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Wednesday
Oct292014

Spend Less Time with Your Kids: They're More Resilient than Your Marriage

From my outsider status as a never-married woman with no children—caveat and full disclosure—I’ve pointed out that the state of parenting today makes me not want to parent. Sure, I could do it my own way, and I would if I did. Even still, observation from the outside more than intimidates—it frightens.

Recently, while watching another marriage crumble and after talking with someone struggling through the wobbliness of marriage after decades spent focusing on nothing but the children, I mused that individuals—children and youths especially—have resilience that marriages do not.

Though we like to believe marriage a firm, lasting, and irrevocable bond, we know otherwise. Researchers have debunked popular statistics about divorce percentages, yet even without real numbers, we all have seen the marriages among us crumble.

Marriages are fragile.

Children will always have more resilience than marriages—and a little less doting may do them good. (We’ve all heard the criticism of “helicopter parents” and the “everyone wins” culture.) A kid won’t wither because his parents spend a little less time and attention on him in favor of focusing on each other—especially if it means their marriage grows ever stronger as a result.

And lest you argue that adults already have less time for parenting than ever—a common guilt, with few parents feeling they spend enough time for their children—let me point to studies showing that people spend more time actively engaged with their children than they have in the past. Fathers have nearly tripled their kid time since 1965, according to research from Pew Research. The same Pew study found that today’s mothers spend more time with their children than mothers did in the 1960s—and more mothers work today (full- and part-time) than they did back then.

Perhaps we could redirect some of today’s extra focus on the children toward nurturing the marriage—which, I’d think, would only help with parenting well and in harmony and with raising healthy, happy kids who see the value and treasure of a positive and loving romantic partnership.

But what does someone spouseless and childless know?

What do you think?

Monday
Oct272014

Why I Missed the Real Value of Business Coaches

The term “coach” evokes someone with experience in a specific sport or activity. A coach has done or studied intensively—and over an extended period of time—a specific field and shares this particular expertise with others.

I have a boxing coach. I have had a running coach. I can understand why people hire coaches for childbirth. Also for weight loss and nutrition.

But a “business coach?”

Business has too many nuances and implications. A person doesn’t claim to have history expertise—she professes specific knowledge in an era or geographic region (and probably both). You can’t have a “sports coach.” That just doesn’t make any sense.

Although all areas of business have overlap, the general field has too much breadth and depth for any one person to coach in all its facets. Wooing from business coaches with backgrounds in supply-chain management for manufacturing or franchise management—two real-life examples—puzzled me.

I figured that, someday, when it made sense or the need grew acute, I’d hire a business coach with highly specialized expertise in a field or area in which I could use improvement. (I have plenty of those.) Once I got up to speed, we’d wrap. Down the line, perhaps I’d need a different type of business coach for strengthening another facet.

Maybe I still will.

And when I do, I’ll call her “coach.” Yet recent experience has taught me that the term misrepresents the real value of many professionals classed in the category.

We need to find a new term. Adviser? Confidant? Guide?

I’ll go with adviser. Because I’ve hired one, and now I see what I’ve missed. (And it isn’t coaching.)

Sounding Board

Executives don’t have natural in-office sounding boards.

When you hire a business coach, you hire someone under strict confidentiality who stands outside your organization. She has no taste for your company's particular flavor of politics. Having “inside information” doesn’t give her currency with her coworkers.

Further, she doesn’t need to see you resolute at all times. You can have wobbly moments—you won’t shake your team's mission-critical confidence in the company or its leadership or direction by debating a decision with her or expressing to her your frustration and uncertainty.

Perspective

A business adviser has worked with a number of other executives. Many good ones have done so for years.

She may not have exact knowledge of your specific type of business, products, or areas of improvement—as would someone I’d agree to call a “coach”—but she has walked through a number of challenges with a number of people similar to you. She can suggest resources she’s seen others use. She can suggest avenues of thought that she’s seen work elsewhere.

She can comfort you that others have gone through the same challenges and survived (yes, sometimes we CEOs wonder)—and even thrived. And she can congratulate you when you achieve a “win” that your employees would simply take for granted, because she’s watched you and potentially others struggle over the same mountain.

