Running with the Big Dogs

Muriel Siebert was quite a dame.

Before last week I’d never heard of Muriel “Mickie” Siebert, who passed away on August 24 at the age of 84. Ms. Siebert was the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. She often appeared in public holding one of her long-haired Chihuahuas, Monster Girl and Monster Girl 2, saying that neither she nor her Chihuahuas were “intimidated by the big dogs.” For someone who worked in an all-male domain as the only woman working with 1,375 men, that was saying something.

After reading various versions of her obituary, I became more and more inspired by this pioneer who was described as “scrappy,” a woman who didn’t take no for an answer. As the story goes, Ms. Siebert was a college drop-out from Ohio who came to New York in a Studebaker with $500 and a dream of working on Wall Street. She was hired as a trainee and worked her way up the ranks of several brokerage firms. But she was increasingly frustrated because she knew she was getting paid half of what the men earned. In a 2003 interview by Susan Tomchin in Jewish Woman MagazineMs. Siebert shared how she came up with the idea of breaking into the all-boys club of the NYSE:

“The idea came from a client, Gerry Tsai, a well-known Chinese fund manager. I asked Gerry which large firm I could go to and get credit for the business I was doing. ‘None,’ he said, suggesting that I buy a seat on the Stock Exchange and work for myself. So I took the constitution of the New York Stock Exchange home and studied it and realized there was no law against it. There were problems buying the seat, but I got the seat and he was right.”

All she wanted, according to Ms. Siebert, was to be paid equally. Getting there, however, took some time and perseverance. She couldn’t buy her $445,000 seat on the Exchange without obtaining a bank loan of $300,000, something no other applicant had ever been required to do. “There would be no loan until I was accepted and I couldn’t be accepted without the loan,” she’s quoted as saying in an August 25, 2013, story in the New York Times.  Although it took nearly two years, she obtained a loan from Chase Manhattan Bank and was elected to the New York Stock Exchange on December 28, 1967. It would be nearly ten years before another woman was elected.

She founded her own company, Muriel Siebert & Company, in 1969, becoming the first woman to own and operate a brokerage firm that was a member of the NYSE. When the federal government did away with fixed commissions in 1975, she became one of the first discount brokerage firms.

Muriel Siebert
Muriel “Mickie” Siebert’s funeral service program (Photo: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg)

Among Ms. Siebert’s other achievements was her appointment by then-Governor Hugh Carey to become the first woman Superintendent of Banks (‘S.O.B.’s,” as she liked to say) in the state of New York. She also created a financial literacy program for high-school students and funded philanthropies and start-ups, supporting other women in the world of work. She ran for the United States Senate but lost in the primary to Assemblywoman Florence Sullivan, who ultimately lost the race to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In 1996 she took her firm public.

It’s hard to imagine a time when women weren’t allowed into the luncheon clubs where deals are cut and businesses are built. Not only was she not allowed in the clubs, but Ms. Siebert wasn’t even allowed on the elevators to the clubs. In 1987 she won a fight to have a ladies’ room installed on the seventh floor of the stock exchange after threatening to have a porta-potty installed. At a luncheon where she was being honored, she warned working women not to rest on our laurels but to “just keep fighting.”

On this Labor Day weekend when we celebrate the social and economic contributions of workers, I lift my glass to Mickie Siebert, a woman who taught us that some things like equal opportunity and equal pay are worth fighting for.



Makin’ a List, Checkin’ it Twice

Checklists, it seems, are not just for Santa.

I’d seen the book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande back in 2009, propped up high as a must-read business book in airport bookstores and listed on the New York Times Bestseller List. The author is a surgeon, a professor at Harvard Medical School, a MacArthur Fellow and a staff writer for the New Yorker.  Hardly seems fair, but he’s also clever, charming and erudite on TV and the Internet (witness his TED Talk). And he’s written a mind-blowing book about the power and simplicity of checklists.

Dr. Gawande is a beguiling writer and storyteller, spinning tales about his own experiences in the operating room with humor and humility. Invited by the World Health Organization to create a “Safe Surgery Saves Lives” program, he traveled around the world building a team that researched how checklists synthesize what’s critical to safe and healthy outcomes before, during and after surgery. Dr. Gawande also visited Boeing to learn how checklists are a part of the culture of aeronautics, telling the now-famous story of the plane that landed in the Hudson River, piloted by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, and everyone survived. Yep, there was a checklist.

