Series on Leadership Part 1 – What is Leadership?

January 31, 2008

Over the next few months I hope to examine, and hopefully with the help of anyone reading, intend to come to a better understanding of leadership in the modern world.

Why examine leadership? Few issues permeate our daily lives to the extent of the concept of leadership. Everyone is certainly aware of the implications of the next presidential election… few would dispute that the country is in need of better leadership (including myself… I did, however, vote for Bush…twice). Leadership not only plays a part in government and politics, but also our daily lives, whether we work at a manufacturing plant, a school, a hospital, a law firm, or even McDonald’s.

We can all certainly point out bad leaders when we work under them or when we observe them from a distance… but can we use these observations to make ourselves better leaders? More importantly, can we even define what leadership is, or what characteristics make a good or effective leader? Is leading the same as managing? Does the type of leadership that is needed vary from situation to situation?

This is a place to begin to think about what leadership is, what effect it has on our lives, and what we can do to improve ourselves as leaders. Over the next few months I hope to gain a clearer understanding of the idea of ‘leadership’. As the series progresses, please feel free to post your thoughts on the subject.


Tuesdays with Tyson – Jan. 29th, 2008

January 29, 2008

tyson2

It is time for another Tuesday with Tyson!

This week’s quote:

“I paid a worker at New York’s zoo to re-open it just for me and Robin (Mike’s wife). When we got to the gorilla cage there was 1 big silverback gorilla there just bullying all the other gorillas. They were all so powerful, but their eyes were like an innocent infant. I offered the attendant $10,000 to open the cage and let me smash that silverback’s snotbox! He declined.”

Yep, Mike is always looking out for the zoo animals that are getting bullied. What a guy!

Another quote, this time while speaking to a journalist:

“I want to throw down your kid and stomp on his testicles, and then you will know what it is like to experience waking up everyday as me. And only then will you feel my pain.”

Ouch… I’m not sure I want to feel his pain.

See you next week for more Tuesdays with Tyson!


Mars Bigfoot – Part 2

January 28, 2008

It seems there is some bad news for all of the ‘Mars Bigfoot’ fanatics out there…

NASA has released a statement saying that Mars Bigfoot is only two inches tall. Worse yet, it turns out that Mars Bigfoot is a rock. Who would have guessed that?

In any case, I am going to trust NASA and accept that Mars Bigfoot is only two inches tall. I am, however, going to provide an alternative to the ‘it is only a rock’ theory…

Perhaps Earth Bigfoot, clearly a descendant or cousin of Mars Bigfoot, is also only two inches tall. This would explain why the scientific community is having so much trouble finding him. Maybe he should be re-named ‘Little Bigfoot’ or ‘Big Littlefoot’ or something…

Just a thought.


The True Value of Diversity

January 28, 2008

What is diversity?

I am 25 years old, fairly young, probably still very naive, and I have lived my entire life in northern Ohio. Anyone from the area can tell you that Ohio is not exactly the capital of diversity in any sense, and if anyone tries to tell you that it is they are either very sheltered or they are fooling themselves. Having grown up in an area where everyone is essentially ‘like’ you, recognizing the value of diversity can be a very, very challenging task.

Upon starting my first ‘corporate’ job (working for a fortune 100 company) a couple of years ago, I was quickly put through a week-long ‘diversity training program’ that was supposed to be designed to help all employees recognize and appreciate the ‘value’ of a diverse workforce. After the first day of the training, I was pretty disappointed to find out that the ‘diversity training program’ was actually nothing more than a ‘try to tolerate your neighbors and don’t make fun of anyone at work’ training program.

I have to admit that prior to beginning my graduate degree last year I thought that I knew what diversity was and why it was important. While growing up, I had friends from other races and ethnic backgrounds… so I knew what diversity was, right? When I began my graduate program I saw that diversity is something entirely different…

Do we need to take another look at how we view diversity?

The standard method of teaching diversity in the U.S. has remained unchanged for quite some time, and I think that it may be time that we re-examine our methods.

