Tell-All: 4 team management lessons from Summit planning

I recently, ahem, was part of a core team running one of the biggest events in startup-Jerusalem each year, in its 4th year. It’s a production put on with a lot of demands, a lot of resources, a lot of professionals, but the core team from within the company are not necessarily production careerists (though a couple of us are definitely).

Before this year, the event planning was fueled with stress, rife with resentment, and even filled with fear. This year was different. And I’ve been exploring why.

1. The revolution will not be televised – and will not happen without a good team. 

For months we joked about filming a documentary of the event prep. We (I) didn’t do it, but if we had, it would have probably been side-splitting hilarious (to us). Something I learned was, any job – even the hardest, the ones that make you feel enslaved, depraved, and unappreciated – are actually awesome if the people around you are fun to have around, genuinely good people, and hardcore team players. That was a real turning point for me; why shouldn’t planning an incredible, complicated event be fun, if the people you work alongside inspire you to do your best possible job? The chemistry was right, the people were solid, and the goal was clear. It was a new level of teamwork we brought out from within ourselves.

2. A team is the sum of all its parts.

A few years ago I had this revelation. I was wondering why people would pay me to write for them. I knew practically why, but it was a symptom of impostor syndrome, and I really didn’t get it. I asked the question on twitter, and got a response: because they can’t do it themselves. They actually aren’t equipped with the skills.

Ever since then, I repeat this to myself. I’m not a logistics person; someone else is not a brand-builder. I’ll never run the finance department; someone else won’t be writing compelling invite copy. And so I build this appreciation every day for the people around me, diverse skill sets and frames of minds. Different career paths leading to this project; different life experiences to lend. I wish more people could appreciate how we all have something to contribute. If we acknowledge healthily what we lack and promote with vigor what others contain, we become a stronger force – with better results.

3. Ditch the dead weight – from your mental load

When working on such a massive, months-long project, it helps to leave behind the haters. The ‘this has nothing to do with me’ attitude of colleagues. Feeling held back by a need to convince everyone or try and infuse inspiration into every single colleague is not going to help me do a better job. I found staying focused on the end result was the right way – more calming, more productive. And luckily, from previous experience, we had the confidence to know we could keep moving forward and that we were right: it was going to be successful, amazing, and even better than we ever imagined.

4. Putting the ‘der’ in leader. 

Ok, this is going to seem obvious but shutup it’s been three years and I still don’t always get it.

I find managing a team challenging. I freely admit it because I think it’s healthy and it prompts me to work harder to seek out mentors and case studies to learn from. I’ve had no direct mentor, and frankly, not always the best examples to learn from. So I’m winging it.

This was the first year I felt properly equipped to run my part of the event as far as personnel. So I knew I had no one to blame but myself if I mess it up. And there were plenty of pitfalls – delegation is still rough on me. But as the heat got turned up, I knew it was manager do-or-die – if the team doesn’t get to take the wheel, then what is the point of joining for the ride? I lose them now, I lose them in the future, too.

Last week I learned what it truly means to let go – of the doubt and fear – and felt such a new pride at this smart, proactive, flexible team I somehow found the insight to put together. The right people – true team players – seek out opportunities to grow and stretch their skills. They don’t just take orders but they own their roles and figure it out. We need to surround ourselves with people like that – at work, at home, in life. It’s what makes a manager a leader.

There’s so much more I could offer insight on – and forgive me, it’s been quite a hiatus from thoughtful posts in the last few months while I was running around, well, learning. For that we’d have to get a cup of coffee or maybe just a humble facebook chat.

After all, there’s still event followup to put together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last week.

This isn’t how I thought it would end.

I didn’t think the end would begin with a deep soreness, tiny stabs of pain, highlighted by stinging tears; the added torture of me trying to hold all this in and stay strong for you, to avoid the chance you’d feel unwhole, to acknowledge your instinctual longing, to turn away in the hope you wouldn’t see me holding back, and cry yourself to sleep.

I just didn’t see it coming, I didn’t know that’s how it would go.

Day by day for this last week, I held back while you went ahead. How each day, you could start a little more fresh, a little more optimistic; how you could then end each day a little more fulfilled, a bit brighter, that much more ready.

Without me.

You were slowly moving on, and I wasn’t seeing it. My time was occupied waiting for us to reunite.

Day by day, you managed; surpassed; moved on.

One week later, you are the happiest I’ve ever seen you.

