How we work is changing. Technology is ushering in new possibilities. New generations enter the workforce with different expectations. With all the changes in play, there are some things that stay the same: the desire for fulfillment and purpose, the need to balance the professional with the personal.
Mason Donovan tackles these challenges in his new book, The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce. Mason is managing partner at The Dagoba Group, a New England-based diversity and inclusion consultancy. I had the opportunity to ask him about the changing nature of work, including generational changes, balance, mindfulness, and inclusion efforts.
Success Tip: Balance improves your relationships, satisfaction and productivity.
Is work-life balance possible? Why is it so important?
Work-life balance is possible. There are a lot of gurus out there that say it is not in order to capture your attention in this crowded field. Emphasis is on the word balance. If you ever walked on a high beam or anything else in which you needed to physically balance yourself, you most likely fell off a few times. Your balance will fall off to one side or the other. It is important that you anticipate for these moments of imbalance, so you have a plan to get up.
Achieving balance will make you more productive in and out of the workplace. It will enrich your relationships and allow you to achieve greater satisfaction in life.
“Alignment of purpose allows for the elimination of distractions.” -Mason Donovan
In the book, I tell the story of executives on an interpersonal retreat climbing a mountain. Their primary purpose was to reach the summit without talking about business. The objective was for them to get to know each other better personally and share an accomplishment. Without spoiling the story, their original goal is interrupted because they lost their purpose.
In order to know where you are going in life, it is important to understand why you are going there. Work-life balance is no exception. Only a handful of people actually stop and reflect on why they get up every day to spend the majority of their waking life in an organization. When that somewhat simple-but-necessary reflection does not take place, you will default to acquiring things and making money, which almost inevitably leads to the golden handcuffs phenomenon. You work more because you have to make more money. You make more money so you can acquire things that require you to work more.
There has been a societal shift in why individuals engage in work. Part of that shift is due to generational changes, while for others it was their awakening due to the Great Recession. Aligning your personal purpose in life with your work and organizational purpose will help you eliminate all of the noise that does not fit that purpose. Balance comes from awareness. In The Golden Apple, I provide simple exercises to not only develop, but also align your purpose at each level.
What are you finding in terms of generational changes? What are the new generations demanding at work? What’s the best way for current leaders to respond?
It is important to note that we are all unique individuals but are influenced by our shared group memberships such as our generation. Clumping everyone together and solely defining them by generational attitudes can overgeneralize any particular person. It is helpful to understand the influence of generational membership, which will give you a starting point when discovering their individuality.
Each generational cohort has a defining moment in the shaping of their shared psyche. When it comes to employment, for Generation X it was the broken promise of the organizational loyalty which fostered the cradle to grave jobs their parents subscribed to. Millennials were highly influenced by the Great Recession which ushered in massive layoffs, foreclosures and lowered career expectations. These defining moments create a collective influence on how cohorts view the work-life equation.
PwC’s NextGen study uncovered a generational shift when it came to work and personal engagement for their Millennial population. Uncovering this shift was important to them since by the year 2020, they expect that fully 80% of their employees will be Millennials. In short they found this group was far less likely to give up their personal life today for the prospect of a partnership down the road. The value structure was shifting more towards experiences than acquiring things.
Interesting to note is how this new value structure is also being reflected in Baby Boomers. The Great Recession robbed them of the ability to retire early as they saw their investments fail. It required them to reassess what they valued in life: time or things. Most have decided to choose to have life experiences in the time they have remaining. Downsizing acquisitions and upsizing experiences has become the trend for this generation.
Leaders need to better understand the value they offer to their current and future employees. By integrating work-life balance into their overall package, they will increase engagement and retention. They should look at this challenge through a holistic lens so they do not perceive it simply as a specific generational or gender issue. Policies and practices should be geared towards an inclusive solution that impacts the overall workforce.
Study: long working hours made 58% more irritable and over 25% depressed.
When you get a new boss, it’s important to quickly learn his or her leadership style. When you are the new boss, it’s important for your team to understand your leadership style. It’s also important that you know each member of the team and what their strengths are and how their leadership style complements your own.
“Leadership is the capacity to turn vision into reality.” –Warren Bennis
Every year, I read the biographies of great leaders. I have fun categorizing them and guessing their preferred style. I also write down the characteristics I admire in each person as a way to emphasize to my subconscious what I would like to emulate.
As you would expect, each style has pros and cons. I remember taking this test and finding one leader micromanaging every last detail. She took charge and it was her way, period. There was no room for discussion. “That’s someone I could never work for,” I remember thinking. But, when a crisis hit, guess who we turned to? We knew that she would deliver results, fast. There wasn’t time for relationship-building. We needed someone who could move the needle, fast.
That’s when I realized that no one style is perfect. Each of us has skills and styles that are needed for just the right situation.
Matching that situation to our skill is a challenge, but when it happens, everyone sees maximum performance.
When I ran across the infographic below, I thought it was a solid overview of various leadership styles and the pros and cons of each.
What’s your preferred style?
“Leadership is defined by results, not attributes.” –Peter Drucker
Personal and professional growth. We often think they’re different. We live our lives as if the personal and professional are in neat little silos, as if one didn’t affect the other.
I’ve often said that leaders help people with the personal, not just the professional. And sharing a little of the personal may make a big impact in the professional.
The two are interrelated.
