On Anne's Mind


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Caroline Kennedy's Biological Power Clock Starts Ticking

December 20, 2008
Initially, I was astonished and outraged over what I perceived as a sense of entitlement that had prompted Caroline Kennedy to begin "campaigning" to be appointed to the United States Senate Seat from New York that was once held by her uncle,Robert F. Kennedy.   But the more I thought it through -- and started looking at it  without my familiar cultural filter -- the more I started to see something very different going on.  I believe her biological power clock is kicking in. Something we are just beginning to see as more women achievers now have their child rearing years behind them.    Here's the piece I posted on my website:    

Caroline Kennedy's Biological Clock Powers Up

December 18, 2008

My first reaction was outrage when I heard the news that Caroline Kennedy is "campaigning" to have herself appointed to Hillary Clinton’s New York U.S. Senate seat. 

“What credentials does she have," I asked myself, "other than being the last living descendent of the Camelot era of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis?" OK, she holds a law degree and she has certainly been “soaked” in the Kennedy family business of politics and governing her entire life.  But, I also wondered, “Where has she been for the last few decades?  And what makes her think she can stroll into such a powerful position just because she’s the closest thing America has to royalty?”

      DEVALUING WOMEN’S WORK:  Once I finished venting, though, I started thinking:  “But Anne, what about that point you’re making in the book you’re writing on women’s leadership? You know, the one about how our American culture devalues women’s work?” 

We routinely recognize men’s military and sports experience as valuable credentials directly transferrable to leadership.  Many a man has leveraged both on his way to political office.  Yet, we place little value (other than Hallmark cards and profuse ‘thank yous’) on the essential work of parenting, the lion's share of which is done by women.  The same goes for the millions of hours of unpaid volunteer work for hundreds of thousands of non-profit boards and community organizations.  We have barely begun to value the skills women hone in those arenas.  

    CULTURE AND POWER:  We have a wonderful myth in our culture about the American dream.  Barak Obama epitomizes this inspirational story that anyone can achieve anything in America – even the presidency – if he, and now she, works hard.  It’s an inspiring idea that gives us all hope.  Yet the truth is that most people who achieve power, throughout history, are born into it, or grow up very close to it.  Whether your pedigree is English, African or Jordanian  royalty;  the Mexican or South American ruling classes; or the Bush, Bhutto, or Kennedy political dynasties, more paths to power are about family connections than bootstraps.  

Yes, Caroline Kennedy, who moved into the White House at age 3, was born into power.  She is comfortable with it and, I suspect, knows how to use it.  She has lived her entire life in the world of Washington politics, governing, and the media spotlight.  But never before has she openly aspired to power.  

 So what made this very private woman, who has been focused on raising her 3 children (Rose (20), Tatiana (18) and Jack (15), decide to start "powering up"? Was it the urging of her uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor? Was it her activism with the Obama campaign and a sense of new possibilities for our nation that she wants to be part of?  Or was it, as I suspect, her biological clock?  "I really felt it was a crucial moment, and if I had something that I believed in, then I really owed it to myself to express that," she told Time magazine. "I recently turned 50, so I figured, I'd better get going — what am I waiting for?" 

 So what are her credentials? Kennedy's undergraduate degree is from Harvard; her law degree from Columbia University. With expertise in constitutional law she has co-authored two books on civil liberties. As vice chair of The Fund for Public Schools she has helped raise more than $64 million for New York city’s public schools. She also serves on the Commission on Presidential Debates and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  And let’s not underestimate the strength of character that comes from being tested by fire in the many ways she has, including losing her father and uncle to assasinations, her mother to an early death and her brother and sister-in-law to tragedy.  For more, here’s her Wikapedia profile.

Political insiders are predicting Ms. Kennedy will be appointed by Governor Paterson in January to the Senate seat once held by her uncle, Robert Kennedy.  She would then need to run for re-election in 2010, plenty of time for New York voters to make up their own minds whether she has the skills and passion to match her resume and family legacy.    

     WHY WOMEN'S POWER MATTERS:  Our culture is still very ambiguous about women and power.  We're only going to get past that when more women start thinking like the Right Honorable Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada, who sees American culture as very macho. “Look, power exists.  Somebody is going to have it," she told me.  "If you would exercise it ethically, why not you?’ I love power. I’m power hungry because when I have power I can make things happen, can serve my community, can influence decisions, I can accomplish things.” 

  When I see Caroline Kennedy, I see a brilliant, highly-educated, parent, community leader and engaged citizen who does not need or seek power for personal affirmation.  I see a woman leader who would bring a depth of unique experience, perspective and commitment to essential human priorities.  Yes, hers has not been the traditional (primarily male) path to power.  But women’s leadership is in its infancy and we need many more role models of women aspiring for power – not for ego – but because it is the currency for getting things done.  

 I believe each of us should aspire to work at our highest level of capability.  Caroline Kennedy moves in a different galaxy than most people, and would be among her peers in the U.S. Senate.   By the time I finished thinking all of this through, I ended up viewing Kennedy’s decision as one of leadership rather than entitlement.  The rhythms of women's lives are very different from those of men.  I can't think of anyone more perfectly postioned to show America's women achievers that there is more than one path -- and timetable -- to leadership.

