My current role requires me to work across global teams, which means that sometimes I am on teleconferences at odd hours of the day (or video conference…which is so much more pressure because then I have to brush my hair instead of sitting in my pyjama’s with a cup of tea like I normally do).
Whilst clearly this is not always ideal because the lines between my personal time and work time sometimes get blurry. Overall, I love the way it forces our teams into a much more flexible culture and teaming environment…
Firstly…because we are on different time zones and in different offices…the whole concept of “being in the office” is less important. Who knows if people are sitting at their desk all day or where they are working? At first this seems like a weird kind of freedom…what if someone in the team is just slacking off and going to the movies? How do you know if everyone is working as hard as you are? So…the only option is to focus on outcomes. What work needs to be done? …Is the work getting done? Well…then people are working. And if they choose to go to movies in the middle of the day, I guess they can…as long as they get the work done that they need to. Which sets a totally different vibe of trust and responsibility across the team.
Secondly…work/life integration becomes second nature. When I first started joining some of these teleconferences, it felt a little awkward and distracting when you could hear dogs barking or traffic in the background. Since people are dialing in from all over the place, at all sorts of times, there are lots of none typical noises that you hear.
So…. on a call this morning, I had a huge smile on my face when I could hear a little girl singing in the background…and no one even blinked an eye (well..actually…maybe they did, because I couldn’t see them…but no one said anything…so I’m going just go with the presumption that they were all cool with it!). And when our Senior Executive stopped mid-update to say “just hold on a moment I have to eat my play dough spaghetti”, I realised how lovely it is when we accept that work and life sometimes overlap…it feels like a more “human” place to work.
One of my best friends admits that sometimes she tells us facts which she isn’t 100% sure are true (you know who you are!!), but she says if you “say it with confidence” most of the time people will automatically believe you.
I…on the other hand…do not have this skill. Instead, I tend to preface everything thing I say with “I am not really sure but…”, “I’m probably not right, but” or “Shoot me down if I’m wrong…”. I like to think this makes me a very open minded and honest person…after all, I want to be humble, accepting of other people’s opinions/ideas and authentic about who I am. I know I have a terrible memory, so there is actually a high likelihood I might be wrong…
Which is all well and good but, quite frankly, at work I’ve noticed this can get me into a lot of trouble. I’ve noticed how other people always seem to be crystal clear about their thoughts and ideas. I wonder why I’m doubting myself when everyone else seems so sure. And then it suddenly occurred to me that maybe, all they are doing is simply “saying it with confidence”…so I believe them.
The thing is, why open yourself up unnecessarily to people questioning your ideas and opinions? In my case, usually the things I am talking about are things (at work at least, outside of work..hmm..lets just say you wouldn’t want me on your Trivia team) I have researched heavily, or have gained knowledge from my experience. I have thought it through and come up with a strategy or thought. So…I don’t need to preface what I am saying with all the question marks, infact, it is doing me damage.
I think I do it because deep down, I have a fear of failure, a fear of looking silly, a fear that maybe I’m a crazy imposter and soon everyone will figure out that I ain’t really got what it takes. But actually all I am doing, is making other people doubt my opinion. Making them question my decisions…after all, why wouldn’t they when it appears I am questioning them myself!?
So…this week I am going to practice saying it with confidence. If I’m 95% sure, I need to back myself. And if someone else thinks differently, or challenges me on my direction, that’s OK…I can explain my decision making if I need to and I still reserve the right to be open minded and change my decision if I get new information.
Of course, you can’t really use this strategy if you really don’t know what your talking about. My friend…gets away with slightly faking her facts sometimes, mostly because usually, she is pretty spot on. So if she thinks something is true (even if she can’t actually remember whether it is correct or not), she backs herself that it is probably right.
As the end of the year draws near, I’ve been reflecting on my work and pondering whether I should be considering increasing my working hours back to full time next year. I’m really excited and inspired by all the work I am doing and I would love the opportunity to step up to some more leadership challenges, to take that next step on the Executive ladder. And I can’t do that and work part time…can I?
When I think about my full time colleagues, it seems like perhaps they are more committed to work. Because they are available Mon-Fri, doesn’t that make them better candidates for leadership and clearly they can achieve more than me simply because they have more hours to get work done?
