Category Archives: Philosophy

My Last Post: Au Revoir, Perhaps Not Adieu


It amazes me that I have kept this blog for over seven years now. My first post, on Blogspot as M.A.M.A. Curmudgeon, went live in November 2011. In November 2012, I moved the blog to WordPress, under the headline “Sara Rickover, Behind the Corporate Veil.” I posted weekly for many years, and moved to twice a month in September 2017. In total, I’ve written 334 posts (including this one).

Despite the titles, this blog has always been about more than being an outspoken curmudgeon or about providing corporate insights. It has been my way to speak about leadership, management, politics, legal issues, and other business and public topics of interest to me.

I still have things to say on these topics. But I am winding down my career as a mediator and human resources consultant. Maintaining a regular social media presence on these topics is no longer as important to me, and I can no longer justify spending the time on regular posts.

So this is my last scheduled post on this blog. I will still probably be active on Facebook as Sara Rickover, Author, and on Twitter as @SaraRickover. So follow me on these sites if you’re interested in seeing the articles I curate and in what I have to say.

And who knows? I may write—in fact, I’m hoping to write—a sequel to my novel Playing the Game, so follow me on my Amazon Central page also.

My thanks to all readers who have followed this blog and commented on posts. You have made this seven-year-long effort worthwhile.

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Filed under Philosophy, Playing the Game, Writing

Managing Personal Crises and Work


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I had another topic planned for today’s post, but then life got in the way. A relative had a health crisis I had to deal with. This crisis made me decide to write about the ongoing struggle for balance between work and other aspects of life, a struggle that never ends, no matter what stage of our career we’re in.

This past week was certainly not the first time that personal issues have interfered with my professional plans. I raised two children while working full-time in a demanding professional job. When one of our children was ill, my husband and I often argued about who needed to to to work more and whose work responsibilities could be put on hold for a day . . . or two. Most of the time we were able to split the burden fairly equally, but it didn’t always work out that way.

Both my husband and I were fortunate because we had some control over our calendars . . . most days. But we each had some courtroom appointments and other meetings that could not be rescheduled.

We were also fortunate that, while we might get raised eyebrows from coworkers when we couldn’t be at work for family reasons, we were respected enough and we had others in our workplaces dealing with similar issues. Therefore, our careers were not seriously at risk. I think we both might have earned more over the years if we had not been viewed as professionals who did sometimes have to juggle family responsibilities, but we weren’t going to get fired over an absence or two.

For the past ten years I have been self-employed, working as a mediator and Human Resources consultant. Now I have even more control over my calendar, but I am also more dependent on the number of hours I work for income.

bulletin-board-3233653_640I was fortunate this week. I could instantly juggle my schedule to deal with the current health emergency. It meant I skipped one meeting and wrote this blog post off the top of my head instead of a post requiring some research. Some weeks I have obligations I would have difficulty rescheduling, but this week I could do it. So I did. Without any hesitation.

At this point in my life, I relish flexibility more than a higher income. And I know I am fortunate to have the resources to make that choice.

I encounter many younger professionals who haven’t yet had to make serious choices between work and other responsibilities. I also know many senior professionals who look askance at the decisions I’ve made to reduce my scheduled commitments—and therefore my professional status. There are days when my diminished income and role in the business world bother me, but most of the time I am happy with the trade-offs I’ve made.

What choices have you had to make over the years? What choices have others around you made? How do you feel about both your own choices and those of your coworkers?

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Filed under Human Resources, Management, Philosophy, Work/Life

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: Anything in Your Past Can and Will Be Held Against You (Even Without Corroboration You Did It)


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My last post on the Senate confirmation hearings regarding the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be a Supreme Court justice went live on September 10, 2018. Two days later, on September 12, an anonymous claim surfaced that he had sexually assaulted a teenage girl when he was in high school. Over the last two weeks, we’ve learned his accuser is Dr. Christine Blasey Ford of Palo Alto University.

Dr. Ford alleges a single instance of sexual assault more than 30 years ago when Judge Kavanaugh was still a minor and both of them were in high school. Many of the details surrounding her claim remain hazy, including the date (and even the year), the location, how many people were present, and who they were.

I do not mean to imply that the allegation does not involve a claim of serious misconduct. It does. But Dr. Ford’s delays in making this allegation, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s further delays in publicizing it even to other Senate Judicial Committee members, and the fact that Dr. Ford and her attorney have spent many days negotiating her appearance before the Senate Judicial Committee, all make it seem that the drama was primarily raised for political reasons.

