TV dinners used to be in. They used to represent convenience. Now they represent preservatives.
The following, too, will one day be like TV dinners but today they’re still taught. Here are some things I had to learn the hard way are not true:
1) In order to be taken seriously as a leader, you should work on your presence, your style, and your speech.
In theory this may be true, but the effort that goes into delivery detracts from the quality of content. There was a year coming out of my MBA when I shifted toward big necklaces and presentation skills because my Org Behavior professor professed these were markers of power. In that year, I lost conviction in why I did the things I did and believed the things I believed and thus drove the way I drove. I cared more about how I came across than what I was trying to accomplish. My confidence got shot and I faltered. I’ve since then put all that aside and gotten back to my roots. People may notice what you’re wearing but they care way more about what you do.
2) To get ahead you need to learn to golf so you can hang out with influential people outside of the office.
People who make important decisions are, like all of us, prone to like those with whom they have common interests. By spending time together, you can build a relationship and therefore gain more influence. If golf happens to be an interest of yours, then this is a wonderful way to deepen that common bond. If not, taking up a very time consuming and expensive hobby for the purpose of snagging four hours with an executive may not the best use of your energy.
Instead, be real. Be authentic. Do great work. Show interest in your boss or partner as a person and the genuine common bond will develop.
Starting out, I often felt outside of the boys club. As the one female on a leadership team of several males who drank together, golfed together, even vacationed together, I contemplated if I should put more effort into getting into this social circle. At first, I would awkwardly try to get involved in conversations about sports and even tried swinging the golf club a few times. Boy did it sap my energy. Eventually I decided it wasn’t for me and decided to focus on being me and getting stuff done. My track record demonstrated this was the right call.
In today’s marketplace, favoritism and nepotism are dying because in order to be competitive, companies must make sure the best guy/ gal is on the job. So while the golf circles present missed opportunities, the energy required to cultivate those inlets is far too valuable to take away from building your own sphere of excellence.
3) In order to maximize employee production you need to have a system of carrots and sticks.
If the employee does a good thing, you give them a carrot (incentives, rewards) and if they do a bad thing, you give them a stick (penalty, discipline, negative motivators). In theory this makes sense, but in practice what I’ve learned is that three things happen:
1) Employees put a lot of energy into avoiding the stick. As economic, rational beings, almost everyone faced with a stick will immediately think about how to avoid the stick like the plague, even if there was no way they would ever be in a situation to have to worry about the stick.
2) Employees will rarely if ever give you more than what you reward them for. Even if they are capable, the moment you reduce your rewards, they stop responding.
3) Employees devise crafty ways to game the system so that they’re getting as many carrots and as few sticks as possible, without giving you much production in return.
Companies have spent so much money and energy into devising complex compensation plans. However, the best output comes from employees who are empowered to be their best. Most people want to do a good job. Most want to do great things. Most want to be part of something good. Most want to be on a winning team. Most want to be inspired. Most people put in the environment to thrive will do so.
4) You need to define your personal brand.
If you ask 10 people to describe you in one word, you will likely get 10 different answers – each that are more reflective of the person who spoke them than of you. People see what they know and find what they’re looking for. Everyone’s individual perceptions are shaped over their entire lives by their own personal experiences, upbringing and outlook.
To further complicate this, the perception of you are is also based on what you have done during moments that someone else has observed. One person has worked with you on a highly mundane task that your boss asked you to handle as a favor. Another has only heard you speak a few words on a large conference call. Yet another has known you since you started in the company 15 years ago. Each of them have different experiences with you and are judging you based on those experiences. Think of how different your last several bosses have been from one another – they’re each prone to their own definitions of your strengths and weaknesses.
To attempt to define a “brand” for yourself is like telling someone to catch a unicorn. It’s elusive.
Instead, just focus on your character and your work. Let everything else follow.
5) Business isn’t personal.
If leading is about who you are, what you believe, and about other people, It’s highly personal. When you find yourself tired and stressed and still thinking about a problem from work at night while you’re holding your baby in your arms, it’s highly personal. When others trust you to make wise decisions for their professional and personal welfare, it’s highly personal. When your ability to deliver results will determine whether you can vacation and save for your kid’s school, it’s highly personal. When spoken or written words can lift you up and cut you down, it’s highly personal.
You can’t be one person at home and another at work. And when you’re not forcing stark divisions between work and home, your personal and professional lives entwine – it’s personal. So I guess rather than worry so much about not letting business creep into your home, why not let your home creep into your work? Why not let it be a place where you share love, joy and encouragement with others? Why not let it be a place where you care for and give? Be the light.