, and their own brand. People need to be trained to determine, articulate and sell that brand – for as long as they work. The sooner they start doing that, the better their chances of continuing to find work that’s satisfying – both creatively and financially.

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First in a Series: Q&A Leaders On Leadership 


Hank Fieger, President, HFA, Barcelona Spain

Hank Fieger, President of international management consulting, training and coaching firm, HFA, based in Barcelona, Spain, has worked with many Fortune 100 companies in over 20 countries. His expertise is in Behavioral Executive Coaching, Team Building, Executive Presentation Skills and Leadership Communication Skills. Using a model of open and honest communication, Hank combines his knowledge of business and psychology to help others embody “people management” skills in leadership roles. Hank’s first book, “Behavior Change…A View From The Inside Out”, a handbook on the art of change, is available on Amazon.

Q&A (unedited) On Leadership

If you had to name three characteristics of great leaders what would they be?

They have a clear vision for what’s possible.

They have the ability to communicate that vision to the hearts and minds of their followers.

They are in tune with what people are wanting.

As organizations get larger there’s often a tendency toward dampening inspiration. How do you encourage creative thinking within your or your clients’ organizations?

I encourage creative thinking by reconnecting people to their core values? By understanding what is most important to them, they begin to see what’s possible.

In order of importance or weight, what do you feel is most important: mission, vision or core values?

I think core values are most important, followed by a vision. The mission is the working statement that captures the values and the vision.

How do leaders ensure their organizations activities are aligned with their own core values?

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

What is corporate culture and how is it crafted?

Corporate culture is the unspoken, and sometimes spoken rules about how things are done here. It’s crafted usually from the key individuals at the top of the corporation.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

I think that every true leader has a bit of a revolutionary in them. Most people resist change, and yet what leaders need to do is to help people and organizations to change and adapt to what is needed in order to be sustainable.

What is one mistake you see leaders making more frequently than others?  In your opinion, is it different for women leaders?

The one mistake I see is that leaders sometimes make decisions that they think will keep them in the role and keep them having power. I think that women leaders also fall into this trap and sometimes to prove themselves in a “man’s game,” they may even try harder. They also revert back to managing the transactional day to day business, rather than staying focused on the big picture.

What advice would you give someone going into leadership position for the first time?

Is your advice different if that person is a woman?

Be true to yourself and to your values. It’s a privilege to be in a leadership role, so go for it. My advice for a woman is no different. Don’t give your true power away in the attempt to be more like a man, or to succeed in what you may believe to be a man’s world.

What is one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

To sell out to what they believe people want from them, rather than being true to what is really needed.

Multitasking, Preoccupation, Attention Deficit ? And … What Baby Boomers Could Have Missed


Yesterday, I was in a store on Columbus Avenue here in New York City, and saw a daytime caregiver shopping for herself and leaving the children she was watching to fend for themselves in a stroller on the other side of the room. One of the children was irritable and crying. I see this all the time. Child- and elder-care givers, dog walkers, housekeepers, teachers, messengers, overnight delivery and UPS truck drivers, construction workers, nearly everyone is on the phone. Whether they are driving, walking or supposed to be engaged in a paid professional pursuit, they are on the phone. Calling, texting,  gaming, listening to music, we are hardly ever doing what we are paid to do or even primarily engaged in doing anymore.

A friend of mine who is a self-proclaimed tech ignoramous has a phone, a blackberry, an iPad, a Kindle and a desktop computer. She can barely find the on button for most of these gadgets and is usually on all of them, or at least two of them, at a time. During most phone calls with her, our conversations are punctuated with expletives having nothing to do with our discussion.  She isn’t really listening and her responses are fragmented and half-hearted. Until I pointed it out, I don’t think she was aware of what she was doing. She doesn’t call me anymore.

Had the Baby Boomers’s attention been so divided during the late 1960’s and 70’s, what might have happened? Would we have even noticed that Cambodia had been invaded? Would we have noticed that the campus at Boston University, where I was a student during the Viet Nam War, had been occupied by the National Guard tactical police? Granted, friends of mine and I were somewhat preoccupied with what we would wear to the next demonstration, but we knew there was a War on that we didn’t approve of and we were all at least headed in the same philosophical, if not political, direction.

When the Chicago Seven took over the 1968 Democratic National Convention, would the crowd have been behind the protest or would they have been too busy tweeting pictures of each other to their friends?  When I was in my early twenties, our focus was focus. We were aspiring transidental meditators following John and Yoko and trying (admittedly, with the help of hallucinogens) to “Be Here Now” with Baba Ram Das.

