The Gift and Benefit of Silence

I’ve just returned from a week of silence. I attended a weeklong meditation retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center which is nestled in the vast rolling hills of Marin County about an hour north of San Francisco. I’ve been to many silent meditation retreats here, and at other retreat centers around the country, and I’ve come to crave these times, and look forward to having more and longer periods of this silence.

If you know me, you know I’m truly, deeply, undeniably an extrovert. I love meeting new people, and welcome the possibility of making new friends and connections anywhere. Extroverts, you surely know, are energized by their interactions with others. After I teach an evening class I am ready to be up for hours because I’m thoroughly charged up. My preferred way of getting clear about something that’s on my mind is through dialogue. In fact, I often do some of my best work when I’m tossing ideas around with others; when I’m working on a new class curriculum or idea of an article I reach out to friends and colleagues to talk it through to be sure I’m actually getting it right. Of course I can do this on my own, but I know my work will be better if I can work it through with another person who is prodding, and asking questions that I can answer out loud. Often this is actually how I really know what I know. Perhaps this sounds familiar to those extroverts reading this. And this may sound completely peculiar to the introverts who can mull and process and work happily in solitude.

And…I truly love silence. Friends have been shocked when I tell them I can’t wait to go somewhere for a week and not talk with others. I explain it’s a calming delightful time to meditate, to be surrounded by nature, to really feel my breath and nurture my body, and witness my mind and nervous system slowing down, settling, clearing and getting quiet. Just as when we close our eyes our hearing becomes more acute, when I stop talking everything I hear and see becomes more vibrant. When I go for walks on that land I’ve been surprised to hear the wind flowing through the wings of the birds that fly above me, and the scratching and buzzing of the busy-ness of creatures and insects in trees and bushes. I was able to watch the sun move from one side of the sky to the other, and notice the changing formations of clouds and the vapor streaks of planes criss-crossing the sky.

I have been on retreats where I am completely alone; those were times of true solitude. The retreat center retreats are a lovely blend of togetherness and silence; there can be up to 100 people participating in a silent retreat. This is the perfect balance for me, because I’m alone and simply with myself, but I’m surrounded by others who aren’t asking anything of me, nor am I offering anything. We are each on our own mindfulness journey. We eat (the most marvelous organic, locally sourced vegetarian food!) silently, together. We walk past one another without needing to smile or nod or acknowledge the other. This silent togetherness encourages the sense that we are all on our own journey but our similarities are profound. Certainly the practice of becoming familiar with our minds, through this mindfulness practice, clearly shows that kindness to ourselves, and others, is the only way to go when you consider having a satisfying life with oneself, and alongside others in the collective of life on this planet.

While I know I just feel so rejuvenated during after these retreats, research confirms that this is simply good wellness practice. I’ve read studies that show that as little as 2 minutes of silence has been found to relieve stress, lowering cortisol – the stress hormone. Being in silence, other studies concluded, is more relaxing than listening to ‘relaxing’ music, based on increase blood flow in the brain and body. Another study concluded that experiencing two or more hours of silence could positively impact our brains – specifically the hippocampus, the region associated with learning and memory, increasing cell growth. Combine a prolonged period of silence with the health benefits of being surrounded by nature, and you’ve got a life generating, positive health experience for mind and body.

I returned back to busy Los Angeles, and my vibrant bustling neighborhood and can feel the reverberations of all that silence. Focus comes more easily, my appreciation for so many little (and big) things in my life are heightened. And the experience of silence and those hills and the deep blue or cloudy or deepest blue/black starry skies, along with the myriad of creatures I appreciated…all this lives quietly inside of extroverted me.


5 Steps You Can Take Today To Banish Mommy Burnout For Good

A photo by London Scout. know that feeling. It’s like the gears just don’t connect, there’s no traction, no energy to accelerate. If you’re a mom who’s burned out from taking care of everyone at home (and at work, playgroup, your extended family too), it’s predictable that your feelings of guilt, anxiety, resentment and outright anger are building to the point where you’re afraid you will blow like a rocket.

That’s super scary because if that happened, you’re sure you’d ruin everything.

So what can you do instead? It’s not your habit to share with others what’s really going on inside. Your habit is to go underground with your feelings. In fact, as your anxiety grows, you take fewer healthy steps to feel better. Instead of reaching out to a friend, you tell yourself you need to work harder, and, well, get over yourself.

