Category Archives: Leadership

Don’t Try This At Home

Father and son shouting at each other through megaphoneHave you heard of Holacracy? It’s a business structure that’s pretty much the opposite of corporate America. Instead of having a top-down, hierarchical management structure, with managers who oversee teams of people, Holacracy distributes decision-making across self-organizing teams who do the right thing for the business.

I’ve been thinking about Holacracy for a few years now, ever since I visited Medium in San Francisco and heard their leaders talk about it. As someone who has spent decades working in the traditional business setting, I must admit that I don’t understand the details of how strategy is determined in a holacracy, predictable business results are achieved, or how people are hired, fired, etc. Yet, I appreciate its innovative approach. The top-down structure is far from perfect.

Since I’m always thinking about leadership through the lens of parenting (and vice versa), I’ve wondered what would Holacracy look like when applied to parenting. Could a family survive, or even thrive, by holding everyone accountable to form teams to get chores done? To take care of upholding family values? To create a healthy, nurturing environment for all?

Well, my question has been answered. Check out Everyone’s the Boss, a TIME article by Kristin van Ogtrop who writes about trying Holacracy with her family. The result? Chaos—and hilarity.

My advice? Don’t try this leadership technique at home.

© 2015 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.
Photo credit: BigStock.com

A mantra for leadership

Picture of Anne-Marie Slaughter at her TED talk

Watching Anne-Marie Slaughter’s TEDGlobal 2013 talk Can we all “have it all”?, I was impressed with her mantra on leading people with families:

As a leader and as a manager, I have always acted on the mantra, if family comes first, work does not come second — life comes together. If you work for me, and you have a family issue, I expect you to attend to it, and I am confident, and my confidence has always been borne out, that the work will get done, and done better. Workers who have a reason to get home to care for their children or their family members are more focused, more efficient, more results-focused. And breadwinners who are also caregivers have a much wider range of experiences and contacts. Think about a lawyer who spends part of his time at school events for his kids talking to other parents. He’s much more likely to bring in new clients for his firm than a lawyer who never leaves his office. And caregiving itself develops patience — a lot of patience — and empathy, creativity, resilience, adaptability. Those are all attributes that are ever more important in a high-speed, horizontal, networked global economy.

Thank you, Dr. Slaughter, for sharing your mantra. I like it.

I bet many of you have experienced the benefits of having parents in the workplace. The business brought in from parenting connections? The efficiency applied to the job? The patience, empathy, or resilience demonstrated when the going got tough? Please share your story in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

–Karen

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Quiet: The missing chapter

Quiet book jacketLast month, I wrote a post asking readers if they had a favorite book for parenting AND leadership. Many thanks to Donna, who suggested Susan Cain’s bestselling book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” What a great read! It’s chock full of tips for parents of introverted children and for leaders of introverted employees. I can see why Donna recommended it.

However, I feel the book is missing something. Since over half of the population is extroverted, chances are there will be some in every group you lead. Where’s the chapter on how to thrive as an introverted leader?

As an introvert myself, I make a conscious effort to engage, motivate, and reward extroverts every day. Here are some strategies I’ve found helpful:

1) Deputize someone to plan social activities. Extroverts are energized by social interaction. Yet, organizing lunches or other social events has never been a priority for me as an introverted leader. To counterbalance my natural tendencies, I ask someone on my team be in charge of fun things to do. I look for someone who enjoys getting the team together for meals, planning office parties, or organizing other events that involve hanging around with team members. I give them a goal (e.g., an activity every month), and a reasonable budget, if possible. And then I show up for at least part of the event, even if I’d rather recharge by being by myself. The extroverts need me there.

2) Shine the spotlight when giving kudos. Generally speaking, extroverts love having the spotlight shown on them when they’ve hit a milestone or accomplished something great. I’ve done things like giving a shout-out at an all-hands meeting, asking them to stand for everyone to see. I’ve sent an email to a large distribution list to congratulate them on a job well done. There are many ways to acknowledge their accomplishments publicly, just be sure not to just default to how you like to be acknowledged. For many introverts, this is in a one-on-one, personal sort of way.