When I started to gather together my achievements recently for my annual performance review, I was pretty proud of some of the things that I have been able to achieve this year. Despite working part time, I have still delivered some amazing achievements and been able to move the business forward.
But wait a minute, working part time has allowed me to more effectively juggle all the priorities I have and ensure I’m spending my time doing things that are important to me. And this commitment, has actually made me uber productive. I know I only have a finite time, so I have become a master of wading through the work to find the big hitters, the things that really matter. I’ve successfully managed to attend 95% of the critical meetings at work, but I’ve also been there when my daughter got her merit certificate, I’ve been the driver on the walking School bus twice a week and I’ve carved out time to start doing more writing.
Usually, by the time my “day off” comes around, I’m starting to feel a little wound up and stressed about work, those work deadlines feel daunting and ominous. But then I take some time out, focus on some of the other priorities in my life, like spending time with the kids, exercising and writing my blog. These things inspire and excite me, so then when I am back at work on Thurs, I have re-energised, and I have a healthier perspective. I know that work is important but it’s not everything, which ironically, makes me better at it…because it is easier to keep a calm and clear mind ( I know I know…there are many days which are nowhere near calm, but just imagine what I would be like if that was my whole world, I would be going bananas)
When I stop and think about it. My success at work is not DESPITE me being part time, my success at work is BECAUSE I work part time. By feeling more in control of where I spend my time and energy, I’m BETTER and far more productive at work and I have managed to achieve great things.
So now I want to prove to the world (or maybe just myself!) that you can work part time, and be a successful leader in the corporate world. To break the notion that the ideal worker is someone who works 9-5 Mon- Fri and maybe a couple of weekends and evenings every now and again. That the ideal worker is 100% committed to work as their top priority above all else. Maybe at some point in my future, my priorities will shift and working more hours at my paid job will be the right thing to do. But right now, the balance is right, and just because I have made that choice, doesn’t mean I don’t want to excel or go forward…so watch out work…here I come (except on Wednesdays…ha ha)
I’ve learnt through my experiences at work, that it is important to be tuned into how the people you work with absorb information…especially your Manager, or people you need to build trust with. You see, everyone has their own communication preference, and everyone absorbs information different ways. There are lots of different official theories about this topic, but I’m not very good at remembering the theory…. here’s my take on it based on experiences in the office…
Some people LOVE detail
As I’ve said before, I’m a short and sweet kinda girl. Give me a text book or a thick wod of instructions and I’ll be asleep before page 2, just give me the key messages in bullet points PLEASE. But not everyone I work with has been like this. I worked with someone once who needed every minute detail to be explained before they committed. For me, it was like watching paint dry, such a slow and laborious process. But I knew I needed to hang in there, I provided every inch of detail that I could and eventually they were on the journey with me. If i had just steamed ahead in my usual style, I would have lost them and maybe not achieved all the outcomes I needed.
Some people LOVE visuals
Infact, I’m a bit of a visual person myself, but sometimes even I forget that. This week I’ve been trying to explain to my boss how my project is progressing. Despite the fact that I have written down some key points and I can verbally explain exactly what is going on…i get a sense that he’s not with me. Uh Oh. So as a last ditch attempt, I decide to try and do a chart…how can I convert my thinking into one simple chart. It took a few stabs but I finally got something that vaguely resembled what I was trying to explain and BANG! instantly he got it. Phew. Now I am looking at the chart and suddenly it all seems clearer to me too. Amazing what a simple translation can do. Same concept, different communication style.
Some people LOVE need it in context
Remember at school in maths, when they gave you word examples instead of just the numerics e.g 2+2=4 or Someone has two apples and buys another two, how many apples do they have now? I actually was way better at the numerical questions, but others are the opposite. In this case, you need examples, talk about your concept using analogies and examples. This will help the concept to “click” in their minds.
If you keep your eyes peeled at the office, you’ll notice there are lots more variations. I like to play little games with myself sometimes, trying to work out what style each of my co-workers has or someone new that I have met. Whilst it may not seem that important, I’ve come to realise that this can be one of the most critical things that helps you succeed. If you are willing to change your preferred style, to fit into someone elses, they are far more likely to support your work and what you are trying to achieve.
I’ve talked before about some of the bad managers I have had during my career… like Teflon, or the manager who threatened to throw her laptop at me (and I haven’t even written about “the aggressor” yet). But mostly, I have had the pleasure of working under some pretty amazing, influential and inspiring managers.