“Try harder; be a better mom, a better wife, a better employee; buck up and stop being such a baby. You need to look the part you’re playing.”

Instead of honoring your feelings, you mistakenly think it’s all about what you’re not doing well enough.


Burnout is mind and soul numbing. When my son was little I felt like I was running a marathon. Every. Day. Until I changed my life and work completely. You don’t have to go quite as far (unless that’s your path), but there are certainly some kernels of wisdom in the changes I made.

Here are 5 things I wish I knew when I was in the middle of burning out. YOU can benefit from them too so you don’t burn out completely:

  1. Rest. Moms who feel burned out are tired. I was always on the go, taking care of anything my son or husband wanted. Going to work, stopping for groceries on the way home and then making dinner. Homework, clean up, bedtime rituals. A little TV time with my husband. Rest? Are you kidding? It takes discipline to rest, but just taking 15 minutes to close your eyes, follow a meditation or body scan audio, will soothe your nervous system. It works.
  2. Ask for help and take it. I admit I thought I had to do everything myself, do things perfectly, and felt guilty if I did things just for me. Yes, being with our kids fulfills us, but don’t forget that other things used to, too. Find your ‘other’ thing and make it a real priority. Everyone will be happier.
  3. Take a real look at your work; it may be time to seriously shift. You may not be the person you were when you started this career, and vice versa. Are you using your strengths or are you trying to be someone you aren’t by stretching yourself too far?
  4. Tap your imagination for options. Moms who feel burned out believe things have to be the way they are. But they don’t. Get your hands on some magazines and pull out images of what looks refreshing and inviting to you. See what’s calling you. Get out that journal and write about all of your successes, your strengths, and if you can’t remember them ask others to help you. Even if it feels embarrassing, do it. You’ll feel better.
  5. Ask yourself what you’re really here for. As in What’s your purpose? Knowing your purpose, deep down, can help you gain clarity about the next simple actions to take, that can help you to genuinely re-engage in your life.

Brene Brown and Judith Warner have shed light on the shame we women feel when we don’t do motherhood (or, well, everything) seamlessly, perfectly, without help, while being effortlessly skinny and put together.

Living life real, with humor and imperfection, can be messier, but more creative and fun for everyone. Let’s banish the burnout, and really live.

How do you embrace change?

Life is a Process of Becoming-Anais Nin

Check the questions below to see what resonates for you, and see how you can work with change – wanted or unwanted – more effectively.

1) When faced with a change you haven’t asked for do you:

a) Try to find a way to avoid what’s being asked or required of you as long as possible?

b) Think of it as a new learning experience that can help you grow and adjust with it?

c) Consider the change, see if this is compatible with who you are, and decide whether to continue going forward, or determine to go in another direction all together?

d) Go with the flow and know that change happens

If you tend towards a you may experience quite a bit of frustration as changes occur. If this resonates for you perhaps it’s time to seriously listen to your complaining mind to take action that will empower you in new and productive ways. Perhaps there are people who can be a resource to help you adjust at work, or who can be valuable networking ‘partners’ if you are looking for a new place to do what you love to do.

If you tend towards b, and d are you learning what will support you in shifting with the changes that are occurring? Are you connecting with new and established contacts who can support you as you move forward with the new ‘order’? Are there new allies to connect with? New technologies to master?

If you decide to opt out, as in c, and choose to head in a new direction, how will you know what you want? Take a look at what’s missing, or what’s been working, to know what your personal ‘have to haves’ are, and where you’re willing to compromise. Now’s the time for dreaming and taking those dreams seriously. Get busy making a plan that works for you, and put it into action.

Maybe you find you’ll do all of these, for a period of time.

The Case for Humble Executives

Procter & Gamble’s chief executive, A.G. Lafley, pictured in June, struck a humble tone with shareholders last week. 


The Mindfulness for Emerging Leaders Classes I teach for MBA students focuses on emotional intelligence and surely that includes listening skills.

Here is something from that might interest you:

The Case for Humble Executives

Source:, Author: Joann S. Lublin

Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Executive A.G. Lafley struck a humble tone during last week’s annual shareholders meeting.

Taking the blame for the consumer-products company’s weak performance, the departing CEO told investors “the buck stops with me” and assured them his successor would do better. Mr. Lafley was responding to investor criticism of P&G’s strategy and recent stock-price performance. He will stay on as executive chairman after David Taylor becomes CEO Nov. 1.