3) Schedule hang-out time during long meetings. Sure, we all know that breaks are needed during all-day meetings, and I tend to use breaks to catch up on email and be alone with my thoughts. By contrast, extroverts need space to hang out, exchange thoughts, and continue discussions. By doing so, they’ll return to the meeting energized with new ideas.

4) Put ’em in charge of the schmoozing. Have you ever noticed that when the phone rings, introverts tend to think “why is someone bothering me now” where extroverts can’t wait to answer it? Something similar happens with meetings with customers, partners, and the like. Introverts don’t want to bother these people with small talk when first introduced, but extroverts look forward to connecting with them and forging bonds that might help with future business needs. Ask the extroverts on your team to take a lead in making introductions and schmoozing at the start of such business meetings.

While these tips are geared towards leadership, they can also be applied to parenting. Ask your extroverted child for ideas for family outings. Embrace the after school activities that let your extroverted kids continue interacting with their friends. Put your extroverted child in charge of answering the telephone, once their old enough for this responsibility. Not only do these strategies help your extroverted children, they can be a welcome relief to an introverted parent!

Do you have additional tips for introverts who want to be good leaders or parents for the extroverts in their lives? Please share them by leaving a comment. I look forward to hearing from you.

–Karen

p.s. Even if you don’t have time to read “Quiet,” be sure to check out Susan Cain’s TED talk.

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Extreme Helpfulness

The best piece of advice I received when I started managing people? That my job was to make my team successful. Over time, I built on this advice, realizing that I also had to make the teams around me successful. This approach was key to unlocking more leadership responsibility. Let me explain…

At one point in my career, I was the only program manager at my software company, responsible for scheduling and organizing the work needed to create a successful product. Given that I hate reinventing the wheel, I was careful to keep track of what I did, improving how I got the job done with each project we released. When other teams started hiring program managers, I put together a kit of my best practices to help them learn the ropes and be successful. I wasn’t expecting anything in return, but, in hindsight, creating this kit was critical to my career. My personal brand became linked with strong program management, driving consistency across business units, and “dotted line” leadership of people outside my direct team. As a result of helping others, my leadership reputation and responsibilities grew.

While I like to think of myself as a generally helpful person, I’m a novice when compared to Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton. I heard about him from my friend Lise, who pointed me to a NY Times article “Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?” The reporter followed Grant during a typical day, where students sought his advice as he walked across campus, stood in lines outside of his office hours waiting to get a chance to talk to him, and sent him hundreds of emails asking for help or thanking him for something he had done for them.

Adam Grant practices “extreme helpfulness,” giving his time and advice to everyone who asks for it, regardless of how busy he is. He’s truly generous with his time, without expecting anything in return. Does helpfulness pay off for Grant? According to the article, yes.

“For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.”

Creating the kit for program managers was my mother lode. After that experience, I wanted to help my co-workers even more. I started mentoring individuals and built teams to help other groups across the company create their software products. Like Grant, helping others increased my productivity and creativity, along the way making me a better leader.

As I think about being a parent and being extremely helpful to my kids, I’m realizing there is an important distinction to make. I never want to do things that prevent my kids from learning the skills they need to move into adulthood. Instead, I want to be extremely helpful in every way that leads to learning, maturing, and “helping them help themselves.” With my teens, I won’t write an email about an internship for them, but I’m happy to review theirs before they press “Send.” As they learn to cook full dinners, I’m in the kitchen to answer their questions, but leaning back from the hands-on work. You get the picture.

This distinction also holds true for helping people at work. As first time managers or more seasoned leaders, we don’t want to do work for our team. We want to help them by setting them up for success.

What do you think of extreme helpfulness, as a leader or as a parent? Please leave a comment; I’d like to hear from you!

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.