Dr. Gawande also wondered, as I do when I look up at skyscrapers in Chicago, how on earth big buildings get built. So he turned to the construction team on the campus of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston where he practices medicine to learn more. Turns out that checklists are a crucial part of that dance between architects, engineers and all the professionals and trades people who contribute to the process of building a structure.

TheChecklist-bookshot-432x550Before you accuse me of being a plot-spoiler, let me just share that the stories he tells, and the results of Dr. Gawande’s research, are staggering. In his study of operating rooms using a checklist, the reduction rates of infection, the increased survival rates of patients and the avoidance of near-miss catastrophes are all results of adhering to the discipline of using a checklist. Do we resist checklists? Absolutely. Do we need them? It appears so.

This isn’t a book just for public health officials, or for pilots, or for architects and engineers. This is for anyone who has a complex job and who can’t rely on a memory that is notoriously fickle. While reading The Checklist Manifesto I thought of all the checklists I’ve created and abandoned… checklists for packing light (an oxymoron in my case) for a business trip, for “on-boarding” new clients, or for ensuring I bring everything with me to my speaking engagements. Why do I ditch them? Because I’m a lot like the people Dr. Gawande interviewed, even like Dr. Gawande himself: checklists seem absurdly simple and, well, kind of stupid. Like we can’t remember this stuff ourselves! Turns out, we can’t.

So I’m going to track down those checklists, dust them off and refine them according to the Checklist Manifestoguidelines. I invite you to do the same for whatever ambitious goals you’re trying to achieve. The checklist must be simple and able to fit onto one page. The items must be critical to the outcome. Consider it a work-in-progress: refine it, hone it and revise until it works for you. Then–and here’s the kicker–use it. Consistently, over time. Then measure the results and let me know what you learn. I promise to do the same.

Is the Rolodex Obsolete?

Last week I responded to a tweet in which Tom Peters referred to people who are 40 as “elderly.” I asked, “If 40 is elderly, what happened to ’40 is the new 20?'” To which Tom replied directly to me, “Speaking of age and looking at your bio & book title, can one be understood in 2013 if he/she uses the word ‘Rolodex?'”

Now, I’ve been razzed before about using the term “Your Golden Rolodex,” but never by someone as renowned as Tom Peters. Mr. Peters, as you may know, is an über-guru of management consulting, a prolific author, a highly sought-after speaker and someone whose work I’ve admired since the 1980s when he blasted onto the scene with his co-author Robert Waterman with In Search of Excellence.

After the initial mortification of being called out on Twitter by one of my business idols, I recovered and tweeted back, “Excellent point.” Then I assured him that I always check in with my audience to make sure they know what a Rolodex is. We had a few more volleys via Twitter and while I know I sound like a schoolgirl with a crush, my heart nearly burst when I saw that Tom is now following me on Twitter.

RolodexesWhen it comes to using the term “Rolodex,” I am, like Tom Peters, a contrarian. Just because it isn’t “hip” to say you use a Rolodex doesn’t mean people don’t still have them. They do–and sometimes two, as you’ll note in this photo. These Rolodexes are on the desk of Dave Brewer, the office administrator at my church. Dave is the guy with the Platinum Rolodex. I learned very early in my days here in Wheaton that if I needed a resource, any resource, all I had to do was call Dave. He knows everyone, and he has the Rolodexes to prove it.

Anna Jane Grossman blogged on Gizmodo about “The Life and Death of the Rolodex” as she shared about her book Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By. She tells the story of her dad’s attachment to his Rolodex, which reminded me of my own dad. And Anna Jane reported that during her research, she reached out to the daughter of the inventor of the Rolodex, Arnold Neustadter, to let her know that Anna Jane would be including the Rolodex in her book Obsolete. Jane Revasch, Mr. Neustadter’s daughter, got “huffy.” Here’s Ms. Revasch’s response, from Anna Jane’s blogpost:

“They still work! You just can’t carry them around… You know, look at it this way: computers get viruses! But the Rolodex, it’s never taken a sick day in its life.