Among executives, humility “is the flavor du jour,” says Fred Hassan,a former CEO of Schering-Plough Corp. and author of a book on leadership. Companies increasingly prize humble leaders because they listen well, admit mistakes and share the limelight, recruiters and coaches say.

“The servant leadership model promotes collaboration,” says Dale E. Jones, chief executive of recruiters Diversified Search Inc.

That’s easier said than done for corporate climbers. At a seminar for aspiring CEOs this year, Mr. Hassan described how they could promote themselves but remain humble, warning them against aggressive self-promotion. For instance, he advises, don’t circumvent the boss and brag about your work to the boss’s boss.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. sought a CEO with humble servant leadership during a hunt completed by Mr. Jones last year. Anthony “Tony” N. Thompson, hired to head the chain, “exhibited those two characteristics strongly,” remembers his predecessor, James H. Morgan. Humility represents “an important trait in our company,” adds Mr. Morgan, who remains chairman.

Some may wonder if it is just as good to seem humble.

Faux humility annoys people, explains Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School professor of business administration who co-wrote a research paper about the shortcomings of “humblebragging,” boasts masquerading as self-deprecating complaints.

Consider the job candidate who says “I work too hard” when asked to describe their shortcomings. Researchers found that opening up about real weaknesses “leads to a better likelihood of getting a job,” she says.

“If you have to act humble, it won’t work. You either are or you’re not,” concurs Mr. Morgan.

Oscar Munoz, the new chief of United Continental Holdings Inc.,started his tenure last month with an apology to customers and employees and a vow to spend his first 90 days on a listening tour with staff. Mr. Munoz suffered a heart attack on Oct. 15, the day he was due to meet with union leaders, and has remained hospitalized.

Frank Blake, a retired chairman and CEO of Home Depot Inc., says he stressed his limited retail-industry experience when directors of the do-it-yourself chain wanted to promote him to the top job in 2007. A General Electric Co. alumnus, he had worked at Home Depot for five years.

“I don’t think I am the right guy,” Mr. Blake recalls warning board members.

Mr. Blake believes his scant retail know-how made it easier to be a humble leader of Home Depot. During his nearly eight-year command, he also favored colleagues with a similar style. “You were better off acknowledging what you needed to work on” than being boastful, he observes.

A Bausch & Lomb division head in “self-promotion mode” wound up getting ousted a few years ago, recollects Mr. Hassan, its then-chairman.

Recruited from a much bigger employer, the division head at the eye-products concern pushed to expand into product areas that would impress the board, but his division needed a turnaround, Mr. Hassan says. Subordinates complained that he ignored their problems, such as repairing ties with certain customers. “Had he been humble,” Mr. Hassan notes, “he would have set the right priorities.”

Some executives spend years developing humble listening skills—asWilliam M. Lambert did before and after his 2008 advancement to CEO of MSA Safety Inc., a maker and supplier of safety products.

Bob Rogers, president of Development Dimensions International, a leadership consultancy, began coaching him when he took charge of MSA’s North American unit in 2003. Mr. Rogers counted how often Mr. Lambert told his management team what to do rather than request their input. He issued orders a lot.

His team members told the coach that “Bill has preconceived ideas and he doesn’t allow for full discussion,” Mr. Lambert remembers. The executive asked a trusted peer to check his behavior.

Nevertheless, directors told Mr. Lambert he came across as overconfident and unwilling to listen during his second year in the corner office. His reviews improved after he showed respect for board members’ ideas.

“As a leader, you need to have a strong ego,” Mr. Lambert says. “But you can’t have a big ego.”

It should go without saying that humble leaders don’t steal credit from colleagues. “Credit when you do well will come to you,” Krispy Kreme’s Mr. Morgan says he used to assure his executives. Not everyone listened.

One lieutenant disappeared while subordinates developed new products and equipment, only to claim credit when they were unveiled to the top brass.

“He took the limelight,” Mr. Morgan recalls. “He didn’t understand the humility part.” Krispy Kreme fired the man a year later.

Source:, Author: Joann S. Lublin

Is Your Boss a Jerk? Are you? Time for an Emotional Intelligence Check.

No Time to be Nice at Work

By Christine Porath,

MEAN bosses could have killed my father. I vividly recall walking into a hospital room outside of Cleveland to see my strong, athletic dad lying with electrodes strapped to his bare chest. What put him there? I believe it was work-related stress. For years he endured two uncivil bosses.

