Are You At Peace With Your Work/Life Balance?

I listen to numerous highly successful leaders who yearn for a better balance between their work life and their personal life. For some individuals, this lament can continue for years. Does this sound familiar to you?

There is much written about the importance of balance in one’s life. Don’t listen to others who prescribe an ideal balance. Don’t listen to those who might judge your choices. There is no right balance, there is no best balance, there’s only the balance that’s right for you.

You might be at a point in life where you’re making major sacrifices in order to progress in your career. It might be to make a lot of money (there’s nothing wrong with money). It might be to become the best in your profession. It might be to pursue a noble cause. It doesn’t matter why you’re making these sacrifices. The important question is whether you’re at peace with your choices.

The choice of one path necessarily eliminates the pursuit of other possible paths. For example, a friend of mine is a successful, professional musician. He’s decided to pursue a Doctorate in counseling. The program is quite rigorous, requiring him to reduce the time he devotes to his music and to social activities.

If you’re not at peace with your work/life balance you don’t have to feel trapped. Alternatives are available, but each choice comes with a cost. You have to answer the following question: What do you really want in life and what are you willing to give up to get it?

Choices have consequences. If you’re unwilling to pay the price for changing your work/life balance, own it. Make that choice consciously. Find a way to embrace the consequences. Find a way to be at peace with it.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

What Does It Mean To Be Successful?

Wow! This is a challenging and nuanced philosophical question. The answer will be profoundly personal and therefore different for each individual. Moreover, as we gain wisdom, as our perspective evolves, the answer might well change. So we’re all well advised periodically to reflect on this question. The struggle to find the answer will likely generate more value than the answer itself.

You might find it helpful to think about success in the context of the various roles you inhabit, for instance: leader, parent, friend, significant other, community member, etc. You don’t need to focus on all roles. Just pick the ones you wish to think about.

Here are some questions to stimulate your thinking.

  • What kind of person do I want to be?
  • What’s important to me?
  • In my heart-of-hearts what do I value most?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What do I stand for?
  • What example do I want to set?
  • What values do I want to embody?
  • What positive difference do I want to make in the world?
  • What do I want people to say about me at my funeral?
  • In terms of the time I invest in various activities, what’s the ideal balance for me?
  • What do I want my legacy to be?

If you devote your life to a cause you deem worthy, but you don’t achieve your goals, are you a success? If you achieve your goals, but were dishonest in your approach, are you a success? If your art isn’t appreciated during your lifetime, are you a success? The answers are up to you and only you.

We’re always in the process of becoming. Are you doing what you wish to be doing? Are you becoming the person you wish to become? If so, I’d say you’re on the path that’s right for you. In my book, that’s success.

Thanks to my friend Cydney Koukol for suggesting this topic.

And thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Is It Time For A Compassionate Bus Stop?

Lately I’m hearing the phrase, “Compassionate bus stop.” It’s another euphemism for firing someone. Sacking them. Terminating their employment. Involuntary separation. Many people find the terms “firing” or “sacking” too harsh, so we look for alternatives — which we then have to translate. For instance, “It was time for a compassionate bus stop.” What? Oh, you fired them. Whatever phrase we use, it’s a difficult and often painful transaction. The purpose of this post is to explore answers to two questions: 1) How do you know when it’s time? And 2) How do you do this professionally and compassionately?

I’m aware that in certain cases, such as intentional malfeasance, you might not want to be compassionate. I’m not addressing those types of cases in this post. I’m addressing cases where the reason for termination is failure to perform up to expectations, and you want to be compassionate.

By the way, it takes no leadership talent whatsoever to fire someone. The challenge and the satisfaction are attached to helping people succeed. If you have to fire too many people, perhaps you should question whether leadership is for you.

How do you know when it’s time?

I begin with the stance that when I have to fire someone, it’s my failure as much as it is theirs. After all, I invited them to join us on this bus, and I assigned them a seat. Once they’re on the bus, it’s my responsibility to help them succeed. So it was either a mistake in the hiring decision or I didn’t ensure that they were trained and supervised in a way that helped them succeed. Therefore, it’s my failure as well as theirs.

Also, I always remember that other employees are watching. They correctly assume this is how I’ll treat them if they ever find themselves in a similar situation.

For me, it’s not time until I know – in my heart-of-hearts — that I’ve done everything I can to help that person succeed. First, I’ve been bluntly clear that unless their performance improves they’re in danger of losing their job. And I tell them just as clearly, and passionately, that I’m their ally and I’ll do everything in my power to help them succeed. It’s not time until I’ve delivered on that promise, until I’ve put in extra effort and really extended myself.

I also ask the following question: “Is this person in the right seat on the bus?” Maybe a different job would be a better fit for their strengths and interests. Plenty of times in my career, I’ve identified a different and better role for a struggling employee.

Unfortunately, there are situations where my best efforts aren’t good enough. The person’s performance has not improved enough. I haven’t been able to identify another role for them. There is a day when I reluctantly come to the realization that I’ve done everything I can, and additional efforts are unlikely to lead to success. That’s when I know it’s time.

