Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Movie stars and choppers

Not long ago, Sunset Beach (CA) hosted their annual arts & crafts fair on the narrow grassy area between Pacific Coast Highway and the beach front homes. It is a local family event and the furthest most people might travel is 5 or 10 miles to attend. Interestingly, Sandra Bullock and Jessie James (hopefully you have heard of these 2 very different, but married celebrities) are locals to the immediate area and joined in the festivities. What struck me about seeing them in the crowd was how well they fit in. They did not want, or get, any special attention from anyone. They enjoyed themselves as simply as we all do.

There is a leadership lesson about perception, remaining true to one’s self and being fearful of isolation in this observation. Months ago on the LifeAtBoeing blog, Brian talked about how reserved parking for executives could create isolation if not realized. As we progress in our professional careers, we need to maintain a self-awareness of who we are, what is important to us and how it all relates to the expectations of the positions we hold. If we accept a job, we need to do what it takes to be successful. At the same time, we need to remain “real” people and not be consumed with the title and trappings. Don’t lose site of what made you successful in the first place.

What other similar experiences do you believe we need to be aware of to avoid isolation?


John Kirk said...

To be, or not to be isolated? That is a good question. I have found through my life that a middle ground is desirable. However, I am now 42 and no longer stand or tolerate crowds of any sort. I have my life to live and the direction I am in leads to more and more isolation simply because, like a librarian. People may come and go, asking questions here and there, but in the end a professional knows the job produces a certain measure of isolation. The same is true for executives. In the end, one needs to understand that our individual social life, professional life, and our private lives are separate things connected only through us. I find people foul up the juggling of these things and produce train wrecks which catches everyones attention. (This occurs within our political lives which includes all three arenas of activities.) It is hard to stand alone in a world bent on self destruction, but it is the mark of true maturity to achieve this. Because once you can stand alone, you are truly free. The question that remains is just how responsible are you now? Because simply because you can stand alone or accept isolation does not mean you are. Your actions, words, conduct, and influence still exist and are connected to everything and everyone. So, in a very real way, isolation is a myth.

Austin White said...

Great website John! I got caught up in reading it for about 30-45 minutes today. I couldn't pull myself away. Thank you.

Nathaniel Drysdale said...

I agree with the statement, "Don’t lose site of what made you successful in the first place." Sometimes the isolation can go both ways not just from Leadership down but from the bottom up. One thing a leader needs to be is fresh and relevant to the teams and people they support. Approachability and visibility is then critically important as well to maintain success. If a leader becomes in ensnared with titles and “looking like a leader” versus being a leader they run the risk of not being in-tune to ground level changes that could have macro level impact to their business.

Yes, there still has to be boundaries and respect in place but that is coupled with the leader being close to the voice and concerns of the internal and external customers they service. Whether via emails, walkthroughs, impromptu lunches, and roundtables there are things that the leader needs to here that may not be funneled to them except by direct interaction and visibility with their stakeholders.

Mindy K Decker said...

Community efforts are a large part of self awareness. Not only contributing to the well being of what surrounds you but taking part in a team effort for the greater good of the goals of the team. Jessie and Sandra are real people just like the rest of us. I am sure they wanted to be part of something in their community and not be singled out as anything more than community members taking part in an event that supports their town and gives back by providing local events such as these. Maybe they bought some local art or the crafts on display. It shows their support of the local talent and provides initiative for others to see them as more than just a celebrity.

I don't know if you happened to watch this last round of Celebrity Apprentice but Jessie, out of all of the celebrities that participated, kept it real at every board room visit. He always remained true to who he is and what he believes in. He was also asked why he did not reach out to his celebrity wife for charitable funds when conducting the tasks to raise money. His answer? My personal life is separate from what I am doing here. Donald Trump thought that is what hurt him in the end to remain in the final two. I thought it was a very stand up decision he made on behalf of his family. Yet another example of remaining true to who you are publicly or privately

Thomas Hooker said...

Nice title, strange topic.

Sunset Beach caught my eye as i commuted mostly by bicycle for 10 years from Huntington Beach to Long Beach. Sunset Beach is this small community that’s known as the place with the wooden water tower that was converted into a home that overlooks PCH.