Rudeness and bad behavior have all grown over the last decades, particularly at work. For nearly 20 years I’ve been studying, consulting and collaborating with organizations around the world to learn more about the costs of this incivility. How we treat one another at work matters. Insensitive interactions have a way of whittling away at people’s health, performance and souls.

Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford professor and the author of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” argues that when people experience intermittent stressors like incivility for too long or too often, their immune systems pay the price. We also may experience major health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and ulcers.

Intermittent stressors — like experiencing or witnessing uncivil incidents or even replaying one in your head — elevate levels of hormones called glucocorticoids throughout the day, potentially leading to a host of health problems, including increased appetite and obesity. A study published in 2012 that tracked women for 10 years concluded that stressful jobs increased the risk of a cardiovascular event by 38 percent.

Bosses produce demoralized employees through a string of actions: walking away from a conversation because they lose interest; answering calls in the middle of meetings without leaving the room; openly mocking people by pointing out their flaws or personality quirks in front of others; reminding their subordinates of their “role” in the organization and “title”; taking credit for wins, but pointing the finger at others when problems arise. Employees who are harmed by this behavior, instead of sharing ideas or asking for help, hold back.

I’ve surveyed hundreds of people across organizations spanning more than 17 industries, and asked people why they behaved uncivilly. Over half of them claim it is because they are overloaded, and more than 40 percent say they have no time to be nice. But respect doesn’t necessarily require extra time. It’s about how something is conveyed; tone and nonverbal manner are crucial.

INCIVILITY also hijacks workplace focus. According to a survey of more than 4,500 doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel, 71 percent tied disruptive behavior, such as abusive, condescending or insulting personal conduct, to medical errors, and 27 percent tied such behavior to patient deaths.

My studies with Amir Erez, a management professor at the University of Florida, show that people working in an environment characterized by incivility miss information that is right in front of them. They are no longer able to process it as well or as efficiently as they would otherwise.

In one study, the experimenter belittled the peer group of the participants, who then performed 33 percent worse on anagram word puzzles and came up with 39 percent fewer creative ideas during a brainstorming task focused on how they might use a brick. In our second study, a stranger — a “busy professor” encountered en route to the experiment — was rude to participants by admonishing them for bothering her. Their performance was 61 percent worse on word puzzles, and they produced 58 percent fewer ideas in the brick task than those who had not been treated rudely. We found the same pattern for those who merely witnessed incivility: They performed 22 percent worse on word puzzles and produced 28 percent fewer ideas in the brainstorming task.

Incivility shuts people down in other ways, too. Employees contribute less and lose their conviction, whether because of a boss saying, “If I wanted to know what you thought, I’d ask you,” or screaming at an employee who overlooks a typo in an internal memo.

• Puts others down

These are the rude behaviors people most often admit to seeing in themselves.
Customers behave the same way. In studies I did with the marketing professors Deborah MacInnis and Valerie S. Folkes at the University of Southern California, we found that people were less likely to patronize a business that has an employee who is perceived as rude — whether the rudeness is directed at them or at other employees. Witnessing a short negative interaction leads customers to generalize about other employees, the organization and even the brand.

Many are skeptical about the returns of civility. A quarter believe that they will be less leader-like, and nearly 40 percent are afraid that they’ll be taken advantage of if they are nice at work. Nearly half think that it is better to flex one’s muscles to garner power. They are jockeying for position in a competitive workplace and don’t want to put themselves at a disadvantage.

Why is respect — or lack of it — so potent? Charles Horton Cooley’s 1902 notion of the “looking glass self” explains that we use others’ expressions (smiles), behaviors (acknowledging us) and reactions (listening to us or insulting us) to define ourselves. How we believe others see us shapes who we are. We ride a wave of pride or get swallowed in a sea of embarrassment based on brief interactions that signal respect or disrespect. Individuals feel valued and powerful when respected. Civility lifts people. Incivility holds people down. It makes people feel small.

Even though a growing number of people are disturbed by incivility, I’ve found that it has continued to climb over the last two decades. A quarter of those I surveyed in 1998 reported that they were treated rudely at work at least once a week. That figure rose to nearly half in 2005, then to just over half in 2011.

Incivility often grows out of ignorance, not malice. A surgeon told me that until he received some harsh feedback, he was clueless that so many people thought he was a jerk. He was simply treating residents the way he had been trained.