When I traveled to Europe as a teenager, my parents wired me messages and money and I’d stand in endless lines of other U.S.A.  teenagers and trekkers to pick them up at American Express offices all over The Continent. I met some of the most interesting people in those lines, sitting in railway stations, at sidewalk cafes, in museums and just walking around. I experienced the cities I was in and became a citizen of the world. Those, and other experiential wonderments, permanently expanded my consciousness.  I was in Italy when the first US astronauts landed on the moon. The Americans at the sidewalk cafe where the landing was  broadcast by satellite were proudly huddled together cheering and feeling the palpable patriotism of that moment in history. What I might be doing today in that situation is texting someone at home and missing the whole darn thing.

The question is: Can you really get behind anything when your attention is so fractured?

My career is marked by many forays into the tech frontier. I know the value of  marketing communications and have a keen understanding of multiple touch points. What I see in the market place is a machine gun approach to pulling purchasing power  with very little real respect for the medium. Overhearing a conversation on the street one day,  a young male (ultra coveted marketing target) was on his new cell phone pleading with the service provider to remove him from the mailing list associated with his  phone contract. Since his service had been turned on, he said, he’d received hundreds of texts about products in which  he had little or no interest. He was approaching total overload and implored them to either quit bombarding him or to cancel his contract.

Abuse of the privilege of having your target market at your fingertips has spawned a particularly obnoxious trend toward consumer harrassment. Typified by marketers who are late to the party, there is faint or little appreciation of the art of communication in the digital market place. This oversight is rampant and, in my humble opinion,  a function of marketers being pathetically behind the curve and constantly playing catch up with their target audiences. Let’s face it, no busy mother – if and when she has a spare moment – is going to the Campbells Soup Facebook page! No two-income family trying to hold on to their house is spending down time tweeting Toyota Stories. Ironically, in marketing parlance, this and other futile attempts to seamlessly incorporate into the consumer’s “mind-share” is neatly labeled as “experiential marketing”. Who are they kidding?

I predicted to a colleague of mine that when the online environment became inundated with marketing messages, the mob would migrate elsewhere. And so, like clockwork, as advertisers took over the Internet, the market moved to the next medium, cellular. No one I know under 30 emails anymore. Email just takes too long. Whats more, when the advertiser got hold of it, people began to ignore the messages. We’ve far exceeded the hassle factor of chain letters and daily jokes. Spam folders jammed, most email recipients stopped reading what they received, even from people they know. Most emails are replete with legal disclaimers and are, what we used to refer to as, bandwidth hogs. Text is the medium of choice. I heard the perfect line in a movie the other day. This Mellennial quipped as she answered her cell phone, “If you’re calling, you must be old otherwise, you’d be texting.” As consumers, we hardly know where to look or what to do. If you, like my friend up above who is clumsily managing messages in three media at a time, and are working hard to stay connected to everyone everywhere all the time, are you paying attention to any one of them?

And what is UP with how important every single message is? Is there really an A.D.D. epidemic or are we just distracted by our toys?  My favorite visual is of a frozen individual in the middle of the sidewalk staring into his or her palm. My greatest fear is that any one of these folks is going to cross a busy intersection without noticing the car obliviously speeding  around the corner. What the heck is the urgency of grunting  40 characters or fewer back and forth t0 anyone in the middle of lunch with a good friend? Why are we walking together if we are each on the phone with other people? Why travel across town to hook up when we are preoccupied with someone  somewhere else? Why show up for a protest if you’re busy ordering your new pair of Fry Boots and can’t even hold a sign?

Does Your Team Have the Four Essential Types?


The New York Times

This interview with Paul Maritz, , president and C.E.O. of the software firm VMware, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant. Reprinted from the New York Times, October 2, 2010


Does Your Team Have the Four Essential Types?

 

By ADAM BRYANT

Q. What are some important leadership lessons for you?

A. I’ve learned that when you go from being an individual contributor to being a leader of a small group of 5 to 10 people, to leading 100 people, to leading 1,000 people, to leading 10,000 people, the nature of your job changes at each of those points.

Q. Talk more about that.

A. As you manage bigger groups of people, you cannot be as closely connected to specific underlying issues and challenges. Your contribution has to become more of making sure that you’re getting the best out of others, that others are really thinking the issues through, and that you’re creating the broad framework in which they can get their jobs done and be as productive and focused as they can be. What makes it a challenge is that every time you cross one of those boundaries, you become less of a specialist, less knowledgeable about specific issues.

