Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Are You a Leader Who Coaxes, Encourages, and Inspires?

3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept by Scott Maxwell via Flickr CC

3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept by Scott Maxwell via Flickr CC

A guest post by Don Phin 

Today’s leader is inclusive.

Even a strong leader must discipline himself/herself to take up the right amount of “space,” and that right amount is 40%, especially if he/she wants to work with other strong individuals.

If we’re at less than 40%, we’re out of our personal power and easily manipulated.  We turn ourselves into a victim.  If we’re at anything over 50%, we’ll be turned into a villain by others who will either flee us or prepare for war.  The sweet spot is found by staying at 40%. The room between the 40/40 is the room for the co-creation, for the dance. Fact is, every relationship needs space in order to survive!

80% leaders usually end up having to do most of the work themselves because the people they attract are mostly 20 percenters who will look to them for guidance.  A leader  should never tell a 20% person what’s wrong with them or reject them.  Since they’ve adopted a victim mentality, they will be highly sensitive to rejection.  It will drive them back and they will feel abandoned and betrayed by us.   If we are working in a relationship with a 20% person, we must have the discipline to stay in our 40% and to coax, encourage, and inspire them until they take up their 40%.

Coaxing means letting the person know, gently, that we think they’re OK and we want to play with them.  We say, “Come out and do something with me,” or “Come, talk to me.  I’m not as tough as I look.”  We say every way that we can that we would like to play with them and that we’re safe for them to be with.

Encouragement lets the person knows they’re doing well.  We give them a lot of acceptance and approval for what they’ve done well.  We focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses.  We tell them we like them and that we want to keep working on the relationship with them because it’s something valuable to us.

Inspiration entails always going back to the spiritual purpose for being together.  We always want to discover and remind them of the things we’ve got in common and what we’re working towards together.

Today’s humble, yet effective, leader will be a master of coaxing, encouraging, and inspiring!

Don Phin is the founder and President of HR That Works, a powerful program used by more than 3,000 companies nationwide. Don has a unique ability to bridge various disciplines and take a common-sense approach toward workplace relationships. Learn more about Don.

How To Get Resources Over Someone’s Dead Body

Ever been in a situation where you absolutely need a project to be resourced, but there are no resources? I remember one particularly extreme case that I had to deal with. I was a product manager, and my product was dependent on a particular instrument sold by another company. Just a few months after my product launched, the other company discontinued their product. We were screwed.

As a first mitigation, we bought the entire supply of the existing product, which would allow us to sell to an additional ten customers. After that, the only option was a poor substitute that we did not currently support.

The good news: a few years earlier my company had developed an in house version that was never commercialized. I did some checking, and it could be launched with a minimum of effort in about six months. The bad news: the instrument division was consumed with a high profile, expensive project. The company was moderately political and laden with silos. And my division rarely partnered with the instrument division.

The first reaction from “Bill” the resource doorkeeper was politely negative. Although he didn’t exactly say you’ll get those resources over my dead body, the message I got was that the resources would only be available over his dead body.

I am not big on losing, and I found a way to get it done. Success came from a combination of two strategies.

  1. I was lucky because one of my colleagues was well connected in the instrument division. He knew the right people to get a realistic resource estimate, and they all liked him.
  2. We got the key decision makers from both divisions in the room together. I put up side-by-side revenue forecasts, with a loss of $27 million dollars over three years if we did not launch the new product. There was a difficult conversation, but the resources were assigned.

I was quite pleased with myself because I won. We got the supporting product we needed, and the revenue plan was intact. I didn’t care (or even realize) that I made a powerful enemy. Maybe it was inevitable that Bill was going to get pissed off. But I don’t think I did everything I could to get him on board before the meeting. Instead, I  took the “screw you, I’m going to win approach.”

To my credit I was unfailingly polite, and presented a revenue forecast that left few options.

But it came back to haunt me. While at the time I thought it was done over “Bill’s” dead body, in many ways it was over mine.

Does Avoiding Office Politics Mean Abdicating Your Power and Responsibility?

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 16

When I first entered the corporate world, I was under the illusion that I was above politics. I did excellent work, and thought that data and passion for the customer would carry the day. I explained my philosophy to a new mentor over lunch, at a time when I was looking for answers to my crazy life.  I think my exact words ended with “I don’t play politics because I don’t need to.”

He laughed.  “Ok,” he said after taking a sip of coffee. “You may think that, but I assure you that others in the organization don’t think that way.”

Boy was he right.

