Almost February, and 2013 has seemed a very intense year so far, has it not? Or is that just me? Some years kind of take a while to announce their theme, but 2013 is grabbing my attention from the cold open.
Two very different people died this week: Richard Hackman and Linda Riss Pugach. I spent a lot of time learning from Dr. Hackman. I spent much time trying to learn something from Mrs. Pugach, and failed.
Richard Hackman was a professor of psychology and business at Harvard, and an expert on team dynamics. From the New York Times:
Besides tracking the interplay of pilots, co-pilots and navigators aboard civilian and military planes, Dr. Hackman observed corporate boards, sports teams, orchestra players, telephone-line repair crews, hospital workers and restaurant kitchen staff members.
And in recent years, for his 2011 book, "Collaborative Intelligence," he was allowed to observe interactions within the American intelligence, defense, law-enforcement and crisis-management community.
"Although my main aspiration has been to provide guidance that will be useful to team leaders and members," he wrote, "there are no 'one-minute' prescriptions here -- creating, leading and serving on teams is not that simple."
I'd highly recommend Dr. Hackman's Leading Teams if you are in a team-based workplace (or, for that matter, if you coach your kid's soccer team or are maid of honor for a friend's upcoming Big Fat Wedding). If I had to sum up his vision in one sentence, it's that effective team leadership requires you to be a good person. Not necessarily a charismatic or technologically expert person. But a person who cares enough about the work to ensure that it gets done right, and cares enough about the workers to make sure they're treated right while they're doing it.
Good team leaders define the team's project clearly, so everyone knows what success looks like. They create, model, and enforce norms of respect and openness in communication. They make sure that everyone knows what part he or she is playing and how that part fits into the whole. They provide their team with the tools and time to do the job right.
Business books are a wildly mixed lot of the jargony, the painfully obvious, the frankly insane, the vaguely insulting, and the occasionally brilliant. Dr. Hackman's work was reliably in the latter category: rigorous, humane, and applicable to many, many situations.
Linda Pugach also died this week. Again, from the Times:
She was 22, a sheltered, dark-haired Bronx beauty said to look like Elizabeth Taylor.
He was a decade older, a suave lawyer who courted her with flowers, rides in his powder-blue Cadillac and trips to glittering Manhattan nightclubs. He was married, though not to her.
Before long, tiring of his unfulfilled promises to divorce his wife, she ended their affair. He hired three men, who threw lye in her face, blinding her, and went to prison for more than a decade.
Afterward, she married him.
I learned about Bert and Linda Pugach a few years ago, when the movie "Crazy Love" came out. I watched it, fascinated to learn -- nothing.
Bert and Linda Pugach seem aggressively normal, a bickering, flashy-dressing old couple like any other. Though eager to exploit their story, neither of them seem to have the slightest interest in self-examination, or any real sense of the horror of their relationship. When she shrugs and says that it made sense to marry him ... in a bizarre way, you can see her point. She has no job skills, no inner resources, and this man loves her and he's obviously not going to do it again. They fit, in some weird horrible way. The world gawks at them and they wave their cigarettes and say, "What? Take a picture, it'll last longer." From Dana Stevens' review in Slate:
A tiny woman in tiger-striped wigs and rhinestone shades, [Linda Pugach] sits in airless-looking rooms with plastic-covered furniture, smoking long, thin cigarettes and spinning the tale of her own victimhood in a wry, gravelly voice. She never really accounts for what convinced her to take Burt back, and, to be fair, it's an impossible question to expect an interviewer to push hard on. Whatever tangle of guilt, remorse, love, and revenge that ties these two together is far too hardened by now to pick apart. On the other hand, Burt is a maddeningly slippery interviewee and one whom the filmmakers should have had no qualms about pressing further. He's at once confessional and evasive, and blissfully unaware of the irony as he recounts his own sufferings after his arrest. "Those paddy wagons were terrible," he recalls. "They had no windows." Oh, so you couldn't see anything? Kind of like the woman you just blinded?
Two deaths. A man who went everywhere--into cockpits, locker rooms, orchestra pits, star chambers--to look as deeply into human behavior as he could. And a woman who chose blindness after having it thrust upon her.
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