I believe Managers are the single biggest influence in your workplace. Doesn’t matter where you work or what you do, the person you work for has the power to truly engage you in what you do, or make you walk away from an awesome project. And it is not easy. When I was a Manager, I suddenly realised how hard the job is (I spent so many years thinking “I’m going to be such a good boss, just give me the reigns and I’ll run this joint”), then you realise just how different every employee is, the bureaucracy that Managers often have to deal with and how many ridiculous curve balls Managers are thrown on a daily basis. And in the social age… the manager role is becoming even more complex, as businesses become more open and collaborative.
So what has bubbled to the top in my experience?
My personal favourite leaders are calm and collected (to counter my sometimes passionate rollercoaster riding), they listen way more than they speak (they need to, with me on their team!), they empower and trust me (let me loose with an objective and the freedom to achieve it) and most of all, they make me feel like I’m amazeballs.
That last point is often the most important for me. That regular reassurance that I’m on the right track. The constructive suggestions to support my momentum. The faith that I can do it, even when I don’t believe that I can. The willingness to overlook some of my weaknesses because they can see my strengths. Like your own personal cheerleader.
And it can’t all be about work. A great Manager knows when to ask how things are going outside of work, is tuned into your tone on a bad day and gives you the support and space when you need it. This has happened to me recently and I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, and the commitment I gave back to work in return was ten fold.
Just like everything in life, it doesn’t always happen this way. And, as I’ve said before, working under some bad Managers gave me skills I may never have learnt if I hadn’t been forced into it sometimes. So I try to see it as a win:win situation, bad manager = great, what can I learn from this experience, what new skills can I develop from turning this challenge into an opportunity?..and when a great Manager comes along, I take every opportunity to learn from them, grow and hopefully progress.
If you’re a Manager, are you helping your team to thrive the hard way or the easy way today?
I was watching an interview on TV today about women working from home instead of in the office once they have had children (revolutionary topic!?!?).
It reminded me how fortunate I am working for a company which has provided a flexible working environment which has changed from working full time in the office, to full time at home and pretty much every combo of them both in between throughout my career. Whilst I have been afforded this luxury, I know that not every workplace can be this flexible and on the flip side, there are some employees who exploit the flexibility provided to them. Making it a very tricky subject.
In the interview today they also talked about how other workers often look unfavorably upon women with children being given flexibility that they don’t feel like they are afforded. Like the non-smoker who curses the smokers who get extra breaks, there are always those who will strike out with “..that’s not fair”. Infact, I remember watching some of my colleagues coming into work at 9.30am and leaving bang on 5pm while I slaved away into the evening, thinking “i’m never going to be one of those people”.
There is a great sign up at my kids school is says “Being fair doesn’t mean being equal. It means everyone is getting what they need to succeed“. I love this statement and annoy my kids with it all the time now. Because it is so true.
As a Manager, you need to work with everyone in your team individually. To understand what is important to them, what do they need to lift them up higher and make them fabulous? And what one person needs, is not what everyone needs. And those needs can change dramatically throughout someone’s career. Great Managers execute on this for their team because they know they will reap the rewards ten fold.
Now I am that person who sometimes comes in at 9.30am and leaves by 5pm. I work from home a lot and walk the dog in my lunch break. And I am 100 times more productive than I ever was when I was sitting at my desk for long hours wasting time judging my co-workers.
We need to stop comparing ourselves with others. It’s not whether you have children or don’t. whether your a woman or a man. If the person in the seat next to you (or working from their office at home), isn’t getting the same as you, that’s OK…infact, that’s just how it should be.
I read a quote earlier this week that has really stuck in my head…
“Employees are drowning in information but thirsting for clarity and purpose”
Paul Barton Communications
I believe this is one of the fundamental challenges workplaces have today. The social world has opened the door to a myriad of information and contact points from across the globe. But it so easy to get overwhelmed and literally feel like you are drowning in all this information. I certainly do. First thing I do when I hit the office (or hit the home study as the case may be) is check all my social media channels and our internal Connections community… next thing I know, I’m following links, reading articles, jumping from one place to another. On one hand, it is inspiring and exciting, I keep finding new bits of information to add to my program or someone elses ideas will spark ideas with me. But on the other hand, it is so hard to keep focused, to keep coming back to the realities of my little world and what I need to achieve.
