Christmas thoughts are usually more about egg nog and reindeer than leadership, but my mind spun in a different direction today. Although the subject may not be be mentioned in any carols of the season, it does fit because it’s about life’s priorities and our attention to them.
How is it that we stress leadership development, but never develop as leaders?
Most leadership programs emphasize identifying your essential values: those things which give meaning to your life and work. Nearly every time, family and relationships come out among the top three or four values leaders identify.
Many companies pride themselves on being family-oriented. They boast of taking care of their own, of creating a work environment that enhances growth and openness and honesty.
But the truth?
The closest many companies get to having a family environment is the one day each year when they schedule the annual family picnic. It’s always on a weekend. It’s usually cheap food. And while attendance may not be mandatory, the bosses know who’s there.The monkey is on the back of the employees to prove their loyalty to the work family by showing up on their day off and acting grateful.
That monkey belongs on the back of the company’s leaders.
Boss, if you are a leader, step up and claim your monkey.
A family atmosphere begins with mutual respect. Bosses need to address unacceptable performance without degrading the individual. An employee may have made a bad decision, but she isn’t stupid. Someone in leadership saw something worthwhile when they hired her, so don’t run her down. Address the negative performance and stick to the issue. That’s what builds a culture of respect.
How can you claim to have a family-friendly environment when you require your leaders to work sixty-plus hours per week? I’m not referring to the occasional times when deadlines must be met or emergencies require all hands on deck. I’m talking about the usual day-in-day-out routine of work. We call it paying our dues or proving our loyalty, but the fact is we are loading the current generation of leaders onto the same treadmill that made adrenaline junkies out of their fathers and grandfathers.
We’ve taken all those leadership classes, but we haven’t learned anything.
We say we work so many hours because the job demands it, but too often we spend so much time there because we’re more comfortable at work than we are at home. At work, we run on a familiar track. Success is clearly defined and the environment is strictly controlled. Show up and perform and you can excel and feel good about yourself.
But at home? That’s a different challenge entirely.
You can’t fire your kids when they don’t complete their chores. A maintenance man doesn’t haul your trash or unstop your plugged toilet while you sleep. There’s no quick response team to call when your car won’t start or your child has the flu. There’s a thousand decisions to be made every day, but keeping the household moving in the right direction is like herding cats. The harder you work, the further behind you get. It’s hard to define success, and even more difficult to measure progress. And frequently, you and your spouse can’t agree on what’s most important.
At work, you’re a hero. At home, you’re a frustrated under performer. So, you stay at work as long as your conscience will let you, and tell yourself your position demands it. And you avoid all the confusion and conflict that waits at home.
If we were really good leaders, we’d figure out a way to get our work done inside a fifty hour week. We’d identify tasks that are time wasters and obliterate them from our lives. We’d consolidate and delegate and eliminate until our actions matched what we say our values are.
But the truth? We really don’t want to. Because we don’t want to go home.
Despite what we say in those leadership classes, our actions will always reflect our values. We know we need to value our families first, hence the answers on all those values clarification questionnaires, but it’s so much easier to thrive inside a controlled work environment than it is in the messy real-life world of building a family so we spend more and more time at work and less and less time at home.
I’m not trying to send you on a guilt trip. I’m trying to help you see that creating a thriving family is difficult and messy. Your best-laid plans will dissolve into chaos. Your fine-tuned blueprint for success will be ripped to shreds, and you’ll be flying by the seat of your pants.
But that’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to work. It might be difficult to grasp right now, but it’s in all this sloppy disorganization that character is taught and love weaves your lives into an indissoluble bond. It’s here that mommies and daddies do the work that makes them heroes to the little ones they nurture and guide, and husbands and wives become best friends as they learn to lean on each other.
Life is a continual struggle and the medals for superior performance are not awarded until the battle is over. Give it all you’ve got and don’t let life’s common frustrations steal your joy or stifle your passion.
Leadership is not being able to recite the right words or knowing all the right answers. Leadership is being able to see what’s most important and having the courage to do what’s right regardless of how you feel or what you see.
This year, be a leader. Resolve to reconcile your actions with your values. Cross-train employees, hire an additional assistant, cut-out redundant tasks — do whatever you must to make work work for you and your employees.
Then, embrace your relationship role. Don’t demand perfection of yourself — just make sure you’re in the game.
Your family will love you for it.