You have to realize that your contribution becomes more symbolic, in the sense that you’re trying to set a general direction. People want to see you as representing the general mission, not just yourself.

And, as the groups get bigger, the period over which you measure your own performance gets longer, and the way you get your feedback changes. The bigger the group, the easier it is to spend days wondering whether you had any impact at all. You really have to take a longer-term view. So you’re going to have to discipline yourself and take a step back to ask yourself the question, “Are we moving in the right fundamental direction?” And, if so, take satisfaction from that.

Almost at any level, the really successful people in organizations are the ones who try to structure their lives to learn and get feedback and be self-aware. That’s not necessarily a natural thing to do, so you have to be very mindful of it.

Q. So how did you learn this?

A. I started at Microsoft in the mid-1980s. In 1986, I was managing a group of 13 people. When I left, it was close to 10,000 people. It was not an environment where we got a lot of management coaching. It was one where you just had to learn as you went along. Inevitably, we made mistakes, but fortunately we had such a wind behind us that we had the luxury of being able to make those mistakes and learn from them.

Q. What are some other leadership lessons?

A. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that there is no such thing as a perfect leader. If you look at successful groups, inevitably there’s an amalgam of personalities that really enable the group to function at a high level.

Q. And what are they?

A. At the risk of oversimplifying, I think that in any great leadership team, you find at least four personalities, and you never find all four of those personalities in a single person.

You need to have somebody who is a strategist or visionary, who sets the goals for where the organization needs to go.

You need to have somebody who is the classic manager — somebody who takes care of the organization, in terms of making sure that everybody knows what they need to do and making sure that tasks are broken up into manageable actions and how they’re going to be measured.

You need a champion for the customer, because you are trying to translate your product into something that customers are going to pay for. So it’s important to have somebody who empathizes and understands how customers will see it. I’ve seen many endeavors fail because people weren’t able to connect the strategy to the way the customers would see the issue.

Then, lastly, you need the enforcer. You need somebody who says: “We’ve stared at this issue long enough. We’re not going to stare at it anymore. We’re going to do something about it. We’re going to make a decision. We’re going to deal with whatever conflict we have.”

You very rarely find more than two of those personalities in one person. I’ve never seen it. And really great teams are where you have a group of people who provide those functions and who respect each other and, equally importantly, both know who they are and who they are not. Often, I’ve seen people get into trouble when they think they’re the strategist and they’re not, or they think they’re the decision maker and they’re not.

You need a degree of humility and self-awareness. Really great teams have team members who know who they are and who they’re not, and they know when to get out of the way and let the other team members make their contribution.

Q. And which of those personalities describes you?

A. I’m very much aware of who I am not, as much as who I am. At least I try to be. I’m not the enforcer. I’m not the champion of the customer. Those two things don’t come naturally to me, so I need to make sure that I have partners who can supply that.

Q. What about leadership lessons from earlier in your life?

A. I grew up on a ranch in Central Africa, where, out of necessity, I spent a lot of time on my own. And then I went to a British-style boarding school. That gave me a certain self-reliance and thick outer skin. I also gained a certain ambition in life because I was very aware, growing up, of being on the periphery of the civilized, technical world. Everything that was new in technology was exciting, and happening in very distant places from me. So I had to drive myself to get to the center of that.

My self-reliance is something I have had to learn to deal with, because it’s my nature to be an introvert. And being a leader, you can’t just be an introvert. People want to know that they can emotionally connect with you — that you’re, in some deep way, going on a journey with them and that you recognize them. And that requires you to open up to people and reach out to them and connect with them. Left to myself, I will retreat into my office, so I have to be aware of that.

Q. What about different styles of leadership you’ve seen through the years. How did those influence you?

A. It’s very hard to talk about these things without becoming trite or corny, but the best leaders are those who get the best out of other people.

I’ve learned that you only really get the best out of other people when you do things in a positive way. There are negative styles of leadership, where you do things by critiquing and criticizing and terrifying other people. But in the final analysis, it doesn’t get the best out of people and it doesn’t breed loyalty. Because no matter how much we think we’ve got things figured out, we haven’t got things figured out. Inevitably, we’re going to go down blind alleys. We’re going to run into problems. We’re going to make mistakes. And when that happens, you have to ask people to help you and to overlook the fact that you’ve messed something up.

