Monthly Archives: December 2007

Social media doesn’t create new generation leaders

This post was originally published at Conversation Agent. Thank you to Valeria Maltoni for the opportunity.

We have a deep desire to feel that rise in our chests, the quickening of our breath, the spread of a smile.

Generation Y wants to change the world.

Not the environment. Not healthcare. Not education. Not poverty. Not racism. Not sexism. Not war. Not cancer. Not anything, really.

Just the world.

We want to change the world.

And in wanting so much, we get so little.

Restlessness courses through our veins, for we are never doing enough or being enough. Volunteering, leadership, and entrepreneurship, nor the eventual acceptance of the mundane satisfies our edge.

And there’s a majority of us who just sit back. We sit back, content to lead mediocre lives. To never step out. To work, to love, to lead good lives. To lead good lives, but not extraordinary.

Who among us will lead an extraordinary life? Who will be the leader who steps out on an issue? Who is strong enough in their beliefs and convictions to not only sell their Volvo for a hybrid, but to tell the world about it and get others to do the same? Who will stand up for the horror and revulsion that plagues our world today?

Because the warmth from our laptop screens does little but light our idle faces.

Who will be loud enough? Who will scream?

There’s an acceptance that it will all get done. And social media will help us do it. This idea that we can bring groups together over the internet through blogging and Facebooking, and that it will create significant change is ridiculous. It’s hiring a gardener for the privilege of missing the sensation of earth between your fingers.

It is powerful, this online community.

But it is not enough.

In finding so many ways to communicate, we are communicating less and less in a way that is valuable and meaningful.

Like the placement of a candle in a window was once long ago, social media is merely an instrument. You still have to show up.

You still have to get dirty.

Sam Davidson tells a good fisherman story about a man that finds another man fishing, and explains to him that if he catches many fish, well he could eventually buy a boat. He could then catch many more fish, and could buy another boat, and another and another until he had a whole fleet of boats. And he would sure catch a lot of fish then, and with all of that he could do whatever he wanted.

And the man replies, “You mean, fish?”

So it goes with social media. There is a man talking to another woman in a coffee shop. He says to her, “you know if we stalked each other on Facebook and cuffed ourselves to our crackberries and twittered it up, we could communicate, and reach out to each other, and have great conversations, and you know, change things!”

And the woman replies, “You mean, like right now?”

We’ve created social media for the privilege of missing the look from someone across the table, face to face, secret to secret, ambition to ambition.

We create online communities that secure our quasi-anonymous lives, and moan about not being able to connect with someone.

When all we really have to do is simply say, “Hello.”

Don’t get me wrong. Facebook is great for all the reasons people say it’s great. But when you focus on how a tool can change the world, instead of the cause itself, you mitigate the importance of taking action.

The amount of effort we put into our relationships is what will create change, not the amount of effort we put into building and maintaining the printing press, the telephone, the television, or the better, more collaborative, more inclusive web.

We have to show up, face to face. Our actions, not the means – technological or not – propel change. Our effort makes the difference.

It will be quite easy, really. If only we paid attention to the rise in our chests, the quickening of our breath, the smile spreading on our face.

Eye to eye leadership.

New here? Check out some recent posts:
Helping your career when you’re not middle-class
12 reasons why being a woman leader is challenging
What passion looks like
7 steps to getting meetings with movers and shakers
Purge first. Creativity second.

13 steps to a must-have talent

I have two talents in the wintertime. One is my ability to walk in high heels on the ice and snow. The other is to make three-dimensional snowflakes. Which has everything to do with Generation Y and leadership. Trust me.

Okay, maybe not. But look for a post on how social media affects Generation Y leadership on Friday. In the meantime, enjoy the snowfall!