Just for the record, I gave up using a Rolodex a while ago… I now store all my precious contacts in ACT!, a contact management software program with all the bells and whistles. But the concept of a Rolodex–a place to store key connections, to hold everyone near and dear to you, colleagues and friends, a treasure trove that represents the rich index of possibility based on relationships in which you’ve invested or plan to invest–that metaphor “Rolodex” will be with us for a long, long time.

I’m counting on it.



Putting the “Dead” Back in “Deadline”

Pere Lachaise Cemetery
The graveyard is full of great ideas that were never heard (Photo: Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France)

My friend Greg Crawford had a wonderful saying he once shared with me. “I love deadlines,” he deadpanned. “I love the sound of them as they go whooshing by…”

Boy, can I relate. Even with the discipline of having been a journalist for a daily newspaper (read: daily deadlines), I struggle with those commitments, mostly the ones I make to myself. That’s why I loved hearing the audio promo from the August 2013 issue of SUCCESS magazine, in which Publisher and Founding Editor Darren Hardy cites a story about a French mathematician who learned the value of deadlines.

Évariste Galois was a young Frenchman who was born with amazing brilliance in math, particularly algebra. But it wasn’t until he was challenged to a duel that he took the time to furiously scribble 60 pages of notes, ideas that would later lead to a revolution in higher algebra. Sadly, Monsieur Galois lost the duel… thereby putting the “dead” back in “deadline.”

Why is it we’re our most productive when there’s a (literal or figurative) gun to our head? Mr. Hardy of SUCCESS Magazine says this story demonstrates the need for tension, pressure and urgency to push our ideas out of us. “Otherwise the feeling that we have an endless amount of time is insidious and debilitating to the mind,” he writes in his publisher’s letter. “Our attention and thoughts become fractured and dispersed. Our lack of intensity makes it difficult to jolt our brain into high gear, into that higher state of creativity and mental lucidity.”

One of the reasons I love coaching people in mid-career is because somewhere around 40, we start to hear the ticking of that proverbial biological clock. The career trajectory that we saw as endless opportunity in our 20s suddenly has some very real parameters around it. If we don’t do what we were designed to do now, then when? Barbara Sher wrote a book called It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start NowJohann Wolfgang von Goethe, known as Germany’s Shakespeare, is often quoted as having said “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Maybe the  best quote of all is from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “Don’t die with the music still in you.”

In other words, we need to get off our duffs (OK, need to get off my duff) and get busy, creating whatever it is we’re going to create. If you want to start a business, begin working on a plan. If you’re dying to become a professional speaker, sign up for one of the many National Speakers Association Speakers Academies around the country. (Shameless plug: I’m dean of the one in Chicago that starts in September–visit NSA-IL for details.) If you have an aria to sing, find a stage and some folks to listen.

While we may not be facing a duel tomorrow morning at sunrise, we don’t get any guarantees. What would you scribble on those 60 pages if you knew your days–even minutes–were numbered? What’s the music still left inside of you?

Staying Relevant


Remember these?
Remember these?




Maybe it’s because I just had a birthday but lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of staying relevant. Watching someone riding a bike while talking on the phone; seeing Facebook photos of my three-year-old grandnephew Grady reading a book on an iPad; and hearing the news of Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post (and reading Arianna Huffington’s response, “The Future of Journalism,”) have made me dizzy from the speed of change.

Each generation has to embrace change. My dad, a professor and a prolific writer, resisted using a computer. As a fellow wordsmith, I thought he would love using a tool that made writing and editing so much easier. Instead, he stuck to writing hard copy (and lots of it) on his IBM Selectric III. He never really embraced the ease and expansiveness of computers but instead continued to bang away on his electric typewriter, cranking out books, articles and letters which I now treasure, typos and all.

My mom, however, was an early adopter. Back in the mid-1990s when e-mail became all the rage, I remember my mom asking me with a sigh, “When are you going to get e-mail?” She’d already opened her first AOL account and was impatiently waiting to send me notes from her computer to mine. Years later, when I was visiting her in Tempe, AZ, and she and I were finalizing our dinner plans, she said breezily, “Just send me a text.” Text? I hadn’t yet learned to text. My seventy-eight-year-old mother beat me to the punch, thanks to her grandchildren who had nudged her into the world of texting. (Yes, now I know how.)