Has a strange ring to it "Being fearful of isolation". Is this a real problem with executives? I guess it can be as I think of the headlines and the Auto exec’s showing up in Washington on private jets. The perception the media portrayed the Auto execs were out of touch. To some extent the truly wealthy will be out of touch with the average working man or the poor, unless they find a way to stay grounded (grounded, jets, get it? – well I thought it was clever). Who is uses private jets? The wealthy and heads of large companies, who makes a big deal of this is the media, the media should focus more on the problems than trying to hype something that is standard business practice. Though I do agree that the top salaries for execs are out of proportion which can be the reason execs lose the ability to relate.

To answer the question about being aware of to avoid isolation? Staying grounded will keep you humble, find a cause you can make a difference not just a name for yourself. But the flip side, most wealthy want the isolation, we have whole markets that cater to the wealthy and vast amounts of population trying to get there.

Jim Kinsella said...

Great article !

Fred Szibdat said...

Hey John,

Senior Executives can create a lot of isolation. And rather easily. LIkewise they can tear down the walls, with simple acts.

Easy story. Former Audit Director named George. Had formalized training twice a year. Always in California. I live in NJ. So when I was out there, staff would occassionally get together for drinks/dinner. Usually more drinking than eating. But we were all kind of young. Except the Director. No one wanted to approach the Director, but also didn't want for him to hear we went out in his town and didn't extend an offer. Since I knew him the longest. I got to ask him. He beamed at the change to throw down a brew. Asked the time. Got there early, and as everyone showed up. Bought everyone the first round. Then a second round. After that, he left on the table, the rest of the $100 bill and said, just get me a receipt and have a great night.

And in that simple gesture, he realized that there was not much distance, between he and us. Our respect grew 2 sizes that day (easy quote of the Grinch who stole Christmas).

On the opposite side, at PwC some partners were completely unapproachable. Folks followed them because they had to, not because the wanted to. I've found that folks that want to be lead, are the better group, than those that are trapped and have to be lead.

so coming full circle and quoting a great lyric from RENT. "Connection, in an Isolating Age..." Why do we email the person across the hall from us, and not just walk over and chat? Why do we get addicted to BlackBerry's etc and forget that the best way to communicate is live. Sure, email and all have a purpose, but they tend to cause distance and not connection. Folks in NYC on the subway trains, or on the streets wear iPod's to tune everyone out. Creating Isolation. And so it can be at work.

I have learned from George, and no matter where I have worked, I have made sure, to get together for lunches, to praise good work, and to recognize hard effort. Because when you need that extra hour at night, or to cover for a sick employee. Like Covey said, you need something in that emotional bank account. If you have been isolated or isolating. There isn't a balance in that account. And you will notice it.


Andre van Heerden said...

Hello John,
Great topic. I work in the film industry and am constantly amazed by how isolated and entitled some people become and feel. Being put on a pedestal can be a fun thing - staying on that pedestal can be dangerous. I think a few key things might keep us grounded: a) keep doing the simple things in life like mowing the grass and doing the dishes. b) spending time with family and friends who see you as a person and who love you for who you are. c) listening to those who genuinely care and love you including, and especially from, a higher power. Thanks for the thought-provoking topic.

Tony Koechli said...

Well written article, so how do we change the elite?

Dave Waters said...

Always enjoy reading your posts.

Dave Waters
Supply Chain Today

John Bushling said...

Oftentimes, executives, managers, leaders tend to read the reports and/or rely upon second,and third hand information.

In the Lean community there is a saying, "Go to gemba." Gemba is a Japanese word that, loosely translated, means the place where 'things' are happening (where the work is being done, where the problem exists, where tha action is). "Go to gemba." also implies when you get to gemba, that you will observe, interact, talk, learn. Hence, Go to gemba means 'Go to where things are happening and learn.' Nothing says I'm aware and care like actually being there.

The dividends here are first hand information and first hand understanding. Also, being seen cannot be overated.

How to avoid isolation? Go to gemba. Go there often!


David McKee said...

That is cool - and was the reason I was rooting for Jesse on "Celebrity Apprentice" because he resists the "celebrity" lifestyle as much as he can, he is a bike builder, thats what he loves to do and would still be doing it now if nobody had ever heard of him. I think that may also be the reason he ultimately lost the contest, but in my mind, kept his integrity: He refused to compromise his values even to win the game by exploiting the celebrity status of himself and his wife.