While at my mother’s house for the holidays, I demonstrated how to make these snowflakes in thirteen easy steps:

1. Gather the materials (2 pieces of white paper, a pair of scissors, and scotch tape).

Step 1

2. Cut six equal-sized squares from the paper.

Step 2

3. Fold each square on the diagonal to create a large triangle (shown), and then again to create a small triangle.

Step 3

4. Cut four equal-spaced slits towards the fold, being careful not to cut through the fold.

Step 4

5. Don’t say no to outside help.

Step 5

6. After cutting six pieces, open each square completely.

Step 6

7. Bring the middle of one square together, and tape the ends together. Turn the piece over, and bring the next inner set together and tape the ends together (shown).

Step 7

8. Repeat until an entire diamond segment is complete.

Step 8

9. Repeat on the other pieces until all six diamonds are complete.

Step 9

10. Tape three diamonds together, taping first on the sides, and then bringing the three pieces together in the middle.

Step 10

11. Repeat for the remaining three diamonds, and bring each half of the snowflake together.

Step 11

12. Tape the two halves together, first in the middle (shown), then on each of the sides.

Step 12

13. Hang your completed snowflake with cheer, and enjoy!

Step 13

Happy Winter!

Going round and round


Helping your career when you’re not middle class

I want to respond to the latest post at Employee Evolution, as I’ve done in the past here. This time, Ryan Healy writes on ways your family can help you with your career. Here’s my take:

I didn’t grow up in upper or middle class, nor did I grow up in poverty.

But a large part of my childhood was being raised in the ghetto of my town by my single mother. People are incredulous when I tell them this.

“Do you even know what the ghetto is, Rebecca?” they ask.

My babysitter acted as my second mother and the neighborhood protector. While my mother worked, my babysitter was the character standing on the corner of her lawn, yelling like a madwoman at the drug dealers to “get the f&*k away” from her street. After one such declaration, I remember thinking that they were going to shoot her. Dead. Then and there. But she was tough. The dealers were afraid of her.

My mother did end up moving us to a decidedly middle class neighborhood as soon as she could, but what I learned from my old neighborhood stuck with me.

The point being that I’m intensely proud of my background, but it wasn’t financially affluent.

So I would never say to my boss, “I live with my parents. I don’t need this job.”

Because I’ve been working from the time I was able, and trust me, I do need this job.

I understand that much of our generation grew up middle class, if not upper middle class. That’s a good thing. If you have the connections, privileges, and opportunities, you should use them. Take full advantage of the help that is available to you.

But we all need to be more grateful of what we have. And we need to realize that not all of us have parents and parent’s friends who can help finance our new company, lifestyle, or potential unemployment.

In my world, performance reviews aren’t based off of your connections or your financial stability. They’re based off of your work and your credentials. But we don’t live in my world. We live in the real world. In the real world, who you know and how much money you have are negotiating gems.

It’s good that you can get ahead by building relationships. This is something you have control of.

It’s not so good that you can get ahead with money if you don’t have any. But this is the reality. If you have the privilege of being able to leave a company that refuses to give you additional responsibility as in Ryan’s example, do so. Grow up. Stop whining. And then move out of your parent’s house.

If you can’t risk losing your job, however, but want more challenge at the workplace, pat yourself on the back. Courage should be rewarded.

Then get creative. Think about how you can take on more work even if the employer isn’t helping you do it. It’s rare that you won’t be able to find more to do.

Maybe it’s related directly to what you’re doing now. Or maybe you start a group of co-workers to green the workplace practices of your employer. Or you develop a set of best practices for your peers. Or you could develop and manage an informal mentoring program within the company. You define your success. True fulfillment isn’t created by your employer, anyway. It’s created when you push yourself.

And most importantly, be proud of your background. Realize that it actually puts you ahead of some of your prosperous peers who don’t have to worry about the rent, or the power bill, or budgeting groceries. Some of the most successful people I know are those who have experienced a large amount of adversity. This doesn’t surprise me. Because when you hit bottom, you only have two choices. Stay there or get up. And when you haven’t hit bottom, you don’t have the same appetite to succeed. Adversity is your ally.

Career backgrounder.

Lucky charms

Lucky charms

Cheer is my favorite color

Cheer is my favorite color

12 reasons why being a woman leader is challenging

1. Being nice is seen as flirting.

2. Men say in response to your success, “I always knew you were beautiful, but I had no idea you were intelligent as well,” and you just smile.

