May I introduce the SOTGC readers to Dr. Mark Tager whom Alex and I recently have had the pleasure of getting to know. Mark and his lovely wife Carol have become professional mentors to Alex and I and he has been kind enough to write this guest post for us. He and his beautiful family live in Rancho Santa Fe, CA (although his son is currently at Harvard Law School and his daughter recently graduated from USC and currently works for Mercedes). Both Carol and Mark have been infinitely kind, helpful, inspiring, and supportive along this journey to get SOTGC up and off the ground. A huge thank you for your never ending ideas, enthusiasm, and constructive feedback.
To the Stiletto Crowd:
Marney sent me a list of interview questions. Don’t get me wrong, they are good, just not what I want to talk about.
First, about me. I have had many professional incarnations. I started out as a family physician, directed health promotion for Kaiser Permanente in Oregon, wrote a wellness newspaper column, produced early cable health programming for ABC Video Enterprises, co-authored eight books on various wellness, leadership, stress, and change management themes, founded a consumer health publishing company that I ran for ten years then sold, helped start the Fraxel laser company, got involved in stem cells (stemedica.com) and cosmeceuticals (Sentelabs.com)…and the beat goes on.
So, you can say that I have a serious attention deficit. OR…. All of this could be—and is—consistent with my work-related philosophy, namely, that jobs don’t really exist, or if they do, they are time-limited. What does matter is the skills that you acquire as you transform through your work incarnations. How many skills do you have? How sharp are they? How transferable? How have they served you well, and not so well? What critical skills are you missing, and how can you acquire them? Think of a “career” as a big tool bag that you fill up, knowing of course that the tool bag is bottomless.
I’ve written a few books on leadership. The first one was with Dr. Marjorie Blanchard. We co-wrote a Simon & Schuster book in 1984 called “Working Well.” We did some of the first work on the effects of a “bad boss,” illustrating, from California worker’s compensation cases for stress-related disability and personal interviews, how “bad bosses” contributed to employee illness through behaviors such as putting subordinates in lose-lose situations, or tactlessly disciplining them in front of peers. We also examined the leadership behaviors that promoted productivity and well-being in subordinates. (I was to resurrect this theme more than 20 years later in a book I co-authored with Harry Woodward, Ph.D. entitled “Leadership in Times of Stress and Change ”) www.changewell.com.
You learn a lot when you co-author a book, most notably about the real-life leadership skills of those with whom you write and work. I was fortunate to have Margie for a mentor. She was running Blanchard Training and Development and at that time had to balance personnel, growth, and strategy issues, as well as fly all around the country and give talks and workshops. From Margie, I learned that great leaders stay calm under fire. Strength is enhanced through moments of pause and reflection. There is always enough time to step back and look at a situation in another light. After all, the perspective you hold on anything is just one of an infinite number of perspectives you could take. Finally, I learned a lot about demeanor, that acting tough and being strong are not the same thing. You can be strong and at the same time be funny, and gentle, and caring. We all need to add these attributes to our tool bag.
Life will give you a variety of mentors, if you are open enough to let yourself be a student. Margie was just one of my mentors.
Another was Fern Carness, one of the most powerful women I have ever known, who died a few years ago after a protracted bout with breast cancer.
Everyone in medicine knows that the nurses run hospitals. The best nurses have forgotten more about great patient care than the average intern or resident will ever learn. As an operating and critical care nurse, Fern was the smartest of the smart. Feeling unfulfilled and under appreciated with traditional medicine, she branched out into her true calling: wellness, founding a health risk appraisal and screening company in Los Angeles. I purchased that company, only to shortly thereafter have my company purchased by a very large publishing company headquartered in the Midwest.
So here we were, Fern and me, in the middle of corporate America, and very traditional corporate America at that. As an outspoken, brilliant, opinionated (rightly so) female you could hear her head hitting the glass ceiling several states away as she struggled with some overt and covert sexism. Fern and I shared a Ukrainian Jewish heritage and there is a wonderful saying in Russian that translates as “Don’t let anyone spit in your borscht.” And no one spat in Fern’s borscht.
Through words, and actions, she firmly (but respectfully) let every male know that she was, at the very least, their equal, and most likely the smartest person in the room. I loved her for that. Fern went on to champion support for women with breast cancer and to take her seminar messages of wellness, love, faith, hope and strength to women and men throughout the USA. (You can find many additional tributes to Fern Carness.
So, a quick recap:
1. Think less about your “career” and more about your tool bag.
2. You don’t have to act tough to be strong.
3. Don’t let anyone spit in your borscht.