Me, Me, Me

Friends who work with psychologists say that one of the pleasures of therapy is having a set time period in which you guiltlessly talk about yourself with someone who focuses on nothing but you.

A business adviser provides the same outlet.

I have fantastic accountability partners, though our sessions rarely focus solely on me. Instead, we support each other in achieving our goals. I gain from helping them as much as I get from their support. I value them highly and that won’t change.

Yet I’ll confess: Talking through something without any expectation of reciprocity feels really, really nice. In fact, simply knowing I have an adviser if needed gives a sense of relief.

Have you hired a business coach? What did you experience?

Saturday
Oct252014

Emotional Patterns

Good morning, Sunshine! (Yes, the picture slants. I rather like it that way.) October 23, 2014. Magnolia Grove, Houston, Texas.

The Leslie you get depends on the time of day you greet her.

Well, not entirely. Most people won’t notice the subtle shifts in my mood over a twenty-four hour timespan.

But I do.

Early in the day, I feel positive, happy, can-do, and ready for anything. Bring it on, world. Whatever you have to throw, I can field it.

I pop out of bed bouncing fresh (provided I got a full night’s sleep, which I find essential) and often have more knocked off my to-do list by 9 a.m. than I’ll manage to cross out before bedtime.

Catch me in the evening, after I've been buffeted by the day, and you’ll mistake me for Eeyore. (I hope that’s an exaggeration—only my closest associates can tell you for sure—but you get the idea.)

Exhaustion has set in. One after another, the day’s events have piled onto my shoulders, weighing me down. I feel completely overwhelmed. I don’t know how to keep going. Everything seems bleak, necessitating immense effort, and tiresome. The week seems eternal. I don’t know how I’ll get through tomorrow.

It seems that way because it is that way—at least in that moment, at that time of the day. I do not have additional energy to expend on any life facet. Not work, not household, not social, not family.

I’m done.

At least numerous studies prove I have company.

Since the 1990s, researchers have found in more than a hundred experiments that willpower and self-control deplete over the course of the day. You can easily resist a chocolate croissant or a new pair of shoes in the morning. By afternoon or evening, you’ve spent the entire day resisting temptations. Cognitively resolving conflicts between what you want and what you feel you should have exhausts the brain. When offered an after-dinner slice of cake, you’ll lift your fork a lot more easily.

In fact, research shows that the brain grows weary of all decision making as the day progresses. Decision fatigue most often plagues people whose days fill with choices and verdicts. One study found that judges return more positive and lenient decisions early in the day. Quarterbacks make questionable late-game decisions. Chief financial officers make riskier decisions in the afternoon. Celebrities make dubious decisions at night, giving the public the pleasure of dishing out ridicule. And so on.

Rest recharges our brains.

Feeling frustrated? Weary? Negative? Grumpy? Tempted?

Don’t beat yourself up. Check the time. Think back on your day.

You’ve likely depleted your willpower, self-control, and decision-making reserves. You need a refill. Give yourself a break and go to bed. Even if it seems “too early.” (In that case, take a book.) You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

I always do.

How does your mood change over the course of the day?

Thursday
Oct232014

What We Expect from the Workplace

In an article I included for my last Friday Links post, Danial Adkison wrote about his high-school employment at a Pizza Hut in Colorado.

Since I read it, I’ve chewed on it.

Adkison’s manager, Jeff, created a second-family environment for his staff, replete with water fights in the parking lot, dinner and movies, rafting and camping, and softball. When Adkison applied to universities, Jeff paid for flights, hotel, car, and food when he took Adkison to visit Boston College.

Oh, and lest I forget: Jeff even paid for Adkison’s application fee (and its express-mail delivery).

Back when I worked as an employee, not an employer, I never sought a familiar relationship with my coworkers. Collegiality? Friendship? Sure. A coterie with which to spend a consuming around of time beyond work duties? No.

And I never looked to my bosses as parental or avuncular figures.