Great leaders, in my view, are those who have built up that reservoir of loyalty, so that when the time comes to say to folks, “We have to change direction,” people are willing to make an extraordinary effort. If you’re the kind of leader who cuts people down and humiliates them, you leave scars on people that can eventually come back to haunt you.

Q. How do you hire?

A. I think that in almost any position, you want to have the following attributes: First of all, you want to make sure that people have the necessary intellectual skills to do the job. Second, you want to see if people have a track record of actually getting stuff done. Then, third, you want to look for people who are thoughtful, and that ties into learning and being self-aware.

Often, when I’m interviewing people, one of the most interesting parts for me is when I’ll just pick anything that they’ve done in the past and I’ll say: “Thinking about it now, what would you have done differently? What did you learn from that?”

You learn a lot from people’s answers to that. If they blame everything that happened during that period on somebody else, that tells you that the person is probably not thoughtful or self-aware.

If they can talk in length about what was really going on, why they made the decisions they did and how they would perhaps make the decision differently now, that tells you that this person thinks deeply and is honest enough to really be objective, or as objective as they can be about themselves.

Leadership. Humanity. Either – Or?


In the New York Times, July 18 article about George Steinbrenner, the writer posits that leadership is something of a combination of patience and persuasion, not intimidation. “Soft skills”, as they are called, are not natural to most people. Brashness, entitlement and ego, the article goes on to say, are essential components for any competent leader. Limits on the over-the-top boss syndrome don’t preclude the need people have to be told what to do.  Right or not, not hesitating even a little has been the predominant posture in most companies where I’ve worked.

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology findings are that “participants choosing a leader gravitated toward those who made quick decisions in moral dilemmas.”  The Study states that leaders who come from their gut to make tough decisions are thought of as “more morally assured”.

I remember during my television production career sitting in a meeting of minimum 10 people where creative work and decisions about how to execute that work were discussed. In most of those client meetings, the “big guy” would nod his head and the underlings would mimic his decision. Yet, when Procter & Gamble would come in for a creative briefing or production meeting, the leader would always ask the least senior person in the room what he or she thought first, then ask that person to justify his/her decision. Those comments were then either agreed to or refuted by the boss. No one could “go along to get along”. Opinions were fostered and guided not commanded and future thinkers were created. Up-and-comers were not merely imitating, or worse yet, surviving the ordeal.

The Bully As Boss is so last year. Public displays of anger as a way to motivate and inspire people is a thing of the past. When Mr. Steinbrenner was at his most intimidating, the team suffered the most. I worked for a guy who loved to fight. It was his way of challenging people – or so he thought – to be their best. It gave him a reason to enjoy his working life more by putting a little spice into his relationships with colleagues and employees. My personal style is different and I had a hard time with it.  Eventually it led to my leaving the company altogether. I noticed, in fact, that most of the people who left felt bullied and unappreciated. So it seems, this boss’s methodology backfired much like Steinbrenner’s.

Humility seems to run counter to leadership in the minds of most people when asked the question in a survey setting.  Yet, in practice, the concept of humility is growing in popularity. In a Season 3 episode of Mad Men, Roger Sterling tells Don Draper that he doesn’t have a successful relationship because he doesn’t value them. Don seems to be a sociopath anyway, but the point is taken. Don is, as Writer / Director, Matthew Weiner, describes, a totally displaced person. Someone who is too busy surviving his own life to truly care about anyone else. All of us have known people who bounce when times are tough, and Don Draper’s gift is that he bounces better than anyone. He’s not a stranger to me at all. I’ve known more men and women like him in business than humanitarians, that’s for sure. When the end of the episode came, I couldn’t help wondering if all leaders in all industries, not just advertising, have ice water running through their veins.  Is there room in the business world for real caring and generosity, much less for actual humility?

The times they are definitely a-changin’.  Along with anti- harassment and the 90th Anniversary Women’s Suffrage, are the popularity of the soft skills previously attributed to only women.  Next time you’re at Barnes & Noble or cruising through Amazon, pick up a copy of Tom Peter’s book, The Little Big Things, and you’ll see from the intro throughout words like “thank you, apology, appreciation and listen”. These, he says, are skills to master as much as any taught a Stanford MBA. Corny? Well, not if you figure all the big sellers in the business book section are touting integrity, commitment and accountability.

The Man or The Career?


