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.


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!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Going extreme with questions

Picture of the book, Occasionally, I come across parenting advice in a leadership book. When this happens, I smile and do a little cheer under my breath. It’s validating to see someone else writing about the intersection of parenting and leadership. 

One such example is in the book “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter” by Liz Wiseman, with Greg McKeown. From the book jacket,

“We’ve all had experience with two dramatically different types of leaders. The first type drains intelligence, energy, and capability from the people around them and always needs to be the smartest person in the room. These are the idea killers, the energy sappers, the diminishers of talent and commitment. On the other side of the spectrum are leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. When these leaders walk into a room, light bulbs go off over people’s heads; ideas flow and problems get solved. These are the leaders who inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations. These are the Multipliers. And the world needs more of them, especially now when leaders are expected to do more with less.”

The book is full of stories of both kinds of leaders, and provides practical ideas for how to become a stronger “multiplier.” I enjoyed reading about how to develop a key trait of Multipliers – being a “challenger” vs a “know-it-all.” Most leaders spend their days answering a barrage of questions, and it’s tempting to stay in answer mode and be the boss. But, Multipliers know to stop answering questions and begin asking them.

Easier said than done? It was for the author, Liz Wiseman, who shared a story about how she had become horribly bossy with her young children, barking orders when it was time for bed: put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, pick up your toys, and so on. When she told a colleague how frustrated she was by it, he challenged her to ask only questions that night at home. No orders, just questions. She agreed to give it a try, and that evening she asked things like, “What time is it?” Her kids answered, “bedtime”. “What do we do at bedtime? They responded with, “We get on our pajamas and we brush our teeth.” Liz stood in shock as her kids then scampered to get ready for bed.

Are you up for the Extreme Question Challenge? Start by asking 100% questions, at home or in a meeting at work. The next day, adjust your approach to find a comfortable balance of asking and answering questions. You may be surprised by what your family or your employees already know. You may find you’re transformed as a parent or a leader, just as Liz Wiseman was.

Do you know of other leadership books that also provide parenting advice? Please share them in the comments. I’d like to read them!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

The value of a dollar

Dollar symbolWhen my kids were about 10 & 12 years old, they spent a week at my sister’s house. One night, when I called to talk with them, my brother-in-law answered the phone and told me he couldn’t believe what had happened that day. They had visited an aquarium, where he offered to buy them a souvenir from the gift shop. My kids, after walking around the shop, politely told him they didn’t need anything. This place was chock full of stuffed sea animals, books, t-shirts, and toys, and they didn’t want anything! To this day, my brother-in-law still can’t believe it.

By contrast, I wasn’t surprised. Over the years, when my husband and I took them to museums or zoos, we would tell them they could buy something from the gift store, but they need to spend their own money. Like many parents, we gave them a modest allowance to help them learn the value of a dollar. And it seemed to work. Sometimes they would buy something at a gift shop, but more often than not, they wouldn’t.

As you can imagine, hearing this story my children at the aquarium was a crowning moment for me as a parent. I was raising frugal kids who treated someone else’s money like it was their own. At the time, I gave myself a big pat on the back. And I silently thanked my friends and family who, by sharing their thoughts on allowances and spending money for kids, helped me figure out my approach.

In hindsight, I also realize how much I was influenced by a colleague, who spent hours and hours every week tracking the contractors in her department. She maintained a large spreadsheet, entering line items for each person’s hours and knowing, down to the penny, how much she could still spend each month. When her staff requested more hourly help, she would prioritize the request against the others she received, review the budget, and decide what they could afford. This system worked for her, but I vowed to never spend that kind of time on my work budget. Instead, I would delegate budget responsibility as much as possible.

As my professional responsibilities grew, so did my budget. But, keeping to my vow, I took every opportunity to push budget ownership to the mangers on my team. I’d make decisions each year about how much total budget we needed and how to divide it between my groups. But, once it was divided, I let my managers decide how to spend their budget.

Sure, my managers would come to me with expenses that they hadn’t anticipated, or opportunities that popped up that would require more budget. With each request, I’d prioritize it and see if I could support it. The requests were all reasonable, and only came to my attention when my team couldn’t figure out how to fund them from their budgets.

When my children move on to college, I want to push more budget responsibility to them. While they use their allowance today to pay for meals out, movies, gifts for friends, and so on, moving forward I want them to propose a budget for living expenses above and beyond tuition, room and board. I want them to think about their needs for books, clothing, over-the-counter medicine, and travel. I want to delegate managing this budget to them so that they learn this critical life skill. And, just like with my experience with budgeting at work, I expect that my kids will have unanticipated needs and will ask me for more money. Given their frugal experience early on, I have a feeling that these requests will all be reasonable.