Technology distracts us. We’re wired to our smartphones. It’s increasingly challenging to be present and to listen. It’s tempting to fire off texts and emails during meetings; to surf the Internet while on conference calls or in classes; and, for some, to play games rather than tune in. While offering us enormous conveniences, electronic communication also leads to misunderstandings. It’s easy to misread intentions. We can take out our frustrations, hurl insults and take people down a notch from a safe distance.

Although in surveys people say they are afraid they will not rise in an organization if they are really friendly and helpful, the civil do succeed. My recent studies with Alexandra Gerbasi and Sebastian Schorch at the Grenoble École de Management, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, show that behavior involving politeness and regard for others in the workplace pays off. In a study in a biotechnology company, those seen as civil were twice as likely to be viewed as leaders.
Civility elicits perceptions of warmth and competence. Susan T. Fiske, a professor at Princeton, and Amy J. C. Cuddy, a professor at Harvard, with their colleagues have conducted research that suggests that these two traits drive our impressions of others, accounting for more than 90 percent of the variation in the positive or negative impressions we form of those around us. These impressions dictate whether people will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you and support you.

The catch: There can be a perceived inverse relationship between warmth and competence. A strength in one can suggest a weakness of the other. Some people are seen as competent but cold — he’s very smart, but people will hate working for him. Or they’re seen as warm but incompetent — she’s really friendly, but probably not very smart.

Leaders can use simple rules to win the hearts and minds of their people — with huge returns. Making small adjustments such as listening, smiling, sharing and thanking others more often can have a huge impact. In one unpublished experiment I conducted, a smile and simple thanks (as compared with not doing this) resulted in people being viewed as 27 percent warmer, 13 percent more competent and 22 percent more civil.

Civil gestures can spread. Ochsner Health System, a large Louisiana health care provider, implemented what it calls the “10/5 way.” Employees are encouraged to make eye contact if they’re within 10 feet of someone, and say hello if they’re within five feet. Ochsner reports improvements on patient satisfaction and patient referrals.

To be fully attentive and improve your listening skills, remove obstacles. John Gilboy told me about a radical approach he took as an executive of a multibillion-dollar consumer products company. Desperate to stop excessive multitasking in his weekly meetings, he decided to experiment: he placed a box at the door and required all attendees to drop their smartphones in it so that everyone would be fully engaged and attentive to one another. He didn’t allow people to use their laptops either. The change was a challenge; initially employees were “like crack addicts as the box was buzzing,” he said. But the meetings became vastly more productive. Within weeks, they slashed the length of the meetings by half. He reported more presence, participation and, as the tenor of the meetings changed, fun.

What about the jerks who seem to succeed despite being rude and thoughtless? Those people have succeeded despite their incivility, not because of it. Studies by Morgan W. McCall Jr., a professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California, including those with Michael Lombardo while they were with the Center for Creative Leadership, have shown that the No. 1 characteristic associated with an executive’s failure is an insensitive, abrasive or bullying style.

Power can force compliance. But insensitivity or disrespect often sabotages support in crucial situations. Employees may fail to share important information and withhold efforts or resources. Sooner or later, uncivil people sabotage their success — or at least their potential. Payback may come immediately or when they least expect it, and it may be intentional or unconscious.

Civility pays dividends. J. Gary Hastings, a retired judge in Los Angeles, told me that when he informally polled juries about what determined their favor, he found that respect — and how attorneys behaved — was crucial. Juries were swayed based on thin slices of civil or arrogant behavior.

Across many decisions — whom to hire, who will be most effective in teams, who will be able to be influential — civility affects judgments and may shift the balance toward those who are respectful.

Given the enormous cost of incivility, it should not be ignored. We all need to reconsider our behavior. You are always in front of some jury. In every interaction, you have a choice: Do you want to lift people up or hold them down?

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership: Men take note…Women are leading the way.

Overcoming the Confidence Gap for Women

by Tony Schwartz,

Superhero Business Woman

When I met Lynne Doughtie this week, I was struck by how different it felt sitting with her than with any male chief executive I had met over the years. Six weeks ago, Ms. Doughtie was elected United States chairwoman and chief executive of KPMG. When she takes over the role on July 1, she will become the first woman to serve in both of those roles for a Big Four accounting firm. Cathy Engelbert was chosen as chief executive of Deloitte in February.

