On Friday, December 3, I served on a panel with five others for an afternoon session for Leadership Irving. The room was filled with a rich array of folks, from a wide range of industries. Mike Overby, Principal & Owner of Express Employment Professionals of Irving, led the session. (He is committed to leadership development, and does a great job at providing wonderful events for people in Irving).
Every panel member had much to offer. It was a terrific discussion! In the midst of the panel discussion, Thomas Trotter, IBM, Senior Executive Emeritus, said one short sentence that hit with great impact. He said (I’m paraphrasing) that the two most important skills, the ones that are most critical, the ones that without these, you cannot do your job effectively (or even keep your job) are:
Communication Skills and Teamwork.
Communication skills and teamwork. These really are that critical!
R.I.P. English? Texting is giving proper grammar the proverbial ‘dirt-nap’ by Leslie Villeda. I teach Speech at Eastfield College, one of the Dallas County Community College campuses. This is the current cover story for our school newspaper. Here are some excerpts:
OMG I cnt blieve ppl rly rite like diz. lol. Wats up wit dat??? SMH.
Millions of Americans communicate on a daily basis via text messaging, often using a cryptic new language filled with abbreviations and acronyms. And while technology has allowed people to communicate and stay in touch with friends and relatives, it may also be bringing about the downfall of the English language.
There was a time when kids went to school and were taught one simple rule about writing: You can’t break the rules until you’ve learned them. Unfortunately, the texters and grammar “rule breakers” are getting younger and younger these days. So young, in fact, that they are breaking the rules without giving themselves an opportunity to learn them.
This leaves no chance for learning actual English.
“As a writing teacher, I can tell you firsthand that it [texting] definitely is hampering the kids’ ability to spell, first and foremost,” said Keysha Smith, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Robert T. Hill Middle School in Dallas. “Number two, students don’t have a good grasp of grammar or a complete sentence because they don’t write in complete sentences. Sentence structure is out the window.”
There is also a problem with kids incorporating texting lingo into their academic writing.
I think the article raises a really important conversation. But… here’s what I think. Is the proliferation of the shorthand used in texting a problem? Is it contributing to a decline in writing skills – writing with proper grammar, proper structure? Probably. But it is not the main culprit. The main culprit is a little simpler – and much more alarming.
People are not reading enough!
Children and students (up through college age), are developing a habit that is far more deadly to their communication skills than their texting is. That habit is a lifestyle devoid of reading. The time that earlier generations spent reading, this generation spends on video games, and a whole lot of texting. The average child-through-teenager literally sends (and reads!) thousands of text messages a month. Consider this from a Nielsen Co. study (read the summary here):
The average 13- to 17-year-old sends and receives a whopping 3,339 text messages a month, and adults’ use of text messaging is starting to climb — although to nowhere near the levels of American teens.
With so much time spent in texting, the average teenager simply is not exposed to actual, good, writing.
So here’s my theory. We need to help our teenagers read more. We need to get militant/obsessed/fanatical about making our students actually read — read well written material. Daily. Weekly. Over the long haul.
You learn to write partly by exposing yourself to good writing – by reading good books by good authors. Texting may contribute to bad writing habits, but it is only the current evasive activity. Put lots of good books in the hands of students, and make sure they actually read the books – this is the need of the hour!
A personal note: of course I think things were “better” when I was young (doesn’t everyone?). No video games. No texting. Lots and lots of books. In my own life I started with comic books, then went to the Hardy Boys, then Nero Wolfe, then Mickey Spillane, then “serious books.” I read every Hardy Boys book, every Nero Wolfe book (still re-read these periodically), every Mickey Spillane book… and now, I read every Malcolm Gladwell, book, and nearly every book by quite a few other authors (Michael Lewis comes to mind).
Do you read? How did you learn to love reading? I imagine that you learned to love to read by reading. I know of no other path.
Two recent inflection points reflect major changes in the contemporary business world: one involves the replacement of the command-and-control management style with one that affirms authenticity, transparency, empathy, and other qualities once considered “soft”; the other involves the replacement of what Cathleen Benko and Molly Anderson characterize as the “hierarchical corporate ladder” with “a multidimensional corporate lattice,™” one whose structure is flatter, within which authority is more widely distributed, one that provides multidirectional career paths and, although driven by team and community commitments, nourishes mutual trust and respect between and among those involved.