In the end, Integrity and Respect are much more valuable assets then Fame by any standard.

David T. McKee

Richard Space said...


I think you observation and summarization of the story you told are so very accurate. As leaders, it is sometimes difficult to ensure that you remain real to yourself as well as grounded in how you treat people. The higher we go in our careers, the more isolated we become. The ability to treat everyone as “special” takes on new meaning and a unique quality we must achieve. I always try and look at it as I am doing nothing more than leading and my associates are making this happen. Most of the time, we shift in our direction on a certain project or task and it is the associates/colleagues which are making this happen. I also try to think of General Bradley, the GI’s general of WW2 who was able to gain the love and respect for his troops because he treated himself the same as everyone else. Really good post.

William Thompson said...

We all put our pants on one leg at a time in the morning. We all need to remember this, all the time. Different responsabilities for a greater or lesser part of the whole don't (and most definitely shouldn't) change this.

I tend to wonder what the senior guys who isolate themselves are afraid of. Learning the truth, perhaps?

I don't want anybody in my organization telling me afterwards "I knew this was/was not a good way to go", I want to hear this ( I call it the principle of Loyal Opposition" BEFORE something goes South, and isolation will not give people the confidence to know that their thoughts and ideas, though they differ from those of the "boss" are welcome, as they should always be.

Jake Gentry said...

On the topic of movie stars, leadership and isolation I can add this: I spent several years working in the film industry and the atmosphere of the film set is largely affected by the star. As you can imagine, it's more fun to work on a Robin Williams film than a Sean Penn film. And while one might assume Robin is naturally gregarious and an extrovert, he actually has to work hard at both. One-on-one he is very reserved, yet is comfortable enough with who he is that he willingly sits down for lunch with everyone else rather than hiding in his trailer. Given the choice, I would jump at the chance to work with Robin and decline the chance to work with Sean again. Strong leadership comes from developing character, and character is a big part of who we choose to be. Neither Robin nor Sean have had an easy life, but Robin has made choices that allow his experiences to make him a better, more humble, more giving person.

Mike Branan said...

Bravo! Very well stated!

Stay grounded and don't be afraid to roll up your sleeves and gets some dirt under your finger nails! There should be company and community work days to give back to the place we all benefit from. If everyone does their part, they we all move ahead. What a concept?!

Gabe Andrews said...

Hello John,

Insightful topic.

To stay grounded I suggest that people maintain relationships with the friends who have known them the longest and are not afraid to bring you back to reality. For example, I recently received some unexpected praise at work from several of the company executives. When I shared the experience with a long time friend he was quick to remind me that I am still not as good at basketball as he is. Nothing like a great friend to let me know that I am not always the greatest.

As Andre stated, staying atop a pedestal is very dangerous and often leads to personal disappointment.

Chris Saller said...

Management needs to be communicate better with their virtual employees. I worked in So Cal and had a manager located in Puget Sound (less than a year) that I met once for 40 minutes. I never met anyone in my group, all located in Puget Sound. Shortly after he became my manager because of a reorg, he stopped all of my projects and were not replaced with new projects. I did zero work for the company for ten months and was turned down when I volunteered to help other groups. I was laid off on April 2 2009.
Being virtual from a manager is a type of isolation. "Out of site, out of mind".
I loved working for the company until I was moved into this manager's group.
I took advantage of the company's training and educated myself wherever I can during this slump.
Once laid off from this company, it is impossible to come back.
Leadership needs a major overhaul.

Ravi Rao said...

I like the Sandra Bullock/JJ story. Great example.

There are four "humbling things" I ask every person that I work with to do:

1. Get anonymous written feedback from the three people who are most difficult for you to work with (using an online tool or a neutral interviewer)

2. Once a year, spend a half day doing the tasks of the person that reports to you (secretarial, frontline staff, etc.)

3. Tell your best friend, executive coach, or someone outside of work that you deeply trust about your secret weakness or emotional insecurity that led you to make your biggest mistake at work - get it off your chest once and for all

4. Reflect and talk about whether you are most likely to become toxic to others in times of (a) anger, (b) sadness, or (c) fear. Ask forgiveness from two people you've been toxic towards and tell them which of these triggers set it off

If you do these four things, you will never develop an abrasive sense of self-importance that alienates others.

Add to Technorati Favorites