‘Tis Better to Give than To Receive: End of Year Charitable Giving


For Giving Tuesday, I’m bringing back this piece from 2012 on how I think about charitable giving.

Originally posted on A human capitalist:

Happy holidays y’all!

In the spirit that it is better to give than to receive, I made my end of year charitable gifts yesterday.  I thought I’d share a little bit about how I give and to which organizations I give.  I don’t use Charity Navigator or any other charity ratings site.  But I do think about what I value and try to line up my donations with that.

This year, I gave to support:

  • The global poor.  More than a billion people live in absolute poverty, none of them in the U.S.  To aid them, I donate to Give Directly, which provides direct financial assistance to those in need.  To put it more plainly, they give money to the poor.  They don’t dictate how it’s spent, but they do research it.  They’ve found that cash transfers benefit children, have a long-term positive impact on household income, and aren’t…

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Research: How Female CEOs Actually Get to the Top

Harvard Business Review:

Sharing here a post that my friend and collaborator Vanessa Lipschitz and I wrote for the Harvard Business Review’s blog, published earlier today.

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

Ambitious young women hoping to run a major business someday are often advised to take a particular career path: get an undergraduate degree from the most prestigious college you can, an MBA from a selective business school, then land a job at a top consulting firm or investment bank. From there, move between companies as you hopscotch your way into bigger roles and more responsibility.

That’s what we were told as undergraduates, and later on as students at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School. It’s what Meg Whitman did, more or less, and it’s what Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management and the only woman running a top-ten business school, recently recommended: “If we want our best and brightest young women to become great leaders…we have to convince more of them that … they should be going for the big jobs,” which for her…

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Everything is Effort, Even Positive Feedback

In The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing, Ann Patchett asks, “Why is that we understand that playing the cello will require work but we relegate writing to the magic of inspiration?”

It’s similarly mixed expectations of the effort and skill required for excellence that we apply to giving positive and constructive feedback.

Constructive feedback is playing the cello. We understand that it is a learned skill, requiring effort. With frameworks and role-plays, we teach people how to give it. And then we hold them accountable for doing so.

Positive feedback is writing. We relegate it to moments of inspiration, when we feel moved to give it. We don’t teach it as a skill, requiring effort and practice. And we don’t hold people accountable for giving it.

This is too bad. When we give high-quality positive feedback, we reinforce growth, effort, and the behaviors that drive our business objectives; we sharpen the judgment of our teams about what constitutes good work; and we elevate the strengths of our teams above their weaknesses.

The impact of giving high quality positive feedback can feel like magic–people growing, working harder, focusing on the right things. But it doesn’t happen by magic. Like all learned skills, it requires effort.

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To Manage is Human

I am a good manager.  Mostly because I try to be.  You can be too.  The bar is lamentably low.

I am kind.  I care about you as a person.  I seek to find and nurture your best qualities.  I see your weaknesses too.  I don’t judge you for them.  I also have weaknesses.  And always will.  I like to know how to manage around them, our weaknesses.  I support your ambitions, even if they aren’t immediately aligned with what’s best for the company or me.  I celebrate your birthday in a non-generic way and lend you books that I think you’ll like.  I listen for the strain in your voice to get a sense of whether you feel overwhelmed, overworked, or tired.  When I hear it, I ask about it.  I ask if we can reshuffle the deck or get you support or just not do something on the list right now.  When it’s worse than that, and you come to me in tears, I give you a hug and lend you my sunglasses.  We can talk about it later.  I do not judge you for being human and having feelings.  I am so grateful when you do the same for me.  When I hear enthusiasm in your voice instead, I match it with my own.  Even if I just had a bad meeting with my boss.  I drop that and try to be present for you.  None of this is about mollycoddling.  It’s about acknowledging that we work best when we feel whole and secure.  It is about kindness.

I am a coach.  At any moment in time, I like to have a sense of what you are capable of now, and what you’ll be capable of next.  I am grateful for now and pay a lot of attention to next.  This is day-to-day, maybe week-to-week, definitely not at the longer timespan of a formal learning plan.  When I see glimmers of next, I praise it as quickly and specifically as possible.  I avoid generic “thank you” emails just as I avoid “Happy birthday!” Facebook wall posts.  They are nearly meaningless.  I do send short, personal, specific emails acknowledging effort and growth.  And then I try to show you how to take the next step better.  This might be by asking questions and having you think it through.  It might be through written feedback, informative and non-judgmental.  It might be through my own example.  It might be by having you get together with someone else who can do next better than me.  We all want to grow, and I want to help you.  In doing so, the team will get better faster and deliver more and better work that way.