As I worked my way through Benko and Anderson’s lively narrative, I was reminded of a passage from Walt Whitman’s poem, Song of Myself: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” Whitman’s affirmation of complexity and diversity could well serve as a mantra for the Lattice mindset. These are its core values:
• Success can be defined many different ways
• Success can be measured many different ways
• Individual growth can be developed many different ways
• When, where, and how work is done is determined in collaboration with those who will do it
• Jobs are competency-based to reflect its dynamic nature
• Information is widely accessible and customizable
• Multi-level co-creation drives engagement and achievement
• Integration of organizational and personal priorities and values
• Multiple career paths to accommodate different goals and competencies
I especially appreciate Benko and Anderson’s skillful use of various reader-friendly devices, such as Figures, Tables, and checklists. They consolidate key points. For example, “The forces driving the changing world of work” (Figure 2-1, Page 29), “Career engagement changes over time” (Figure 3-3, Page 74), and “The stages of lattice ways to participate” (Figure 5-1, Page 117); “A comparison of ladder and lattice thinking about careers” (Table 3-1, Page 53), “A comparison of ladder and lattice thinking about work” (Table 4-1, Page 81), and “A comparison of ladder and lattice thinking about participation” (Table 5-1, Page 102). There are also several dozen checklists in various formats that, in combination with Figures and Tables, will expedite frequent review of key points.
In this thoughtful and thought-provoking volume, Benko and Anderson provide a comprehensive, cohesive, and cost-effective “game plan” and operations manual that are needed to plan, implement, and then strengthen “a multidimensional corporate lattice(tm)” culture. Among the many significant benefits this enterprise architecture will achieve is what Cathleen Benko and Molly Anderson characterize as a “career-life fit” for each of those involved. Better yet, because each person’s life resembles a lattice rather than a ladder, the fit can be customized.
With regard to the “bottom line,” those involved in a lattice culture will be far more productive at work as well as much happier there and elsewhere. It is no coincidence that on the annual lists of companies most highly admired and the best to work for are also on the annual lists of those that are most profitable and most valuable. What does that suggest?
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Kathy Savitt, founder and C.E.O. of Lockerz, a social networking and e-commerce site. She calls cynicism a “first cell, so to speak, that can metastasize within an organization.”
To read the complete interview and Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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Bryant: You’ve worked at big companies like Amazon and American Eagle, and then you left to run a start-up. Why the switch?
Savitt: I was at a fairly comfortable place in life before deciding to subject
myself to 80-hour weeks again.
A large part of it was because I was so passionate about the idea of Lockerz and what we were trying to build for this very disruptive new generation.
But part of it is also because at this time in my life, there are some basic great team practices and ideas that I’ve had in my brain, almost in a lab version, for a long time. And it was time to put them into practice.
Bryant: Such as?
Savitt: Guts is one of them. We talk about having the courage to actually work through failure, the courage to work through tough customer feedback, the courage to confront brutal facts in your business and the courage to change them.
Another one is respect. That notion of respect in business, I think sometimes gets lost. And wit. We laugh a lot. No one takes themselves too seriously at Lockerz. Results — what we call effective innovation. A lot of companies talk about innovation. We talk about innovation that actually drives a top-line or a bottom-line result.
And the final one is optimism. I think it’s easy for people at many companies to become cynical, which then leads to politics, which can create a cancer that can topple even the greatest companies. And I do think cynicism is that first cell, so to speak, that can metastasize within an organization.
Bryant: Give me an example of things that make people cynical.
Savitt: A good example is when a team member has a great idea or has a big issue with a customer experience and no one responds, no one even acknowledges it, no one gets back to them. The idea festers, problems continue to mount, no one listens. How does that person not become cynical? That’s a recipe for cynicism. So you can’t just say, don’t be cynical.
Another cell of cynicism is when you feel a company is not actually living out its core values. And finally, just a lack of overall communication can cause problems. Leaders can have the greatest of intentions and their senior team may feel completely bought into the vision. But if people on the front lines don’t know what’s going on in the company, or don’t know what’s in the heads of the senior leadership team or me, you might have a seed of cynicism that can grow.
Bryant: How do you hire?
Savitt: I put a very high premium on intelligence and a very high premium on wit in general, which is different from intelligence alone. It’s not enough just to have I.Q. You actually have to have active listening skills and to talk to people and really want to communicate with someone.
And Rule No. 1 is no jerks, no divas. Somebody could be the most brilliant, most experienced person in the world. But life is too short, and that kind of person can also plant that first seed of cynicism in a company.
Bryant: What questions do you ask in a job interview?
Savitt: Some of the questions I ask all the time include, what did you love most about the work you just finished doing? And if you could design your life in terms of work, what would that job actually be? If you could take 100 percent of your abilities and create a job description, what would it look like? You learn a lot from people when they answer that question. I like to ask them who’s been the best manager they’ve ever had and who’s been the worst manager they’ve ever had — not their names, of course, but their qualities.
Another question I ask all the time is, if everyone here were a C.E.O. and I was to make you the C.E.O. of something on Day One, what would you be the C.E.O. of? I ask that because I like to get a sense of what you feel so passionately about that you want to own. I also try to ask questions that get at cultural fit. Can you laugh at yourself? I’ll ask them to tell me about their friends or their kids, and say, “Who’s your wackiest friend?” And usually, the response to “who’s your wackiest friend” tells you a lot.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. To contact him, please click here.