If you read my last entry, you’re aware of the powerful impact my mother had on me and my three sisters. She was truly an amazing woman. I’m still awe-struck by just how smart and perceptive she was. She had a way of seeing things not as they were but the way they would become. She was one of the first people that I ever heard discuss the attributes of Barack Obama. This was long before he became president, years before becoming a senator from Illinois, and sometime before he ever gave that gripping speech at the democratic convention. She saw him as a man of character, full of integrity. She spent time researching his background long before his book “Dreams of My Father” was ever released. She was quick to say “He’s not a saint but he’s an honest man and can be trusted.” Not long after he became an Illinois State Senator, she started to comment about him as a man, a husband, and a father. At the time, I had no idea who he was or what he stood for, but she did. It wasn’t until he was elected US Senator from Illinois that I started to notice him. When he gave that impassioned speech at the democratic convention in 2004, my mother told me that Barack Obama would become the President of the United States. My mother died on October 27, 2013 at the age of 93. But she lived to see her prediction come true. She voted for him twice and witnessed his historic inauguration. But her decision to believe in Barack Obama was not political. She believed in him based on his character, his conduct, and his integrity.
She once remarked about his character. She said “John, character is one of the attributes that distinguishes an individual. Trust me, Barack Obama has character.” She would comment about how he paid close attention to his wife. He placed her first. It is well documented that he regularly asked her opinion about his life, and especially his political life. My mother appreciated this aspect and repeatedly told me that I should model my behavior after this attribute of his. I can’t say that I always followed this but it was well worth considering. She said that the best way to determine how well he paid attention to this detail was by asking his wife Michelle. I decided to find out what the President’s wife had to say on the subject. I found a speech she gave back on October 12th of 2012 in Fountain, Colorado. Michelle said “I love talking about my husband. He's handsome and smart, she said, but I married him for his character — his compassion and decency. He treated the women in his family, me, his mother, and grandmother, with great respect and tenderness.” Wow, I was impressed by that and how it was right in line with what my mother said.
My mother also stressed the importance of integrity, and again used Barack Obama as an example. She said “Integrity is what you do when no one is looking.’ I thought long and hard about that definition and, in the end, I agreed with her. She detailed all of the integrity challenges of Mr. Obama’s predecessors. There have been endless stories about their indiscretions both in and out of the White House. Then she said, “In all the years that I have been following him, there has never been an indiscretion of any kind since he’s been married. Every man in America could take a lesson from him.”
A Smart woman, my mother, she gave me a great set of examples to follow based on her life and in the life of Barack Obama.
Webster says that “Betrayal has to do with destroying someone's trust, possibly by lying”. So if that is where this starts, how does it apply in the marketplace, especially for women? I should start by saying that my mother and father were separated and divorced when I was eight years old. So I grew up with a mother and three sisters. I’ve had a real sensitivity for women from a very early age. In addition, my mother was chiefly responsible for my upbringing. She was a strong woman who achieved things that were unheard of during her career. She ran her own successful business, was a radio personality before it was in vogue, an accomplished writer, and a world traveler. She taught us to be the very best we could be and not ever accept mediocrity.
My sisters and I have advanced degrees and have been successful in the workforce. I did recognize the fact that I excelled and was promoted faster than my sisters. I also received more money in salary and bonuses during a similar period. Actually, my two older sisters were much smarter than me but I received greater accolades. My sisters would not be the only women who have not been recognized for their achievements. There are a host of reasons given:
· Waiting for the “right” promotional opportunity
· Being married and having children
· Needing the proper mentor
· Requiring more seasoning
The list is endless. There have been those women who have forsaken everything for the corporate requirements. If there was a requirement to travel, they traveled. If there was a requirement to hang out with the guys and drink, they drank. If there was the need to use crude talk and tell obscene jokes, they told them. Finally, if they needed to sleep with the boss, they did that as well. In the end, many women were swept to the side lines and told that they weren’t leadership material. It’s happened way too often.
Has that changed? Yes…and no. There are more female senior leaders than ever before. These women are talented and extremely capable. They are establishing themselves as role models and mentor for women that are following them. There are more forums for women in the marketplace and they are trying to raise the bar and change the conversation. The thought is that, given the opportunity, women provide a diverse set of ingredients that help to drive greater revenues, increased profits, and enhanced customer experiences. In addition, the “pay for performance” discussions are changing as well. Women are starting to be compensated at levels greater than ever before. But it can’t stop. It must continue. So that there are no distinctions between male and female contribution. But there are still women who are being put in compromising situation and told that they have to perform in a certain way or get passed over. This ancient way of thinking has to stop. Whenever it happens, women have to be willing to bring the injustices in to the light.
My mother would say, “Don’t accept mediocrity. If you do, you are giving up on yourself and your legacy of smart, brilliant women of the past.
Writing non-fiction has a number of challenges, you have to make sure your information sources are accurate, if you make stuff up, you won’t be credible, often the material could become boring, suffering from too many fact, figures, and data points, the characters already exist so you can only use your imagination so much.
When writing fiction you get the opportunity to “make stuff up”. I like the fact that my imagination can run wild. I have the freedom to allow the plot, the dialog, and the characters to run off in the direction they desire. My job is to try and “hold the reigns”.
Character creation is a fun part for me. Once I decide on the main protagonist and antagonist, I start to think about all of the others that will lift up or tear down the story line as the plot evolves. I strive to make the characters believable. I ask myself, “Why will anyone like or hate them”? “What will they be remembered for?” “How will they advance the plot?” “Why should I care about them?” In addition, I work to make sure they aren’t one-dimensional characters. Here are a few additional questions I ask, “Ok, why are they in the book?” “What about them will make the story more interesting?” “If they are introduced, will they have an important impact on the plot? “Will they be memorable?” If I don’t feel strongly about their contribution, then I likely won’t use them.
One last thing is dialog. This was a difficult thing for me. I couldn’t determine how to control the character. I wasn’t sure how to give them the proper voice and still create tension and advance the plot. Someone gave me some great advice, “If you let them, the characters will take the dialog where it needs to go.” My takeaway was to give each character a voice and then let them express what they believe needs to be said. It seems a bit surreal, and I guess it is. But once I allowed this to take place, character dialog and development became easier. Character development is still a work-in-process but I’m getting better at it.
After reading the article of Robert Quinn in Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, I agree with him. One of the biggest barriers to organizational change is within us. I believe in the adage..."The speed of the leader is the speed of the team". Here are five aspects that I’ve communicated and personally adapted in my life:
1) Acknowledging that there is a problem. A company, a family, or an individual can't make the required corrections until there is full acknowledgement that a problem exist,
2) Embracing the possibility for change. Once I open myself up to change, I get a flood of ideas and thoughts that before seemed unnecessary and worthless.
3) Seeking input from others. It written that there is wisdom in the counsel of many. What helps in the transformation process is having a community of people who will be open and honest with me. Outsiders like consultants, advisors, and mentors can be a great resource.
4) Creating a roadmap. Once there is clarity associated with the need for a change, a transformation, it's essential to establish a vision (what the new change will look like and what new things will be realized), some objectives, a plan of action with completion dates, and a list of required resources.
5) Consider the potential obstacles. Like the title of the old Daniel Day Lewis movie, "There will be blood". Every change will exact its own "pound of flesh". It's essential to be aware of the possible hurdles that can arise and prepare for them.
In the end, like the old song says..."It's going to be worth it".
John Wendell Adams is President of AMS Strategic Solutions and author of the Jack Alexander suspenseful Trilogy: Betrayal, Payback, and Ruthless set in a business context.