 Now, here's a counterpoint opinion published in the New York Times. 

Something to Smile About on a Discouraging Day in Detroit

December 12, 2008

Last night the U.S. Senate refused to throw a life preserver to the U.S. auto industry as it struggles to survive, in the wake of the  national credit crisis combined with our collapsing economy.  Here in Detroit, we are devastated and stunned by the callous disregard for the impact that the collapse of GM, Chrysler, hundreds of automotive suppliers and, possibly Ford will have -- not only here in Michigan -- but throughout the country.

Tom Walsh, a terrific business columnist for the Detroit Free Press, did a good job this morning of capturing the sense of betrayal so many of us connected to the U.S. auto industry feel this morning. 

But, I tend to be an optimist.  I'm also a life-long lover of horses, a grown-up Annie Oakley.  For both reasons, I share this spectacular, inspiring video.  Hope it lifts your mood and reminds you of what's possible.  

Women Auto Industry Executives Gave Early Warning Signals

December 9, 2008

Two years ago, I wrote a piece for Automotive News, which knows more about the auto industry than anyone, particularly Congress, on the startling drain of high level women who were abandoning Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler for greener professional pastures. 

Those women executives (and I was one of them) were like canaries singing in the coal mine.  No one listened nor paid much attention as they flew away rather than suffocate in those insulated, old-economy, good-old-boy cultures.   Although I support the loans to keep the companies from tipping over the precipice, I'm also an advocate of not wasting this moment of crisis.  The time for dramatic change was long ago.  Congress is right to hold the companies' feet to the fire. 

To read the Automotive News story on why so many top women leaders abandoned the auto companies click here.  

The Auto Industry Crisis: Why It's Not Just Detroit's Problem

December 5, 2008

I am a Michigander, a former Ford Motor Company communications executive and think of myself as a Detroiter, although I have lived all over our great country and overseas.   Here in Michigan, we are stunned by the misunderstanding in Congress and by so many Americans about how intertwined the American auto industry is into the economic fabric of every state in the U.S.  I strongly support the request by Ford, GM and Chrysler for a federal loan to get our U.S. automakers through the crisis that has been pushed to the edge of the cliff by the national meltdown of our economy.

The Detroit Free Press has covered the auto industry for over 100 years, since it's very beginning.  They understand, better than any journalists, TV commentators or member of Congress the facts behind the present crisis.   Here is the link to the front page of the Motor City's hometown paper, which was on the desk of very member of Congress this morning.   I hope you'll take 2 minutes to read it, for a little more insight into why the automotive crisis isn't just Detroit's problem.  It is yet another defining moment for America.   

And, if you are interested in more background, here is fresh perspective from Ford.   

Journalism 2008

December 4, 2008

As a former journalist, I have many, many friends in the news media.  As the newspaper business continues to struggle and restrict under the onslaught of the world wide web, so many wonderful journalists are losing their jobs.  Is this end of an era?  It feels like it.  I have to remind myself that endings, painful as they always are, are necessary to make way for new beginnings.  But I also believe in taking time to honor where we've been and reflect.   

Here's how an Indianapolis Star newspaperman describes his most recent ending.  

Layoff stories: 'I am a newspaperman. Well, I was'

I walked in the door home a few minutes ago, kissed my wife, and since I don't know what else to do but be a journalist, I'll report:

The bosses at the Indy Star are handling it fairly well, compared to some other shops. No bum's rush out the door or anything. Handshakes, pleasantries, all that. Take your time gathering your things.


The first few minutes after you get back from HR on the 6th floor are interesting. Everyone can see the gray folder in your hand, and some people start avoiding eye contact. Most, though, soon approach and offer their condolences. Not a few hugs are exchanged. Our theater and classical music writer, an absolute workhorse who gave me a very classy goodbye, soon got the call himself. He had to take a minute and down some caffeine before going up.

My last act as an employee was to call an author I’d scheduled an interview with next week to cancel. I’d been pursuing that source for the better part of a year, dropping off materials for her to read and calling every few weeks to convince her to sit down. My persistence paid off and I was finally going to nail the interview, but now it’ll never happen. She reminded me not to forget to return the two books she’d loaned me to read.

Like most people in the Star newsroom, I’d preemptively packed up a bunch of stuff. All I really had left was a bunch of clip files and archives of the entertainment section, of which I was the editor for nearly two years.

'I am not ready'
Newspapers are surprisingly heavy, especially when you’re carrying them to your car on your last walk out of the building. It’s funny; we think of newspapers as being so insubstantial, so temporary in their usefulness, soon to be discarded for the next batch. It’s only when you gather them up together that their corporeal heft is plain. I look at what I wrote over the past year, and it’s at least two novels worth of words.

A writer? I never considered myself as such. I am a newspaperman. Well, I was. I don’t know what I am now. In this market, I know what my chances are of landing another newspaper gig. I have to face that this is probably the end of my journalism career -- it goes without saying that I am not ready.

But there are hundreds of us today, thousands. My story is not special. But I still wanted to tell it, because that’s what I do. Did.

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