Yet I always had a strong family, even after my parents divorced. Further, I fall on the introverted end of the spectrum. I never gravitate to large-group activities. I prefer small-group and one-on-one interaction.

So when I first read Adkison’s article, I felt really out of touch.

Does everyone seek this sort of office environment? Does my mind state rest so far outside the norm that I’ve never realized it?

Would my team want this sort of workplace? We have plenty of group activities, but nothing like what Adkison describes, with all-day outside-working-hours hang-outs that include kickball.

And then I wondered: Perhaps Adkison’s environment felt so perfect because it came at a time when he needed cohesiveness due to a difficult home situation. The teenage years unmoor us all—and a challenging family environment only exacerbates them.

As with other life facets, could we seek different qualities from a workplace as our lives and mindsets evolve?

Perhaps defining your office culture requires looking at your employee mix and intuiting what it wants at this point in the average teammate’s life? Yet what if you have a lot of diversity in your staff—as you should?

I can’t imagine that with a strong group of friends and a set of engaging extracurricular activities—or with a wife and children at home—Adkison would have sought the same level of emotional fulfillment and camaraderie from his Pizza Hut team. Instead, perhaps he’d have sought to gain knowledge and enrichment and chances for leadership experience. In his off-work time, he’d have other priorities.

After all, even Adkison points out that Jeff, the manager, may have sought this type of team due to a recent divorce and the desire to create a family that he no longer had.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Perhaps these thoughts simply console me for not providing the level of personal involvement and extraoffice activities and engagement that Adkison describes as so fulfilling. Maybe I simply make excuses for not wanting to create a family feeling for my staff.

I care about them—don’t mistake me. And I love spending time with them. I count myself immeasurably lucky to get to work with every single one of them every single day.

Yet I assume that, like me, they have relationships and interests outside the office that they’d like to pursue after they’ve gotten the work done—especially over playing kickball with their coworkers on a Sunday evening.

Yet often I completely miss what people want from me—and that comes to employees especially. If they don’t articulate it, I completely miff it.

What do you think?

What do you seek from your workplace? What do you feel most people seek?

Sunday
Oct192014

Reading Patterns: What I Read, When, and Why

Some of the books on my to-read shelves. October 19, 2014.Typically, I alternate between fiction and nonfiction books in my reading. My fiction selections tend toward the literary in genre; my nonfiction reads run the gamut from science to business to essays and history.

I find truth in both types of books.

In fiction, I discover more truth about the human condition and relationships. In nonfiction, I uncover insights into the past and present, business and economic realities, best practices for living, and the wonder of the natural world. Alternating types of reads makes me feel better rounded than I would feel if I read in gluts of one or the other.

And sometimes, just reading fiction feels overly self-indulgent.

Yet when I went to my bookshelf today to select my next read, I had no interest in any of the fantastic nonfiction prospects on my shelf. I didn’t want edification on business or life hacking or the history and current affairs of science—to name a few examples. These books didn’t call to me even though I find them interesting and look forward to reading them (at some point).

I just wanted another novel.

Given that year-end always turns into a busy time in my work life, I could likely benefit from reading some of the business options. Yet right now I spend the overwhelming portion of my day—an even vaster majority than usual—puzzling through business problems and reading business materials.

I’ve reached my capacity for business thinking at this particular moment. I could read one of the great business books on my shelf, but I wouldn’t do it justice right now. I wouldn’t read it as actively as I should read it. In a way, I need to read business books when I have calm in my work life—when I’d have more receptivity to absorb their wisdom.

The other nonfiction reads?

I love science, but it doesn’t pull me today. I don’t feel open to its wisdom. History? Same. I don’t feel like nonfiction can fulfill my intellectual and spiritual needs right now. No matter the book’s topic.

Novels might. In this very moment, I crave the insights and knowledge that fiction provides about human interactions, emotions, and conditions. I need to sense a commonality of feeling and thought—and to see where perspectives differ from mine.

And yes, I seek the comforting cradle of characters, settings, plotlines, stories.

Call me self-indulgent. After all, sometimes self-indulgence serves a deeper purpose. Sometimes we know what we need.

How do you decide what to read and when to read it? And why?