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Archive for the ‘Managing Talent’ Category

Sue Shellenbarger wrote a nice post about how women indirectly influence how their spouses parent a few days ago on The Juggle, the WSJ’s blog on juggling work and parenting. A study written up in Journal of Family Psychology found that the way a new mom reacts to her spouse’s parenting efforts has a huge impact on whether he is an engaged and participatory parent.

If she encourages him, sets aside time for him to hang with the new baby, and complements him in front of others, he’s more likely to stay engaged. If she rolls her eyes, mocks him, or talks him down to the baby (you know ‘daddy dressed you in a silly outfit, didn’t he’), he’s likely to back away from involvement.

As a new mom, I was totally insecure. One of the ways that I hid it was to pretend I knew what I was doing. Because the monkeys outnumbered me, I couldn’t pretend that I could do it alone. Mr. Daddy had to get involved early, which I think has been great for our relationship and the relationship that he has with the monkeys.

When I went back to work, I started traveling. Because Mr. Daddy was always home at night, there was another reason that he had to stay very involved with their care. Even in these circumstances, though, I could see that the more I tried to tell him what to do, or, even worse, ‘fix’ the mess he had made with their outfits, their diapers or their cribs, the more he would back off. I quickly learned that the only thing I’d get out of micro-managing was the opportunity to do it all myself. No thank you.

Managers and bosses can have the same effect on their employees. The boss who always re-writes her associates’ documents no matter how good they are will find, over time, that they always come to her in need of a rewrite. Any smart worker learns not to waste her time if the work is going to be ‘fixed’ anyway.

Many good leaders are conscious of this kind of overt over correction, and avoid doing it. What we might not always be conscious of are the indirect ways we teach those who work for/with us to be helpless — withcomments to other colleagues, expressive body language, not taking time to communicate properly or even not giving people enough time to get something right.

The result in the workplace is the same as the result in the home: lack of engagement and lack of participation. These subtle messages that you’re not doing a good job results in you not doing a good job, and often, not doing the job at all. Which works out well for the manager or the parent who wants to do it all herself. And is a good reminder for the rest of us to think about how we empower others.

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Brazen Careerist, is one of my favorite blogs, and I especially liked Penelope’s recent post on how to be a good manager. Her mantra: be generous. Which I love, of course, because it’s not only something that applies to being a good manager, it applies to being a good person in general. Life is not a zero sum game. Surprisingly, giving more to other people doesn’t leave you with less. It leaves you with more. So yes, generosity is critical, in management and in relationships outside of work.

This post got me thinking about what I think it takes to be a good manager. And I think it’s simple: be empathetic. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes, seeing a situation from their perspective is critical. It allows you to assess the situation better and therefore respond to it in a more appropriate manner. It also helps you win the trust of the people who you are managing or leading, so that even if you have to tell them some stuff that’s hard to hear, they know that you’re coming from a place of understanding and appreciation of their position.

I learned a little bit about empathy this week from the monkeys. Monkey #1 was really sick: pneumonia. For the second time in three months. Poor guy was a mess, with a fever and a hacking cough. To make things worse, his cough kept him from sleeping for very long. So, I had a sad, feverish, phlegmey, tired kid on my hands for several days.

His brother was equally sad, whiny, and clingy. But not sick. Initially, I’ll admit, I was annoyed with monkey #2. Couldn’t he see that I had my hands full with his brother?  Didn’t he know why I couldn’t pick him up?

But then I looked at the situation from his perspective.

Here he was, deprived not only of a lot of my attention, but also deprived of his playmate and his best friend. Realizing that Monkey #2 was reacting not only because he was jealous but also because he was lonely and, of course, bored, helped me help him. I sent him to school without his brother. I made sure that he got plenty of park and play time with Mr. Daddy. And I made some room on my lap so that he could get in some snuggles, too.

It was still a pretty rough week, but at least I didn’t feel like I was ripping Monkey #2 off.

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Tonight, I was playing in the basement with the monkeys before dinner. Urban Super Dad called down to let us know that dinner was ready. “OK, Monkeys,” I said, “time to go upstairs for dinner.” It was 6:30 and I was hungry. “We’re playing,” was the response, accompanied by a complete lack of movement towards the stairs. “OK,” I tried again, “Who wants to go upstairs to check the mail?” This, of course was a big hit. Within seconds we were all upstairs, had quickly checked the mail, and were washing up for dinner.

