Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Extraordinary Negro

For the longest time, I’ve been pondering the plight of the extraordinary Negro.

What is his plight? I’m glad you asked.

The extraordinary Negro gets very little love. Put another way, he gets no recognition for his considerable talents. Indeed, he gets no recognition for who he is.

Instead, the extraordinary Negro is misclassified as “average,” and his accomplishments (extraordinary though they be) are presented as proof positive, Exhibit A if you will, that the broken is functional.

Take this, for example:

An extraordinary child, with extraordinary intellect, drive, passion, and focus, does exceedingly well in an underfunded, understaffed, chaotic, inner-city school. But does anyone recognize this child’s brilliance? Not really. Instead, his academic success is touted as attainable by all who would apply themselves to the task at hand.

As a result—and pay attention now, because this is the slick part—the underfunded, understaffed, chaotic, inner-city school is said to be doing its job, because this child has done well. If only all other children would apply the same diligence as this child, it is said, scores would improve, drop-out and truancy rates would decrease, discipline problems would dissipate, and so on.

Well, yes and no. (My absolute favorite answer to every yes/no question.)

Because remember, this child is extraordinary. He is not average. Not by a long shot. However, his talents are being obscured by the grown ups’ needs to justify the status quo.

Let’s run with this.

Once an extraordinary boy, this extraordinary man does very, very well at work. He is creative. He is innovative. He’s got energy and great communications skills. He is smart. Oh, so smart. He is thoughtful and analytic. Articulate and funny. He rises through the ranks—not too quickly, but at a good pace. And now he is the only black professional on the team.

But many don’t see his specialness. Instead, they see his rise as a shining example of what anyone could do if only he had the will and the desire.

What a shame.

Please don’t misunderstand. The extraordinary Negro has no cause to boast. Simply put, he's been gifted.

On the other hand, let’s be clear. The extraordinary Negro has no cause to cower. Simply put, he’s been gifted.

Well, today is my gift to the extraordinary Negro. 

I see you. I see your extraordinary talent. Your extraordinary brain. And I don’t dismiss it as average. I know that not everyone could do what you’ve done. Not everyone could achieve what you’ve achieved. And I know that your accomplishments are not proof of a level playing field. Uh huh. Proof of a level playing field would be when truly average brown boys and girls could do as well as their non-brown average peers.

And yet 

Carry on, extraordinary Negro. Carry on. 

I’m watching you.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Anthony Weiner Is No Bill Clinton

I got a kick out of the news reports that Bill and Hillary Clinton were reportedly annoyed about comparisons between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin, Anthony Weiner’s wife.

As just about everyone must know, Anthony Weiner is campaigning for the upcoming New York mayoral election, this despite leaving Congress two years ago in disgrace after pictures of his naked nether parts were found floating on the web. Sigh.

According to the New York Post the Weiner campaign has been making the comparison as a way of saying to voters, “Hey! Remember how you forgave Bill Clinton after his sex scandal? Give me some of that love! I can be rehabilitated too!” Or something like that.

But the Clintons aren’t having it.

A “source” is quoted as saying “The Clintons are pissed off that Weiner’s campaign is saying that Huma is just like Hillary. How dare they compare Huma with Hillary? Hillary was the first lady. Hillary was a senator. She was secretary of state.”
Listen, I get if the Clintons don’t want Weiner dredging up all their old dirt just to advance his own seemingly hopeless cause. But the comment from “source” is so silly. You can’t erase the ugliness of a public sex scandal with your job title.
But I’ll agree to this—Anthony Weiner is no Bill Clinton. It’s a fact. Clinton, despite all his stuff, has big-time likability factor. Weiner … not so much.
During a discussion on The Five yesterday, host Kimberly Guilfoyle put it this way: 

“…Bill Clinton was Teflon. He's the ultimate NASA space tested version of Teflon. Plus, some women I hear find him sexy.

Now, Weiner, me don't think so. And then I find myself wanting to take a lot of Pepcid AC for the acid reflux I'm already feeling because I agree with Bill Maher. I cannot believe it. That's the one thing the guy said that I agree with, the hypocrisy, because all of a sudden it is OK if you're Clinton. But if you're not, then forget about it.”

So, I don’t know, it just amuses me that Weiner’s camp would consider this a viable strategy, when it’s so obvious Weiner doesn’t have Clinton’s je ne sais quoi. 

I guess you can’t blame Weiner for trying, though. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Managing Up: What the Heck Is It and Why Should You Care?

Regardless of what you do or where you do it, most likely, learning the fine art of managing up will help you do it better.

