Friday, 13 November 2015

Vogue Is My Alternate Universe

Confession: the only movie in my iPad is The September Issue.  

This is a pretty strange choice given my lack of high heels, makeup and designer bags.  I saw it on a plane during a business trip and I was absolutely fascinated.  I still watch it now and then.

I think it's because I see my future.  

Not in fashion, don't be silly.  

But in the real-life corporate dynamics of the power players that make Vogue, well -- Vogue.

The documentary is about the making of the biggest issue in fashion publishing, but really it is about the celebrity editor-in-chief Anna Wintour's power and influence in her industry.  She is the classic dragon lady : cool control, politely impatient, and shows she's boss.  

This is who I don't want to be.

Anna Wintour's power is so absolute that she never explains the wisdom of her decisions.  
That means she never mentors anyone.

Nobody ever challenges her.  Not her people, not the designers.  No one.
That means she's lonely and bored to death at work.  She certainly acts like it. 

If that's what it means to be at the top, no thank you.  I don't ever want my ego to get that big.  

But let's face it, shades of this reality are in every corporation, especially in Asia.  I don't mean about women leaders, I mean about any boss.  I am lucky to love the company I work for with leaders who have more empathy than other corporate cultures, but these three things are constant about corporate leadership: 

We always joke about it being lonely at the top.  We're always conscious about wasting a leader's time.  And we know when to shut up. 

Guess who's the boss.

But then there's Grace Coddington.

She's the creative director.  The film never says it, but she is the real genius behind Vogue.   She dreams up these awesome themes and architects the execution.  She mentors junior creative directors.

  Best of all her ego hasn't overwhelmed her:  she laughs at herself and freely gives credit when others are better than her.  Heck, she doesn't even power dress for work!  She has integrity - she's the only one who dares strike a discussion after her boss speaks.  To her it's all about her craft.  In fact she puts up with a lot of crap because "you have to have something to put your work in, otherwise it's not valid"

Analysis overkill : if there is one thing to criticise it is her (or her boss') lack of org design.  She's so hands-on that she even styles the models herself for every photo shoot.  Waste of talent!  I was itching to reorganise the creative team so that she is able to mentor across more projects rather than focusing on her own.  This could have prevented the instance where another creative director's finished work went completely unused, and Grace had to be called in to redo the project overnight.  Waste.

We know who is more successful in the worldly corporate sense.

Anna Wintour is power.  Grace Coddington is talent.  
You sense fear when people talk about Anna.  
Respect when people talk about Grace.

Which one would you choose to be?

Love for work vs. love for job
There's why I watch it over and over again.

I'm at middle leadership level now.  Like Grace, I love being in the thick of things, close to the ground yet high enough to make a big difference.  But in the future I think I'll be faced with the same choice.

I'm almost afraid to admit that I'm as naive and as idealist as she is.  
Work means using my talents (see why this parable of talents is my favourite).  
I always like to say "my brand is my boss" and I am baffled when the buck stops at "the boss said so"

So watching The September Issue really makes me think:

What kind of leader would I be if I were at the next level?
Is it inevitable that the higher you go, the more you fear losing power?
Or that people's expectation of higher leadership is more about power than talent?

Am I selling out if so?  
Or am I selling myself short if I choose to stay at my level?

Corporate life lessons to learn.  And face.

Meanwhile I'm sticking to my comfy flats at the office, thankyouverymuch.

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  1. Hi! :-)

    Completely love this post and like you, I am convinced that my brand (or I guess in the context of the field I'm in, social value) is my boss. Otherwise, I wouldn't even consider to work for and with them. I'm also saddened by those who choose to embrace authority as leadership when they're not each other's equivalent.

    I guess we'll just have to keep going in the ways we know best -- you in your flats, me in my sneaks. :-)

    1. And I love your comment! Very well said. Please blog about when you've reached the "top" being who you are. The working world needs more examples like you! P.S. If I could pull of sneaks at work, I totally would be your gal.

  2. I love this post! There is a danger of losing ones self as one climbs the corporate ladder. Keeping ones values constantly on the mind helps to reduce that danger. I watched the movie after this post. Mm mm eye opening into their world. In my industry, people tend to be more subtle.

    1. Wasn't it fascinating??! You're absolutely right, everyone needs to be reminded about the values they started off with.


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