So, leaders in organisations have SUCH a critical role now in driving the clarity and purpose that employees need to keep heading in the right direction. Provide the freedom required to let them network and be inspired by those around them but then keep bringing them back to your organisation, your purpose. This isn’t a new concept, I remember in Manager training many many years ago, we talked about the importance of employees having clarity in their roles. Infact, if you fail to provide clarity as a leader, everything else becomes irrelevant.
It helps when a leader embraces social and uses it to help regain that clarity…I’ve seen great leaders posting weekly blogs to their teams telling them what they are working and providing structure for the week. Others using micro-blogging techniques to share relevant information in real time, short sharp and easy for teams to digest. Then, of course, connecting more personally to ensure that each individual employee is on their track, that they have found personal motivation in what they are doing but can all clearly see how their work fits into the overall organisations vision.
I personally have to keep bringing myself back to my purpose. I have stuck my job description onto the whiteboard (yes people, in all the passion and excitement I literally forget what I’m supposed to be doing sometimes!) and each morning after my usual dig around in the social world (sometimes I need to put a timer on to bring myself back), I write down anything I’ve learnt or things I want to remember, then I pull out my trusty “to do” list which helps to re-focus my mind back to things I need to achieve my work goals for the day and ultimately for the organisation.
Do you get the clarity you need to get the job done?
Early in my career, I was moved into a team with a boss who was a talented and credible marketer. I couldn’t wait to work in her team and I knew that I would learn a lot. The first few weeks seemed to be going fine, she was paying attention to what I was contributing in meetings and watching my work intently. Soon, she pulled me aside for “a chat”. She started to reel off the things that she thought I needed to work on, she mentioned everything I had done “wrong” and she finished by telling me that I talk so much she found it “really annoying” and just sits in meetings feeling like she wants to throw her lap top at my head.
I was gutted, I couldn’t believe it….well actually no, I believed every single word she told me. She was right, I was useless. I know I have issues with talking too much sometimes, especially when I am passionate and excited and engaged. She made it personal, and her words cut me like a knife. I went home dejected and upset. I didn’t want to go back into work. How could I keep going?
But after 24hrs, I came back determined to improve. I decided to take the personal out of what she was saying, and tackle the issue head on. I went back to her and asked her for MORE feedback. Was I crazy!?! No, I just thought having it all on the table would help me to understand her position. It was hard to take, I had to bite my cheeks to stop from getting upset. I made notes. I took those notes and stripped away all the personal comments. If she doesn’t like me as a person, it doesn’t matter, but I want to be good at my job so I am going to take this as an opportunity to learn and grow. I asked other Managers if they had ideas on how i could improve some of the things she mentioned. I spoke to my colleagues and apologised if they felt “talked over” like she told me they did. I reminded them I would not be offended if they cut me off or made other suggestions in meetings…I would prefer this than they suffer in silence. Incredibly, they all looked at me like I was bonkers and told me they enjoyed working with me on teams because I was so engaged…even if I was a bit over exuberant some times. I didn’t believe them but I forged through. My Manager continued to point out my flaws, she rang me after meetings (it was apparently important to provide feedback in real time) and in our annual business reviews, she reeled off everything that I hadn’t done to perfection.
Amazingly, I was soon promoted.
I couldn’t believe it. Not only was I getting a new job but I was moving away from this Manager…YIPPPEEEE!!! I survived this period in my career by staying resilient, by not trying not to take things personally and looking at where I could grow and learn from the experience. But it wasn’t easy and it was also the start of many many wasted years of my career, where I focused all my attention on what I was doing wrong. She had taught me to look for my weaknesses and try to fix them. That anything less than perfect meant that I hadn’t succeeded and I needed to change. Don’t get me wrong, I had great fun and lots of growth, learning and opportunity at work, but underpinning it all was a constant voice that kept reminding me of what I should be…not what I was. Never truly believing that I was good at what I was doing, even when I was promoted and praised. I was just waiting for the house of cards to fall down around me, and my new Managers to realise how many flaws I was trying to patch.