As of this morning, September 24, 2018, when this post is published, it appears that Dr. Ford will testify about her assault charge on Thursday, September 27, before the Senate Judicial Committee. So as I write this, we don’t know the end of this story.

Dr. Ford appears to be a respected member of her professional community, just as Judge Kavanaugh is of his. When two opposing witnesses are both credible, and when the facts are so fuzzy, it is very difficult to ever determine the truth, even if they both testify under oath. Investigating any situation that occurred more than 30 years ago is challenging under the best of circumstances. Refuting—proving the negative of—a vague allegation about something that happened so long ago is almost impossible. (Perhaps this is why Senator Feinstein didn’t publicize the claim earlier.)

Based on what has been made public thus far, all that Judge Kavanaugh can say is what he has already said—he never behaved like that. He can’t claim he wasn’t at a particular place because the place hasn’t been identified. He can’t obtain denials from other witnesses, because the witnesses haven’t been clearly identified, though two males and one female who may or may not be people the accuser has mentioned have denied any knowledge of Judge Kavanaugh behaving in this fashion.

One of the most distressing aspects of this case for me is the grievous harm that can be done to a person’s lifetime reputation with so little evidence. In today’s 24/7 news cycle, social media publicizes every allegation almost instantaneously, and often presents these allegations as the truth. Things we did—or are alleged to have done—long in the past, in times and places we don’t even remember, can haunt us in ways these incidents never did before. We essentially cannot outlive anything we’ve ever said or done. Even if we deny we ever said or did it.

In some situations, when many witnesses allege someone engaged in similar wrongful behavior, as in many of the recent #MeToo claims against public figures, we can comfortably conclude that the misconduct probably happened in at least some of the times and places claimed. But where there is only a single wrongful act alleged, and when that act supposedly occurred over 30 years ago, it is hard to accept that the incident should have an impact on a person’s future, unless there is some further corroboration.

“I believe the woman” seems to be the accepted response to all claims of sexual harassment and assault these days. Though most allegations of sexual misconduct have some basis in fact, I have personally investigated at least two cases in which women did not tell the truth. I am therefore reluctant to automatically believe the claimant, unless there is more than just her word.

In one case I handled, a female employee claimed that a high-level male employee had harassed her repeatedly. When I first learned of the complaint, I leaped to the conclusion it was probably true and started thinking about how the company should handle the man’s exit from the company. But within thirty minutes after I started interviewing the complainant, she alleged that at least six or eight other men had harassed her, all in vague ways (“he looked at me weird,” “he smiled at me in the stairwell”). It became clear after very little questioning  that she was paranoid and mentally unstable. She might have believed she’d been harassed, but she was not credible to a rational person.

In another situation, another female employee claimed that her male supervisor had harassed her in a retail store where there were multiple people present. None of the other eleven employees in the store had seen anything untoward. Moreover, her allegation was made on the Monday after the Clarence Thomas hearings, giving me a strong suspicion she’d made a false claim because of what she’d heard over the weekend. It turned out the accuser wanted more work hours than her supervisor had given her, and thought her complaint would give her leverage.

In addition to my personal experience, there are other, more public situations of wrongful accusations of sexual misconduct. One notable example was the false claims against the Duke lacrosse players. Those young men saw their promising careers go up in flames, because a lying complainant was supported by an unethical prosecutor.

I am not saying Dr. Ford’s claim is false. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. It is entirely possible her memory is as she has described and he has forgotten whatever happened between them. In that case, neither of them would be lying. The testimony this next week—if it takes place—might prove convincingly what happened, if anything. Although if we only have her memory and not his, I doubt it.

What I am saying is that before an allegation about a single 30-year-old act stops the career of a man who has no other such blemish on his record, we should require more than one person’s say-so. We should require other witnesses, or contemporaneous documents, or corroborating physical evidence, or something else that makes us comfortable ignoring his thirty years of exemplary behavior.

Because if we allow a single, ancient, unverified and unverifiable claim against an otherwise upright citizen to besmirch his reputation, then none of us is safe. Our fathers and husbands and sons are not safe from allegations of long-ago harassment. Any of us might be slammed by a claim that we made a sexist or racist or homophobic comment in the past. Whether we did it or not. Whether we’ve changed and matured or not. Whether what we believed at the time was what most of society believed or not.

Just ask Brendon Eich.

