Remember John Mellencamp’s “Little ditty ’bout Jack and Diane, two American kids growing up in the heartland”?  In the song, written in 1982, as teenagers, Jack and Diane are having some fun. But Mellencamp sees trouble ahead:

“Holding on to sixteen as long as you can
Change is coming ’round real soon,
Make us women and men
Oh yeah, life goes on
A little ditty ’bout Jack and Diane
Two American kids doin’ the best they can”

Recently, I thought about this song when I was providing coaching to a woman executive in a large workplace. (Like the song, what I have written in the following is fiction, based on my coaching experience.)

Fast forward 35 years and Diane has done quite well. Working for a well-known tractor company, she has risen through the ranks to become an executive with responsibilities for research and development. Ironically, Jack now 53, two years older than Diane, also has done relatively well. Ironically, not as well as Diane. As a matter fact, Jack is irked by the fact that he has to now report to Diane as his boss.

Diane is leading a research effort to develop a new electric engine. Ironically, she is now supervising Jack, with whom she is having difficulties because he is working at a much slower pace than the project requires.

Diane’s corporate success has much to do with the fact that she has been able to develop high emotional intelligence.  Her capacity to deal with difficult people and situations is well known and admired throughout the company.

As a highly self-aware individual, she recognizes that she’s the type of person who can make changes quickly and adapt to unexpected circumstances.  She also recognizes that she could be impatient with people.

When confronted with difficulty on a team, she first seeks to understand the team members.  She recognizes that as Jack has matured, his personality has become much more cautious and deliberate. She knows he now lives in a strict environment where making a mistake is costly.

Because she has a tendency to come across as dismissive to those who are not meeting her expectations, she has to manage herself well in this situation. Jack is particularly sensitive to her slights.

So how did Diane go about solving the problem?  

*She decides that the best approach is to schedule a time where she and Jack could go out for coffee and discuss the situation away from the hubbub of the lab. At first, Jack is uncomfortable to be alone with Diane in a public place, but she assures him that Starbucks is quite appropriate.

*In the conversation, she tries to explain to Jack the need for urgency. She explains that the CEO is putting pressure on her and her team. They are in stiff competition to develop an electric engine faster than the competition.

*While they used to be friends, she does not discuss their past.  Instead, she is very professional and focuses entirely on why they need to work faster.

The approach works. Jack appreciates the time Diane has taken with him.  Her approach enables him to understand her better and to recognize that he has to change his behavior for the sake of the team.

Knowing that Jack needs affirmation, Diane thanks him for his important contributions.


What can be learned from this example? First, let’s look at this situation from the point of view of emotional intelligence.

*Diane has learned always to first understand herself before reaching out to another person. 

*She knows that whenever possible, she needs to take time to understand the other person in the context of their point of view: how are they seeing the problem. 

*She knows that before she jumps in, she needs to formulate a plan for dealing with the problem.

*As a leader, she knows that it is crucial for her to engage in a productive dialogue with the person with whom she’s having difficulty.


What can we learn from Mellencamp’s prophecy?

*He was right that change “was coming real soon.”

*If we consider mature people, he was wrong about “life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone”. Even though we may rhapsodize about our adolescence, I have found that in my work with leaders, the real thrill of living comes as we develop ourselves in our families, communities, and our workplaces. 


What can we learn about life from Dr. Rob’s perspective?

*Learning about life is an activity we must engage in every day. True self-growth only comes from daily reflection.

*Even though progress has been slow, women have made tremendous gains in the workplace.

*Men still struggle being lead by females.

*Like teenagers, grown men still focus too much on proving their sexual powers over women. We only need to follow the news to learn that men still struggle to overcome their teenage fantasies about themselves in relation to women. Too many of our male leaders still want women to run off with them “behind a shady tree” and do their “best James Dean” (to paraphrase Mr. Mellencamp).

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