Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thank You -- On Leadership

Last night (or more precisely March 4, since I"m not sure how long it will take me to finish this) my students and colleagues threw me an amazingly wonderful retirement/going away party. You see, while I will, in fact, be moving to Vancouver and the University of British Columbia this fall, I have been at Harvard sufficiently long and am sufficiently old that I am retiring from Harvard.

Update: It did, in fact, take me a long time to finish this. In the meantime, one of the people I mention below, Gerald Scorsone, passed away. This post is now dedicated to Sporty -- for showing me how to turn a business into a family; for teaching me the value of good, hard work; and for teaching me how to treat my colleagues and customers.

Over the past 25 years, I've been lucky enough to have amazing students, wonderful colleagues, and  fabulous associates from all over, and many of them gave up their Sunday evening (pre-Oscars) to come celebrate with me. To one and all I am truly grateful.

It's a bit daunting to try to respond on the spot to the amazing messages so many people sent, so I thought I'd try to write up some of the thoughts that I couldn't quite put into words last night, drawing on the themes that emerged from the heartwarming messages so many of you sent.

Some of the words I heard that really stuck out to me were: kindness, role model, and community. In my mind, those all played into another word that both Radhika and Harry mentioned, leadership. So, before thanking many of you, let me reflect on leadership for a moment.

On Leadership
In my mind leadership is about three things: A call to service, caring, and a willingness to do unpopular things. I have been fortunate to have had amazing leaders as teachers, friends, bosses, colleagues, etc.  Not all of these lessons are specifically about leadership, but being a good human being is fundamental to being a good leader. In rough chronological order:

(Peter) Gerald Scorsone: Gerald, or Sporty as we sometimes called him when he wasn't around, owned the hotdog stand (Peter's Charcoal House) where I worked as a high school student. It wasn't until I realized I was the same age he was when he was my boss that I understood what a remarkable leader he was. Somehow, and I still haven't entirely figured out how, he managed to make a bunch of unruly teenagers work our butts off for five-cent-an-hour raises and the right to wear a blue bandana. I kid you not -- earning my blue bandana was a bigger deal than earning my black belt in karate. Those of us in blue bandanas ran our shifts -- the heady feeling of authority for a 16-year-old, which really meant you stood in front of a hot, open grill for 8-10 hours serving up hotdogs, hamburgers, sausage patties, and the like.

My suspicion is that the way Gerald managed to engender such hard work and loyalty was a combination of high expectations -- how you treated customers, how much pride you took in your work, how clean you kept the counters and dining room -- and responsibility. We handled people's food and money; we represented our home towns when busses of tourists came by; we waited on children being bussed to the town pool. Largely, for long parts of the evening and/or weekends, we were on our own.

Lessons: High expectations, trust, and responsibility.

Jan Gauthier: Jan was my college roommate. And she taught me one of life's most important lessons.

Lesson: If you think highly of someone, they shouldn't be the last to know.

David Green: David was the manager of the Harvard Band during my Sophomore and Junior year. The Harvard Band was a somewhat musical, but most definitely wild, raucous and unruly. organization. We sometimes performed shows that were of questionable taste. On those occasions, the band sometimes received nasty-grams pointing out our bad behavior. It would have been easy to toss such letters. Instead, David answered every one of them. And my impression is that in more cases than not, David transformed each critic into a band supporter. Again, I'm not sure how he did it, but I noticed.

Lessons: Learn from your critics. They will be honest with you in a way no one else will.

Nathan (Nat) Goodman: Nat was a Professor while I was an undergraduate, a consultant and then employee at the first company I worked for after college, and finally, he recruited me as Kendall Square Research's first non-founder employee. He ended up becoming my boss, mentor, and friend. I remember all his pre-meeting 1:1 conversations -- making sure that the meeting itself was really just the formalization of what was accomplished during pre-planning. This meant that meetings were short, productive, and rarely surprising.

Lessons: Don't catch people off guard; prepare well.

Henry Burkhardt: If you've heard all my tales of Kendall Square Research, you might be surprised to see me list Henry here, but I learned a lot from Henry. First, he was the most intellectually energetic person I ever met. Although sixteen years my senior at the time, keeping up with him on a business trip was exhausting. His mind was always racing at a gazillion miles per hour and he never got tired. However, he taught me that kindness is a good antidote to the arrogance of youth. Some of you may have heard me tell the "Worker Bee Brand Honey" story or, perhaps, you lived it with me (that would be you Linda and Fred). It's a story I tell frequently to demonstrate how appallingly arrogant one can be in one's youth (the one here would be me). Rather than get angry or punish me in any way, ultimately, Henry and company sent me to "charm school" (a management training program). Indirectly, this changed my life. One of the exercises we did there (the Myers Briggs) got me thinking about a career path better matched to my temperament, and we all know how that turned out. Being a professor was so clearly the right job for me.