Long ago and far away, I was married. Let’s just call him “Jacko” for the hell of it. He was a gold-plated up-and-comer in the advertising business. We had an office romance, dated, moved in together and three years later, got hitched. Soon, the Wild Wild West came calling and Jacko was recruited to big-paying job in San Francisco. He went to work and I went looking. I’d had a nearly 10 year career clawing my way to the middle of a big time Madison Avenue ad agency and suddenly, there was no work for me. Once we’d bought the cozy love nest in the redwoods, the Audi and the golden retriever puppy, there was no turning back.

We’d been there nearly two years before I found a job in my chosen profession, television production, and for a reduction in pay and a humiliating standard compared to where’d I’d been, I worked my ass off. For that job, I often flew back and forth to Los Angeles, making a 4 a.m. trek to the airport a few times a month, sometimes commuting back and forth in one day. On one particular Thanksgiving, though, my job took me there for about a week. I arrived back home on Thanksgiving Day. I remember asking Jacko where he’d made a reservation for Thanksgiving Dinner.  He looked at me crestfallen. “Huh?” he questioned, “You didn’t cook?” And he was serious!

Therein is the story of women working and maintaining a family. In the 1980’s anyway. From that moment on, the marriage became a series of sacrifices. When he worked, Jacko made great money and life was dreamy in big houses with limos and luxuries.  Trouble was, Jacko could barely keep any job for more than a year. The minute he was fired, the perks dried up. Because my business life was second to his (that’s how it was in those days when men were the bread winners), he led and I followed. Just like the marriage, my career went into a ditch.

Recently, in a therapy session, I was asked to list opportunities that had been presented to me in life that I had grabbed and those I’d rejected. I reviewed the circumstances of those pivotal decisions that brought me to where I am today. (more on that later)

It turns out that there was a fork in the road about four years into our marriage when I had a chance to go in another direction solo. I remember it like I were sitting there now. My then boss, the head of a major ad agency production department, popped a $10,000 (read as triple that by today’s count) check out of his desk drawer. This was his inducement to stay and not to follow the bouncing ball of Jacko’s career path one more time to another city, this time a far less desirable one than San Francisco.  I was further induced to stay by my supervisor who suggested I take over one of the agency’s major accounts. Here in New York, where we were living, I’d found and decorated a superior apartment (the place was cheap and well located). We’d spent a few bucks renovating too.

The marriage was troubled for the money problems that came with high interest (16% fixed rate) mortgages and lack of consistent work to pay for our propensity for high living. Not to mention hefty child support payments and the nasty back-and-forthing that  results between exes.  He lived in the mid-West, where the only job he could find was headquartered, and I remained in New York for as long as I could hold out. With the house in California and an apartment in New York, adding yet another residence in another city made our  expenses prohibitive. While the distance necessitated planned, and often far more romantic interludes than we’d had in years, the situation became untennable until finally Jacko was making promises to me he ultimately couldn’t keep.

My friends and family saw the handwriting on the wall. Everyone who knew me urged me to leave the marriage and stay in New York, my hometown, the City I love and the place where the greatest career possibilities existed for me. I was still only 34 with plenty of road still ahead of me.  Jacko was more and more desperate to have me move to the mid-West to be with him and finally after 18 months of commuting, I caved in, packed and left.

This was the decision that, I believe, has influenced my life ever since.

Today, as different from the early 1980’s, I think women can choose differently. Back then, there was no negotiating for both people in a couple. When your husband was recruited, even by a wealthy company, you were on your own to find a job for yourself. Most couples weren’t comprised of two working professionals. Women were liberated by the second-wave of feminism (1950’s-1980’s) which was largely concerned with issues of equality, such as the end to discrimination a la Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963) but, apparently not all that much. Back then, I was one of few women I knew who wanted a job, not just an engagement ring, after college.  To move to a city without a network or a vehicle for acquiring one quickly, meant no real way to find a circle of like-minded professionals. Back then, without a open system for parlaying a decade’s worth of corporate ladder climbing, there was no way to break in to a small, closed society of workers. Back then, to work in television advertising meant living in one of two places and San Francisco and the mid-West weren’t either of them.

Whomever said you don’t have to choose is full of sh*t! Let’s face it. None of us would rather have one OR the other but the truth is – there are only so many hours in a day and we each have only so much energy to go around. What then was a choice between my marriage to a man I loved and felt committed to, no matter what damage had been done already, and a job or career was, in my mind, not a contest.  Today, if couples don’t get along that’s reason enough to split up. Until recently, 50% of marriages ended in divorce. Why things have changed, I’m not quite sure. I doubt it’s that women are taking their careers less seriously. If anything, my guess is that the gender slant of breadwinners is changing. Perhaps men are considering women’s professional lives more important. Perhaps both spouses are part of the negotiation when one is recruited to another city.

After my last exit from a highly respected New York advertising agency, I was never able to move vertically again, only laterally, at best, and was mostly relegated to compromising freelance jobs. Because television production is like any other “you’re as good as your last gig” industry, no good salary in advertising ever followed.  By the time the marriage broke for good and I moved to a serious production city, L.A., I had very little to offer in the stiffest competitive marketplace in the country.

Now, I was on my own. I scrambled for work and got none. The Divorce Court judge saw a working woman who only needed “rehabilitation” to be back on her feet. My ex got away with murder and welched on what he did owe. Since then, my resume has been a patchwork of reinvention. I don’t regret any of the roads this history has taken me down. I would never have had the chance to find my other talents. I do feel sure though, that, had things been more equitable, there could have been an easier way.

Resolve to advance your career in 2009


By Tara Weiss
Forbes Online
updated 8:01 a.m. ET, Mon., Jan. 5, 2009
Update your resume, focus on your goals and increase your visibility.

It has been a rough year for the American workforce. Jobs have been eliminated left and right. The threat of downsizing continues to loom. For those who still have a job, raises and bonuses are a receding memory.

Yes, times are tough. But that doesn’t mean you should put your career goals on the back burner. This downturn will pass, hiring will ramp up again and you will want to be ready. With that in mind, here are career resolutions that will help you achieve success in 2009.

Your first one: Update your résumé. The end of the year is an ideal time to reflect on your accomplishments, especially if it’s slow at work. When writing your résumé, don’t just list all your job responsibilities. That won’t set you apart. A more impressive résumé shows results, too. Briefly describe projects and then detail what they concretely achieved.
“Having a career plan doesn’t mean it will all happen immediately, especially since the market has changed,” says Laura Hill, founder of Careers in Motion, a Manhattan-based career coaching firm. “But it’s good over time, since it allows you to direct your career.”

As you consider your career plan, be honest about whether you’re happy in your current job and industry. Is the job still a good fit? Are you still learning and growing professionally? What are the longer-term threats to and opportunities for your company, your career there and the industry?

Take an assessment test
There’s no reason to wither away in a job you hate, and there are plenty of books that can help unhappy employees match their passions with more appropriate jobs. Many have assessment tests that ask probing questions to help you figure out what field best suits you.

Laura Hill recommends “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. There’s a unique code on each copy’s book jacket that you can use to take a career assessment test over the Web. She also recommends “Career Match: Connecting Who You Are with What You’ll Love to Do,” by Shoya Zichy and Ann Bidou, which has an assessment test between its covers.

Next, consider the skills you need to get ahead and take classes to acquire them. Some employers offer in-house training; others will reimburse you for courses you take at a local college. This will make you more marketable both inside and outside the company. Classes are also a good way to dip your toe into another profession to see if it’s something you’d want to pursue full time.

Join a professional association
This year, join your industry’s professional association. Every industry has one. Just type the name of your field and the word “association” into an Internet search, and most likely more than one will pop up. But don’t simply pay the membership dues and put it on your résumé. Get involved. Join committees. That’s how you network, says Alexandra Levit, author of several career books, including “How’d You Score That Gig: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs — and How to Get Them.” You’ll meet industry leaders you wouldn’t normally be exposed to.

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It’s also an easy way to get experience in another area. For example, if you’re a marketing executive, join your association’s finance committee. Voila, you now have finance experience to beef up your résumé.

Meanwhile, up your visibility at work. If you’ve just completed a big project, don’t assume the higher-ups know how successful it was. A great way to tip off the bosses without boasting, says Levit, is by sending a thank you e-mail to all the team members who participated in the project, with a CC to the bosses. The e-mail might say, “I’d just like to thank everyone who was involved in this presentation. Because of your hard work we were able to bring in X dollars for the company.”

If you recently lost your job, allow yourself a few days to wallow. Then move full speed ahead. Attend activities at your professional association and get involved in its committees. Do one thing a day to push your job search forward, whether it’s sending out a networking query, applying for a particular job or signing on with a temp agency that places professionals in your industry.

Don’t forget, Levit says, “The business world is going to recover.”