July Reading and Watching
As I’m thinking about kindness in the workplace, I went back to these three books that combine hard research with gentle persuasive techniques on how to be a better manager, how to make the workplace, and the world a better place.
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t – This book shows the clear correlation between management style and financial performance. The key finding is that leaders who focus on their teams, making others successful, are far better at managing their organizations to financial excellence. While leaders who focus on themselves, do much more poorly. Bottom line: listen first, take responsibility for yourself when things go wrong, and share the credit with others when things go right.
- First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently – This book is a classic, required reading for my students at Columbia, NYU, and Pace University. It’s a global quantitative study on what makes a great workplace, and the impact when those factors are present. Surprisingly, what makes a great workplace are the same 10 things around the world – understanding the higher purpose of your work, having a clear direction, and the tools/resources you need to do that work, feeling that someone at work cares about you as a person. Give it read to up your game as a team leader and manager.
- Dream Teams – This book explores what makes some teams work and some not. I have personally experienced this when I worked on a bank merger between Wachovia and First Atlanta Bank. In Wachovia’s culture, you write everything down because it shows transparency, integrity, and attention to detail; in First Atlanta’s culture, you only write down every detail if you’re getting ready to get someone else in trouble. Guess what happened when the two cultures merged? Dream Teams shows that the key to team success, particularly integrated teams (which is every team right now) is intellectual humility. Being willing to assume that you don’t know and can learn from others. That is the key to listening, collaborating, and seeing and evoking the best in others.
One of my favorite ways to lift my spirits is to be inspired by the work of others. I hope you’ll find these ideas inspiring for you as well!
- American Masters: Toni Morrison – Before winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, Tony Morrison was a single mom, a top editor for Random House, and an author. In the ’60s, as a black woman in New York. When she wrote The Bluest Eye, she asked the question “why do we assume the reader is white?” She also noted that the insidious nature of bias – any kind of bias – is not just what it does to society or to the people directly receiving that bias, the poison gets worse when we assume that it’s true ourselves. The Bluest Eye was inspired by a memory Toni had as a child of a 9-year old friend who said she didn’t believe in God anymore because he wouldn’t give her blue eyes. What had to happen to that little girl at age 9 to believe that she was not lovable, not OK, not acceptable because of the color of her eyes?
- American Masters: Miles Davis – Did you know that Miles Davis attended The Juilliard School by day as he was inventing Cool Jazz at night in clubs on 52nd Street with Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie? Me neither. Imagine being that talented, from a small town, and taking the musical world by storm. It wasn’t until he went to Paris that he experienced racial equality. Still, at the height of his success, he was arrested while standing under a marquee with his name on it. His alleged crime? Smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk in New York City. If you ever feel that life’s obstacles are too much, and you can’t continue being creative, look no further than the life of Miles Davis who stayed hopeful, productive, and generous to young people all his life.
- Hamilton on Disney Plus – I know everyone’s watching Hamilton these days. Here’s what I love about it.
- First, Lin-Manuel Miranda writes in the spirit of Shakespeare – pop culture references galore. “Here comes the general!” is from a General Auto Insurance commercial. “Immigrants, we get the job done” is from an old Marine’s ad. And “you’ve got to be carefully taught” is from a song about racism from the musical, South Pacific.
- If you don’t know rap well, it may take you 20 minutes or so to get used to the language. Stick with it. It’s worth it. Even if you can’t understand the words, note the rhythms. Like Shakespeare, each character has his or her own rhythm. Many of them inspired by rap stars – Hercules Mulligan is modeled after Busta Rhymes.
- And Miranda uses internal rhyming and alliteration to create patterns that show each character’s nature. Lafayette uses mottled rap because he’s not a native speaker of English. Jefferson’s rap seems behind the times because he’s been out of the country.
- Another reason to be impressed by Hamilton is, it’s better than the piece itself. Lin-Manuel Miranda did something that no other Broadway producer I know has done. He shared the profits with the original team – cast, director, musical arranger. Usually, those folks get paid a salary for their time but don’t reap the rewards of a show’s success.
- In addition, Miranda received a MacArthur grant that allowed him to provide 50,000 New York City students the chance to see the show on Broadway for free. It also set the stage for classrooms to use the curriculum to teach the show and help kids create their own versions of the songs.
- Finally, Miranda has been a tireless worker and advocate for charity – from worker relief during COVID to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, even purchasing a bookstore that was once a haven for theater writers and setting the stage of the next generation.