The Coming of Winter (Part 2)

No Baseball

No Baseball…until February

I’ve had a few days to stew on the Nats Game 5 loss to the Cubs…enough to see the Cubs completely tank against the Dodgers, who are now headed to the World Series.  All “Joe Maddon is a genius” comments have to be walked back a bit after some of the ways his team played in the NLCS.

Nonetheless, the Cubs were there and the Nats weren’t.

Let’s get to a few things about the Nats and that Game 5 loss, and then I’ll turn to thinking a bit about the games this week (and the games ahead).

First, if you want to read sharp commentary on the Nationals, go to the blog Nationals Baseball.  Harper regularly provides the best clear-eyed and unsentimental analysis of this ball club (so much better than the Washington Post crew), and the comments are first-rate (how often do you read that on the internet?).  Read his Game 5 analysis at the link above when you get the chance.  Much of what I’d say, especially about how bad Matt Wieters was in that series (and much of the year), can be found there.

Second, Dusty really did get out-managed again in the playoffs. Using the same line-up for five games…who does that in the playoffs?  Winning managers maximize their team’s strengths game-by-game.  Jayson Werth is old, you don’t play him out of loyalty.  Matt Wieters was terrible. Gio is a head case and should NEVER start a critical game. Michael A. Taylor was the only player tearing the hide off the ball all series, and you leave him batting 8th! Zimmerman, who had a great year, is a head case when batting 4th behind Harper against the Cubs. Why would you bat him there?  I could go on-and-on…but go to the blog above.  Harper has a longer and better list.

I’m now okay with Dusty not being rehired for 2018, but when are we going to start talking about Mike Rizzo’s role in this “can’t get out of the first round” mess?  Who gave this club the absolutely worst bullpen in baseball for the first half of the year and tried to talk as if it was no problem?  How many games were lost and how many starters lost sure-fire wins because of that crew? We’re supposed to cheer Rizzo’s trade-deadline acquisitions, but remember who got us into this mess in the first place.  Who keeps making bad decisions with his managers? Who never got a decent starter after Joe Ross went down? And yes, I think the Lerners bear blame for low-balling the salaries of their managers.

And can the Nationals get a hitting coach next year who can teach situational hitting.  Trea Turner was so overmatched, but all the Nats were swinging for the fences and hitting into the teeth of shifts when the situation called for a different approach.

For some good things, this was Strasburg’s year and he had a stellar playoff series.  Game 4 was about as good as one can pitch in an elimination game.  Watching the Nats for the first half of the season (except for the bullpen explosions) was great fun, especially after Anthony Rendon took off.  The second half was too much coasting, as the N.L. East is so bad, and that may have hurt them in the playoffs. It would be nice to come in hot.

Enough of this rambling.  Now for the three (for one more day) teams left.

Jose Altuve is great.  Last night, after taking the series to 3-3 against the Yankees, he goes on national television and says, “I freaking LOVE Justin Verlander.”  With Altuve and Curry, short guys are taking over the world!

Aaron Judge is a freak…but he seems like a nice freak.  I really don’t like the Yankees and I hope they lose tonight, but this kid is having such an amazing rookie season that you just have to root for him.  All rise, indeed!

The Dodgers look very much like the real deal, and I’ll be surprised if anyone can beat them in the World Series.  Stranger things have happened, but they’re my team now.  I’m going over to the Dark Side with my Claire!

Claire at a Dodgers Game

Claire (center) at a Dodgers game…she knows how to pick ’em

More to come…


Attitudes Aren’t Taught, They’re Caught

Mary Dixie and George Brown

My grandparents: Mary Dixie Bearden Brown and George Alma Brown

Attitudes are important in so many aspects of work and life.  Some people complain because there are thorns on roses, while others praise thorns for having roses among them. My grandmother, who I quote frequently, use to say that “Some folks are born in the objective mood.”  Grandmother did not have a lot of patience with people who were always complaining and objecting to what others did.  Both she and my Grandfather—and their son, my father—always had a positive outlook and attitude toward people.

In David McCullough’s The American Spirit, he speaks of the impact our attitudes have on others.  “Everyone who’s ever lived,” he notes, “has been affected, changed, shaped, helped, or hindered by others.”  He then quotes Margaret McFarland, a professor of child psychology, who says that “attitudes aren’t taught, they’re caught.”  Speaking of teachers, McCullough notes that “if the teacher has enthusiasm for the subject at hand, the student catches that.”  McFarland adds, “Show them what you love.”