Is that the type of world you want to live in? I don’t.

LATE-BREAKING: As of Sunday evening, September 23, 2018, a second allegation has surfaced of sexual misconduct by Judge Kavanaugh, this time in his college days. In addition, Judge Kavanaugh has his old calendars which might cover time of the alleged high-school incident. Obviously, this story continues to develop.

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Filed under Law, Philosophy, Politics

Dealing with Emotions as a Leader


As I’ve described in this blog, I am trained as an attorney and I am an introvert. I have always been focused on facts rather than emotions. As a result, I am not the most sensitive human being on the planet.

While this might have been a strength during most of the years I practiced law, it became a blind spot when I started managing human resources functions, particularly when I managed employee relations, which included quite a bit of employee and manager counseling.

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Image from Forbes

Early in my career, while I was still working as an attorney, I came to the realization that emotions are facts. While emotions are not tangible, they are nevertheless real. I had to incorporate the emotions of my clients, those of the parties and witnesses to lawsuits, and even the emotions of my co-counsel, opposing counsel, and the judges I encountered. If I did not successfully handle the emotional aspects of the case, I would not achieve the best result for my client.

Thus, I found myself babysitting (my word for it) witnesses in a major case, so that they were not overwrought by the time they had to testify. I listened to my clients vent when they felt they were being asked to pay too large a settlement, even when it was the rational thing to do. I maintained an even personality as much as I could with opposing counsel to diffuse their rants. I patiently explained the law to obtuse judges over and over again until they finally read the cases I had presented.

Managing my own emotions and those of others I encountered were not fun aspects of the job, but they were essential.

When I became responsible for employee relations, I realized my instincts on how employees would react to policy changes were not well-developed. If we were to communicate effectively why we needed to make these changes, I needed to find people with better instincts than I had. Fortunately, I had a man working for me who had long experience in the organization and who had excellent people skills. I learned very quickly to listen to him.

In fact, many times in my career I found it essential to let people with better skills than I had do their work. My role was to get out of their way and keep others out of their way as well.

It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t even about them. It was about getting the job done the best way we could. And that was another fact, even when it felt emotional.

A couple weeks ago, I read an article on the ever-excellent TLNT.com, “None of Us Are Rational, So Smart Leadership Means Learning to Deal With Emotions,” by Jacqueline Carter and Rasmus Hougaard, dated May 7, 2018. [Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results (2018)]

Mr. Hougaard and Ms. Carter say it far better than I can:

“emotions are neither good nor bad. . . . as leaders, it’s imperative that we understand the role of emotions, so we can connect with our people, not just on strategy and tasks but also on a fundamental human level. It’s only when we create emotional resonance between ourselves and our people that we enable true connectedness. Whether we’re aware of it — and whether we want to accept it or not — true engagement happens when people feel connected on an emotional level.

. . .

“. . . If we can distance ourselves from our emotions, we can observe them more objectively. With training, observing our emotions can be like watching a movie: You’re not the movie, and the movie is not you. In the same way, your emotion is not you, and you’re not the emotion. . . .

“If we face emotions neutrally and without ego, they lose their grip.”

Even as an analytical attorney untrained in human psychology, I understood these points intuitively. Thankfully, I was able to adjust my behavior to manage my emotions and those of people around me. Emotions are facts, and I dealt with them.

When have you had to deal with emotional situations at work that were uncomfortable for you?

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Filed under Human Resources, Law, Leadership, Management, Philosophy, Workplace

Resetting Goals—An Introspective Approach Yields Best Results


to-do-list-749304_640This year is almost 25% complete. When I came to that realization a few days ago, I panicked—I haven’t accomplished nearly a quarter of my plan for 2018.

I started off strong in January, completing two major projects that were due in February. But then a series of family health issues knocked me off track. I’ve managed to stay on top of daily responsibilities, and even to make progress on one major project that has an April deadline. However, I am far behind pace on another major project I had hoped to complete by June, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to make up the lost time.

I will have to reset some of my goals for the year.

Periodically, I find it is good to conduct a thorough self-assessment. My purpose when I do so isn’t usually to reassess annual goals, which is my current immediate need. I usually am trying to examine my life on a longer-term basis. This week, however, I decided that before I restructured my 2018 goals, I should look at the big picture of my life. I was intrigued when I saw the article “50 Tough Questions You Never Ask Yourself, But Should,” on Inc.com, by Marla Tabaka, and thought it would be a good vehicle for self-assessment.

