Profiles in Leadership | Tracy Murphy: Learner and Bridge Builder

An excellent leader tackles tough problems and surrounds herself with smart, committed people

By Angela Noel Lawson

March 19, 2019

When I asked Tracy Murphy to describe her leadership she paused for half a second. “I think about,” she said, “being a learner first.”

Tracy, President of Mount Olivet Rolling Acres (a nonprofit corporation offering care and services to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities) exemplifies and evangelizes a growth mindset. She asks herself: How can I learn? How can I practice what I’m learning? And how can I bring people along with me?” Continue reading “Profiles in Leadership | Tracy Murphy: Learner and Bridge Builder”

Profiles in Leadership–A New Series

By Angela Noel Lawson

March 11, 2019

The recipe to make a molecule of water is clear: one atom of oxygen, two of hydrogen. Bam! Water. The recipe for how to lead however, is not so clear. In fact, there isn’t one. There is no “how to” manual. Or rather, there are many, which just proves the point: If there was a definitive model only one manual would be needed.

Further, some books about leadership are either written by researchers, or by the leaders themselves. They draw upon the stories of successful people and derive a roadmap of sorts from these experiences. “Do what I do, ” they seem to say, “and you too will be be a successful leader.”

But, it doesn’t work that way–there are too many variables. It’s why quarterbacks call an audible. Or why doctors prescribe a drug to treat a condition it wasn’t specifically approved for–like a heart medication prescribed instead to treat migraines. Which isn’t to say the roadmaps (or the playbook or the FDA-approval guidelines) aren’t useful. On the contrary, these roadmaps provide necessary foundational information the experts then use as a tool to achieve their goals. Deviating from the path isn’t just okay, it’s essential. The key is acknowledging another expert is also in the room. Continue reading “Profiles in Leadership–A New Series”

Leadership: Power Problems and Finding Flow

By Angela Noel Lawson

January 14, 2019

Leading people is hard. Anyone that says differently may never done it, or might be terrible at it. Why is leading hard? Because people aren’t spreadsheets. They don’t respond particularly well to commands, and you can’t just save your work and pick up where you left off. People are messy and complicated, weird and wonderful. Add to that the power dynamic of leaders and employees and the soup of difficulty thickens. But, finding out what brings out the best and the worst in ourselves and in the people we lead changes everything. Continue reading “Leadership: Power Problems and Finding Flow”

Self-Deception: The Enemy of Contribution

By Angela Noel Lawson

November 5, 2018

About a year ago I started a new job and penned an essay entitled, What Does it Mean to be a Contribution? In it, I chronicled how ego and selfishness led me down unproductive paths until awareness dawned. I eventually realized two things. First, I had only one chance to live a life of purpose and to make my unique contribution to the world. And second, I had the power to act.

In general, I’m proud to say I’ve heeded every one of the lessons I explained. Specifically, I’ve given my best and honored the best in others. Although I’ve kept these promises I made to myself, I’m not claiming victory. I’m writing now to report on my progress. To say yes, I’ve contributed, but also to share that I’m still fighting an occasional battle with a terrible beast. She’s ugly, mean, and smells like sweaty feet. I’ll call her Sally. Continue reading “Self-Deception: The Enemy of Contribution”

Avoid Catastrophe, Make Fewer Assumptions

By Angela Noel

July 9, 2018

More than once I’ve been dead wrong about the reality of a situation for one simple reason: Instead of asking questions, I made assumptions. Though I detest this in myself, my sphere of influence is relatively small. Thus, I can do little harm. But, the same cannot be said for others in positions of power. Their failures to question assumptions can lead to disasters, as illustrated by Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War.

In the documentary, James Willbanks, an army strategist, said of Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, “When McNamara wants to know what Ho Chi Minh is thinking he interviews himself.” I found Willbanks’ words chilling. Continue reading “Avoid Catastrophe, Make Fewer Assumptions”

Women and Leadership: Stop Talking. Start Doing

By Angela Noel

May 13, 2018

I want Amy Jean Kramer Brenengen in the room when tempers flare. She’s the cheerleader I want on my team when I’m afraid I may lose. She’s the leader I want in my ear when the stakes are high. But she’s also the woman I want to have a huge glass of wine with to either celebrate our victories, or strategize on how best to learn from our defeats.

Though passionate about many things including, family, working, running (kind of), and the arts, a constant and persistent interest tells much about this woman’s story and her contribution to the world.

This interest, this love, recently drove her to issue a public challenge.
Continue reading “Women and Leadership: Stop Talking. Start Doing”

I Have a Problem with Pedestals

By Angela Noel

April 29, 2018

I’ve been traveling quite a lot lately, which has afforded me excellent opportunities to both learn stuff and share stuff I’m learning. Air travel however comes with drawbacks. One of them is security lines. But security lines after a massive snowstorm when the airport closed down the night before and everyone is a little extra unhappy provide the curious mind with a perfect Petri dish for observation. Continue reading “I Have a Problem with Pedestals”

Peel the Onion: Why We Answer the Wrong Question

By Angela Noel

April 5, 2018

Questions without easy answers abound. But we humans hate that. Our brains like certainty. Tough, complex problems without clear solutions make us very unhappy indeed. In these situations, particularly where public pressure exists to find a fast and clean answer, we’re susceptible to a type of brain elf, Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, calls substitution. He writes, “If a satisfactory answer to a hard question is not found quickly, System 1 (our fast-thinking brain) will find a related question that is easier and will answer it.”

Since being sure of something is our preferred condition, our brains tend to do a lot to help us feel that way. I wrote about our search for certainty before, and how hard we fight to preserve our version of events even when we know it’s wrong. But, this time we’re talking about certainty from another angle. This time, we’re talking about onions. Continue reading “Peel the Onion: Why We Answer the Wrong Question”

I’m Breaking up with Perfection

by Angela Noel

February 8, 2018

Two words drive me crazy. The first is perfection. I don’t believe perfection exists. I happen to like plenty of things that don’t exist, fairies for example. Or Santa, he’s a pretty jolly (not real) man. But the myth of achieving perfection causes real problems at work and at home. And that makes me mad. Santa never made me mad. Fairies are equally blameless.  So, perfection is bad. Continue reading “I’m Breaking up with Perfection”

Cognitive Bias Series: Taming the Elves in Our Brains

By Angela Noel

November 16, 2017

Certain four-letter words get a lot of attention. I won’t write them here because you already know what I’m talking about. These words have power. Some studies have shown that cussing actually tempers the pain response in the brain. Preliminary theories tell us swear words trigger a “fight” response, helping the body dull sensations of pain.

But I want to talk about a different four-letter word: bias. The word itself won’t lesson pain. Its power comes from describing a whole host of unconscious actions governing our responses to all kinds of sensations and experiences. Saying the word out loud won’t increase or decrease pain, but bias operating in our lives just might. Continue reading “Cognitive Bias Series: Taming the Elves in Our Brains”