The trick is one employed by parents everywhere, I’m sure. Don’t worry so much about what you’ll do once you get there, just get everyone going in the right direction, and it’ll all work out. By shifting my focus from something that they weren’t excited about – dinner – to something that they were – the mail – I was quickly able to get the monkeys where I wanted them – at the dinner table.

It’s a tactic that smart managers use, too. My boss does it to me. He’ll tell me over and over again that he wants me meeting with a certain kind of person. I show a complete lack of interest. Then he points me to a couple of specific interesting people at specific organizations, and there I am, meeting with a certain kind of person.

Peter, our communications lead, just successfully did the same thing. He’s been trying to get folks at the company to write articles and submit papers to conferences for over a year, and has had limited successes with one or two people. Recently, he tried another tack. He told them all about a great conference in Paris, and told them that our company would pay for attendance for whomever gets accepted. Within weeks, eight people submitted abstracts, three of which were accepted. It really moved the needle.

This tactic works because it involves figuring out what’s going to motivate people to act quickly and get them in the direction that they need to go in. It’s requires thinking of both the short term and the long term benefits of the actions that you’re trying to get people to take. It requires you to articulate not just why an activity is good for your company or your family, but also why it’s good for each individual involved.

Even better, it helps you avoid the hassle of convincing people that they need to do something that you want them to do. I could have spent 15 minutes trying to convince my kids to go upstairs for dinner. We might have finally gotten to the table, but by the time we got there, we all would have been worn out and dinner would have been cold. Instead, we had a nice family dinner. Oh, and we got the mail.

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At our company retreat the other day, I was doing some thinking about how I can grow in the next year and came up with the idea that I should be more authoritative. I am one of the leaders of my company, and while I think my leadership has impact in small group settings, I’d like to amp up my impact in larger group settings and with people who are meeting me for the first time.

After I shared my goals with my team, a colleague approached me and told me that he didn’t think I should try to be more authoritative at all. In fact, he said, he really liked my leadership style, which comes across as supportive and directive, but not bossy, enabling others to grow around me. It was nice to hear, and I think he’s right in that I shouldn’t try to change my style with small groups as I try to have more impact on large ones.

I was thinking about all this today as I was hanging out with my kids at bath time, counting down from 3 to 1 and insisting that they stop doing…something. I don’t even remember what it was and it was only about an hour ago. It just blurs with all of the other things I was on them about today: not hitting each other, not stepping on me, not whining to get what they want, not grabbing toys, not rattling the delicate banister, not, not, not.

What struck me is that it’s much harder to strike the right balance between authoritative and supportive with my kids then it is at work. That’s partly because the folks I work with don’t ever turn their bodies into noodles and droop onto the floor in public to avoid following directions, or run away from me giggling and covering their eyes when I’m trying to talk to them. But even when they don’t always act like professional adults, and I can usually manage to be one.

Unfortunately, I think I get sucked into the games my kids play with me, and react accordingly. I’m going to try to see if there are things I do at work that I can bring to leading my kids with more ease and less dominance. And perhaps, there are ways that I command my kids that I can translate into large group settings to project a more powerful presence. I wonder how a client would take to hearing, “I’m going to count down from 3 to 1, and if you’re still beating that dead horse, then…”

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We’re visiting my brother and his family in Orlando, and got the chance to go to Sea World with the monkeys this afternoon.  I was a bit apprehensive about the trip, not being a big fan of crowds or commercialism, but I heard that they sell beer, so twisting my arm wasn’t very hard. We saw a show called Blue Horizons, which, despite the cheesy music, was very cool. There were human acrobats, performing dolphins and whales, and even three different kinds of birds, working together to put on a truly amazing show.I was struck by a couple of things:First, I often find it hard to get a team of four people working together towards a common goal. Yet here were not just different people but different species working together to deliver a delightful experience, three times a day. Maybe we’re not giving out fish as liberally as we should be.  Second,  I am always impressed when I get the chance to experience true spectacle. I felt the same way watching this show as I feel watching the fountain by Wet Design at the Bellagio in Las Vegas or a show by the Cirque du Soleil. Its really fun to see something that pushes the boundaries of what we think of as possible. And inspiring to know that there are folks who are working to do it all over the place, from Orlando, to Las Vegas, to Montreal, every day. 

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I read Marci Alboher’s Shifting Careers blog in the New York Times on Saturday, and have been thinking about her Friday post it all weekend.

She pointed to Marc Andreessen’s posts about creating a successful career.  He makes some interesting points in the entries. I especially like what he has to say about making sure that you expose yourself to opportunities to fail, so that you can learn how to handle tough situations.

He also says that his advice is “aimed at high-potential people who want to excel throughout their careers and make a significant impact on their fields and in the world. These posts are not (emphasis in original) appropriate for people for whom work/life balance is a high priority or for whom lifestyle is particularly important.”

This is the part that Marci takes issue with, writing “I believe that it is possible to make a significant impact in one’s field and in the world while also having at least some modicum of work/life balance, even if it may not feel like that every day.”

Now if you’re reading my blog, you know that I tend to agree with Marci that you shouldn’t have to choose career achievement orsatisfaction in other parts of your life. You should be able to have both. But Andreessen’s advice is directed at young people – people starting out in their careers, even folks who are still deciding where to go to college and what to major in. I wonder if the advice is appropriate for people in that stage of life.

To excel and make significant impact, don’t you need experience, skills, expertise and even wisdom? And to excel and make significant impact that before you’re 50, don’t you have to give your career your all during some part of your life, so that you have something to offer when you want to dial it down a bit?

Here’s where I’m coming from: There are some things that I’m really good at. I can do them better than almost anyone in my company, which is why I can do my intense, exciting and gratifying job only four days a week –  sometimes I do it so well that I do it better in four days than most other people would be able to do in five days. But I wasn’t always so good at all of these things. It took time, dedication, and commitment. In fact, it took almost all of my time for many years of my life.  

I work with a lot of young people, Millennials, who feel like they should be able to quickly rise in the working world without sacrificing other parts of their lives. Is it wrong to ask them to give up that belief? Is there really another way to excellence and impact than working your butt off?

One answer to these questions is to encourage young people to choose a career that they like doing enough that it doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice when they give their jobs a lot of their time. That way it feels fun and good and compelling even when it does “take over your life” for a period of time. But is that a cop out? Is there, in fact, another approach, that you can take from the beginning of your career, that I and my generational cohort didn’t know about?

I’m not sure. I’d love to hear some other folks’ opinions.

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So I followed the advice from First Break All the Rules in hiring a new nanny, and I’m really pleased with the person that we’ve hired. She’s got a great attitude, the kids really love her, and she seems comfortable managing the challenges of the job (and by that I mean corralling a pair of 2.5 year olds who are in turns, charming and devilish, self-sufficient and dependent). But she doesn’t have as much experience as our prior nanny, and there is, of course, the learning curve of figuring out how our particular household, children, and stroller work. And I work from home.

I am struggling with finding the line between how much I should be jumping in and helping her while the boys are testing her by getting out of their beds to go potty four times before finally settling down for their naps, versus how much I should just sit in my office, with headphones in my ears and while sitting on my hands, letting her figure it out.

While it might be more dramatic when played out on the home-front, my struggle is a classic problem that leaders often encounter at work as they’re managing and developing people. One way of thinking about this issue that I’ve found helpful at work is the Blanchard model of situational leadership. According to Blanchard, there are four different kinds of leaders: directing leaders (S1), coaching leaders (S2), supporting leaders (S3) and delegating leaders (S4). There are also four different levels to describe the skills of the people that you lead, with much less catchy names. “Followers” can be Low Competence, High Commitment (D1), Some Competence, Low Commitment (D2), High Competence, Variable Commitment (D3), and High Competence, High Commitment (D4). Blanchard suggests that leaders match their style with where the people that they’re leading are. Which makes a lot of sense.


My former nanny started as a D3 and became a D4 after 2 years, and my new one is starting as a D2. According to Blanchard that means that I do need to step in to help her understand her role and define the tasks that she’s involved in, but I also need to do some sitting on my hands, letting her figure stuff out and come up with her own ideas.

It’s easy to agree with the model from an intellectual perspective, of course, and much harder to watch (or hear) my nanny learn on the job when the job is my kids. I think that’s one of the challenges of having people work for you personally, whether it’s in your home or for your small business. But since there doesn’t seem to be any existing frameworks for training a nanny, I’m going to go ahead and give Blanchard a try. 

I don’t know if you’ve tried it, but it is extremely difficult to type while I’m sitting on my hands.

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