Lessons: The youth know not what they do; treat their arrogance with kindness. Energy and enthusiasm are not just for the young.

Keith Bostic: This would be my husband, not the football player. He lives his life by what is arguably up there with Jan's for life's most important lessons. I still struggle with this one at times, but I know enough to repeat it to myself frequently at just the right time.

Lesson: There is no end to the amount of good you can do in the world if you don't care who gets credit for it.

Harry Lewis: I couldn't decide exactly where in the chronology to insert Harry -- he was my undergraduate advisor, wrote me letters for graduate school, convinced me to consider Harvard, and has been my colleague, mentor, and friend for the past 25 years. Pretty much everything I know about being a professor I learned from him, from how to create a curve to how to lecture to how to manage a staff of teaching fellows. More recently though, he taught me what leadership looks like: it means caring, taking a position, getting the facts right, stating the unpopular, writing well, and most importantly being able to disagree politely and respectfully with people you love and respect.

Harry and I do not always agree. Sometimes those disagreements were in public. But never did our differences of opinion cloud the deep seated respect and affection we had for each other.

Lessons: Care. Back up caring with action. Disagree with ideas not people.

Barbara Grosz: Barbara came to Harvard in 1986 and helped to recruit me when I joined in 1992. I attribute the wonderful collegial faculty culture we have in computer science at Harvard largely to Barbara. I remember being questioned one time by Larry Summers why we might not want to hire more combative faculty (that wasn't the precise language) -- I explained that our faculty disagreed a lot, about many things, but we did it with respect and in a constructive fashion and we were not about to give that up.

Lesson: Good culture doesn't just happen; it requires vigilance and nurturing.

Steve Hinds: Steve was the headmaster of The Meadowbrook School of Weston, where my kids attended middle school. He was headmaster there for over 25 years and was much beloved, for obvious reasons. He lived their mission: to know, love, and challenge every child. I think he also knew every parent. He made each of us feel like a crucial member of the community. But most of all, Steve taught me that hugs were entirely professional and could be a part of a school culture. I still cannot watch this video or hear the music without tearing up.

Lesson: Hug people. (Not in that creepy sexually harassing way; that friendly, caring way.) 

Clem Cole: Clem and I were President and Vice-President, respectively, at USENIX when it underwent one of its most important and painful transitions. Clem was firm that he was not going to leave his final term as President without addressing the extraordinarily challenging problems facing the organization, even if it meant hurting people and/or losing friends.

Lesson: When action is called for, take action.

Karl Haberl: Karl is my manager at Oracle, and I frequently refer to him as the best manager I've ever met. Seriously. Karl is the Senior Director for the east coast labs, a small office relative to the one in CA (the mothership). Although that sometimes makes his job difficult, he protects his people, he listens, he advocates for us, he laughs with us, he doesn't take himself too seriously, and he's warm and compassionate. When I received a cancer diagnosis, while simultaneously locking myself out of the conference room in which I'd been at a meeting, it was Karl who took one look at me, asked what was wrong, gave me a hug, and asked what he could do.

Lessons: Take care of your people. Be human.

Ari Betof: Ari is the headmaster of my kids' high school, Boston University Academy. He's in his third year at the school and has been a steady and thoughtful force for positive change. Change is always hard, and Ari has a knack for knowing just how quickly and how far one can push for change, without developing organizational antibodies.

Lesson: Change is a process with a natural time line. Pushing too quickly doesn't work.

Radhika Nagpal: Radhika has been my colleague for the past fourteen years. In this time, she transformed personal injustices into a continued force for change -- childcare, gender equity, holding bad actors accountable. Sometimes, being polite and quiet doesn't work. When that's the case, one needs to be willing to be impolite and loud. Repeatedly. Consistently.

Lesson: Be the squeaky wheel. Those who sit idly by while bad things happen are part of the problem.

Nitin Nohria: Nitin is Dean of Harvard Business School and I have been extraordinarily fortunate to be spending my sabbatical year there as a visiting professor. As a visiting faculty member, I see copies of the email that Nitin sends out. When things happen, e.g., Charlottesville, MeToo, taxes on graduate student tuition, he speaks out. He does so quickly, thoughtfully, compassionately, and intelligently. Each email exudes leadership; they simply make you want to follow this man. He engages his faculty in difficult conversations. And, when necessary, he apologizes.