Running ahead, a vision of fresh opportunity, arms open, drawn to people who are not me, people who have not nourished you with love and comfort for the last year and a half. At the other end of these last few days, you haven’t run to me in desperation, clinging to the crutch I nurtured. Now you see me and smile while you hang back, greet me brightly from a distance. Even Ruth, she said to me today – one week later – “you know, she’s just so happy. I can’t even explain why. She’s just been happy – changed.”

It’s been a week. And I never thought once in this time that this is how it ends. You, reborn. Me, at a loss.

I didn’t want to hurt you, I absorbed all the pain. And I didn’t see it coming.

And here we are. The physical pain has passed – it’s been a whole day without the break in my chest, the throbbing, the feeling of being shattered, burst open, bruised. That’s subsided and now I look up from this dark week and the tears are receding with the tide, the cracks are filled, the sores are healed; but the pain in my heart is encased in a crust that is raw and fresh and choking.

And you – you’re happy. And tonight, I hold you in my arms, your tiny head resting against my shoulder, the slow, mellow motion of your breathing against my upper chest… as I hold you like this, in the dark room, quiet and at peace… as I hold you I know you are happy. And I know I am, somehow, too. And I know this pain is about my loss and my failure to never consider it could end like this, but knowing – somewhere, between the tender bruising that is both reminder and revelation – somewhere, deep inside my chest, right behind my deflated, soft, healing breasts – baby girl, this is for the best.

Zooey update: eighteen months

It may be autumn but your steps are in full bloom. Your toddle is… toddle-y, and exactly as it should be. It’s not that you couldn’t walk or wouldn’t walk, but I think we both know you were going to go with what came easier to you as you cautiously sorted out the whole walking on two legs thing.

Meanwhile, you won’t let yourself be left behind – walking or crawling, toddling or not…

If all of them other kids get to lick the chocolate off the mixing spoon, then goddamit so do you.

I always tell people that what I’ve noticed in sibling pairs is, the friendship starts when the younger sibling is around 18 months. And sure enough, here it is. You’ve paid attention long enough – now you are playing for attention. You’re also fighting back – finally – and to be honest, I agree with you, your older siblings deserve it.

And, there is a smattering of words we hear. No! for starters. No! (that’s mine). No! (I wanted abba, not you). No! (this is my drink, get your own).

 

#metoo, #hetoo, #shetoo: for the boys

Everyone’s talking about Harvey Weinstein; even the white board at the entrance of my office, where usually someone scribbles the name of the day’s delegation, even the white board yesterday was #metoo.

And everyone is talking about women being afraid to talk, and women now talking, and how women can protect themselves, and how women should feel comfortable being open… and men who should have done more and failed, and men who are embarrassed by their own silence, and men who are also #metoo… While nothing there is untrue… I can’t help but notice how the majority of articles – in fact I haven’t seen one that isn’t – are about the implications on the women.

Personally, I would like to see a strong male leader – prominent, famous, someone with a strong male following, a big hairy Alpha – discuss what men need to examine in themselves, and how we all need to change the culture that currently fosters the current male experience, perspective, silence, and most of all, expectation.

When I see feminist or feminish women with only sons, I wonder if they cherish the job of teaching their boys a different way, a better culture… there’s only so much exposure to everything I can give my daughters… the even-ing of the playing field goes both ways… doesn’t guiding our sons towards gender partnership count for as much?

I’m jotting down notes here, please share your ideas… we’re all learning as we go…

1. My son doesn’t get to speak to my daughters in the kind of tone I wouldn’t want to be spoken to by a man at work, in the street, or in my marriage. Been there, done that. Verbal abuse still costs a bunch of therapy bills.

2. All of  the kids in this house are partners in praise. Drew a picture of your favorite cartoon characters from scratch? Wow, that’s awesome. Solved a new kind of math problem? Great job. Remembered to feed your stuffed leopard it’s breakfast? Good thinking. Did another sibling’s nail polish really well? You’re getting good at that! I want the boy to know it’s his job as a sibling to lift up his sisters. I want the girls to know it’s their job as siblings to lift up the others. We can all be partners in lifting each other up where we need it, or where we feel it.

3. The legos are stored in the pink box and the cooking set is in the blue box. Ok, this sounds stupid and maybe yeah on the face of it, it’s not really that important. But I try to check myself when it comes to silly traditions that are actually ingrained cultural definitions that have become symptoms of a greater problem, which is, putting everyone in a predefined, limiting… box.

4. Living in the same house as a real example of a thoughtful, self-aware man partner. Yeah this one is tough. But I got the partner part right before having the son. There are plenty of examples of thoughtful, self-aware men. Hopefully every boy and girl has at least one they look up to.  

Zooey update: seventeen months

We’ve been waiting for you to join us, and you’re finally having your Neil Armstrong moment. One small step, Zooey, is another month until you’ll be racing after us?