Last week I spent time at three of the National Trust’s New York-area historic sites—The Glass House, Lyndhurst, and Kykuit.  All three have seen recent increases in important metrics like attendance, revenue, grants, programming, and media mentions. The evolution of those three sites toward more relevance with their local communities and the nation at large was the subject of a discussion with our trustees.  I would suggest that one of the most important changes that has taken place at each of these landmarks is that of attitude. Given a forward-looking vision and the permission to bring new ideas to the forefront, the staff and volunteer enthusiasm for “showing what you love” comes through in spades at each of these special places.  Our trustees and guests saw that on display all weekend.

Each of us can be a teacher.  And each of us can help others catch an enthusiastic attitude about the things we love.

Have a good week.

More to come…


Winter Has Come

No Baseball

No Baseball…until February

Well, that will leave a bruise.

I’m at a board meeting for work, so will have to wait until later for a longer reflection on the Nats 2017 campaign, but oh my…the bad taste from that last game is going to linger for a while.  I was sitting in the only television room in the place, watching the game alone until 1 o’clock in the morning.  At least I resisted the temptation to pull out a beer or have a glass of wine to drown my sorrows.

Gio does his Gio thing and melts down under pressure.  Max and Wieters pick the worst possible time to play sandlot ball.  Dusty’s loyalty bites us in the behind.  Harp isn’t always Mr. Clutch.  Instant replay can be correct and yet wrong for the game.

Oh…and for those Chicago Cubs fans who are itching to tell you how your team blew it…you’ve now become just like the insufferable Red Sox and Yankees fans.  Is that what you really want?  Memo to self…if the Nats ever do win a first round series in the playoffs or more, don’t gloat.  It is just a game. Behave like the Royals fans did during their recent run of excellence, and just thank the baseball gods that you got to have some fun.

Winter (and more) to come…


Surviving in a Golden Age of Sycophancy

Who knew, but apparently we are living in a golden age of sycophancy.  Flattery.  Brown-nosing.  By whatever name it goes by, we’re talking about sucking up.

Over a 40-year career, I’ve had a number of bosses.  On the exceptional-to-bad continuum, I’ve seen both ends, and a lot in between.  But I’ve been fortunate in that only one regularly sought out flattery from those who worked in the organization. Most good managers and senior executives see through obsequious behavior.  Colleagues see someone excessively playing up to a manager and roll their eyes (if they are charitable) or share their thoughts with others around the water cooler (if they are less than charitable).

No Flattery Zone

No Flattery Zone

There’s a better way:  learn how to manage up.

As I have suggested to my team at work, building a strong, professional relationship with your manager has nothing to do with sycophancy.  It has everything to do with doing your job and being the type of valued colleague who understands and supports a wider vision beyond one functional area or program.  Communication that assumes good intent is key. Strong staff at every level leverage their boss’s communications profile to help him/her do their job better. In the process, managers learn to speak more effectively on behalf of the agenda you and your team are pursuing. And I do want to acknowledge that there are “bad” bosses, who don’t respond to management (of any type) and who abuse their position of power.  When faced with that type of situation, a different response is necessary.

However, assuming you are working with a decent boss who wants you to succeed, here are three tips on managing up that I’ve learned over four decades which you may find helpful:

  • First, in your communications, position your colleagues and teams for success.  Excessive focus on your personal accomplishments is not only off-putting, but it really doesn’t help your boss, who is judged on the success of teams and projects, not individuals. We all succeed because a wide range of people support our work. Let your boss know that you understand this basic fact of life.
  • Second, if you want to keep your boss out of the details of your work, providing regular updates will give him/her a rising comfort level and confidence that the job is being handled. If s/he is always in the dark, they lose confidence in (and sleep over) your work.  Updates don’t always have to be face-to-face, and you should develop an understanding with your boss on how s/he likes to receive information.  It may be something as simple as a two sentence email as a FYI, that includes a “no need to reply” note.  If you do this consistently, your boss will probably let you know if the flow of information is appropriate. Also, when my bosses have reported to someone else (such as the CEO or the board of trustees), I have always let him/her know when I’m having a conversation or working with their boss. It is a simple courtesy, and it also ensures that when the CEO or trustee brings it up to my boss (as will often happen), s/he can speak from  a base of knowledge and not be blind-sided.
  • Finally, be a problem solver, not just a problem identifier. Think of what you are asking your boss to do (instead of sending an email asking your boss to essentially Google something for you.  That happens more than you would realize.)  Speak in terms of solutions and don’t work as if it is the job of your boss to fix your problems or do your work.  Even if your proposed solution is not ultimately adopted, your manager will appreciate that you have taken the time to think through approaches to handling the issue at hand.  I like the format of “what, so what, now what” that Scott Eblin suggests in his book The Next Level:
    • What:  What issue needs to be addressed or considered?
    • So what:  What are the implications of this issue that make it worthy of consideration?  Why am I bringing this to your level, as opposed to fixing it myself?
    • Now what:  What needs to be done next about this issue?  What action/support do I need from you for the proposed solution (which may range from an email response I’ve drafted, to an offer to make a call to a partner, to a fully formed plan)?  What milestones should you look for in terms of progress?

When an organization is flat, managers—by nature—have a very wide scope of responsibility.  Flattering them doesn’t accomplish much. But focusing on how you can help him/her do a better job is critical to success.  So don’t suck up.  Manage up!

Have a good week.

More to come…


P.S. – By the way, if you want to write and tell me this is the most helpful blog post you’ve ever received, I won’t charge it against your flattery account (he says with tongue planted firmly in his cheek)!

To Learn Something New (About Old Places), Bring in New Partners with Different Perspectives

Cooper-Molera Garden

Garden View at Cooper Molera prior to the beginning of rehabilitation (credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

At the National Trust for Historic Places, where I work, we believe that historic sites are fundamentally places of intersection. When we allow them to share their stories, historic sites are dynamic spaces where past, present, and future meet in a variety of ways.  One very important way they intersect is with community.

About ten days ago, I visited Cooper-Molera, one of our National Trust historic sites where delight and enjoyment are at the heart of our community intersections.  Cooper-Molera is a two and one-half acre property in the heart of downtown Monterey, California’s historic commercial district. There we are implementing a new model that combines commercial uses and interpretation in creative ways.  We will have a bakery, restaurant, and event center in adaptively used historic buildings operating in collaboration with museum uses in one of the adobe residences to reinvigorate the site, sustain it financially and engage audiences that might never visit a historic site or house museum. Those are the people we should all want to meet at this intersection.

We call this a shared use model for historic sites, because the commercial, for profit, museum, and nonprofit entities all share the same space and support each other.  This shared use model itself is an intersection with the local community, developed through intense engagement with local preservationists and long-time supporters of the site and with unexpected partners including a for-profit developer and community institutions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Rehab at Cooper-Molera

Rehabilitation and New Construction underway at Cooper-Molera


Rendering of Cooper-Molera as a shared use site

Rendering of Cooper-Molera as a shared use site

There is a great story that emerged from one of our recent conversations with a group of Latino leaders in Monterey.  The “Cooper” in Cooper-Molera was an American sea captain, John Cooper, who moved to Monterey when it was part of Mexico and developed a robust business as a trader and merchant.  In the past, we would have focused almost exclusively on his story and we were surprised when this focus group of Latino leaders said we should focus on it again as one of the main stories we tell.  But they had a different spin on it.

John Cooper, they reminded us, immigrated from the US to Mexico when he came to Monterey and he did so without papers—as an undocumented immigrant.  He came in search of economic prosperity, he converted to Catholicism and married a woman named Encarnación Vallejo, who was the sister of General Mariano Vallejo, arguably the most powerful man in Mexico at the time.  He and Encarnaciόn had children and in 1830, John Cooper became a naturalized citizen of Mexico. We’ve been telling this story for years, but never framed this way.  Our focus group urged us to tell this old story in a new way that would highlight its ironies in the current political climate, focus on the central role of Encarnaciόn de Vallejo Cooper, and allow Latino audiences multiple ways to see themselves in the history of this place.

As is true in so many aspects of life, we never fail to learn something new—in this case about old places—when we bring in partners with different perspectives.

Have a good week.

More to come…