Ms. Tabaka makes the point that personal growth begins with introspection. She says,

“If you want results, begin with what’s on the inside instead of pushing to control what’s on the outside.”

And then she lists fifty excellent questions for consideration.

The question I am focused on at the moment is #10:

“What are three things I want to pay closer attention to in 2018?”

This question addresses the need I have at the moment.

My answer:

  • My own health
  • The health of other family members
  • My current primary project (the one that’s behind schedule)

I was glad to note that the health issues that had preoccupied me for the last two months were, in fact, high priorities for the year. I was also unhappy to see that I was letting my other top priority slide.

In an effort to regain momentum on that primary project for the year, I might have to let other projects slip, including some of my regular obligations. I don’t like that reality, but there it is. Once I acknowledge that reality, I can make the necessary changes in how I spend my time to achieve the best results I can this year. And I can consciously decide which goals for 2018 will have to fall by the wayside, rather than letting the results happen without any thought on my part.

I notice that this blog is not one of my top three priorities for the year. I hope it will remain high enough on my list to continue my twice-a-month posting schedule. But if I put it on hiatus again (as I did last summer), I will tell readers honestly—it is slipping lower on my priority list.

What priorities do you need to change in your life? Which of the fifty questions in the article strike closest to home for you?

 

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Healthcare Providers Need to Engage in Systems Thinking


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I have written before (see here and here) about the adage “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets,” a saying that apparently originated in the medical world.

In recent weeks, I have been personally involved in a medical situation that shows that healthcare providers need to bear this adage in mind. In the case I’ve seen, each doctor and nurse has done his or her specialist’s job well, but no one has considered the patient’s whole person or household environment. The result is that the patient and his family are suffering more than necessary.

This patient fell and incurred an orthopedic injury to his leg. The Emergency Room doctors and nurses did an excellent job of stabilizing him, then sent him home with the instruction to contact an orthopedic surgeon because surgery was likely to be necessary.

So the patient went home. With a spouse who weighed 70 pounds less than him. To a house without a bedroom on the main floor and with only a half bath on this floor that this patient couldn’t fit into with his leg immobilized. He managed to get upstairs, but could not get in or out of bed unassisted. Because he is up multiple times during the night, neither he nor his spouse has had a good night’s sleep since the accident. There is only so much that other family members and friends can do to help.

No one in the Emergency Room made any inquiries about the home situation the patient was going to, nor offered any help once the person left the ER.

The next morning, the patient contacted the orthopedic surgeon, someone who is highly recommended in the community. That office showed no sense of urgency in scheduling an orthopedic consult, even though they had the X-rays from the ER. It took pushing by the patient to get an appointment to see the surgeon that same week. After the office visit, surgery was scheduled fairly promptly, but it still took more than a week after the accident to repair the injury.

The surgery went fine. But in the Recovery Room, the nurses had the same approach as the ER staff had had—get the patient stabilized and out of here. No inquiries about the home situation or how to deal with the patient’s other medical conditions, now worsened by his lack of mobility.

In the post-op follow-up ten days after surgery, the patient mentioned another injury incurred during the accident (to his arm). The orthopedic surgeon took a brief look and ruled out a bone problem, but he made no inquiries that would diagnose a tendon or ligament issue. It was as if his approach was “I do bones; that’s it.”

During the time since the accident, the patient has seen two other specialists for other conditions. Both of them focused solely on their specialty, without considering the impact of immobility on the patient or his spouse.

Meanwhile, the patient and family members have learned to be more insistent on getting questions answered, such as “will this new treatment further reduce his mobility?” and “what can he do to improve his rest at night?”

disabled-728521_640But wouldn’t it be better if each of the doctors and nurses asked such questions and considered this patient to be more than a leg or a bladder or a prostate? Wouldn’t it be better if the medical profession saw the patient as a whole person?

The changes to the healthcare system in the last decade or so have only exacerbated the tendency to see patients as parts instead of a whole. Obamacare has not helped. Republican proposals have not helped.

Expertise exercised in a vacuum ceases to be expertise. And the system is perfectly designed to get the result it gets.

Have you experienced similar issues in your own medical situations?

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Filed under Management, Philosophy

Happy Holidays: Take a Moment to Breathe


2017 has been a tumultuous year for many of us. As it ends, take a moment to breathe deeply. Savor and celebrate your accomplishments and joys.

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Happy Holidays!

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