I coach the team, not just you.  How well we work together isn’t just about how well we work together.  It’s about feeling like we share a common purpose.  I try to make sure we all feel like we have one.  And it’s the same one.  It’s also about making sure that we have efficient team structures in place.  That we have 1-1s, that these have a rhythm to them.  That we have the right regular meetings to reflect the work we need to do.  And it’s also about how well you work together, without me.  You need to understand and value each other’s strengths. You need to develop rhythms for collaborating.  I need to help you do these things.  To put you in situations where you see for yourself your teammate’s “ness.”  To create a place where you practice working together.  To suggest better ways of working together.  To encourage you when I see you collaborating effectively.  You are the team.

I seek excellence.  Done is better than perfect.  But perfect is the goal.  So the same effort I put into understanding what you are capable of now and next I put into being a discerning consumer of work.  Is what you just did good or excellent?  What would make it excellent?  Do I understand this myself?  Or do I need to talk to someone else in order to better understand this?  If I don’t understand what excellent is, I cannot coach you, the team, or the organization in its direction.  Nor can we achieve excellence without reflecting on what we do and how we can do it better.  The closer we get to making this an everyday practice, the faster we will improve.  If all we do is build or build and measure and we never pause to reflect and learn, we will never approach excellence.  Learning is an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly practice.  The more frequently you do it, the less clunky it is to do.  The faster you approach excellence.

To manage is human.  Long-term impact does not come from “managing for results.”  It comes from being kind, from coaching, and from pursuing excellence.  Without these things, you might get some results for some time.  But your best people will leave.  And the new ones you get won’t be the same caliber.  And what you could have built will slip away.  It will be done, not perfect.

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When Working Hard is a Sign of Weakness

After leaving Quad Learning, I promised more writing.  But I didn’t deliver, at least to you.  As I started writing, I found that my writing was taking the form of a single, longer piece about management.  It’s now thirty pages, single-spaced.  And I’m still chugging along.  So my writing is mostly mine for now.  But after getting back from vacation last week, I had coffee with someone who proudly spoke of work as an “all-consuming calling.”  It prompted me to write this shorter piece, which I’m sharing now.

I’ve known a lot of managers who consistently work 70 or 80 hours a week and wear it as a badge of pride.  Some of them are friendly and much-loved.  People speak highly of their dedication to their work.  Some are micro-managing taskmasters.  People speak bitterly of how they “have no life.”  But most of them, whether much-loved or despised, are terrible managers.

I should know.  I’ve been one.  And even after I became a good manager, I became a much better one when I started actively trying to work less.  After running the 50-hour week experiment last fall, I realized that it was harder to work 50 hours a week than to work 70.  If working 50 hours was harder, then it would take a better manager to figure out how to do it.  I wanted to be a better manager.  I wanted to figure out how to do it.  This kicked off an incredibly productive period of experimentation with my schedule and my approach to management.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t times when 70 or 80 or more hours are called for, even by the best of managers.  In a crisis or turnaround, not putting in the hours can mean losing an opportunity for transformative change.  I’ve stepped into my share of these, from planning the transformation of the New Orleans Public School system after Hurricane Katrina to taking over a chaotic and underperforming marketing and admissions function halfway through the recruiting cycle at Quad Learning.

It can also make sense to work around the clock at the beginning or end of a big push, where in addition to our daily work, we need to invest in creating new things. I’ve done this too, including the early days of setting up NMSI and each time I took over a new function at Quad Learning.

But more often than not, consistently working 70 or 80 hours a week is a sign of managerial weakness.  It’s sending last minute emails instead of thinking about what needs to get done in advance.  It’s using email to work through complex issues.  It’s calling ad hoc meetings rather than reviewing whether your schedule over the next week and month meets your team’s needs.  It’s failing to make sure the right people are in the meeting and that the appropriate pre-work is done.  It’s not proactively scheduling time when the whole team is in the office together.  It’s prioritizing your inbox and leaving the important stuff for the late hours, when you have less energy but keep working anyway.  It’s failing to hire, develop, and/or empower your team to be excellent at their jobs.  It’s assigning people tasks instead of empowering them with areas of responsibility.  It’s renegotiating commitments each week rather than establishing routines.

