Friday, October 23, 2015

10 Ways to Improve your Leadership and the Leadership of Your Leaders: Leadership in the Modern Leader World Full of Leaders Who Lead

I know a couple people who don't like Catholicism. It extends in some cases to their not liking Catholics either. That makes me sad and frustrated. Mostly because this comes from people who place a very high premium on loving other people. Incidentally many Catholics I've met also like to love people.

But that's not what we're here to talk about today. Today I want to talk about leadership. "Leadership" happens to be my least favorite word, topic and concept of all time. That is an exaggeration, I definitely hate at least a couple of things more than leadership - like Futurama, or socks with no partners, or people who won't shut up about coffee, or east coast writers struggling publicly to navigate the hierarchy of societal offenses, which changes every day in both content and severity. That escalated quickly but if you're still with me we're discussing "leadership."

First of all leadership is rarely discussed in the same conversation as women. When it is, it's usually being discussed by women. If it's being discussed by a man, and women are present and are also being addressed, the man is very, very aware and very, very, very proud of himself (and will probably mention this a couple of times). This is annoying, but by far not the most annoying thing about leadership.

Leadership is a bullshit topic. This is something people talk about to avoid talking about concrete things, because it's easier. It's like that kid in my high school who always wrote real flowery poems and shared them with our English class and everyone fawned over them, except I, being a giant bully, always wanted to point out that the poems never actually SAID anything. Anyway - like, let's say you go to the CEO of a company and you say "Sir, you are facing a large budget shortfall. What will you do?" And the CEO thinks for a moment, strokes his beard, tells his female secretary to hold all his calls and wear a nicer dress tomorrow, then it dawns on him: HE NEEDS BETTER LEADERSHIP. And so he spends the next 9 months writing a book about leadership, and what it means to lead from up front and lead from behind and lead from upside down and instill confidence, and then by the time he's done his company has finally gone under! At least his secretary looked nice.

Leadership is also a concept into which anyone can inject almost any meaning, and it will be accepted. You could easily hear two people at the same time say "Leadership means taking charge" and "Leadership means delegating to others" and in both cases their audiences will likely nod, knowingly. Because they're in the leadership club! And they're dudes, presumably.

In addition, leadership gives everyone talking about it a great, great inflation of their ego. After all, if they're talking about leadership, they must be a great leader! No one would talk about leadership if they weren't a leader. And everyone who is listening thinks, I know a person who talks about leadership, and I'm listening! I must be a leader. All of these conclusions really mean, of course: I am smart, but not just smart, I am smart-er, and everyone should listen to me.

This is just what we've always wanted anyway, right? And that's what the bullshit concept of leadership gives us.

My theory is this: just do stuff. Like, accomplish things. Worry about the rest after that, but my guess is you won't have much to worry about.

I just wrote my leadership book!!! That'll be $99 but I'll waive the fee if you organize an international conference around this blog post. International conferences about leadership are just... I can't talk about it, I have heartburn.

Have a great weekend, man leaders! Don't worry about doing anything. You're a leader.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Distressing Report on NPR: The Story of Tuesday

Yesterday I was driving to Panera for Second Lunch and was listening to NPR.

(Second Lunch is the lunch that follows First Lunch but comes before First Dinner. Usually it occurs around 2 - 3 pm and though you might be thinking - well Maria, sheesh you must just get very hungry around 2 - 3 pm! - you are actually very wrong. The feeling is less like hunger and more like this: Maria, the very beginnings of hunger feelings are happening to you. They are very faint and hardly noticeable but they are there, and they have an important message: if you do not eat in the next 25 minutes, you will vomit. Powerfully and with little warning. This is what occurs right before Second Lunch. Also Second Breakfast, Second Dinner, and Popsicle Before Bed.)

Anyway on NPR they were interviewing an Australian composer who is a professor at Arizona State. His accent was ridiculous and really kind of infuriating but I'm a woman of the world so I just pretended he was British and got over it. They were interviewing him about this project he's been doing around national parks in the American Southwest where he records sounds. Like he just, sits outside with some presumably astronomically expensive recorder and records the "sounds of the desert." Like sand blowing and, I don't know. Lizards scurrying along my back fence.

The interviewer asked Professor Australia two questions, the answers to which distressed me very much. The first question was: what's your favorite thing that you've heard? When he asked that question I kind of got a little excited. I was hoping to learn something cool. Like that snakes have a secret language (parseltonge) or that cacti make groaning noises if you're quiet enough. But he said - "once I heard a woodpecker drumming." And now I am so, so mad at him and will probably never visit Australia. Was he serious? I distinctly remember trying to study in college with my apartment window open and having to shut it because of all the damn woodpeckers. I didn't even have any fancy recording equipment and I heard them so much I almost started a campus activist club ("Students Against Woodpeckers; no double entendre, we promise".) I can't believe that was his answer; I also can't believe he is a professor and lastly I can't believe that stupid Australian accent is a real thing.

The second question whose answer was very distressing was: What will these recordings be used for, other than simply having great recordings of nature? (I took issue with "great" but again being a woman of the world - have i mentioned this previously? - I let it slide.) Anyway the Great Australian Scientist said - oh, we want to raise awareness about the sounds in nature. I feel so many feelings about this answer. First of all if the awareness he wants to raise is "sounds happen in nature" he will likely not find a large audience compelled by such news, and additionally if the awareness includes an example of woodpeckers woodpecking, people can just saunter on up to University Courtyard apartments in Athens, Ohio and try to do some quiet reading. They'll come, I promise you, and you don't even have to petition the taxpayers for a million dollar grant.

But seriously - someone is paying for this guy to do this thing. To sit there and record "sounds" and then think about the sounds and go on NPR to talk about them. Do you think he got a governmental grant? I bet he totally got a governmental grant. "Raising awareness" should never, ever be the end game of a project. Because it means nothing. But it should especially never be the end game of a project that's called "recording sounds to that people can hear them."

Lastly I feel like I have to confess something in the interest of full disclosure: if these had been whale sounds that he was recording, I would have been on board. Not just "on board" as in "ok with the idea" but literally on board whatever boat he used to go out and find the singing whales because these are WHALE SOUNDS and I'm a red-blooded American woman; not some kind of uninterested monster.

My Second Lunch was a grilled cheese and it was definitely worth all the angst. Thanks for joining me on this journey.