How do you fire someone professionally and compassionately?

Here’s an insight not often discussed. In the vast majority of cases, when an employee is not succeeding he or she knows it long before you do. If you can’t help that person succeed, it is NOT kind and compassionate to leave them in that situation. It will start to diminish their self-esteem. If it goes on long enough, the stress might well cause health problems. Don’t be a party to it. As unpleasant and painful as it might be, have the conversation. Despite the pain, it’s the most caring and compassionate thing to do.

When you have the conversation, don’t chat about the weather or the recent sporting event. Get into it right away. Briefly review the expectations and the shortfall in their performance. Tell them it’s not working out (which they know!) and that it’s time for them to leave. If you’re sorry, say so, but don’t say something you don’t mean.

This might be painful for you, and it might present you with some challenges in your organization, but for the person being fired it’s a life-changing event. In my opinion, compassion is called for. Explain the separation process. Answer their questions. But don’t extend the moment. After your conversation, proceed to the next step.

Remember, this does not have to be the end of your relationship with this person. You can continue to care about them. You can help them in their search for their next job. The best outcome is that they find something soon and go on to have great success. I’ve been fortunate to maintain positive relationships with many people I’ve fired, and I’ve been pleased to continue to support their success as they move forward in their careers.

In summary, when it’s time for an employee to leave, take action, as unpleasant as it might be. Do it with compassion, and own your failure to help them succeed. And don’t forget, you can continue to care about them and support them even though they don’t work for you.

Thanks to my friends Holly Olson and Cydney Koukol for suggesting this topic.

And thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Manage Up?

A couple of my friends recently suggested today’s topic. It’s certainly not something I’ve done with excellence over the years, but I hope I’ve learned and improved in this area. It’s important. As I share my thoughts, I hope to stimulate your thinking and solicit your contributions about what’s worked for you.

First, let’s understand that we’re talking, once again, about relationship. When viewed in that light, the question can be re-stated, “How do you have a great relationship with your boss?”

  • Honor his character traits, values, strengths and weaknesses.
    • Don’t wish he would change, and don’t try to change him. Accept him as he is. This is one of the most affirming things you can do for anyone.
    • Look for areas where you and the boss have complimentary strengths. These present opportunities for synergy.
  • Understand his needs, goals and expectations.
    • You want to understand these things about your customers don’t you? Why? Because knowing these things empowers you to add value as your customer defines it. Do the same for your boss. The more clarity you have about expectations, the easier it is to meet those expectations.
    • Make your boss’s priorities your own.
  • Demonstrate fierce loyalty and unmitigated trust.
    • Make sure your boss knows you seek his greatest good.
    • When you disagree, do it in private.
    • Support his decisions public, even if you don’t agree. Remember, you might be wrong.
    • Keep him well informed. Don’t hide information.
    • Don’t speak negatively about your boss. That’s blatantly disloyal.
    • If you’re going to meet with his boss, tell him so before you do it.
    • If his boss calls you into a meeting, let your boss know what it was about as soon as possible.
  • Ask for advice and guidance.
    • Although you should bring possible solutions, you’ll run into problems. It shows respect to ask your boss for guidance.
    • Don’t be defensive. That’s worth repeating.
    • Don’t be defensive. From time to time you’re going to get your ass chewed. Sometimes it’ll be unfair. As my friend Jim Horsman says, “Lick your wounds and move on.”
  • Share good news.
    • Don’t create a situation where you only interact with your boss when there’s a problem, or when you’re going to ask for something. Share a team success, share something great about one of your team members, or share a new idea.
  • Show appreciation. Give your boss recognition when he’s earned it.
    • We tend to think about recognition as being only top down. We need to escape that thinking. Like anyone else in your organization, your boss does things that merit some recognition. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Please click here to learn more about how to do it.

There’s a time-honored technique, ass kissing, which works wonders with certain people. I don’t endorse it, but I’ll conclude this post with a little humor. My best friend, Pat Mene, once wrote a list of top ten kiss-up statements of all time. I don’t have the list any more, but I do remember the #1 statement, which you can use if all else fails:

“Boss, now I know how the disciples must have felt!”

Thanks to Christie Calkins and Heath Stukenholtz for suggesting this topic.

Thanks to Pat Mene, not only for the quotation, but also for the countless ways in which he has enriched my life over the years.

And thanks for reading. As always I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Keep Your Talent Bench Engaged?

When I use the term “talent bench” I’m referring to both internal and external people. Externally, people in this group are those you’d like to bring onboard when you have the right position. Internally, these are people you’d like to promote or transfer when the right position becomes available. While I’m happy to share my thoughts on this topic, I have no doubt that readers can share best practices beyond my awareness.

The people on your internal talent bench are the employees most likely to be recruited away. So you must be proactive in your efforts to keep them highly engaged. Here are some practical things you can do.

