Musings on a Monarch

Musings on a Monarch

In the autumn of 1984 when I arrived in England to begin an academic year there, I wasn’t thinking so much about Queen Elizabeth II. There to study Tudor and Stuart History, I had Elizabeth I on my mind. What a strong, and amazing monarch she was! As an American, the thing I most noticed about Elizabeth II? Seeing her image on a daily basis: on stamps and on money. That was odd to me, we enlightened Americans had a tradition that no living person should be on its currency. 

 

In September of 2015, I was in the UK when Her Majesty surpassed Victoria and became the longest reigning British monarch. Older, and having seen more of life, commitments, and oaths, I was grateful to be there on that historic day. I had grown to respect her greatly for her endurance and dedication alone.  The James Bond video only added to my admiration.

 

In 2018 circumstances found me sitting in on a college seminar class called Gender in Politics. That day, one topic of conversation was Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. The students and professor turned from discussing the job she was doing, to how many countries have had female leaders.  Why, they wondered had the United States yet to have a female president?  One student posited that countries that had had monarchies might be more comfortable with a woman as a leader.

 

The conversation continued around this theme. How rich the irony that this discussion might be praising benefits of an “outdated” form of rule?

 

September 2022. Surveying some of the coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, I stumbled across a BBC interview of four women who had travelled to lay wreaths at Buckingham Palace. One of the women said: “We will never see a queen again, and that is quite odd.”

For that group, every single day of their life, there was a female leader, always adorning their stamps and their money. Indeed, throughout the Commonwealth, especially with the advent of television, and now social media, a huge population has grown up with not only a female head of state, but one that demonstrated duty that few others on earth will ever equal. 

Elizabeth I was indeed an important monarch, solidifying England’s position at tumultuous time. Elizabeth II was given a far trickier portfolio – of acknowledging that the sort of democracy that had evolved in Britain over centuries was worthy of export, that the Empire should disassemble, and that she would shepherd the process with grace and dignity.

 

 

Labor Day Contemplation

Labor Day Contemplation

Labor Day evokes many images.  For some of us, it’s a time to savor the last days at the beach, perhaps with a good read?

Most of us hope to find meaning and purpose in our jobs.  In this era of The Great Reassessment, maybe this is the Labor Day to reconsider our own toil?  Or that of our colleagues?

Here are three suggestions to spark your own contemplation:

This podcast introduced me to Dr. Mike Rose, who was a professor of education at UCLA.  He wrote The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker.  In an excerpt from the podcast, he reflects on the concept of meaningful work:


So let’s then bust this notion of meaningfulness open, … regardless of the kind of work, to be able to support a family or put food on the table, that’s meaningful. … So for her, then, in the midst of this difficult work and difficult circumstances, there was great meaning in the kind of social dimension of it, right?

Conversely, you and I both know people who are doing work that the culture at large, from a distance, would say is really meaningful — and they’re miserable.

… They’re as unhappy as can be. You know, the miserable lawyer, the unhappy neurosurgeon … So meaningfulness is a more fluid and rich and variable concept, I think, than we tend to imagine.

In Dr. Rose’s book, he references Stud Terkel’s American Classic: Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do.  This 600+ page book is something we all should have picked up in quarantine! In the introduction, the author says:

“It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash.”

 

Some industrious folks found Stud’s original reel-to-reel tapes and distilled the best of them into an hour-long podcast.  These snippets from the 1970s are both time capsule and insight into what gets folks out of bed in the morning.

Lastly, a book published about a decade ago by a modern-day philosopher, Alain de Botton. The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work questions how some professions can be so admired, yet how we overlook those that accomplish remarkable feats.

As goodreads summarizes it:   

We spend most of our waking lives at work–in occupations often chosen by our unthinking younger selves. And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what our occupations mean to us.

… With a philosophical eye and his signature combination of wit and wisdom, Alain de Botton leads us on a journey around a deliberately eclectic range of occupations, from rocket science to biscuit manufacture, accountancy to art–in search of what make jobs either fulfilling or soul-destroying.

All good fodder to ponder as the summer winds down, and we head back to work, possibly with renewed vigor about our own vocations.

 

It’s Complicated

It’s Complicated

And then some

Sometimes you read that about relationships. Right now it applies to the relationship all of us have with the economy.