So if you tell me you work 70 hours a week, I want to know, “Why?”  I’ll be listening to hear whether something has suddenly, unexpectedly changed or whether you’re investing in a new project.  And then I’ll ask, “What would it take for you to work 50 hours a week?”  If you don’t have a ready answer, then you don’t understand why you work so much.  This means you aren’t trying to work less.  And if you aren’t trying to work less, then you aren’t trying to build an increasingly efficient communication architecture, and you aren’t maximizing the development of your team.  You likely aren’t a good manager.




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Home and Away


Home is resilience.  If it rains, I have boots.  If my allergies flare, I have meds.  If I spill coffee on my jeans, I have a clean pair.

Home is familiar strangers.  The light-skinned man with Tourette’s calling out, “Street Sense, dollah donation” in front of the Ace Hardware on P St.  My fellow travelers in the early morning ashtanga class.  The Ethiopian women at Whole Foods, the one at the coffee bar and the one who checks out my groceries.

Home is noticing small changes.  A leafy city, no longer awash in bud green; the steel chairs that have been replaced with vermillion ones; the return of humidity.

Home is a place where things bend toward me.  Linens the way I like them, tight and crisp.  Products to keep my unruly hair in as much order as it will take.  All of my books, arrayed and waiting.  A fridge full of my staples—corn tortillas, tofu, arugula, cheese, yogurt, sriracha.

Home is independence. My city, my schedule, my bikeshare, my yoga studio.

Home is love.  My sister picking me up from the airport.  A too late Thursday night at Thai Crossing for a friend’s birthday.  My old team over to share champagne and macaroons, the spoils of time away.


Riding camels into the Sahara.


French Open game faces.









Away is adventure.  Camel-riding in the Sahara, bicycling all over Paris, peering down at the Atlantic from cliffs 2,000 feet above.

Away is serendipity.  Two of your favorite people, also in London at the same time. Being in the right places at the right times to see the French Open and the Matisse paper cutouts exhibition.  Chancing upon a skating competition at the Eiffel Tower.

Away is taking in big things, firsts and superlatives.  New landscapes, cracked and rising in unexpected ways.  The quiet of Westminster Abby when everyone else is gone.  A first hammam visited, first vino verde drunk, first conch and barnacle eaten.  The best macaroons, baguette, and croissants.

Away is tiresome.  Rental car lines, flight cancellations, wrong trains.  Unspoken languages, unfavorable exchange rates, unfamiliar beds and baths.

Away is dependence.  Relying on fellow travelers to help with directions and shopkeepers to meet you halfway to understand what you are trying to say.

Away is love.  Friends who speak languages you don’t, share their cities, and make their homes your home.

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The Next Chapter

Start walking toward Shams.  Your legs will get heavy
and tired.  Then comes a moment
of feeling the wings you’ve grown,
Rumi, “Unfold Your Own Myth”

For the last year, I’ve written very little on this blog.  I’ve been busy building Quad Learning, a startup that partners with community colleges to offer honors programs for students that want to go on to get bachelor’s degrees.  Despite huge passion for the mission and the best team you could ask for, I recently decided to leave the company.

In my year with Quad, my teams turned around marketing and admissions to deliver the first paying class of students, defined our student services model to breakout graduation and transfer outcomes, and developed a scalable approach to college operations.  Amidst this, I taught hypothesis testing to anyone and everyone and learned how to be an effective manager and developer of people.

Along the way, my legs got heavy and tired.  Now, I am lucky: I can feel the contours of the wings I’ve grown.  But they’re new, and I’m just learning about them.  Before I throw myself into the next opportunity, I want to take time to reflect so that I can move forward from a stronger position.

So for this next stretch, expect a lot more writing from me.  Writing about startups and edtech, about management and developing people, about community colleges and their students, about my experience of it all.

I look forward to engaging with y’all, and together, lifting.

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