3. The female commons is tragic.

4. A meeting is never just a meeting.

5. You’re told to use your sexuality. But not too much.

6. You’re told to ask. But not too much.

7. You’re told to be ambitious, but ambition makes you a dirty word.

8. You’re told that you’ll never marry, but married men love you.

9. You don’t know if it’s safer to be walked home or to walk home alone.

10. Pearls, candles, and lotion are supposedly better gifts for you than iPods, books, and domain names.

11. Shoes determine whether you’re a prude or just plain incompetent.

12. And if you’re a feminist, you have better sex, which doesn’t matter because feminism has “completely screwed you.”

Rise above.

36 hours to making a new friend

“Should I bring my scarf?” Sam Davidson of Cool People Care asked me. He had just arrived to Madison from Nashville to give a speech to my organization.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Should I bring my gloves?”

“Yes, bring everything warm that you have,” I said. Sam went up to his hotel room and came back with his scarf, his gloves and nothing else.

“Where’s your coat?” I demanded.

“This is my coat,” he said. I looked down at his suit jacket and back up at his face, confused.

“Okay,” I said finally. “Come on then.” I walked outside, a little worried how Sam and I were going to get along if he didn’t even understand the meaning of the words “Wisconsin” and “Winter” in the same sentence.

Sam Davidson visits Madison

Sam assured me, however, that he was tough, and true to his word – no matter how much I baited him – he didn’t complain.

Tough is a good word to describe Sam. Not in the traditional steel factory sense of the word, but in the hard-hitting, no-nonsense kind of way. He’s interested in people, he’s interested in change, and he wants to know how to bring the two together.

He’s practical about where he comes from, the detours he’s taken, and turns the notion of a designated path on its head. And perhaps that is what is so refreshing about Sam. He’s straightforward, but uniquely human at the same time. Like when after a particularly meaningful story, Sam stated, “I wore socks today. I hate wearing socks.”

Sam gave his speech on Wednesday night (which was really good), and we all went out to dinner afterwards. And on Thursday, Sam and I proceeded to spend fifteen hours together straight. We went on a tour of Madison into the shops, and the art museum, and our Capitol (although Sam insists that “It’s pretty, huh?” isn’t really a tour at all), and then off to lunch meetings, coffee shop meetings, sushi dinner with Employee Evolution, after-dinner drinks, and after-drink conversations.

Sam sharing a website

And as we moved throughout the day, I felt how great it was to be making a new friend. It’s single-handedly one of the most powerful things, to begin to trust someone, to share your dreams and goals, and your frustrations and anger. To have a mutual respect and desire to change the world. Our generation thrives so much on loose connections, Facebook friends, being quasi-anonymous, that making deep connections often seems like too much work.

But it’s not. It’s just being observant and open. It’s asking the questions beyond simply where you come from and what you do:

“Why are you controversial?”
“How can we work together?”
“Why are you so tight-lipped about your dating life?”
“Do you think you’re moving too slowly?”
“What’s the soundtrack to your life?”
“Do you work out of this coffee shop often?”
“What’s the story behind changing your beliefs?”
“How did you know your wife was the one?”
“What does edgy mean?”
“What’s next?”

Sam and I asked each other these very questions. It’s about investigating and caring about who the other person is. It’s about wanting to know someone intimately, because that’s all we really want anyway. To be known, appreciated, challenged.

When I meet with people, even CEOs or semi-celebrities, the most interesting discussion always happens after we should have ended the meeting. It’s the point where you can get up and leave, or you can ask another question, an unexpected question, a silly or meaningful question, but a question that pushes deeper.

It’s easy to ask the basic questions. But friendships aren’t forged, and change doesn’t happen with easy questions. Instead, you have to ask the story behind those questions.

You have to reach around and ask about the cup of cold coffee sitting on the black table with the guy standing in a kilt on the staircase. You have to ask about that. You have to ask about who a person is.

Friendly challenge.

Sam thinking on how to change the world

Second snow

Salted retreat

The first taste

The first taste