In most elementary schools, children are first introduced to the concept of diversity by teaching them through various ‘holiday traditions exercises’… in other words, the first exposure to learning about the value of diversity that many American children receive is learning that diversity means ‘jewish kids celebrate Hanukkah’, or that ‘some african cultures celebrate Kwanzaa’, etc… as children continue into middle and high school, this approach changes to more of a ‘tolerance-based’ approach, essentially focusing on the idea that we all inhabit this earth together, and that we need to accept each other’s differences in order to get along… is this what diversity is? Does learning about diversity and cultural differences have no value other than tolerance? We seem to be telling our children (from a very young age) “Sure, we are all different, and it makes things tough… Get over it.”

More disturbingly, there is a strong movement in schools to eliminate these ‘holiday celebrations’ altogether. Although they are going about teaching diversity the wrong way, some mention of it is better than none. Numerous lawsuits have been brought forth in the past few years aimed at removing from classrooms any acknowledgment of the cultural differences that makes us all unique. Evidently, teaching children that their friends may celebrate other holidays because they belong to another religion is infringing upon their rights… Would they truly be better off by ignoring the fact that not everyone believes the same things they do? Evidently some socially conservative whack-jobs think so (and I must admit, I am fairly socially conservative when it comes to religion).

The Right Way to Teach Diversity

When I began my graduate studies, I was for the first time in my life surrounded by (and forced to work in close proximity with) people from numerous other cultures. In a matter of days, I went from having no concept of what diversity truly is to working face-to-face on a daily basis with people from India, Nepal, Croatia, Nigeria, Ghana, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, etc…

The experience of working with (and learning from) people from so many different cultures and backgrounds has been truly priceless. I have developed numerous technical and analytical skills and have had many experiences in my studies that will benefit me as my career progresses, but none of them compare to the insight I have gained from working and studying with the international students. It has become very apparent to me that the true value of understanding diversity is not the ability to be tolerant of those around you… the true value lies in the diversity itself and is a result of the various life experiences, outlooks, beliefs, and cultural differences that each member of society brings to the table. If we can learn to appreciate the value of each individual’s unique set of knowledge and beliefs, then tolerance will be a simple consequence of respecting and valuing the ideas and thoughts of others. Rather than teaching tolerance in our schools and workplaces, we should teach the concept that when we may not have the right answer to whatever problem we are facing, someone from a different background may have a unique and valuable perspective.


The Next Big Credit Crunch

January 25, 2008

Contrary to what the mass media would have you believe, Generation Y has more on its agenda than obsessing over Britney Spears, Heath Ledger, Amy Winehouse, Paris Hilton, and Facebook. As a matter of fact, most members of Generation Y in the U.S. will attend college, and many will graduate. Many may even continue on to pursue degrees in medicine, law, or other advanced degrees. Along the way, they will develop their understanding of the world around them, make new friends, and possibly even have a good time while doing it. If they are like most other modern college students, they will also rack up a massive amount of debt.

The Expense

College has become somewhat of a necessity for the modern American youth. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when only the most wealthy, driven, or inquisitive people continued their education following high school, but now almost every child from the ‘middle class’ feels compelled to go to college or risk having no real chance at wealth and the ever foggier definition of ‘success’.

But what is the real value of a college education? Does it guarantee a lucrative job offer? Does it truly improve your earning potential over the duration of your career? If so, how much debt does it justify accruing?

Here are the facts:

The average bachelor’s degree recipient will graduate with between $19,000 and $40,000 in debt. The average graduate student will graduate with an additional $31,700 in debt beyond what they accrued during their undergraduate studies. Law and medical students will graduate with $91,700 in debt on average.

At a local State University, the current tuition rate for a full time undergrad student is $4200 a semester. Add to this the expense of a dorm room and meal plan, and you can add an additional $8000 per year. This totals $16400 per year over an average of 5 years for a total cost of $82000. Ouch. You better hope that the lucrative job offer comes through… but will it?

Law students are an excellent case in point. Many, if not most, will graduate with about $100,000 worth of student loans. Payed back over the course of 25 years at an interest rate of 8%, this amounts to a monthly payment of $771.82 a month… no problem for a newly minted lawyer, right?

