Everything I Need to Know in Business I Can Learn from Liz Lemon

Thanks to my Netflix addiction, I’ve had the pleasure of watching all seven seasons of “30 Rock.” The show stars Tina Fey as the creator and head writer of a TV show that highlights bad talent and fart jokes, and I admit that “30 Rock” is an acquired taste. But the development of its ensemble cast of characters has me smitten with the writing and, more specifically, with the character of Liz Lemon.

Watching Liz grow into her role as a manager, squeezing scripts out of her insubordinate writers and wrangling her wayward actors, has me thinking: Everything I need to know in business, I can learn from Liz Lemon.

Leadership. There’s an episode where Liz is reliving her college days and revels in the memory of her first two weeks. She was inadvertently assigned a spacious dorm room with handicap accessibility and for those blissful two weeks, her room was Party Central. She became intoxicated with her new-found popularity. But then the dorm room mistake was discovered, and she settled into a smaller room and ultimately into her role as R.A. (resident adviser), reviled by her peers. In the same way, Liz learns she can’t lead the cast & crew of her TV show and always be popular. She has to make tough decisions that may compromise her friendships. The role of a leader is sometimes lonely, and there are boundaries.

Mentoring. Jack Donaghy, played by Alec Baldwin, is Liz’s boss, an ambitious but lovable executive who takes Liz under his wing. Their relationship evolves and grows into a friendship, and Liz learns to appreciate Jack’s guidance. She also asserts herself, with mixed results. Jack allows her to fail, teaches her the art of negotiation and continues to mentor her along the way–even if his advice is sometimes warped and often Scotch-induced. A mentor provides the space for his protégée to succeed and to fail, asking “What did you learn?”

Authenticity. Liz Lemon is, above all things, authentic. She admits to her weaknesses (food, a lack of fashion sense and a fondness for scatological humor) and doesn’t try to be someone she’s not. When she writes a best-selling book called “Deal Breakers” that has a chance of evolving into her own talk show, Liz has a complete melt-down after an ill-fated make-over. The talk show is scrapped and Liz goes back to doing what she does best–being head writer and creator of TGS. Successful people know who they are and show up that way, consistently over time.

Some of the things I love most about Liz Lemon are the endearing way in which she calls her writers “dummies,” her crooked walk and, above all, her willingness to admit her nerdiness. She isn’t a glamour-puss and she doesn’t wear designer clothes and stiletto heels. Her pedigree isn’t from Harvard: she got most of her training at Second City in Chicago. If a woman like Liz (and her real-life counterpart Tina Fey) can make it in a nearly all-male world wearing glasses and flat shoes, then maybe there’s hope for other aspiring business women. Maybe it’s all about being ourselves.


(photo credit: www.nbc.com)

The Logistics of Job Satisfaction

When you’re evaluating the elements of a satisfying career, don’t underestimate logistics. Where we work and how we get there contribute a great deal to our job satisfaction, and the joy of a new job can fade quickly if you have to spend an hour and a half just getting there.

An article in yesterday’s online edition of the Wall Street Journal supports my hypothesis. In “Secrets of the Happiest Commuters,” Sue Shellenbarger writes that new national data shows a significant spike in the number of Americans whose commute is longer than an hour, from 300,000 in 2011 to 11.1 million people in 2012. In order for someone to be satisfied with a longer commute, economists estimate that a person needs to make 40% more money to rationalize the trade-off in time. The story goes on to highlight ways in which commuters make the time they spend in cars, on trains or riding the subway more palatable.

As someone who lives in a “train town,” I understand this trade-off. When we first moved from Phoenix to the Chicago area, I was intrigued by the culture of commuter trains. Our Metra rail system reaches out like an octopus from the heart of Chicago to suburbs reaching far to the north, west and south. My job in the city required a five-minute drive from home to a public parking lot; a train ride that could take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the time I traveled; then a 20-minute bus ride followed by a five-minute walk. By the time I got into the office I had spent an hour and a half just getting to work. This meant I spent a staggering 31.5 days per year in transit. That’s a full month just getting to and from the job.

Some folks don’t mind the commute. I know a man from my church who commuted from our home town of Wheaton into the city for more than 30 years and he said he enjoyed his commute time. Another gentleman, a former colleague of mine from a publishing company, rode the train with friends and had a running poker game that lasted, literally, years. Back when I was commuting daily, nearly everyone had a newspaper or a book and a cup of coffee. These days you’ll find most commuters plugged into some kind of electronic device, from a laptop to an iPad to a smartphone to a Kindle.  Some use the time to daydream and stare out the window; others take a snooze.

People told me to enjoy my commute–that it provided me with “down time,” time to read or write or do more work (!). But over the years I came to resent the commute and the time it robbed from me and my family. In fact, the WSJ article reports a 2011 study in the Journal of Health Economics noted that “[w]omen tend to be unhappier about long commutes than men, even after controlling for any improvement in income, job satisfaction or housing quality—perhaps because women tend to shoulder more housework at home.” After six years of schlepping to and from the city, I deliberately looked for a job closer to home. Through my “Golden Rolodex” I connected with a hospital president I knew who soon hired me as her VP of marketing for a hospital that was a four-minute commute from my home. And now that I’m self-employed with an office in downtown Wheaton, I can make it to work in 3.5 minutes if I don’t hit a red light.

I’m not saying that everyone should work close to home–where you work and how you get there are personal choices that each of us has to make. I’m just recommending that when you weigh the factors of what makes you happy, remember to include those logistics. Otherwise, what originally seems like a minor annoyance can become an intolerable compromise that threatens your quality of life.




Why Fly Fishing Beats a Net

There are many paradoxes when marketing yourself or your business, and one of the most powerful paradoxes is “The narrower your focus, the wider your opportunity.”

This defies logic. You’d think that a broad, sweeping approach might be best–something like fishing with a big net. Picture someone casting a net into a lake. Will he get the fish he wants? Maybe. But he’ll also get everything else–other types of fish, seaweed, old boots, maybe even a rusty car part or two.

Fly fishing is an elegant sport where the fisherman uses a very specific fly, often made by hand, then casts that fly into a very specific body of water, looking for a very specific type of fish. Just like target marketing.

Larry Nash, Ernst & Young’s director of experienced and executive recruiting, agrees. In an article in eFinancialCareers.com, “How to land a job at Ernst & Young” by Beecher Tuttle, Mr. Nash gives some great tips for those who are interested in working for this global consulting firm. His advice is pertinent to anyone who is networking either to make a job transition or to build a business. He also supports my principle of The Golden Rolodex–you know way more people than you think.

“First, I’d encourage everyone to use your online networks to see who you know who works at the company or who knows someone there,” Mr. Nash said. “Make an introduction and ask for a referral. People should recognize that their network is likely much more expansive than they think. It’s not just who you went to school with or former colleagues, but everyone you know, people you go to church with, for example. Then you can tap into their network.”

fly-fishing-malibuAccording to Mr. Nash, targeting the organization is as important as identifying the people you want to reach. “It helps you focus on who you should network with. One of the common frustrations is receiving an application for lots of jobs. Some people may apply to hundreds of jobs, making it hard for an organization because you don’t know where they want to work. When networking, it’s good to have a targeted approach.”

Knowing what you want is the first step to your career satisfaction. Before you start fishing, figure out what kind of fish you want to catch. Then prepare accordingly.

(Photo credits: Bob Hutchinson, masthead; Graham Owen, www.grahamowengallery.com, Malibu fly fishing)