In my short time with Ms. Doughtie, I found her to be warm, open, gracious and introspective – in short, qualities more traditionally associated with women. I felt relaxed, comfortable and unhurried talking with her, in part because she seemed more focused on having a conversation than on announcing or positioning herself.

By making this observation, I’m reinforcing a stereotype about women — and by implication a parallel stereotype about men, and especially male leaders, as dominant, aggressive and certain. So be it. For all the exceptions, these stereotypes feel true more often than they do not.

What seems undeniable is that we need more leaders who make people feel the way Ms. Doughtie made me feel. I say that for a simple reason. The better leaders make us feel – including about ourselves — the better we are likely to perform.

In the most interesting research I have come across comparing male and female leaders, the consulting firm Zenger Folkman studied 16,000 of them – two-thirds men, one-third women – as well as their managers, subordinates and peers.

Women rated better than men on 12 out of 16 competencies. These included “takes initiative,” “drives for results” and “stretches for results,” all traditional measures of effective leadership. They also included every one of the more human competencies — “practices self-development,” “develops others,” “motivates and inspires others,” “builds relationships” and “collaboration and teamwork.” These leadership qualities are more critical than ever in a highly networked, fast-moving, interdependent global economy. Traditionally, they have been valued far below more technical skills.

“Women do tend to be collaborative, and that is important in a world and a work force that is changing so fast,” Ms. Doughtie told me. “The challenge in most organizations is to innovate and adapt. An autocratic style doesn’t serve that. You need different perspectives at the table from diverse backgrounds.”

Interestingly, the female leaders in the Zenger Folkman study were rated about equal with the men when it came to solving problems and analyzing issues. The only competencies in which men rated higher than women were technical expertise, innovation and a strategic perspective about the outside world and other groups.

In another study, the organization Catalyst found that companies with the highest representation of women in top management consistently experienced better financial performance than the group of companies with the lowest.

Despite such findings, the number of women in top leadership roles remains depressingly low and slow to change. Women make up more than half of the work force, but they still represent less than 5 percent of the chief executives of the largest companies, and about 15 percent of senior executives.

Only two dozen presidents among the world’s 196 countries are women. Nearly 50 percent of those attending law school today are women, but only 20 percent of the partners at law firms are women.

The most obvious obstacle to the rise of women in leadership roles is the degree to which male-dominated corporate cultures still reward long work hours. As Prof. Robin J. Ely of Harvard Business School and her colleagues reported recently, men often feel compelled to sacrifice their families to advance their careers, while many women feel that the cost to their families is too great to pay. Even when women choose to pursue their careers, organizations continue to devalue or undervalue the range of leadership skills they often bring to the table.

In addition, as Sheryl Sandberg has pointed out, women often unwittingly undermine themselves. The event at which I met Ms. Doughtie this week was a conference on women’s leadership tied to a Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament, both sponsored by KPMG. Ms. Doughtie’s talk was a summary of the findings in a study that the firm commissioned about women’s attitudes toward leadership.

Nearly two-thirds of the 3,000 professional and college-age women in the KPMG study expressed a desire to someday become senior leaders. Only 40 percent were consistently able to envision themselves as leaders. While men often overvalue their strengths, women too frequently undervalue theirs. Call it a continuing confidence gap.

Eighty-six percent of the women surveyed were taught be “nice to others” growing up and to do well in school, but less than 50 percent were taught leadership lessons. Two-thirds said they were cautious about sharing their point of view at work or taking steps to become leaders.

Ms. Doughtie’s early advantage was having a role model in her own mother, a successful businesswomen who ran a family trucking business, among others. “I had role models all along the way who gave me confidence,” she said.

One was John Veihmeyer, KPMG’s global chairman, who grew up with five sisters, each of whom excelled academically and professionally. Mr. Veihmeyer pushed to name Ms. Doughtie the managing partner of KPMG’s United States advisory business 10 years ago, when others felt she was too young for such responsibility.

Two-thirds of the women in the KPMG study felt they had learned their most important lessons about leadership from other women, and 82 percent of working women in the study believed that networking with female leaders would help them advance their careers. Even so, four out of five women did not feel comfortable asking for mentors.

Ms. Doughtie will now have an opportunity to influence substantially the culture of a company that employs thousands of young women (and men). One way is by constantly retelling her story and by building a network of mentors for young women, both to help them navigate their career paths and encourage them to believe more in themselves.

