Personal Setup Guide and User Manual
Last version update: 3 June 2021
Warranty / Caveat Emptor: Personal READMEs are not meant to excuse bad behavior or poor performance as personality quirks to be tolerated and overlooked. Please address service issues early and hold this model accountable, gently but directly, if it requires oil change or tune-up.
Care and Maintenance
Ok, let’s switch to first-person here. This is important.
Communicating with me:
1. Please treat me as your thought partner. I love teaming up on thorny issues of strategy, brand narrative, organizational culture, and hiring/interviewing. Let me in on what you need. I’m eager to help because I love to learn and enjoy being useful.
2. Be direct when asking for what you need. I’m empathetic but I’m less good at guesswork.
3. If we find ourselves on opposite sides of an issue, have conviction, be ready to substantiate your point of view, and push back if you think I’m wrong. As stated above, I have strong opinions weakly held because I love to discuss ideas I find worthwhile. I constantly seek to subject my beliefs to contrary points of view to pressure-test the merits of my assumptions, and I’m not afraid to change my mind when presented with new evidence.
How I receive feedback:
I don’t do well if I don’t know how I’m doing. That is to say, I’ll just assume everything is dandy when it might actually be a 💩 sandwich, but I had no idea, so by the transitive property of mathematics or whatever, I’m not actually doing well. I deeply appreciate feedback and seek to create trusting relationships where such feedback is easily given and received. As a communicator, I naturally want to attune myself to my audience. Since my audience is my colleagues, I always want to know how I’m doing and whether my message is being received. I therefore place a high premium on honesty and transparency. Whether you are my supervisor, my peer, or my direct report, please don’t withhold feedback, but do share it in a container of trust so that I know you’re seeking to help rather than undermine.
How I give feedback:
I am insanely motivated by helping others succeed. This is the reason I spent five years in education and workforce development in Rwanda, built a talent sourcing and placement company in East Africa (ask me over 🍩 about how to launch SaaS in frontier economies…), and why I still do career coaching on the side. I don’t withhold feedback, so if you need it, please ask.
That said, I am predisposed toward directness in my feedback. I find radical transparency to be more useful than obfuscation or triangulation, but it means I can sometimes forget to couch my meaning in kinder words. This is my growth area, and I’m constantly working to improve how to challenge others in a respectful and positive way. If it sounds like I’m scolding you instead of being helpful, please point this out and give me an opportunity to adjust one of my weaker points that I am committed to improving.
Weaknesses and Blind Spots:
1. Organizational politics. I interned for a U.S. Senator, worked in a D.C. think tank, and studied political science, but I’m atrocious at politics in the workplace. I have no idea how that game is played. My baseline assumption is that everyone is operating with the best intentions and isn’t scheming anything nefarious. This has occasionally blown up in my face but I prefer it to the alternative.
2. Interrupting. I can get passionate when discussing something I find interesting or important. This can lead to me interrupting people, purely out of excitement. Gently remind me that I’m interrupting and I’ll stop.
3. Other people…sometimes. My enthusiasm and optimism sometimes make it harder to immediately acknowledge and empathize with someone else’s reality. I have made improving this particular blind spot my life’s mission over the past decade. By working on it intentionally and ardently, I’ve gone deep into things like career coaching and organizational culture that, paradoxically, require very high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence — and I’ve become quite good at them! Indeed, because I’ve approached these things methodically, almost as someone learning to speak a second language, I know and understand them very well syntactically, but I can sometimes make an occasional “pronunciation error”, so to speak, because they’re not my native tongue. So, please help by trusting my intentions, being transparent with your needs, and sharing feedback lovingly.
Fun fact! This is also why I went into comms. I learned English as a second language and I’m — proudly — a strict grammarian. My command of the language is very structured and orderly, but since it is acquired and not native, I occasionally place the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble, but I digress…
How you can help me:
By being transparent and by trusting me. Ask me for what you need. I love to be helpful and support my colleagues. But because I have difficulty perceiving organizational politics, I am not likely to guess what you need unless you tell me. By being transparent and direct in asking me for what you need, you will give me a chance to serve you and become better.
Trust. Transparency. Living the organizational culture. Rooting for the underdog. That stick-to-it-ive/gritty quality we immigrants have of getting things done or beating our heads against walls until it gets done…without expecting anyone else to hold our hands. Intellectual curiosity.
Coaching. Radical transparency. Intellectual debate. Thoughtful disagreement. Reading about organizational development, leadership, and excellence. Eating amazing food. Travel. Traveling for food. Talking about physics and swapping physics one-liners. Talking about Star Wars and swapping Star Wars one-liners. Talking about Star Trek and swapping Star Trek one-liners. Oxford commas.
Not here for:
Apathy. Entitlement. Poor grammar. Identity politics. Cancel culture. Debating when data is available. Using ad hominem attacks when debating. Not checking the quality of one’s work before submitting. Skipping obvious due diligence. Generally being careless and detail-obtuse. Grape-flavored things that aren’t grapes. Too many emojis.
Hot tips for sweet comms:
- Best way to improve decisions/validate assumptions: Ask “why” several times, and then ask again.
- Best way to align your communication with your intent: Ask yourself what question is implicitly being answered in your writing/speech. If the implicit question you’re answering sounds defensive/negative, your communication will be perceived as defensive/negative. If the implicit question you’re answering sounds curious/inviting, you will likely come across that way, too. Do this like in Jeopardy! “What hypothetical audience question might have led me to write this sentence?”
- Best way to resolve conflict: Ruthlessly seek to identify common ground, no matter how tiny it is. Most people look to debunk and prove themselves right. But most people also don’t like to be wrong. A pickle! This dynamic exacerbates conflict and widens the divide. In an emotional situation, proving people wrong is for losers. Seek common ground instead.
- Best way to collab remotely: Assume best intent. Trust *and* verify. If you’re offended, assume miscommunication and proactively ask, “Hey, did you mean X? Because I took it as X, but maybe you meant Y?” We lose a lot of signal in the ether.
My favorite quotations:
“Don’t undertake a project unless it’s manifestly important and nearly impossible.” — Edwin Land
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” — Albert Einstein
“The chief part of human happiness arises from the consciousness of being loved.” — Adam Smith
My on-point Myers-Briggs (ENFP):
ENFPs are well-suited to occupations involving a lot of intellectual work focused on the humanities and social sciences, which also requires creativity. For example, they make good life coaches, social workers, psychologists, addiction rehab counsellors, and other mental and community care staff. They are also successful in teaching subjects related to the humanities and social sciences. Additionally, they succeed as journalists and in various occupations requiring good communication skills. (Yaaaas!)
My on-point Enneagram (7):
People of this personality type are essentially concerned that their lives be an exciting adventure. Sevens are future oriented, restless people who are generally convinced that something better is just around the corner. They are quick thinkers who have a great deal of energy and who make lots of plans. They tend to be extroverted, multi-talented, creative and open minded. They are enthusiasts who enjoy the pleasures of the senses and who don’t believe in any form of self-denial.
Sevens are practical people who have multiple skills. They know how to network and to promote themselves and their interests. They often have an entrepreneurial spirit and are able to convey their enthusiasm to those with whom they come in contact. Sevens usually have a high opinion of themselves and their talents; they tend to focus on their strengths and virtues and to downplay their flaws and vices. They are often a bit self-centered which manifests in an unfounded feeling of entitlement. (Ouch! But true…)
How I stay sane:
- I’m an avid skydiver. Here’s how it increases focus and produces excellence.
- I work out with my boxing coach 2x or 3x a week and it gets really intense.
- Sometimes I box when I skydive. Also intense.
- I do a lot of acro yoga. It’s a great community!
- I enjoy pretty much anything that gets me outdoors and into a state of flow with nature: climbing, hiking, skiing, SCUBA.
- I nerd out to musical theater a lot. Know pretty much all the lyrics to Les Mis, Miss Saigon, Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Hamilton.
Fun fact: I was the original Hamilton fangirl, like, before it was cool. I was obsessed with Alexander Hamilton, the historical figure, all throughout high school, read the biographies, and made a pilgrimage to his hometown in St.Kitts-Nevis to pay homage to the OG unpaid intern. That’s what’s up. By the time Lin-Manuel Miranda announced his plans for the musical, my phone blew up with notifications from close friends that 1) LMM is making another musical — rejoice! and 2) it’s about Hamilton!
A Brief History of [My] Time:
- Immigrated Moscow ✈️. NYC in ’92, after watching my country actually dissolve into several mini-countries. That was weird. Why did that happen?
- Decided to study political science in college to find out why.
- Studied/partied in Paris. Did a semester in DC working for Senator Clinton because I was like, “What are the Dems up to?”
- Graduated and went to work at a Fox News political magazine because I was like, “What are the Neocons up to?”
- Launched a popular political blog, so Cato Institute called and hired me to launch their first-ever podcast…in 2006! Was like, “What are the Libertarians up to?”
- Started podcasting before it was hipster! NBC liked podcast, hired me to run political website for ’08 election. Brought me to 30 Rock and made me full corporate.
- Quit NBC after 5 years right after program managing 2012 Olympics digital coverage and delivery to move to…Rwanda. 🇷🇼
- Worked in rural hospitals for a year. Worked at a women’s college for five years. Became Comms Director and then CIO of said university.
- Made this video to launch a women’s college in Burundi.
- Launched a SaaS company helping talented grads in East Africa find meaningful private sector careers.
- Learned to skydive in Kenya.
- Traveled all over Southeast Asia and Europe with a backpack and a parachute for five months.
- Came back stateside to run bizops for former boss at NBC, now Chief Digital Officer at NPR.
- Started a private career coaching business on the side. I take clients occasionally if they fascinate me or have a compelling story to tell.
- Started a Master’s in InfoSec and Privacy because this.