This headline from The Washington Post seemed to sum it up: “Pick your economy: Booming labor market or fizzling growth”

Yes

It’s hard to wrap your head around economic conditions that are so seldom seen in tandem.

The backdrop for the recent wage increases is very complicated, which is frustrating because everyone would like a very simple answer, and even easier solutions.

A recent paper from The Hamilton Project examines where all the workers have gone.  In the most simplistic of summaries:

  • The U.S. Labor Force is down between 3 to 3.5 million people from what was expected
  • Over 250,000 pandemic-related deaths were those aged between 18 and 64
  • Government policies have limited immigration
  • The child-care crisis worsened during Covid and has diminished women’s labor force participation

Before panic sets in about a recession, perhaps look for opportunity?  If other companies are laying off, it could be for a host of reasons that has nothing to do with your organization.  External economic pressures can expose internal flaws in firms.  Maybe they’ve just laid off someone with that specific skill set that you haven’t been able to find? 

Remember, there are still approximately two job openings for every available person, which gives people the confidence to leave jobs.  As the Atlanta Fed’s chart shows us monthly, the job switchers make more than the job stayers.   

Everything you needed to know about Project Management …

Everything you needed to know about Project Management …

… you probably learned while riding on a one speed bike without hand brakes.

 

Well, just about everything.

 

Recently I was transported back to my childhood while riding on a bike that lacked handbrakes and multiple speeds. It took a couple of minutes to remember that stopping required pedaling backwards, but after that initial awkwardness I was amazed at all that immediately came back.

 

So many actions were instinctual:

1.    A slight elevation ahead and automatically your body was standing atop those pedals to build momentum.

2.    A blind curve ahead? Pedal backwards, slow down, and gain control of the bike.

3.    A sharp curve? Swing out and use much space as possible on the outer part of the path to get as much room as possible to not wipeout.

4.    Crossing over a narrow bridge? Too risky to be peddling away – build momentum ahead of time to coast so that the required control and narrow body could be maintained. The same principle applied if someone was approaching on the slim path.

5.    Most importantly, a key lesson instantly came back: breathe through your nose and keep that mouth shut so that you don’t swallow a bug!

 

As this biking transported me back to my childhood, it dawned on me that all the skills that returned had taught me some of the most important principles of project management over four decades ago.

 

1.    Look like there is a mountain of work ahead? It’s too late to peddle fast once you’re on that slope, you must start peddling harder before you reach the beginning of the incline. You must anticipate the elevation and work harder when it’s actually still manageable.

2.    Not sure of what’s ahead around the blind corner? Better slow down until you have more information.

3.    Figure out ways to avert disaster.

4.    Think that you’re coming up to a sticky or tricky patch? Come across someone you’ve never worked with before? This is not a place to have your knees and arms waving about wildly.  You want to glide through this area with as much elegance and ease as possible.

5.    There are many times in business settings it’s better to keep your mouth shut.

 

Once you’ve navigated over a route a few times, it’s amazing how quickly your mind remembers the tricks to anticipate how best to traverse the terrain. The efficiencies accumulate.

 

Then when you can coast for those few moments, you feel the breeze, cool off, take some deep breaths, and survey the ground you’ve covered. You’re still working but at a pace that allows you to recover so that you can tackle the next obstacle with even more assurance and skill.

Managing and Mending Woman

Managing and Mending Woman

Can you remember the first time you learned about Clara Barton?

She has recently shown up in a mini-series and most people probably just nodded and thought, “Of course, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.”

Did you know that she was also a patent office clerk? Seems that being paid the same amount as her male colleagues was quite the problem – and a first for a female government clerk.  Yet being in Washington, D.C. at the outbreak of the Civil War put her in the right place at the right time to find her life’s calling. 

As we watch images of refugees leaving Ukraine in the latest of the world’s conflicts, someone like Clara Barton springs to mind — someone with an incredible knack for organization, skill at tending to the wounded, and, importantly, raising the funds to do the work.

A recent piece on Marketplace focused on how best to help those fleeing Ukraine mentioned, yes Clara Barton, who handed out cash in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War.

Wait – she was even helping in the Franco Prussian War?

Take a few minutes to read a bit about her life. 

She was painfully shy as a young girl, but when did she feel most comfortable? Helping others. 

She got rather good at it.