Receiving praise from mentors and leaders, for example, was the single biggest factor influencing women’s perceptions of themselves in the study, more even than receiving raises and promotions.

At a broader level, my hope is that Ms. Doughtie — and Ms. Engelbert, who is also the mother of two children — will draw on her experiences to create more humane, flexible and sustainable work environments in a profession long known for relentlessly brutal working hours.


How’s Your Bucket List?

The Moral Bucket List

By David Brooks


Rachel Levit. Photography by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.

A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

So a few years ago I set out to discover how those deeply good people got that way. I didn’t know if I could follow their road to character (I’m a pundit, more or less paid to appear smarter and better than I really am). But I at least wanted to know what the road looked like.


Rachel Levit. Photography by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.

If we wanted to be gimmicky, we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list, the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life. Here, quickly, are some of them:

THE HUMILITY SHIFT We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.

But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.

SELF-DEFEAT External success is achieved through competition with others. But character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, realized early on that his core sin was his temper. He developed a moderate, cheerful exterior because he knew he needed to project optimism and confidence to lead. He did silly things to tame his anger. He took the names of the people he hated, wrote them down on slips of paper and tore them up and threw them in the garbage. Over a lifetime of self-confrontation, he developed a mature temperament. He made himself strong in his weakest places.

THE DEPENDENCY LEAP Many people give away the book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as a graduation gift. This book suggests that life is an autonomous journey. We master certain skills and experience adventures and certain challenges on our way to individual success. This individualist worldview suggests that character is this little iron figure of willpower inside. But people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside.

People on this road see life as a process of commitment making. Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are. Have you developed deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you toward the good? In the realm of the intellect, a person of character has achieved a settled philosophy about fundamental things. In the realm of emotion, she is embedded in a web of unconditional loves. In the realm of action, she is committed to tasks that can’t be completed in a single lifetime.

ENERGIZING LOVE Dorothy Day led a disorganized life when she was young: drinking, carousing, a suicide attempt or two, following her desires, unable to find direction. But the birth of her daughter changed her. She wrote of that birth, “If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.”

That kind of love decenters the self. It reminds you that your true riches are in another. Most of all, this love electrifies. It puts you in a state of need and makes it delightful to serve what you love. Day’s love for her daughter spilled outward and upward. As she wrote, “No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”

She made unshakable commitments in all directions. She became a Catholic, started a radical newspaper, opened settlement houses for the poor and lived among the poor, embracing shared poverty as a way to build community, to not only do good, but be good. This gift of love overcame, sometimes, the natural self-centeredness all of us feel.

THE CALL WITHIN THE CALL We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling. These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.

Frances Perkins was a young woman who was an activist for progressive causes at the start of the 20th century. She was polite and a bit genteel. But one day she stumbled across the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and watched dozens of garment workers hurl themselves to their deaths rather than be burned alive. That experience shamed her moral sense and purified her ambition. It was her call within a call.

After that, she turned herself into an instrument for the cause of workers’ rights. She was willing to work with anybody, compromise with anybody, push through hesitation. She even changed her appearance so she could become a more effective instrument for the movement. She became the first woman in a United States cabinet, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and emerged as one of the great civic figures of the 20th century.

THE CONSCIENCE LEAP In most lives there’s a moment when people strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or been born into a certain family. They leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.

The novelist George Eliot (her real name was Mary Ann Evans) was a mess as a young woman, emotionally needy, falling for every man she met and being rejected. Finally, in her mid-30s she met a guy named George Lewes. Lewes was estranged from his wife, but legally he was married. If Eliot went with Lewes she would be labeled an adulterer by society. She’d lose her friends, be cut off by her family. It took her a week to decide, but she went with Lewes. “Light and easily broken ties are what I neither desire theoretically nor could live for practically. Women who are satisfied with such ties do not act as I have done,” she wrote.

She chose well. Her character stabilized. Her capacity for empathetic understanding expanded. She lived in a state of steady, devoted love with Lewes, the kind of second love that comes after a person is older, scarred a bit and enmeshed in responsibilities. He served her and helped her become one of the greatest novelists of any age. Together they turned neediness into constancy.

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.

The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.

This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance. Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.

External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquillity. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.

Those are the people we want to be.


David Brooks is an Op-Ed columnist and the author, most recently, of “The Road to Character,” from which this essay is adapted.

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