Thank You, Harper Lee

harper lee youngThank you, Nelle Harper Lee, for opening our eyes to social injustice in the South in your Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The book has remained on the required reading list of just about every school in America for decades. Lee, who died on February 19 at the age of 89, leaves an indelible mark on American literature.

Lee’s book was released in 1961. Just one year later, To Kill a Mockingbird was released as a movie, starring Gregory Peck as a well respected white attorney, Atticus Finch, in a small Alabama town, representing a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch earned him an Academy Award for best actor. It was the humanity demonstrated by Atticus Finch that drew him close to our hearts: a professional man who treated each human being fairly and with respect, regardless of race, religion or economic status.

To Kill a Mockingbird is just as relevant today – 60+ years later – as it was when it was first released. It reminds us of the struggle and tremendous work behind our country’s civil rights movement. Exceptional literature challenges your thinking and opens your eyes, mind and heart to a different perspective, and expands your worldview.

When Lee’s Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015, some fans were disappointed to learn that their beloved Atticus Finch was portrayed as a different character altogether, a bigot and a racist. The book’s release now encourages us as readers to look at each piece of literature on its own and have a conversation. An excellent comparative analysis by Jonathan Sturgeon on Mockingbird and Watchman sheds light on the story behind the creation of the two books.

Millions of high school kids who were required to read Mockingbird thank you, Miss Lee, for educating them about social injustice. And for all those who faced discrimination, racism or bigotry, they thank you for giving voice to their lived experience.

Thank you, Miss Lee, for courageously saying what few people would at the time. Americans of all ages and backgrounds today are still learning the lessons from To Kill a Mockingbird and now Go Set a Watchman. Thank you for initiating the dialogue.

Do You Hide or Reveal the Truth?

honestyWe’ve all had moments of trepidation when asked difficult, inappropriate or even embarrassing questions. How we respond to those questions is the topic of a recent study released by researchers at the Harvard Business School.

I first heard of the study through a report by Shankar Vedantam, science correspondent for National Public Radio during the February 4, 2016 Morning Edition program, and was intrigued by the study.

Researchers Leslie John, Kate Barasz and Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School explored what happens when we hide or reveal the truth in their paper entitled What Hiding Reveals.

The study shows that a confession is often better received – even welcome – than suppression. The study shows that people do not trust those who hold back, and they actually prefer people who reveal more information, even if it’s “unsavory.” The research team applied the theory to both dating and job interviewing.

The two types of responders are labeled Hider (Withholder) and Revealer. Here’s a brief description:

The Hider (Withholder). The Hider (Withholder) will tell you anything she thinks you want to hear in order to get the job or even a date with you. For example, you may ask her in a job interview what her worst or even least successful course was in college. She may say something positive and perky like, “Oh, I didn’t have any negative experiences in college. My GPA was always above a 3.4.” That may seem to be a logical approach: She wants to make a favorable first impression. However, when the transcripts are reviewed, the interviewer finds that for two semesters, her GPA was below a 3.0. Hmmm… The interviewer may begin wondering, “If she withheld that kind of information, how could I trust her to be forthright if she worked for me?” In that case, it would have been better for the interviewee to be honest.

The Revealer. The Revealer chooses to answer the question in a straightforward way, even if the information being shared may be less than desirable. If you have cheated on your taxes, had a Restraining Order filed by your ex-spouse or padded your expense accounts, you may think people may not want to hear that because it presents you in a negative light. Researchers say your honesty may get you that second interview or even a date. Nearly 80% (78.9%) of survey respondents said they would choose to date the Revealer rather than the Withholder. Think about it. Wouldn’t you like to know that someone had attended Anger Management School before you dated (or hired) him?

Using myself as an example, though never asked the question that the Hider (Withholder) was asked, let me lay it out for you here. My worst college course was a four-hour credit, senior-level International Law course that I decided to take during summer school between my sophomore and junior year (yep…in just five weeks). I was not a political science major nor had I taken any lower level poli sci courses before. Tsk Tsk. While I am not proud of the D that I earned in that course, it taught me a very important lesson in life: Go with your gut reaction. When your gut says, “Don’t do it,” listen to your gut!

The bottom line: Sharing builds trust. So when I ask the question, “Do these pants make me look fat?” please be honest with me!

Are You Giving It Your All?

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Aretha Franklin at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors

When was the last time you asked yourself if you were giving your all to your job or your personal life? It’s easy to skim along life’s surface without going deep. What would it take for you to go above and beyond the norm? To feel the satisfaction of knowing that you have done your absolute best?

One of my favorite annual traditions watching the Kennedy Center Honors, a program that salutes a select group of talented individuals in the arts who have reached the pinnacle of their careers and who inspire us to achieve great things. The last week of 2015, the Kennedy Center honored filmmaker George Lucas, actress Cicely Tyson, conductor Seiji Ozawa, actress/singer/dancer Rita Moreno, and singer-songwriter Carole King. One of the stars to pay tribute to Carole King was none other than the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. She brought down the house as she gave it her all. Here’s what every professional can learn from Aretha’s amazing performance:

Own your professional presence. Dressed in a stunning gown and full-length mink coat, Aretha commanded attention as she stepped onto the stage. With confidence and ease, she sat down at a Baby Grand piano, and the applause and gasps got even louder. (I had never seen Aretha seated at a piano; in fact, I didn’t even know she played the piano). She began playing – and singing – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, co-written by Carole King and Jerry Goffin, one of the most soulful, intimate songs to reach the Top Ten charts ever.

Put everything you have into it. A woman half her age could not put the same spin on A Natural Woman like Aretha because she was singing her lived experience into the song. There is a reason she’s still called the Queen of Soul; no one else owns the title.

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A bold move: Dropping the mink coat

Do something bold and memorable. Aretha had the audience in the palm of her hand. Three minutes and 45 minutes into the video clip, she did something surprising that brought the audience to its feet: She stood center stage and dropped the mink coat on the floor, with complete abandon, showing her raw talent and vulnerability as a performer.

Connect to the emotion. No matter what line of work you are in, when you connect to people’s emotions, your message becomes much clearer and stronger. Everyone felt the emotion of the song. Carole King’s reactions were priceless.

When you’ve still got it, flaunt it. Every word Aretha sang, every movement she made was wrapped in graceful elegance. When you are a professional who performs your best, people respond well to you, no matter what your age.

When you stand front and center, with an audience of ten or 2,000, how do you present yourself to others? Take a few pointers from Aretha and give it your all.