I have always joked that the most important thing I can teach Harvard students is how to say, "I was wrong," "I don't know," and "I am sorry." As a leader, how can you possibly expect people to come to you and admit they have messed up, if you act as if you've never made a mistake? We are all human. We all make mistakes. Acknowledging when you do takes courage and is a sign of leadership. Becoming defensive is a sign of weakness. The vast majority of people I see in leadership positions, respond to errors with, "But ..." That is cowardice.

Lesson: Speak. Admit when you are wrong.

Eddie Kohler: I can hear it now, he's chortling that he's on this list. Eddie has been a breath of much needed fresh air, because Eddie is willing to speak up when the emperor has no clothes. So many times, I've seen him simply cut to the heart of a matter, whether to suggest that people should apologize to those who've been wronged or to explain that we're asking the wrong question. He and I don't always agree on everything (in fact, we disagree a lot), but I always learn something important when we do.

Lessons: Speak up. If something seems nonsensical, it probably is.

And now, the Thank You part.

To all those I've already mentioned, thank you for sharing your leadership qualities with me and teaching me to be a better human being and a better leader. (Writing this reminded me of writing the acknowledgements in my Ph.D. dissertation.)

In no particular order:

Thank you to John Wilkes, then of HP, for supporting me and my colleagues in the early days of Systems at Harvard.

Thank you to Bob Sproull, then of Sun Microsystems, who also provided unwavering faith and unprecedented financial support to a struggling faculty member who wanted to take on projects far outside her wheelhouse.

Thank you Farnum Jahanian, for inviting USENIX to the table as a player in the CS publication community, for recruiting me to CSTB, for always treating me as a peer, even when you, yourself, are peerless.

Thank you Ed Lazowska, for being as excited (if not more so) about my move to the Pacific Northwest as my UBC colleagues.

Thank you to my colleagues at the USENIX Association and all those who served with me on the USENIX board.

Thank you to past Harvard graduate students who thought enough of your time at Harvard to want to get your organizations to fund my research: Keith Smith, Cliff Young, Kim Hazelwood Cettei.

Thank you to all past and present members of the Charles River Women's Soccer Team (aka The Chucks), for being the most incredible and amazing group of women I know. I describe our team as having shared all of life's ups and downs -- births and deaths, weddings and divorces, illnesses and healing. You have always been there for me and for each other. I will look to carry the chucks' spirit to Vancouver. In the meantime: No injuries, have fun, and if you can score a few goals, please do!

Thank you to all of you out there whose identities I don't know -- you've been asked to write letters: for my promotion to Associate Professor, my promotion to Full Professor, my Canada 150 nomination, my ACM Fellow Nomination, and probably a bunch of other things I don't know about. I wouldn't be here without you.

Thank you to all my colleagues in Harvard Computer Science. It has been my honor and privilege to work with you, learn from you, lead you (if you've been here long enough to have survived Margo as Assoc. Dean), annoy you, and ask you to hold our institution to the highest standards possible.

Thank you to my colleagues at Oracle Labs -- you nudged me in new directions, put up with my ridiculous travel schedule, and make me laugh. A lot.

Thank you to my family. The T's let me drag them all over the world before they started school. As the T's got older, Keith took care of them while I raced around the world. Whenever I need to make an ethical decision, I ask if I could explain my decision making to you. You keep me behaving in a way that makes it possible for me to be the professor, spouse and parent I wish to be.

Thank you to Harvard's Women in Computer Science, and particularly Amy and Anne who started it all. You have transformed Harvard Computer Science in dramatic ways; you have created a community where there wasn't one; you have inspired countless women in all walks of life; you are amazing and wonderful.

Thank you to my tribe -- you are the women I drink coffee with, scheme with, complain to, brag about my children to -- you are always there and I love you for it. I will miss you and will come back to Cambridge and track you down if you don't come visit in Vancouver! Carol, Cathy, Diane, Ellie, Gabriella, Heidi, Kimia, Isabella, Leslie, Linda, Liz, Liz, (yes two), Lynn, Nancy, Penny, Ursula. And my electronic tribe: Cynthia, Diana, Donnalyn, Elaine, Mary, Sam.

And last, but certainly not least -- my students. You are the reason I get up in the morning. You make me be my best self. I am humbled to have been part of your educational journey and am excited to be among your biggest cheerleaders.