If you’ve made it this far through the book, you probably realize that I’ve grown up quite a bit since then.  On some level, I knew about the people who I now call Foxes, manipulators only out for themselves.  But I failed to recognize that sometimes a Fox has power, and makes getting more power a priority.  (In this post, I share an example of A CEO firing someone for being manipulative.)  I, like many others, viewed politics as inherently manipulative and bad.

Eventually, I woke up to the reality that politics exists in every company. In good companies, politics revolves around competition between groups for resources, or differing views on business strategy.  In unhealthy companies, politics is about ego, empire building, and gets very very personal.

By not playing politics I was abdicating some of my power, and thus unable to  effectively do my job or set boundaries around my home life. I was severly under-gunned when I was attacked by a powerful Fox.

Politics is a tool, and like any tool can be used for good or ill.

As a prelude to the next post, I highly recommend this video. Harvard Business Review authors Kent Lineback and Linda Hill champion the why and how of using politics for good purposes. A bit dry buy very informative, especially the first few minutes.

What is your  experience with office politics?

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How To Redefine “What Is Best For The Company.”

“Office Space” Movie Night Party via Bashionista.com

Chapter 9: Part 10

Ever hear the phrase “we need to do what is best for the company?”  What was the context?

Was it someone explaining to you your basic job responsibilities, or was it someone justifying an unpalatable decision?

I asked the people I interviewed about the phrase “the good of the company.” Hare are answers from two leaders I respect and introduced to you earlier in the book.

Remember Harry T Lobo, the Wolf CEO from Chapter 4, who struggled in a toxic environment in Chapter 6?  Harry feels that it is his job to do what is best for the company BUT  he focuses on what is best in the long term.

Harry told me that one of the things he found difficult in his time at the toxic culture was the incredible pressure at the end of the quarter, when  “60 percent of revenue came in the last 48 hours.”  The sales team was incentivized to do crazy deals to pull business forward, which in the short run helped maintain the stock price. In Harry’s opinion, this built a “house of cards” because it was that much harder to make the number the following quarter.

Another admirable leader we met was Janet “power mom” Wolf in Chapter 7.  Janet told me of a situation where site closures were explained to the remaining employees as a positive step because they brought various product development teams together in house. Closer coordination would get products to market more quickly, and thus better serve customers.  Janet  had visibility to the decision making process of those senior to her, and thought the layoff was more about cost savings, combined with an arrogance that the other sites, brought in by acquisition, were not as good.  Janet told me that executives made comments like “what do those people do all day?”

Janet did not think the loss of the personnel and expertise would  benefit the company in the long run.  The company did not offer any relocation packages, which in Janet’s opinion “spoke volumes” about what the executives thought of the people.

The lesson here is that even in a toxic culture, there are leaders who define “the good of the company” in terms of the long term interest and who value people.  The trick is to find these leaders, and the pockets of relative calm and sanity they can provide.  For example, Janet  talked about how she tried to shield her team from the buffeting from the top.

When I was caught up in my corporate idolatry, I would never have considered certain positions because the products were not cool or important enough.  But as work because less important to me, I became more open minded, and was delighted to get a job out of the limelight.  There was less stress, and I had the bandwidth to focus on health and family.

Who are the leaders in your company who seem to focus on the long term?  Have you ever considered working for them?  Is there a department that in the past seemed too boring that is work considering?

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The Accidental Lie In My Forecast

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 5

I used to agonize over my revenue forecasts.  I’m sure the scientist in me was holding me back, or rather was driving me to make them incredibly precise. But that didn’t make them more accurate.  I used to get advice from people in the know like “be confident” and “just list your assumptions.”  But I never really got it until my very last product forecast.

I presented the forecast on the phone, using hard copy of the slide deck.  It was a routine launch review for a small product, and I had nudged up the numbers since the previous checkpoint due to favorable market conditions.  I got a surprising amount of pushback from the executive review committee, but I confidently defended the numbers, citing “changing market conditions.”  I was really surprised at how excited the execs were as they signed off.  The next day I discovered why: finance made an error in the last minute slide preparation, such that the revenue was one hundred times higher than it should have been.

I should have caught the mistake, and earlier in my career I would have been panicked and mortified.  But that day, I laughed out loud and never said a word to anyone.  The bar graph was absurd: one huge bar on the right, and a bunch of tiny pancakes to its left.  But I was a hero for my rosy prediction of the future.

I finally got it.  I was so hung up on finding the truth, but there is no truth to be had in a forecast.  Predicting the future is impossible.  And by changing assumptions, a forecast can be made to say anything.

What has been your experience with forecasts?

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