  • Invest one-on-one time with them and build close relationships, both in and out of work. Make sure they have no doubt that you truly care, and that you seek their greatest good.
  • Tell them clearly that you see their potential to grow and add even more value. Emotionally re-hire them from time to time. What’s emotional re-hiring? Click here.
  • Ask them what their career aspirations are. If their aspirations are in line with your thinking, collaborate with them on a career development plan. Share that plan with your supervisor to ensure support.
  • If you see them as a future leader, find “limited leadership” opportunities where they can improve a process, or lead a project of some sort. You have to be opportunistic here. Most of these opportunities cannot be anticipated and put into a plan. You have to notice them as they occur.

And let’s be honest. Despite your best efforts, another organization might have a career opportunity for them that you just don’t have at this time. If they take it, consider it a graduation. Celebrate the fact that you helped prepare them for that career move. Maintain a good relationship with them. If you do this, you might well be able to bring them back when you have the right career opportunity. At the very least, they’ll continue to speak favorably about you in the community.

If you build a reputation for developing people and preparing them to move forward in their careers, you’ll attract more high potential people to your team.

Regarding your external talent bench, I have a client who’s a genius at keeping them engaged. So here’s what I learned from them.

  • Be proactive about identifying people to put into this category. Solicit nominations from your top performers about the best people they’ve worked with. Sometimes you meet a candidate you like, but you don’t have something for them. Put them on your bench.
  • Have someone from HR call each person and ask them whether they’d like to be in this group. If so, collect career history and other information that will help the company know when they might have an opportunity for that person.
  • Have Human Resources or some other team write a periodic newsletter for the talent bench group, keeping them informed about company developments, and letting them know the company is thinking of them.
  • Have someone link in with each person, so you can stay current on their professional journey.

I hope I’ve stimulated some thinking on this topic, and I hope you post a comment sharing best practices you’ve done, seen or heard of to keep your talent bench engaged.

Thanks for reading. And thanks to Christie Calkins and Heath Stukenholtz for suggesting this topic.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Prevent Your Culture From Changing?

Recently I’ve been in conversations with people who lament the fact that their organization’s culture is changing. Culture is always evolving. You can’t prevent it from changing. Some elements of culture are more malleable than others. Some are deeply entrenched and extremely resistant to change.

Think about smoking. In old movies, everyone smokes constantly. At restaurants. In homes and cars. On airplanes. Even in hospitals! In the USA our culture has become much less tolerant of smoking. We’ve passed laws limiting where people can smoke.

Here’s another example. Currently the USA is in the process of culture change regarding same-sex marriage. Many prominent and powerful individuals believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, and they’ve used their power and influence to oppose it. However, due to a recent Supreme Court decision, the right of same-sex couples to marry is now the law of the land. Although many people are very upset about this they will obey the court’s ruling.

In the US, the disposition to obey the rule of law is a much more deeply entrenched aspect of our culture than our feelings about same-sex marriage, or the “right” to smoke in public.

I really loved going to a jazz club in the evening and enjoying a nice cigar. I do, in fact, lament that it’s almost impossible for me to do that anymore. But I’ve adjusted.

If you believe one or more of your core values is being threatened, call it out, and dial up your efforts to preserve it. Reward behaviors that exemplify those values, and discourage behaviors that diverge from them. You can’t prevent your culture from changing. All you can do is decide how you’ll respond. To read more about how to do this, please click on this link: How Do You Shape An Organization Culture?

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Are You Building Your Talent Brand?

Julie Campbell recently posted an excellent article entitled, “90 Days at LinkedIn: What I’ve Learned About Talent Brand.” She points out that a Talent Brand goes way beyond perks, and must be carefully and intentionally crafted over years. Talent Brand, she says, “… is rooted in everything the company does and is the foundation by which new employees are brought on board.” It’s “… what a company does to create employee opportunity and to make a difference in the community and in the world.”

It seems to me that the concept “Talent Brand”, as she describes it, overlaps a lot with the concepts of company culture and mission. However, I don’t want to engage in a semantic dispute. I heartily support Ms. Campbell’s points, and wish to add to the conversation.

In terms of a Talent Brand, do you view your organization through the eyes of your constituents? Here are some questions you can ask:

  • How do we want our employees to see us? What do we want them to say about us?
  • What do we want our community to say about us?
  • What do we want customers to say?
  • How do we want possible job applicants to see us?

I believe that how people see you and what they say about you – that’s your brand.

If you have clear answers to those questions you can identify areas for improvement. If you have clear answers to those questions an individual can make a high quality judgment about whether he or she would be a good fit for your organization.

Ms. Campbell asks this important question: “Where is the company investing in talent?” I believe talent investment should begin with selection.

Have you invested the time and money to understand the talent profiles of your top performers? Do you invest in scientific assessment to identify candidates who not only will perform with excellence, but also will thrive in your culture?

In terms of your Talent Brand, I believe that nothing is more important than selection. If you don’t invest the time and money to get the selection right, your subsequent investments in training and development will not bear fruit.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg