Turning to the ‘Dark’ Side Pays Off at Work

I’m not trying to compare successful business leaders’ climb up the corporate ladder to Anakin Skywalker’s epic descent into evil, but the title of my blog is fitting, according to a recent Wall Street Journal story.

Let me start by saying that my first reaction to this article is a bit – not indignant, but defiant. While I concede that the author’s contentions are dead-on in many cases, they are broad generalizations. That said, it’s an intriguing piece.

Read this excerpt and ask yourself if you know anyone with these “dark” personality traits:

… co-workers may possess a dose of one of the personality traits that psychologists call the “dark triad”: manipulativeness, a tendency to influence others for selfish gain; narcissism, a profound self-centeredness; or an antisocial personality, lacking in empathy or concern for others.

These traits are well known for the bad behavior that they can cause when dominant in people’s personalities. At milder levels, however, they can actually foster skills that can help people rise through the ranks.

For instance, people with narcissism, who want to be the center of attention, often make a good first impression on clients and bosses, says a 2014 review of more than 140 studies on people with mild, or “subclinical” levels of dark personality traits. They also can be persuasive when pitching their own ideas.

Manipulators influence others for their own gain, using flattery or deceit if necessary. But these personalities – also called Machiavellians – can also be charismatic leaders and forceful negotiators, says the study, in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. And while antisocial personalities lack empathy or concern for others, they can be creative because they often enjoy testing limits.

Does the story resonate with you or get under your skin? Chime in!

Billionaire Beginnings

Ralph Lauren is worth $7.7 billion. Oprah Winfrey’s empire has skyrocketed to $2.9 billion. They are among the mega-rich and regarded as celebrity royalty.

Their achievements are all the more inspiring when you consider how far they’ve come. Like others featured in a recent Business Insider post – “15 Billionaires Who Were Once Dirt Poor” – both overcame poverty.

Are you familiar with Howard Schultz? I wasn’t. At least that’s what I thought until I discovered that he runs Starbucks (I’m all too acquainted with the company’s lattes). In the piece, he recounts childhood memories residing in a complex for the poor:

Growing up I always felt like I was living on the other side of the tracks. I knew the people on the other side had more resources, more money, happier families. And for some reason, I don’t know why or how, I wanted to climb over that fence and achieve something beyond what people were saying was possible. I may have a suit and tie on now but I know where I’m from and I know what it’s like.

Today, he’s amassed $2 billion. Let me digest that.

Leonardo Del Vecchio’s story is one of the most poignant. As a child, he and four siblings were sent to live in an orphanage after their father died. While working in a factory, Del Vecchio lost part of his finger in an accident. In 1961, he founded Luxottica, the largest producer and retailer of sunglasses and prescription glasses in the world (think Ray-Bans). He’s now worth $15.3 billion.

Fortune may have smiled on these business legends, but their tremendous talent and determination paved the way.

Timeless Tips: I’ll Never Outgrow This Advice for College Grads

It was May 2000, I was graduating from college and I was scared to death about the future.

That period in my life was the best of times and the worst of times, as they say.

While an exciting new chapter was ahead, a painful one was underway. My dad recently had been diagnosed with cancer. There was a chance he wouldn’t be able to attend my graduation ceremony – the person who, along with my mom, had encouraged and supported me every step of the way. They cultivated from childhood a passion for learning.

Just when I thought there would be an empty chair in the crowd when I accepted my diploma, things started to look up.

My dad, weak from chemotherapy and radiation but beaming with pride, watched me graduate after all. And the following month, a phone call I made to the Indiana Chamber would change my life forever.

I inquired if there were open positions. There was one. And on June 26, I began my 14-year journey.

What a ride! I’ve honed my craft. I’ve learned from peers about the business world and – equally as important – about friendship. Beyond these doors, I’ve relished my role as a mentor to my nephews and niece as they’ve grown and now to my children.

So when I read an article today titled Five Mistakes College Grads Make When Starting Careers, it inspired me. I didn’t expect it to. After all, it was written to guide workforce rookies. But this veteran gleaned wisdom from each tip.

Do you tend to stay in your comfort zone? Do you always follow the rules? Are you intimidated by senior management? Don’t be, says the author. His anecdotes add a personal touch.

I for one will try to stop worrying so much about failing (mistake No. 5) whether it’s at work or at home (you never know, I could be the next Master Chef). It’s never too late to put fear in its place.

A Day at the Farm: Planting Memories, Exploring a Legacy

Pictures will speak a thousand words in the upcoming issue of BizVoice® in my feature story on twins Ted and Tom McKinney. For me, images of my day at the family farm in Tipton where they grew up are etched in my mind. The experience was among my most enjoyable memories – professionally and personally.

I visited the farm to interview them for an article that will appear as part of our agriculture series in the July-August issue. Why the McKinneys? That’s the question Ted humbly asked as we met and shook hands.

First, the family history is deeply rooted in farming. There’s the strong Purdue University connection (they’re third generation graduates of the College of Agriculture). And like their parents and grandparents before, both Ted and Tom are dedicated to making a difference in their community.

Tom is a seventh-generation Indiana farmer (he guides operations at the Tipton farm and another family farm in neighboring Clinton County). Ted is director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.

Touring the farm, which spans a few thousand acres, brought the McKinney legacy to life. Their passion for agriculture was contagious. Their childhood memories were rich. I could almost see the old yellow barn that served as a clubhouse of sorts in their youth before it was destroyed by straight line winds and made way for a modern shop.

I could picture them working alongside teens in the 1970s detasseling seed corn (the McKinneys were just 16 years old when they started managing their own crews) as they cultivated a strong work ethic and spirit of camaraderie. Tom operated the business for more than three decades.

“It was more than a money-making business. It was about transforming people’s lives,” declares his brother Ted.

Both have spent their lives trying to do just that.

Ted, among other causes, has been heavily involved in FFA and was instrumental in bringing both the organization’s national center and its convention to Indianapolis. Tom is president of the Indiana 4-H Foundation and has donated his time to a variety of other state and local initiatives. Each has brought his leadership to a variety of roles at Purdue.

Check out our memorable afternoon with one of Indiana’s first farming families in BizVoice when the July-August issue debuts on June 30.

Summer, Sharks and Spielberg

“After seeing Jaws for the first time, I was scared to even get in the bath tub.”
That’s the story a family friend has told me over the years. He’s exaggerating, of course, but there is a grain of truth in what he says. When Steven Spielberg’s Jaws hit theaters in 1975, it freaked people out.

One of my summer highlights is watching Discovery Channel’s Shark Week (I’m counting down the days until it airs in August), which got me thinking about two stories that always have fascinated me and pulled at my heartstrings. Both have a connection to Jaws.

In 1916, four people were killed and one injured after being attacked by a shark along the New Jersey shore. There have been several books written about the events, including one called Twelve Days of Terror: A Definitive Investigation of the 1916 New Jersey Shark Attacks. It’s on my summer reading list.

Two victims were killed while swimming near popular resorts. Two more died in Matawan Creek – yes, a creek! Lester Stillwell, just 11 years old, was enjoying an afternoon of fishing when he was attacked. When 24 year-old tailor Stanley Fischer rushed to his aid after hearing cries for help, he heroically lost his life. Not long after and further upstream, teenager Joseph Dunn was bitten, but survived. These events are said to have inspired Jaws.

Another story hits close to home.

One of the most powerful scenes in Jaws is a monologue by Captain Quint about the USS Indianapolis, which sank on July 30, 1945 in shark-infested waters after it was hit by Japanese torpedoes. The crew was returning from a mission in the South Pacific where they delivered components of the Hiroshima bomb.

There were 1,196 men on board. Only 317 survived. Every time I read about this horrific event, I get goose bumps. The History Channel recounts the story.

Go Old School to ‘Game’ the System

I miss the days when game shows dominated the weekday morning TV lineup. Sure The Price is Right still chugs along, and Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy are evening mainstays – but where have all the others gone?

I know what you’re thinking: Symone, have you heard of the Game Show network? Joyfully, I have. Sadly, I no longer have the channel.

I fear the demise of board games. I devoted hours back in the day to my favorites: Sorry, Parcheesi, Chinese Checkers and Uncle Wiggily (I swear it exists, even though no one but me seems to have heard of it). Uncle Wiggily teaches rhyming, reading and counting as players help a friendly rabbit navigate through the woods to a doctor’s appointment.

Video games, don’t take offense. There’s plenty of room for you in my world. I would boot up my old Nintendo in an instant to rediscover Super Mario Brothers 3. But, you’ll always be my second choice.

Want to know a secret? I didn’t like Life and Monopoly one bit. I remember my siblings trying to play – I thought it was a lot more fun to confiscate the money.

At the Risk of being a bit dramatic (see what I did there? My brother loved Risk), playing board games as a child helped shape my personality. Some were challenging. Others were funny. But all bring back cherished memories of loved ones.

So, dust off Scrabble. Dig out Battleship. Let the games begin!

Say What? That Phrase Sounds Familiar…

Mythology and history have greatly influenced the English language.

Ever described a self-absorbed person as narcissistic? The term comes from the story of Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection in water and turned into a narcissus flower.
You can find more common expressions and their origins on the History Channel’s web site. Painting the town red, crocodile tears – the stories behind the sayings are fascinating.

The next time you’re angry and begin to read someone the riot act, consider this:
Instituted in 1715, the Riot Act gave the British government the authority to label any group of more than 12 people a threat to the peace. In these circumstances, a public official would read a small portion of the Riot Act and order the people to “disperse themselves, and peaceably depart to their habitations.” Anyone that remained after one hour was subject to arrest or removal by force.

Many popular expressions had gruesome beginnings. Did you know, for instance, that “saved by the bell” refers to being buried alive? Yikes!

String was tied to the deceased’s wrist and passed through the coffin lid, up through the ground and tied to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night and listen in case the corpse was not really dead and was ringing the bell.

I wonder what legacy our generation will leave behind in the world of etymology. Please tell me that words such as “selfie” will be long forgotten.

Throwback Thursday: It Was 50 Years Ago Today…

The title of this blog isn’t a clever attempt to rewrite “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” even though it has been 50 years since the Beatles craze swept America. I’m taking us back to another moment in that landmark year: the 1964 World’s Fair.

Picture approximately 51 million visitors. Children squeal with delight on rides. Fairgoers devour sweet treats. Scientists predict (and showcase) revolutionary advances in technology.

Want to know which predictions came through and which didn’t quite pan out? Here’s an excerpt (read full story from NPR):

What they had right:

  • Picturephone: Bell System introduced this innovation, which allowed people to see whom they were calling. It didn’t go over well at the time, but it’s a concept that’s an everyday part of our lives now in apps such as Skype and Facetime.
  • Robotics: Walt Disney’s “It’s a Small World” exhibit introduced robotic animation in which characters sing, speak and make lifelike gestures such as smiles and blinks. It’s still in use in theme parks and movies today.
  • Ford Mustang: The two-seater sports car with its long hood and short rear deck was officially unveiled at the World’s Fair and immediately became popular. It has remained in production ever since.

What they had wrong:

  • Colonies on the moon, underwater and in Antarctica: The “Futurama 2″ ride from General Motors featured images of people living in places where they clearly, uh, don’t.
  • Jet packs: There were demonstrations of jet pack power at the fair, with men wearing them and zooming around the grounds. Sadly, they remain a mode of transport found mainly in science fiction.

Experience this exciting event through the eyes of spectators in photos they submitted to NBC News.

I can’t imagine what’s in store for the next 50 years, but I can say one thing: I am not moving to the moon or Antarctica to join a colony.

CSI: Oregon? (Cue The Who)

We’ve all seen the yellow crime scene tape bearing the warning: “Do not cross.” But residents of Grants Pass, Oregon could make the leap by partnering with law enforcement as volunteers.

Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson wants to recruit residents to assist his barebones police department (reduced by more than 50% in 2012 due to budget cuts) with property crimes such as burglaries and thefts.

A recent news story has the details. Here’s an excerpt:

The volunteers … would undergo the same training as a recruit officer at the academy level and would be led by retired and experienced law enforcement.

But there are questions about how the evidence collected by volunteers would stand up in court. Josephine County District Attorney Stephen Campbell said while Gilbertson is trying to think outside the box for solutions for the struggling department, he has to think inside the jury box.

“We always have concerns about reducing the standards under which evidence is collected,” Campbell said. But he called the program workable because of the types of crimes the volunteers would be working on.

“My vision is they’ll be on burglary scenes – looking for fingerprints, latent fingerprints, tool marks that were used to break through a door or window,” Campbell said.

Gilbertson wants to have the volunteer teams working by July. So far he has a handful of retired officers and a list of people interested in volunteering. He said this program would just be a temporary relief, and it definitely wouldn’t supplant jobs.

Did you notice that Sheriff Gil Gilbertson shares his first name with former main character Gil Grissom on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation? That is too cool!

Don’t Squander That Tax Refund!

Taxes aren’t all bad – especially this time of year when refunds are doled out to the tune of (on average) approximately $3,000. But don’t be fooled. Before you embark on an extravagant shopping spree, there’s something I have to say: Halt! Stop! Wait!

Kiplinger offers 10 tips for spending (and saving) your refund. Paying off credit card debt, rebuilding your emergency fund and boosting retirement savings are great ways to protect – and pad – your pocketbook.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s no fun! Point taken. But heeding some of these suggestions might help you avoid a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Who wants to deal with that?