Work Life Balance?

[This will be one of many posts on Work Life Balance]

My youngest daughter (someday she may read this stuff and laugh) had an assignment a few years back in kindergarten to write about one of her parents.  She picked me.  The form that the teacher provided had certain questions to answer:

1.  My Dad’s name is:  Carl Weber (Weird when your kids say or use your whole name.)

2.  How old is your Dad?  89 (I was 39 at the time, so at least she got the 9 right, and I looked pretty good for a 89-year-old.)

3.  How much does your Dad weigh?  200 lbs  (Before I comment on her accuracy, what teacher wants to know this?  She was pretty much within a pound at the time…rats.)

4.  My Dad likes to:  Check his email

There it was…in black and white, or actually crayon.  Dad likes to check his email.  I could make excuses.  I could blame a demanding job, a busy life, and my attempts to provide a better life for her, but my actions spoke louder than any words.

I stepped back to reflect on how often I was checking the phone or sitting at the computer in a state of distraction trying to get more work accomplished.  Balancing work and life is more than just working while at home, or checking email on your phone while in the presence of your family.  Shortly after this project, during a conversation in the dining room (while I was on the computer) she said words that still haunt me:

“Daddy, I want you to listen with your face!”

Where are you out of balance?  Who or what needs your attention, your focus, your face?  I am beginning to walk out this journey of balancing work and life, but it is not easy.  Creating boundaries has helped, but more on that later.  Is it working?  Only time will tell.

Recently she had another project to write about me again.  This time the result was different.  Here is what she wrote…

1.  My Dad doesn’t like it when:   He Does Not Win!

The Perpetual Myth

A while ago, while facilitating a team I witnessed an amazing event.  The team was having a discussion about improving their operation and leading well, but that was not the amazing part.

During the discussion, every (and I mean every) time one team member brought up an area for improvement the leader immediately spoke up about how well the organization did in that area.  At first I thought it was a fluke, but after it continued to happen, I couldn’t help myself, and the words just came out.

“So, is this session going to be about continuing the MYTH of who this organization used to be, or are we going talk about making it better?”

At first I regretted the outburst, especially since the leader slowly got up and walked out of the room.  (By the way that was the first time that had ever happened, and I wondered if I was about to be fired.)  After an awkward silence, the group cautiously pressed forward and identified areas that needed improvement and after about an hour the leader returned and addressed the group.

This leader told a story about the state of the organization years ago, and how this leader took on a visionary-promoting role that helped transform the last decade.  Now the amazing part…the leader then admitted that the prior role had created a blind spot especially since the leader was so invested in the progress they made.  Identifying the MYTH, helped this leader see more clearly and understand that the team was not tearing anything down, but was trying to take the organization even higher.

So, where are you perpetuating a MYTH…about who you are, or who your organization is? Talking about it and carrying it out are worlds apart.  Ask the tough questions, and more importantly think about your reaction when people bring up what you or your organization could be doing better.  Do you default to the MYTH, or do you find the opportunity to improve?

Who is Telling Your Story?

During a recent conversation I asked a leader what was the biggest challenge facing the organization.  After a few moments, the reply went something like this…(the particular organization works multiple shifts).

“The newer employees have a negative view of who I am as a leader.  Whenever I try to improve or change the organization, there is a surprising level of resistance, especially from the newer employees.”

After a series of questions, I learned that besides conducting a final interview, this leader could not tell me the last time he personally interacted with any new employees in the last two years.  On top of that, the shift work is based on seniority, so most new employees work on the night shift.

This leader is busy and works long hours every day; every day – during the day.  So, to state the obvious this leader is relying on co-workers and supervisors on the least desirable shift to set the tone of who this leader is.  Relying on others to tell your “leadership story” and provide the context of where the organization is heading and why a particular change is needed is simply not a recipe for success.

When faced with the reality of the reliance on others to tell this leader’s “story” the solution became clear.

“So, what you are saying is that I need to be present and available to interact with those employees…you mean on a regular basis?”

“Only if you want to make a difference.”

Do you want to make a difference?  Or, are you relying on others to provide the narration of your leadership story?  Do employees hear from you?  We are not talking about memos and emails!  When was the last time you regularly interacted with employees so they know and understand who you are and why they should place their trust in you, and give their hard work to the organization.

Sometimes you will need to ask someone to remind or hold you accountable to put this into practice.  That reminds me, I have to call this leader and ask if they were on the night shift during the past month.  Wish me luck.

Leading and Communicating

What do leading and communicating have in common?  

“You can’t do one without the other?”  Maybe.

“Both are important?”  Yes, but keep guessing.

“Hmmm…I give up.”  Okay, Okay I won’t keep you guessing.

