Here is an excerpt from an article written by John Beeson for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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Many companies extol the value of work-life balance for their employees, but the reality for senior executives? There isn’t any. Frequently, stressed and harried managers look up the organization hierarchy and assume that they’ll have greater control of their time when they advance to the C-suite. What they don’t understand is that modern-day telecommunications, the hair-trigger requirements of financial markets, and the pace of global organizations create 24 x 7 work lives for most executives. So, forget work-life balance and think personal organization and finding ways to relax.
I see too many new and aspiring executives who are naïve about what it takes to succeed at the C-suite level and surprised by the withering demands placed upon them. The first step in dealing with the workload is putting in place the support structure that allows you to focus your energies on key priorities and issues where you can add the greatest value to the business.
Think for a minute. If your boss came and asked you to lead a major change initiative, your first questions would be about the budget and staff you would have at your disposal for the effort. The same logic applies to preparing to operate as an executive. At work and at home, who are the people who allow you to leverage your time and energy: your go-to staff members to keep track of major projects at work and those who help with childcare, eldercare, or managing a household?
In their drive to succeed, many new executives get caught up in a merry-go-round of business reviews, executive team meetings, e-mail, and late-night conference calls with colleagues around the world. At one large, global company, the CEO was known to keep his top 100 people on speed dial for impromptu phone calls at any time of the day or night. In many companies it can be difficult if not impossible to break away from this routine even for a long weekend, and the cumulative effects of stress and workload are damaging. We know a great deal about the long-term health dangers of prolonged stress. However, as described by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee in Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence, the effects on executive effectiveness are just as profound.
Under continued stress an executive loses his or her perspective on issues and the ability to look at problems creatively. Molehills become mountains. Conflict with colleagues becomes personal. The “flat spots” of our personality — for example, arrogance, inflexibility, aversion to risk or a tendency toward negativity — become evident. And most of us revert to tried and true solutions — the enemy of breakthrough strategies and new innovations.
Say goodbye to the two-week vacation with the family. That’s history in most organizations. Instead, seek to find those activities that allow you to relax — even if only for 15 minutes a day. One CEO races performance sports cars on weekends. Another works out vigorously early every morning and adds a walk around Central Park on weekends. Yet another would end a grueling day of work listening to jazz on a professional quality sound system installed in the basement. Such executives recognize that these moments of relaxation are critical to maintaining resilience: their ability to rebound from obstacles and setbacks whether it’s an unplanned marketplace event, the resignation of a key staff member or a promotion decision that didn’t go their way.
Many managers are “sprinters” early in their careers. Recognition, rewards, and promotions come their way quickly. However, to succeed at the C-suite level where the pressures are greater and the consequences of failure more punishing, it’s critical to equip yourself for the long haul. And that means making sure you have the necessary support structure around you and those precious few moments of relaxation that help you maintain the bounce in your step and the optimistic tone required of a senior leader.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
John Beeson is Principal of Beeson Consulting, a management consulting firm specializing in succession planning, executive assessment and coaching, and organization design. He is also the author of The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level (Jossey-Bass.).
Hire Nice People – Oh, AND Teachable; Oh, AND…
I really liked the quote that I included in a recent blog post from the book Demand by Adrian Slywotzky. It is about the restaurant Pret a Manger:
“We hire happy people, and teach them to make sandwiches.”
I was telling this to a friend of mine. He is a Doctor ( a good one!) and has a very successful practice. He told me about something he did when he was just starting. He loved staying at the Four Seasons (who wouldn’t?!); was impressed with their customer service/experience. So, he went to the Four Seasons, asked to speak to the manager (who was more than willing to meet with him), and asked “What is your secret?” What training do you offer? How do you get these people to work this way?’ The manager said: “There is no secret. We hire nice people.”
That may be it. Hire nice people.
Oh, AND make sure they are Teachable. Because Nice AND Incompetent does not work. Nice + Competent works really well. And to get competent, a person has to be teachable.
Now, nice may seem important just in jobs that interact with actual customers. But, it would be a mistake to reduce it to that part of the work equation. Because nice matters in team building also. People do not like to work on projects, or teams, with people who aren’t nice. Working with not-nice people can be a real morale defeater. So, nice is definitely part of the “team player” job responsibility.
So, here is the formula: hire nice people, make sure they are teachable, thus they become ever more competent. — Oh, and make sure they are able to manage/embrace/not get freaked out over change. Oh, AND…
But, whatever else you do, start with NICE.
By the way, be nice yourself. If you have a voice in the hiring process, remember: people don’t like to work for not-nice people.