But what does it mean to manage up? I once mentioned to an executive that more employees in the company needed to learn how to do it, and she looked at me funny, like she thought I was advocating teaching employees how to get the upper hand with management or something—heaven forbid!

Various sources cite various definitions of “managing up.” A Wall Street Journal article referred to the concept as “stretching yourself,” of going “above and beyond the tasks assigned to you so that you can enhance your manager's work.” Yeah, that’s not my definition. defines managing up as “The process of managing your boss so that you and people who work for you can get work done with minimal interference.”

Hmmm … I don’t like that one either. It seems to assume that managing up is only needed if your boss is clueless. Not so, in my experience.

My definition of “managing up” is more along the lines of “The process of teaching your boss how to manage you; effectively managing your relationship with your boss.” (I just made that up.)

You’re in Charge
The reason I was recommending to the executive that more employees learn to manage up is that their careers were stalling from the lack. 

These employees had an idea that the boss was supposed to oversee their careers, and it just ain’t so. More to the point, it wasn’t happening. 

When I’d suggest how they might approach the manager about a concern or request, I’d get a blank stare, as though it had never occurred to the employees to be more assertive and proactive, or they’d tell me it wouldn’t work. Then, when I’d point out examples of how it had worked, some would still doubt me, so wedded were they to the idea of being the passive little employee, waiting for the boss to notice what a great job they were doing so they could then collect their prize. And when that didn’t happen, they’d get angry, wondering why good work wasn’t enough to get ahead.

Other times, I’d need to counsel managers about the importance of identifying with management, rather than their line staff. For example, one manager I coached disagreed with his boss on a departmental policy issue. But rather than speaking with his manager about his opinion and making an effort to bring the manager around to his way of thinking and/or accept that he and his manager would have to agree to disagree (with the subordinate manager doing as told, of course), he’d simply ignore his manager's instructions and hope for the best. You can imagine how well that turned out.

It’s What the Grown Ups Do
Bottom line—if you want a good relationship with your boss, you’ve got to be invested in doing the work. 

And let me just say, I’ve never received any significant raise or promotion without asking for it, and sometimes I had to ask twice, or three times, or accept the no now and request permission to revisit the issue later. 

And when I’d get scared at the prospect of making a request and wouldn’t want to do it, I’d tell myself, “Then do it for your family, Self. They need you to do it." Believe it or not, that hokey self-talk worked.

So, I’m a big fan of managing up. It’s not about manipulation, or being sneaky, or bossing your boss around. Instead, it’s about being assertive, proactive, and strategic. It’s about looking out for your boss but looking out for you, too. It’s about being an adult professional and taking responsibility for your wants and needs.

And if you haven’t learned how to do it, find a mentor or start teaching yourself today. 

Because you have to manage your career. Your boss is most likely focused on managing his.

Besides, it's the grown up thing to do.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Don't Practice HR Like a Pharisee

In the old days, the Pharisees were a sect of religious leaders known for emphasizing strict interpretation and observance of the Mosaic law.

Jesus was not a fan.

He accused the Pharisees of following the letter of the law without understanding its spirit. In fact, he went so far as to claim that the Pharisees missed the point completely.

In one story of the bible, Jesus happens upon a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” They were trying to trip Jesus up, hoping to catch him in a misstep they could then exploit.

Clever Jesus responds by saying:

“What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on a the Sabbath.”

Jesus then implores the man to “Stretch out your hand!” and when the man obeys, his hand is made miraculously straight and completely functional. The Pharisees go away grumbling, plotting how to murder Jesus.

‘Fess up. Have you ever practiced HR in the tradition of the Pharisees? Have you ever placed more emphasis on rules than results? Did anybody appreciate that position? I’m guessing no.

With all the talk (still) about HR getting a seat at the table, one thing we can do is not act like a Pharisee. Rules are important, and the law is certainly important, but a willingness to solve a problem creatively is just as important, and none of these is mutually exclusive.

Additionally, the law sets minimum standards—there’s nothing to prevent an employer from going beyond the minimum if there‘s good reason to do so, and you never want to be like those leaders who were so in love with their rules they regarded good things—like a man with a healed hand—as a problem because that good thing didn’t come about in a way that met with their approval. That's both unreasonable and impractical, and that fact won't escape your bosses or your peers.

Of course, the irony is that Jesus knew the rules and followed them perfectly. It was the Pharisees, while making up rules to protect the rules, who’d lost sight of what was true.

Good HR does not operate in a vacuum. And good HR does not exist to perpetuate itself or its rules. It’s a service function, meant to provide service to the business and the internal and external customers of that business.

So approach solution finding as though you’re offering a service, or you’ll be as useful as the Pharisees, and I’m pretty sure they’re not around anymore.