3 Timeless Business Lessons from a Real Life Superwoman

Eleanor Moscatel in Superman

The Adventures of Superman (upper right, Eleanor Moscatel)

My Mother is 86 and doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile. But if she ever did, her headline would read something like… “Former ingenue, entrepreneur, dreamer, and the rest is none of your damn business, honey.” But to those who’ve had the privilege to know her over the decades her mantra has always been, quite simply, to treat everybody with dignity!

Here are 3 timeless business lessons she’s taught me to go along with that mantra.

3. The worst “they” can say is “no.” – Opportunities were not exactly flowing in depression-era Los Angeles, but that didn’t stop one young lady from putting herself out there. She helped my father through chiropractic school by working long hours as a Hollywood extra throughout the 50’s and 60’s. Though never quite achieving stardom she knocked on enough doors to get a lot of work, save some seed money and establish relationships that would eventually transform her life. Mom leveraged her new, tough shell to find opportunities, sell her strengths and laugh off rejection.  “It’s no big deal,” she constantly told me as a kid. At the end of the day you should never be afraid to ask for what you want because the absolute worst “they” can say is no. And you still get to keep your dignity.

2. Get everything in writing. – Unurprisingly, Mom had to learn this lesson like most of us… the hard way. This was the mid-century after all and commonplace to make agreements on a handshake. But it only took a few rotten deals for her to realize that keeping good records was key to helping a business stay on track and prospering. Putting it in writing lets the other person know that you need to be, and you will be, treated with dignity.

1. Don’t burn your bridges. – The keyword in the old adage that you can’t make a lot of money without making a few enemies is few. Just as one door opens and another closes, Mom never wanted to find herself in a new room with an old enemy. By treating everybody with dignity she managed to avoid burning many bridges. And for every bridge she burned, she’s probably built a thousand more. When a job or a deal doesn’t go your way, take the high road and don’t make it personal. You never know what the future brings or who might be bringing it.

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Mom’s success, not just in business, but among the people she calls colleagues, friends and family is based on dignity. And while there were many times in her life where she was unfairly treated, put at a disadvantage and rejected, she never forgot that. I guess that’s why I never had much of a problem following the 5th Commandment. Anybody remember that one?

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Digital Bondage and the Fallacy Of Work-Life Integration

Forget your elder’s sage advice on maintaining a good work-life balance. There’s a new patently absurd approach (promoted here by the time-strapped PhD’s at Berkeley Haas), and it’s spreading like wildfire throughout the business world. They call it… “Work-Life Integration!”

Digital Bondage

The term “Work-Life Integration” is so misleading because at this point we’re all enduring an increasing degree of overlap between our personal and professional lives. It may be sold to us as “convenience” but much of it is not exactly “optional.” This obsessive and all-in-one approach to time-management ends up usurping the little personal, spontaneous and family time we still have left.

It reminds me a little of Chris Rock’s hilarious reflections on “Job v. Career”…

But not everybody is as fortunate as Chris and there’s a bigger impact to his lifestyle than he’s letting on in the above clip. And so “Work-Life Integration” also makes me think about Cecil DeMille’s classic The Ten Commandments and the famous scene where a worker is about to be trampled by a giant stone moved by “her colleagues.” Moses’ character, played by Charlton Heston, comes down from his managerial pedestal to save the poor soul, who later turns out is his own Mother! It’s a metaphor for how easily, often and unfairly, we as society, put work before family, friends and for believers, even God. And when it negatively impacts others it is arguably immoral.

I was most recently educated on this 24/7 mindset by an executive who boasted, “Say I’m on flight to Hawaii with my family for the weekend, and I’ve got to approve a purchase order for half-a-million. I can do it right here from my iPhone!” Well, that’s nice, but it highlights the disconnect between those who literally have the world at their fingertips and those who get interrupted with email from their boss on the weekends. The same technology fix that feeds the workaholic is now invading the space of almost everyone, not just the guy or gal with a “career.” It’s affecting their partner, their children, their social circle, people on the road. And in many cases it is invasive, counter-productive and unhealthy for the family and the self. Do we really want to live in digital bondage?

In many ways, this digital bondage is reminiscent of the days when men and women of all ages built the Pyramids until they dropped dead. Sure, the Pyramids still stand as a testament to architecture and ingenuity, but to many they will also always represent a chapter in history when there was seldom a break from work. Luckily today we have a choice.

We must stand firmly behind the importance of rest and personal space. Sure, working remotely through technology has given us flexibility. There’s no denying that. But half-baked ideas like “Work-Life Integration” have adversely impacted the very relationships and working-conditions they were meant to improve.

Some in the Jewish faith believe that one of the Ten Commandments, to observe a day of rest on the Sabbath, is a cornerstone of not just spiritual growth, but what ultimately may lead to success in other areas of one’s life. Most cultures share this important value but as it erodes across the globe and the lines between work and rest are blurred, we all suffer.

Stay off the devices this weekend as much as you can. Find true balance by freeing yourself from digital bondage.

Lead by example, forget about the credit…

We’re all well aware that labor intense records management projects, those in which repetitive, mundane grunt work is required, are avoided like the plague by employees and management alike. When a project does happen to spark interest and garner support, once it moves past the planning stages it can begin to feel like nobody on the team wants to be bothered with the actual logistics. Suddenly everybody is a “thought leader” and “focused on strategy” and that’s okay… but maybe that’s where some of our productivity issues actually originate. 

Ironically, what can emerge from these projects are new leaders, because these are also opportunities for individuals willing to actually roll up their sleeves. These are people who drive initiatives and projects forward because they’re more interested in getting the job done and learning something than getting (or taking) the credit.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish with pride and unselfishness—where you have people who don’t care who gets the credit. – Harry Truman

As knowledge workers we are supposed to naturally evolve and graduate into more sophisticated roles but more and more of us are also becoming out of touch with basic business operations, assuming technology will ultimately address all of the tedious processes we’re responsible for.  Many employees, even in the public sector, have simply become used to expecting management to throw more money at the problem or to bring in consultants (who will probably just hire temps) to catch everybody up… instead of addressing the real issues. Perhaps, it’s as John Steinbeck once remarked, that we’re all “temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” and that in the same vein, by performing grunt work, we are negatively impacting the way we’re viewed by both our superiors and those who report to us. That may be partly true. As Records and Information Management leaders and executives we don’t want to take a step backward, but there is a lot to be said for staying familiar with, remaining involved in and practicing the discipline which you claim to have expertise.

There is a lot to be said for staying familiar with, remaining involved in and practicing the discipline which you claim to have expertise.

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