Many years later, I had the absolute pleasure to be invited to a Positive Leadership workshop run by Michelle McQuaid. One of the things we did in the workshop was complete a VIA Strengths survey. Michelle talked about the importance of focusing on your strengths instead of trying to fix your weaknesses. To have a mindset of growth and to build on your strengths and the things that energise and engage you, letting your true self shine. This was a revolutionary moment for me. I took my top 5 strengths and put them up at my desk to remind me each day to search for those things in my work. My number 1 character Strength is Teamwork, so instead of seeing my need to work with others as a weaknesses because I’m hopeless at working on my own, I realised it was a strength to be able to work effectively with teams, to be energised by others, to show kindness to their needs…this is why I love being a Manager. Now I could seek out those opportunities which let my strengths shine.
And a funny thing happened
You know what, I stopped talking quite so much (Ok…so I didn’t exactly become quiet). The more confident I grew by reminding myself of my strengths, I stopped trying to over explain myself. And without the little voice in my head saying “stop stop talking, just stop, you’re talking too much”, I found more clarity in my words. I also realised that writing (like this blog!) and mentoring others gave me a channel for my thoughts, helping to get them out of my head and reduce my need to speak all the time in meetings.
I did meet up with that old Manager at a conference once (she had long since moved away from my company), and when I told her what I was doing, she said she wasn’t surprised. She always saw the potential in me, and that is why she was so hard on me, she thought pointing out the things I could improve would help me. And she believed she did help me. Noble intention, shocking execution. If only she knew the damage she did.
I’m just glad she never actually did throw her laptop at my head, although in hindsight, it would have been kinda funny if she tried…
(want to read more about my experiences with bosses, check out the story of Teflon!)
This post is the first in a series of posts I hope to do , sharing some of the good and bad manager experiences I have had over the years. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic leaders who have been paramount in my success. But recently I’ve also come to appreciate how the bad Managers I have worked for also taught me a lot and could also be credited for some serious growth I’ve made in business. That said, working for these Managers was not fun, it was frustrating, de-motivating and hard. I found myself often wishing that my circumstances were different (why did I have to deal with this crappy manager when other people had great managers and seemed to be going onto better things) and crying in the toilets was not unusual for me (I know, not good form, but sometimes you just have to let it out)
Teflon is great for pans but terrible for managers.
When I look back, one of the most significant manager stories comes from several years working under a leader whom we nicknamed “Teflon”. She earnt this name because nothing would “stick” to her. She delegated with such success that she literally did nothing herself. When I approached her with challenges in my team she would simply say “what do you think needs to happen” and when I was at a loss, she just left me to figure it out. When I did create solutions which needed her support, she failed to support them across the leadership teams and many projects fell to nothing under her leadership. Not only that but she was dis-engaged and disconnected from what was happening in our business, she was literally absent from the office a lot and would not return phone calls or emails.
I was managing a team of my own at the time, through times of change and pressure. They expected my action and delivery, yet I felt stunted and unable to drive the things required. I just wanted to curl into a ball and give up.
Bring in the cavalry…
But I wasn’t willing to give up…just yet… So I started talking to the other managers in our team and I soon realised I wasn’t the only one in this situation, all my colleagues under the same leader were suffering the same challenges and frustrations. So we united, we collaborated and we promised to support each other. We set up regular meetings across our manager team (yep, without our leader, I’m sure we probably invited her but …surprise…she didn’t come). We talked about our challenges and helped each other figure them out. We started to understand each persons unique expertise and were able to call on different team members to help with certain issues. We made strategies, plans and we implemented them successfully by working around our leader.
And we laughed…oh how we laughed…
In coming together as a team, we started to feel like “we got this” and our perspective on the situation started to change. We were able to laugh at the circumstances and find humour in the challenges we faced.
Those were some of the toughest years in my career and yet I still look back at them as also some of the best years of my career. I learnt so much from those around me, I was forced to grow tremendously as a leader and became far more self sufficient. And now, in the new age of social technologies, I realise that many of the skills we used, around collaboration, sharing of expertise across silo’s and not relying on heirachy, are becoming the new way of working and my previous experience has opened me up to see the possibilities it holds.
So, thank you “Teflon” for forcing me to look deeper and in doing so, working with some of the most amazing people I have been able to learn from and helping shape the person that I have become today.
What strengths does your current Manager bring out in you? what can you learn from your experience …even if that experience may not feel ideal today?