Hello! Hello? Hello. Waving or saying it or pretending to talk on the phone. Mostly pretending to be talking on the phone. Talking on anything but a phone?

It’s been a pleasure obliging you this past summer, water baby. I don’t think you were ever as filled with glee as you were with a floaty device strapped on to you, bobbing along in the pool.

 

Zooey update: sixteen months

Summer, full-time

This is the first time in eight years we haven’t gone abroad to visit extended family for part of August. I feel a little bad, as you’d get a bunch of spoiling, but we did travel in May, your grandpa has come for a week, and you have been abroad three times in your little life. And what do you know? You’re happy as long as your immediate family is around.

So I brought you to work one day to say hi. There was Bamba there; there were computer cables there; you were happy.

We actually did a lot of exciting things during this time, too.

You got to finger paint.

You ate at restaurants. You started eating properly with spoons. You went swimming over and over (you love the water. Love. Water baby.) You drew on the sidewalk with chalk. You ate chalk. You sat in the waves at the beach, you watched boats at sea.

You took some more steps to keep up with it all.

Sibling love

It comes in all shapes and sizes and levels of torment. I’ve been thinking a lot about sibling love… I guess for years. As long as I’ve had siblings. Zooey, it’s all born out of something good I’m sure. The need for attention, the human requirement to be loved. Whether you get a playful kick or a not-so-playful kick in the face… it’s not you. It’s the struggle to be heard, to know one’s place, in the sibling universe.

Because for every maka there’s a spoonful of precious maadan.

For every too-tough tug, there’s a basket of laughs.

What’s next

You’re getting out there. You have a big year ahead – graduated from the comfort of your sweet loving Moroccan metapelet, you’re going to join a dozen other kids (likely more) in the nursery atmosphere of a maon. It means more language, more interactions, more experiments, more friends. We’re looking forward for you, Zooey.

Have you heard of Facebook?

It’s mid-2005. I’m sitting across from the CEO of a growing startup in what I hope – as a 23-year-old leaving the path of a journalism career to actually pay some bills – is the last interview for the job.

‘Guerrilla marketing’.

The CEO is kind, but my mind is racing as he now asks me to give some examples of the ways I’d engage in guerrilla marketing; ideas I could bring to the team. I’m racking my brain for a semi-intelligent answer – suddenly I realize how young I am – and the next thing I know I’m saying –

“Have you heard of Facebook?”

I still remember that day fairly vividly. It was the day I became conscious of something I think I’ve always done but never realized I was doing it: using personal experience to guide my actions, and the spirit of experimentation to create new opportunities for myself. For years, my CEO (and mentor) would remind me of how I blew his mind that day, as I logged in to my infant Facebook account right on his computer. There was a profile pic, the Wall, ‘too close for missiles, I’m switching to guns’. Facebook, just over a year from its own creation. Playing a random and active part in my career’s creation.

In a Jerusalem tech tower, there we were: 22-year-old me, a successful and recognized entrepreneur, and my contemporary, Mark Zuckerberg.

What I have pulled from that experience, which was the foundation of six years at Answers.com and the rest of my ongoing career, is that if you manage to become self aware enough, you can figure out how to use your own personal experience, worldliness, perspective, and spirit of experimentation as your guide. Shhh – do you hear that? It’s you, with the ability to feed your gut feelings. To build an idea into action. To learn a new trade. To become an influencer.

That day I opened a door for myself. And I got the job. And became a guerrilla marketer for as long as that was in style. Then a social media marketer, a content marketer, a marketing manager, a community manager, a brand builder.

Throughout my six years there, I learned so much about people. About high tech. About leadership. About startups. About Israel. About myself, as part of a pre-internet and post-internet generation. About early adapters. About humility and learning and biding my time.

My advice is, train in becoming self aware enough not to miss opportunities. But also self aware enough to know when it’s time to watch and learn and listen. That last part helps you know when the time is right to take opportunities, to take the leap of faith, to trust the brainstorm.

Maybe the best opportunities are born from the desperate need to justify your 22-year-old self. Or from knowing you have something to offer; you just need the guts to do it.

Zooey update: fifteen months

We can hear you… your language is taking better shape… whether it’s your soft babble or your ‘dis’ or your just-barely ’emma’. We hear you, Zooey. We’re listening.

Or maybe it’s your language in movement… your little sideways waves.

Or maybe it’s your attempt at major movement – trying to walk. Taking steps to taking steps. You are deliberate in starting the next challenge; you do it in your own time.

They’re all steps to getting to the next level – being a part of the bigger gang.