Wrong.

The average starting salary for a first year law associate is roughly $46,000 a year. Take out taxes and a 401k contribution and a new lawyer is taking home about $2500 a month. If they plan on starting a family, this could be a real problem. For students who rack up this kind of debt and graduate with a degree in a field like education or the liberal arts, they are screwed.

The Next Credit Meltdown

This all sounds real scary, but most college students aren’t in this position, right?

Wrong again. Look at the facts.

This could be the foundation for an economic crisis larger than the housing crisis that we have been feeling the effects of lately. With so much debt, many of these students will have two options: pay off their student loans and live in an apartment until they are 50, or try to buy a house and start a family. If they go with the latter option, it seems obvious that either the house or the student loans will go into default, and you can bet that both the student loan provider and the bank who owns the mortgage will want their money. Will the government step in with another plan to help Generation Y save their homes? I imagine we will find out in another 10 to 15 years.

‘Ethics’ and ‘Student Loan Provider‘ – Two phrases that don’t belong in the same sentence.

Why hasn’t this issue already been addressed? Because both the schools and the student loan providers stand to benefit from taking advantage of the students.

In mid-2007, a huge scandal involving numerous student loan providers and school officials was exposed. The situation basically involved the student loan providers offering incentives to school financial aid officers for ‘selling’ their loans to students. JPMorgan Chase spent $74,000 wining and dining more than 200 school officials on a cruise ship. They also employed five college student loan officers at the bank while they were still employed at the university. At Columbia University in New York, the head of financial aid was suspended (yes, suspended, not fired) when it was discovered that he had earned $100,000 on stock in a loan company that he regularly recommended to students. The government took measures to ensure that this would be discouraged in the future and to prohibit student loan officers from accepting ‘gifts’ from banks for selling student loans, but the damage had already been done to the countless number of students who had already been sold into loans that they may not have understood or needed. Who are the schools really looking out for, anyway? Shouldn’t they be looking out for what is in the best interest of their students?

In any case, what is done is done. It seems that the legislation that was passed in 2007 was enough to ‘smooth things over’ and get everyone to turn their heads while the future generations of the U.S. are duped into an over-priced education by banks and corrupt university officials looking to make a quick buck. Our politicians will continue to argue about the merits of universal health care and ‘the war against terror’ while Generation Y digs itself into a hole of debt from which there is no escape. Eventually, the misfortune of America’s youth will be the misfortune of America’s economy. Our leaders had better take notice.


What will you do with your $600?

January 24, 2008

Well, the deal of the century has almost been closed. Congress has moved one step closer to giving us back $600 that we gave to them earlier this year. Of course, this is part of the well publicized ’emergency economic stimulus package’ that the geniuses in our government have devised to help fix up our failing economy.

What will you do with your $600? That almost covers a new Playstation 3 plus tax. Or, you could spend it on some new work clothes. I guess it could cover a car payment or two for those of you with an auto loan. Or maybe it would be better spent by going out and getting hammered every night next week… I think that is exactly what Congress has been up to if they think that this will bail us out of this economic disaster that they have caused.

Here is an idea… write to your congressman (or woman) and ask him what exactly he is smoking. $600? That is a smack in the face. I don’t think the economy is hurting because the government over-billed us on our taxes last year by $600.

In any case, feel free to post what you will be spending your $600 on. Heck, if we buy enough PS3’s, maybe the problems in the housing market will disappear.


The Real Question Surrounding Mars Bigfoot…

January 24, 2008

By now you have surely seeen the headlines about the ‘Mars Bigfoot’ image captured by the NASA Mars rover. For those of you who may be living in a cave, here are the photos:

Bigfoot Mars wide Mars Bigfoot close bigfootorange bigfoot

It seems that many people think that the image captured by NASA looks remarkably similar to the ‘Sasquatch’ captured in the famous Patterson Gimlin Film (the image on middle-right).

Upon further analysis, I am compelled to present a new, more interesting observation…

With the image reversed and some color added (far right), it appears that ‘Mars Bigfoot’ may be sporting a ‘nice rack’.

Just a thought.