Posts Tagged ‘managing’

After several hours of a rough morning with the monkeys, I found myself threatening thus: “I’m going to call your father.” To which the monkeys literally responded: “Why?”

And really, I’m not sure why I said it. They’re not afraid of him, and really, he was working at a cafe. What was he going to do?

I must have gotten it from my mom, who would routinely make the same threat. While it might have been somewhat more effective, because my dad was much more removed from the day-to-day  parenting than Mr. Daddy is, it couldn’t have really been that effective. After all, in the house where I grew up, my dad was the softie and my mom was the disciplinarian. It’s a good bet that had my mom called my dad, he would have been as likely to brush her off or talk her down from her anger as he would have been to punish me.

I can only guess that my mom was doing the same thing I was, using a threat that her mom used. And from what I know about my grandmother and grandfather, I’m guessing that the ‘I’m going to call your father’ threat was actually effective three generations ago. I think my grandfather could be pretty scary when he wanted to be.

This kind of passing on of tactics from one generation to another doesn’t just happen in households, it happens in offices, too. Just as I learned how to parent – both how to parent well and how to parent less well – from my own parents, I learned how to manage and lead from those people who have managed and led me. And I’ve got to say, I think I’ve had better role models in the house than in the office.

Either way, though, it’s really easy to find yourself parroting a voice that you heard long ago. We think of legacy systems as technology or organizational structure, but there are implicit ‘systems’ of leading and managing that get passed on in organizations, too.

As a parent, I feel like it’s my job to make sure that the monkeys don’t resort to an ‘I’m going to call your mother,’ when they’re trying to wrangle their kids. And I think most parents are already pretty concious about not repeating what we see as our parent’s mistakes. As a leader, I feel like I need make sure that I’m equally concious of not repeating the mistakes of mediocre or bad leaders or managers that I’ve encountered during my career.


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We went to Ikea for dinner tonight. (This time, we didn’t go just to get the monkeys to behave, but knowing that I wanted to go check some stuff out gave me a great way to keep those guys in line all day. A nice byproduct.)

After dinner, we went downstairs to get ice cream. We got the cones, but didn’t manage to get the extra cups and spoons we usually give them so they can eat their ice cream and not make a total mess. As they started to eat I realized that at 3 years old, the monkeys are actually old enough to learn how to eat an ice cream cone.

Being old enough to learn how to properly lick an ice cream cone is not a major milestone that’s likely to be found in any parenting book. But it’s another reminder that they’re growing up, and fast. 

Tonight, it was another reminder that we cling to the practices that worked when they were younger because that’s becomes the habit that we’re in. Assisted ice cream eating, sitting in high chairs at the dinner table, swinging in the baby swings at the park, and ‘bumping’ down the stairs are just a few of the things I can think of that we should probably be moving past soon. But they’ve become as much crutches for me as they are assists for the monkeys. The high chairs keep them stuck in their seats. When they bump down the stairs, I don’t have to watch them as closely (and they can carry things!). All these reasons keep me – and them – rooted in what’s comfortable instead of looking for opportunities to grow.

And to be fair, it’s not just me. Although they are getting to be ‘big boys’ the monkeys still love to be cuddled, coddled and carried – mostly by me. They like to play the baby role almost as much as they like playing the big boy role.

But there’s something exciting and fun about teaching your kids the proper technique for maximum enjoyment of ice cream with minimum melting all over your hands. And for them, there’s something exciting about developing new skills and doing things that the big kids can do. Even as we give up some of the positive benefits of old behaviors, we gain something from adopting new ones.

It’s not just our kids that we get into these patterns with, of course, it’s our colleagues, too.

It’s easy to limit someone’s growth by saying – she’s not ready, we’ll give her training wheels and then, someday she can do it on her own. It even sounds like you’re doing something nice. But you’re not. You’re limiting her growth. Because without trying, she’ll never really learn.

Often growth happens at work by accident. People get pushed into developing or demonstrating new skills and flexing new muscles when they have to – a particularly difficult project or a very busy day means that everyone has to step up and eat their ice cream without a cup. And that’s when you realize that they can. But it’s probably worthwhile to be more proactive about providing these opportunities, not just taking advantage of them when they come up.

But I am going to be so sad to get rid of those high chairs.


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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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I’m a bit of a sloucher. It’s an ingrained habit which I’m not particularly proud of. In fact, if you forced me to make a list of 10 things I’d like to change about my physical presence, standing up straight would probably make the top 5.

Until recently, I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. When someone tells me to stand up straight, I would be able to do it for a few minutes, but would always relapse into my slouchy stance.

Over several months of doing yoga, working on building my shoulder strength and opening my chest, I realize why I could never stand up straight – I didn’t know how. When reminded to do it, I’d roll my shoulders back. But it was always a temporary fix.

Really standing up straight, in manner that can be enduring, requires more than just rolling the tops of your shoulders back. First, you need to moving your shoulder blades towards each other, and pull them down your back. This enables you to open your chest without sticking out your boobs, creating breadth across your shoulders and chest and causing you to, yes, stand up straight.

Who knew?

Well, of course, lots of people knew. They just didn’t know that I didn’t know. And they just didn’t think to teach it to me.

One of the biggest challenges of learning new skills is that when you don’t know what you’re doing you don’t know what questions you need to ask in order to learn to do it better. 

This challenge exists when when you’re trying to build technical skills like qualitative research or doing a better asana, but it can be even more difficult if you’re trying to develop fundamental skills like connecting with others or standing up straight. People are used to teaching technical skills, and may even remember learning them, so they have a grasp on what the steps of the process are.

When we’re learning fundamental skills, our teachers may be unconciously compitent, or naturals at something, and therefore unable to effectively teach. Worse, we’re often trying to learn from people who are not actually ‘teachers’. They don’t always teach by breaking down a skill into it’s component pieces and helping you develop them one by one until suddenly, you’re standing up straight more than you’re slouching.

There are a couple of ways that as learners and teachers, we can help make learning fundamentals easiers. First, as a learner, know what you want to learn. But don’t stop there – be on the lookout for when people around you do things well that you struggle with and proactively engage them in a conversation about what they’re doing well, how and why.

As a teacher, take the time to break down the outcome you desire into the multiple elements that can impact success and failure. Then, focus on teaching those elements one at a time. Many basic yoga postures are interim steps that build upon each other and ultimately lead to the ability to do something you never imagined that your body could achieve. If, as teachers, we break down even fundamental skills like listening and leading into their consituent parts, our students can learn one element at a time, slowly making progress until one day, they can stand up straight all day long.


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I pretty much stopped reading books about parenting after the first year of the monkeys’ lives. In part, I stopped reading because I was less desperate for help. In part, I stopped because I finally realized that there was no answer in any book that would really help me figure out my kids and figure out how to be the best parent I could. Those answers, I realized, had to come from me, my kids, my husband, and our relationships. Otherwise they wouldn’t work.

On one visit to Atlanta, though, my mom gave me a book,  Scream Free Parenting, written by  Hal Runkel, who she had seen speak at her synagogue. I read it because she asked me to, and was rewarded with one pearl of wisdom: we can’t always control our kid’s behavior but we can always control our reaction to their behavior.

I’m pretty sure this is something that’s covered in therapy 101, but it’s a useful reminder for me as a parent. It’s also a useful reminder for me as a leader, a manager, and an employee at work. We all encounter situations where we think that the folks we’re working with are acting badly, acting out, or just acting stupid. And sometimes, we want to act out too, in response to them.

It makes sense that if we scream at our kids in response to their screaming and whining, we’re not actually helping the situation, we’re modeling bad behavior. Likewise, if someone overreacts to something you’ve done at work, overreacting to their reaction isn’t going to help. In fact, it’s going to make things worse. Instead, try to do what you do with your kids: take a deep breath, take a moment, and respond as calmly and reasonably as you can. At the very least, you’ll feel better about your role in the situation. The best case scenario is that you calm down the other person, too, paving the way for a more rational, direct conversation.

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I was trying out a new pair of jeans by wearing them around the house the other day, and I asked Mr. Daddy if he thought I should keep them. He commented on the length and the color, but the crux of the question for jeans is all about one critical component: how my butt looks.

 “They’re good,” he said, “better than some of your other jeans, like your skinny jeans. I think you should keep them.”

“Just good?” I replied, sticking my butt out a little for him to get a closer look. “I think they look really good.”

“OK, just stand normally.” He paused to reflect. “I don’t know, I think your jeans should make your butt look bigger, more luscious. These jeans make your butt look smaller.”

And here we had come to the heart of the matter. His criteria for making my butt look good is the exact opposite from my criteria. He doesn’t love them because thinks they make my butt look smaller. I want my butt to look smaller.

Needless to say, I’m keeping the jeans. We’ve talked about how various pairs of jeans look on me before, but we’ve never had the conversation that we had the other night: what criteria are we using to determine whether the jeans are good or not. And we’ve never stopped to ask: are we using the same criteria? This hasn’t really been a problem in my life becasue as vain as I am, we’re talking about jeans, so the disconnect doesn’t really damage our relationship.

But it is representative of something that happens all of the time: two people (or more) are discussing a topic, making evaluations, and disagreeing without knowing why. Without taking the time to discuss our criteria, we assume that we have a shared sense of what good looks like. It happens between clients and consultants. And it happens between managers and teams. Often, it happens late in the stage of a long discussion or project, once time has been spent and decisions have already been made.

In a way, the assumption of a shared standard is nice – it feels better than assuming that you’ll disagree with someone. But not taking the time to articulate those standards can have dire implications. Imagine, I could have returned these priceless jeans!

Authors note: This may surprise you, but the image above is not my butt. But they are my jeans!

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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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