And so, when I read Jonathan Raymond’s new work, Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, I was excited to find a book that explained why this is…and how to use it to become a better leader. Jonathan is the former CEO of EMyth and now the owner of Refound, an advisory firm that offers leadership training and coaching. And I think his take on “good authority” will have you nodding along with what we want from the very best leaders.
“When you make peace with authority, you become authority.” –Jim Morrison
Contrast good versus bad authority. What are a few attributes you would think of?
I’d say the first attribute is in the willingness to own your role as an authority in the first place. I see too many modern leaders try to abdicate that responsibility, either outright or in subtle ways, and try to be nice at the expense of giving people the boundaries they need to grow. The main attribute of bad authority is when a leader doesn’t own their contribution to a stuck dynamic or problematic situation. For example, a leader who hasn’t provided a reasonable timeline to reach a goal and then blames the team for not delivering on it fast enough. Good authority is the art of owning your contribution, being transparent with your team, and then moving forward in a collaborative way.
“Our strengths are not our own until they are freed of the burden of having to heal the past.” –Jonathan Raymond
Would you share a little about the concept of “borrowed authority”?
Borrowed authority is the idea that until we investigate the beliefs about authority we inherited from our parents and teachers – not to mention the business culture in general – we’re still borrowing our leadership style from the past instead of discovering the one that genuinely expresses who we are today. In Good Authority, I offer that the opposite of Good Authority isn’t bad authority, it’s borrowed authority. What I mean by that is that most leaders have good intentions, but until we do the work, we’re bogged down by ideas and beliefs about what it means to be the boss that hold us back and create pain and confusion for the employees in our care as a result.
“You’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind.” –Timothy O’Leary
I want to ask about organizational culture. You say, “Nobody sets out to make their employees overwhelmed, stressed-out, and miserable.” I have to say that I read that and laughed, thinking, “If Jonathan only met one of my bad bosses, he’d think differently!” You’re right, of course, but people are overwhelmed and stressed. What’s are some ways to change a culture into one that is positive, empowered, and driven?
This may sound odd, but the first problem is bad math. One of the things I ask leaders to do is to add up all the time they’re spending (1) doing re-work for a struggling employee, (2) mediating their interpersonal conflicts, (3) answering questions that they should be able to answer themselves, and (4) complaining to their spouse, partner or friends about how frustrated they are. The pivot is incredibly simple and goes against our conditioning, which is why we typically avoid it. The key to create a positive, empowered and driven culture is the exact same thing that will get you out of being overwhelmed and stressed. Repressing what you see and feel leads to emotional, mental, and physical problems, and it keeps that data away from the one person who needs to hear it in order to grow.
There’s an art to talking about work in a way that feels personally relevant to your employee, but it boils down to this: Give them feedback not about tasks and projects but about how they’re showing up as a human being. Make it about relationships, feeling their impact on others, how they avoid taking risks—those are the things that people will immediately see as helping them get better at work and at life at the same time. There’s a whole new type of organizational culture that opens up from that simple shift.
What are some techniques you use to help coach someone who has problems with listening? How can we all learn to be better listeners at a deeper level?
Before we talk about the deeper cut, one simple technique that’s often used in mediation applies well in the workplace in general. Have the person you’re trying to help repeat back what they heard before responding. Highlight for them what the gaps are between what was said (and, even more importantly, how it was said) and what they heard and how they interpreted it. There’s a lifetime’s worth of personal growth work there.
“We teach best what we most need to learn.” –Richard Bach
At a deeper level, and this is something I work on every day, is to re-examine what we think our value is as leaders. That’s a lot of what Good Authority is about: to learn how the highest value we can add to our teams, and in the rest of our lives, is to put our thumb on the side of the scale that’s about creating the space for others to discover that next better version of themselves, as opposed to tending to fill that space ourselves. I love leaders and have so much respect for anyone who throws their heart into a problem with no guarantee of success. The pivot is to see how not everyone works that way, and that to create the organization that can do more than you can on your own, you have to listen for those other voices.
Finally, it comes down to not shooting the messenger. I can’t tell you how many organizations I’ve seen, in fact I’ve never seen one where this isn’t true, where one person becomes a scapegoat for the cultural dysfunction and is moved out (fired or pushed into quitting), and the message they were carrying never sees the full light of day. It’s a basic rule of group dynamics, but I see CEOs do it all the time, moving out the ‘disgruntled’ employee instead of leaning into the conversation and discovering the most powerful brand ambassador they’ve got.
Tip: Focus more on who people are and less on deadlines and tasks.
How about letting go of the past? What advice do you give to someone who is letting the past limit their future?
Find a way to get in relationship with it. Meaning, when you notice yourself re-hashing or cycling in an old story, imagine a friend was telling you that story, what would you tell them? It’s a life’s work for sure, but learn to reframe our past in terms of how it made us the person we are today. I heard this phrase again recently that I absolutely love: “The past didn’t happen to us, it happened for us.” To be clear, I’m not suggesting people try and transcend or gloss over traumatic or otherwise difficult personal experiences, only that we hold a bit of double-vision about them. Let yourself feel whatever there is to feel about whatever it is that you feel it’s holding back. Cry, laugh, roll up the car window on the freeway and let out a yell from the depths of your soul. By giving yourself permission to let it be what it is all the way, only then do you open up the room to see it in a new way. The paradox is that you don’t have to do any additional work to do this. It’s the process of giving yourself permission to feel that brings that higher mind back online, and you can move forward with confidence and a sense of self that might surprise you.