From what I have observed, the thing they have in common is also the thing that makes both harder than you may have imagined, and it is this:

Both leading and communicating are unique in that if you do not actively work at them, you lose ground.

Think about that for a moment.  If we assume that we are good at leading our organizations or even our families but do not actively take action, what happens?  If we assume that where we left off the last time we communicated with a peer, boss or co-worker, is exactly where the next conversation begins, we may be in for a surprise.

Resting or pausing in our communication or leadership does not hold our place, like a bookmark.  You have to work hard just to maintain where you are, and push even harder to make progress.

Let’s take communication as an example.  On a Tuesday afternoon you talk to an employee about a report that needs to be done right away because your boss just asked you about it, and you are in meetings on Wednesday, are with clients on Thursday, and happen to take Friday off.  You are back in the office on Monday, and strike up a conversation with that same employee.  Are you in the same place as you were on Tuesday?   

No.  What if that employee had to adjust their workload and stay late to get “your” report done for your boss.  You do not communicate for a few days, and had a long weekend. What is the current state of your relationship?  Have you lost ground?  By not recognizing this fact, you may walk in on Monday (well rested from your long weekend) and tackle the week.  That distance created between you and that employee will begin to widen if you do not take active steps to both communicate and lead well.

Most leaders I have worked with miss the distance that time creates in both leadership and communication and assume that everything is where they last left off.  Being able to recognize and address the distance will separate you from others.  Have you created distance? Have you assumed non-action kept your place?  What can you do today, this morning, or before you leave work today to actively be a leader or communicate well? Write it down, and DO IT!

Living Today

“Once I get that [insert item here] then I will be happy.”  The item can be a promotion, a car, the new job, a degree, a new house, friends, or a significant other, but it tends to create a world that exists “out there” not the reality of today.

Not that dreaming about the future or setting goals are bad things, but if they distract you from enjoying your actual life, there can be a problem.  The trouble is, life is a lot more routine than I ever expected, with small glimpses of excitement along the way.  So, my mind tends to wander off and create a vision of how I would like life to be, not how it actually is on a day-to-day basis.

I am reminded about a time while preparing for a road trip with the kids, we needed to leave the house early in order to “be there on time.”  I kept reminding them that it was time to leave, and how much fun it would be once we got there.  It was at that moment my youngest daughter blurted out:

“But Daddy, I am not having fun right now!”

Suddenly, getting out the door was not the main goal.  The thought of stressing out my kids in order to “have fun” in some future moment shook me back into the present reality.  Enjoying the morning, the ride, the trip, and my kids became the new goal…and that is what we did.

Her words have become a reminder for me to live life now and not wait assuming that the fun will arrive later.  At home, at the office, with relationships, or with goals (that can become nothing more than a way to escape my current situation), TODAY is our opportunity to do something real and not just dream about it.  And if life has become merely rushing around assuming you will have FUN later, pause for a moment and find your way back to what matters, and live today.

Kids These Days…

How funny is it that once you reach 40, you start to become Snarky about the generations below you?  Regularly when speaking to larger groups of supervisors or managers, you start to hear this:

THEY do not have OUR work ethic.”

THEY don’t take the jobs as seriously as WE do.”

“There is no way that THEY could do OUR jobs.”

Why do we have to hold ourselves up as that standard to measure everything else against?  I recently heard someone say “don’t you realize that this next generation will be the first generation not to surpass the previous one in wealth?”

Well, everything fails by an irrelevant standard

Judgement between generations is not new, but I wonder if some of the angst stems from our own insecurities, or jealousy of a generation that may be more balanced between work and life.  Remember, some generations witness first hand how companies treated their parents during recessions, should we be surprised that after witnessing someone being treated poorly by a company, a child, coworker, or friend may not hold WORK in the same regard as a prior generation?

P.S. The generation ahead of you said the same things about you, and somehow the world survived.

Your Job Matters

I was working with a team in a laundry facility at a nursing home.  They were in conflict, working long hours in a small and hot space.  During the individual interview with each employee, I asked a simple question and expected a simple answer: What do you do?  You, like I may have expected answers such as, “I clean laundry” “I wash soiled sheets”, but that was not the reply.

Every employee had a similar response.  “We provide dignity to our residents in their last stages of life.”  Completely blown away, I didn’t know how to reply, so I pressed further.  “What do you mean?”

“Clean sheets each day are dignity, and another thing, we wash their personal clothes, and mend their sweaters…something that may be the last connection to their former life…that is what we do.”

Do you think someone told them that their job mattered?  Absolutely.  Why don’t we do this enough with positions that seem “less than” when compared against more prestigious jobs?  You can start today…what are you waiting for?  If you are in one of those jobs that makes life better for others, hear this:  Thank You…Your Job Matters.

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