So as someone who thought the Internet was a fad, I have to be wary of my resistance to change. How can we stay relevant in today’s world?

  • Stay alert. Keep your eyes and ears open and watch what’s going on around you. I’ll never forget seeing my first Walkman and later, seeing someone reading a book on a Kindle at an airport. I was taken aback, then intrigued and ultimately it caused me to…
  • Ask a lot of questions. I remember breaking down and asking someone, “So, how do you like that Kindle?” I got a full report. After interviewing several other people about that technology, I learned I needed to…
  • Be courageous. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say it’s courageous to learn to read books a whole new way. I admit, I still favor “real” books, but I’m learning to enjoy reading on my Kindle. And I appreciate the advantages of being able to read multiple books on one device without schlepping multiple books with me on a plane.
  • Hang out with young people. They’re fearless. Young people have grown up with computers and other digital devices. Watch and learn and don’t be afraid to ask them questions about how things work. And when it doubt…
  • Try it, you’ll like it. Jump in, experiment, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s the only way to grow.

Staying relevant means staying engaged, being curious and continuing to learn–at any age. We don’t have to adopt every new gadget or be on each social media site available, but to ignore new options for communicating would rob us of some exciting opportunities. I remind myself to be open to what the next generation will bring, not just to be “hip.” Staying relevant is good business.

Barn-Raising 101

Many years ago I read the book Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want by Barbara Sher with Annie Gottlieb. The book had a profound effect on me and I’ll never forget one of the analogies the author used to encourage her readers to ask for help from others to accomplish their goals. Ms. Sher referenced a barn-raising to reinforce the power of community, enrolling others in your mission to move there faster and more efficiently.

You’ve seen pictures of a barn-raising, right? Think of an Amish community in the rolling hills of Ohio or Pennsylvania. A young couple is about to be married, and they’re moving into their own home after the wedding. They need a barn, so the community comes together. In one day, they “raise a barn,” accomplishing something it would take the individual months, maybe even years to do. (If you want to see an example of a barn-raising, watch “Witness” with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis–it’s a great thriller with some steamy romance thrown in.)

Barbara Sher blames our culture of rugged individualism on the tendency for folks to insist on going it alone. But it really does take a village… to get our goals and dreams accomplished. That’s one of the most powerful reasons to seek and participate in a professional (or trade) association.

I recently joined the Association Forum of Chicagoland and people laugh when I tell them it’s “the association for associations.” Associations are big business-VERY big business. In 2012 the Association Forum did an economic impact study of Chicagoland associations conducted by CliftonLarsonAllen, one of the nation’s top 10 CPA and consulting firms. The study reports there are more than 1,600 associations based in the Chicago area, and these associations pump more than $10.3 billion directly into the local economy each year. Together, membership exceeds more than 27 million individual members and 250,000 corporate members. These Chicago area associations provide nearly 44,000 full- and part-time jobs with a total employee compensation of more than $4.2 billion.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with you? Essentially, this means there’s an association for everyone. If you’re in the healthcare field, an accountant, an attorney or in any one of the many occupations listed in the Occupational Outlook Handbook which includes approximately a bazillion titles, there is a group of people in the same industry or occupation who share your interests, skills and, most importantly, educational needs. Most associations exist to serve the professional development needs of their membership, along with often representing them as a powerful lobby. Associations are fascinating entities and if you’re not part of yours, find one. There may be more than one–try them out and if it’s the right fit, join. Get involved. Become a member of a committee and, if you’re engaged in their mission, you’ll find yourself on the board before you know it.

Then, when you’re in the process of building your own barn (read: career, mission, goal, company, project), you have a community to help you. Oh, sure, you can build a barn by yourself, one nail and one plank at a time. But there’s urgency to get your barn built! And it’s a lot more fun when you accomplish your goals surrounded by people who know and care about you. It’s called “networking.”



The Tenacity Gene

This week I heard a great interview on National Public Radio with an author named David Epstein who wrote a book called The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. There are some wonderful insights Mr. Epstein shared about the book, but the one that really caught my imagination was a story about the success of sled dogs who help win the Iditarod race in Alaska.

Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey couldn’t afford to breed fast dogs. Instead, he bred dogs that were slower but would “just go and go and go,” according to Mr. Epstein. These dogs had the drive to pull the sled all the time, never wanting to stop. He says these dogs have been bred for motivation and for “work ethic,” something that’s kind of funny to think about when you’re considering sled dogs–but there it is, supported by science. These dogs are pulling longer, not faster.

This story brings new meaning to the old Aesop fable of the tortoise and the hare. And I can’t  help thinking about it when it comes to our own work habits. My most recent habit is to focus more deeply on follow-up and follow-through. I know that networking is only as good as the follow-through, so I’m holding myself accountable for new habits in connecting with people.

I receive a business card and follow up with an email, written expressly for that person and highlighting where we met or what we may have talked about. I remind them they’ve given me permission to add them to my “Golden Rolodex.” I thank them for their time and offer an open invitation to be of service to them in any way I can. Then I go to LinkedIn and write a custom invitation to stay connected via LinkedIn, too–referencing my earlier e-mail. I ask for nothing in any of these communications–this is just my way of reinforcing we’ve met and laying the groundwork for future connections.

This takes time and I feel a little like a sled dog, plodding my way through the snow. But I know that these investments of time and custom connections are critical to building relationships that will last. Whether or not I have the tenacity gene, I’m working on my tenacity muscle, accomplishing what Gregg Levoy in his book Callings calls “the pick-and-shovel” work of making connections. And I feel stronger every day, building the skill to just “go and go and go.”

Creating Space… for Another Year

There’s a powerful correlation between creating space in our homes and offices and creating space in our lives for what’s important to us. The effects of clutter can’t be underestimated, clogging our space, blocking our energy and preventing us from getting on with the things that really matter.

My office de-cluttered
My office de-cluttered

So imagine how lucky I feel to have received the gift of de-cluttering from my friend and social media consultant Joy Meredith, creator of the Me Mapping Process and a great believer in purging the unnecessary. Joy came to my office on a recent Saturday afternoon and we went through every shelf, every box and every pile to discern what was necessary and what needed pitching. By the end of the afternoon we had three bags of recycling, two loads of garbage and one box for the Goodwill.

Joy was ruthless–but in a good way. At one point, we did have a little tug-of-war over a fan I bought at World Market (she won–it got pitched). But ultimately I got into the rhythm of going through each item and asking myself, “Will this add to my success? Is it blocking my success? Does it contribute to my mission of creating a world where people love what they do and do what they love?” When I compared the items–pens that don’t work, post-it notes that have lost their glue, pad-folios too numerous to count–to what I’m up to in the world, it was easy to determine what had to stay and what had to go.

And now, I can’t wait to get into the office! I know what there is to do and have a new energy around doing it. I’ve had some recent breakthroughs where I’ve been stuck for months (OK, years), including getting this bloggedy-blog-blog re-launched. I look forward to seeing what there is new to create now that I have the space for it. The “incredible lightness of being” has given me velocity toward setting appointments, generating new assignments and serving my clients.

Here are just a few tips in case you want to clear some space for all the amazing things you’re up to in life and in business:

  • Find a partner. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend like Joy, accept her kindness and invite her to be there for you while you struggle with the immensity of the task at hand. Don’t go in alone. If you need to hire help, visit The National Association of Professional Organizers and get a professional organizer. Linette George of Get Organized by George is a terrific resource here in the western suburbs of Chicago.
  • Start somewhere, then move from left to right around the room. This is a tip from my friend Rita Emmett’s book, The Clutter-Busting Handbook: Clean It Up, Clear It Out, and Keep Your Life Clutter Free. It’s easy to get overwhelmed but if you work clockwise or counter-clockwise, you’ll begin to see progress.
  • Be responsible about Mother Earth but don’t go overboard. I’m a rabid recycler and Joy knew that, but every so often she’d say, “Just get rid of it.” So out it would go, in the dumpster. There are times when that’s the appropriate place for something.

Today, I’m celebrating my birthday and thanks to having that clean space, I’m looking forward to creating all kinds of amazing things in this new year. There’s an opening  for moving forward to my goals. And with a clean desk, space on the shelves and a willing heart , anything’s possible.