I bet many of you have pushed budgeting to your teams or to your kids. Please share your strategies. I’d like to hear from you!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Confessions of the time-starved generation

Book cover for The Feminine MystiqueI just finished reading The Feminine Mystique, published 50 years ago by Betty Friedan as an exploration into why so many American housewives were unhappy in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s credited with starting the feminist movement in the 1960s, and I was curious to understand more about it in light of the Lean In Movement that’s taking hold today.

I found myself chuckling as I read Chapter 10, where Friedan wrote about housewives who unconsciously stretch their home duties to fill the time available. Why would anyone do this? Because the feminine mystique taught women that this was their role, and if they ever completed their tasks they would no longer be needed. Based on that line of thinking, I know I’ll always be needed; my household to-do list is never-ending!

For today’s working parents, there are never enough hours in the day. We develop coping skills to make it all work, some more extreme than others. Do we allow our household duties to expand to fit the available time? Maybe, but that time is next to nothing. What I’ve seen in myself and my friends is that we’ve mastered the ability to shrink our household duties down to the bare minimum.

Our strategies include:

Embrace the sleight of hand. Tend to common areas more than the bedrooms to create the effect of a tidy home. Don’t mop the whole floor, just wipe up the spots. Have places to quickly hide clutter before guests arrive.  I especially love closing the doors to my kids’ rooms. I’m a neat freak, and I keep telling myself that what I can’t see shouldn’t bother me.

Rethink your standards. Only do the housework that’s important to you. Do the beds really need to be made every morning? As your children help with household chores, don’t expect the same level of quality that you might do yourself. Every Sunday when my kids do their laundry, I think of a good friend who warned me that my kids may decide to “live” out of their laundry baskets, never bothering folding their clean clothes. Unless you’re going to a fancy event, let them wear wrinkled clothing! Remember, your house is an active, lived-in house. Make it as clean as you need it to be, and don’t worry about what others think.

Assemble meals rather than cook them. Look for healthy, pre-prepared food to use to make a meal. Pair frozen entrees with fresh vegetables. Heat left-over chicken with a jar of Indian simmer sauce. Buy frozen risotto and serve it with a salad. Turn breaded, baked frozen fish filets into fish tacos. There are lots of these options for saving time in the kitchen. Don’t feel guilty about using them.

Master extreme efficiency. Simplify meal clean-up by grilling, using a slow cooker, or keeping pots to a minimum. Serve meals straight from the stove to avoid using serving dishes that will need to be cleaned. Do chores like unloading the dishwasher or folding laundry while your kids eat breakfast so that you can talk to them but still knock something off your list. Wash clothes only when they they fail the “smell” test or are stained. Buy stamps at the grocery store or online to save a trip to the post office. Set up auto-pay for your regular bills. You get the picture.

Delegate as much as possible. If you can afford help, hire a housekeeper, gardener, accountant, and others. Split chores with your partner. Enlist your kids in cleaning activities at an early age. Train your family that when they make a mess, they clean it up.

Simplify your life. Get rid of things you don’t need. Less stuff means less to tidy and clean! Keep a “to donate” box in your closet or garage to collect things as you come across them to avoid a big cleanup. Unsubscribe from unwanted email as it comes in. Sort your postal mail next to your recycling bin so that you can get rid of junk right away.

Have fun! Invite friends over so you have reasons to de-clutter and accomplish some of that housework that never seems to get done.  Blast your favorite music or listen to podcasts while cleaning. And then enjoy sharing your home with friends!

What are your strategies to shrink household duties to the bare minimum? Please share them in the comments. We’d all like to hear from you.


To my good friends: thank you for sharing your strategies for this blog post. Remember: if you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot, hang on, and call one of us!

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Practice Makes Perfect?

Do you struggle with work-life balance? I expect the answer is yes. How about work-life flexibility, a phrase becoming more popular as we realize balance is out of reach? Yes again?

While I can’t promise to solve either work-life issue for you, I do want to share a “secret”…it’s about recognizing when you have the opportunity to leverage skills between work and home. I call this work-life efficiency, because you can learn something in one environment and use it in the other.

I also believe practice makes perfect. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell provides compelling evidence that you need to practice something for 10,000 hours before you master it. Let’s apply this idea to leadership skills. In the United States, the average worker logs about 2000 hours in their job each year. If you were to practice the art of delegation (for example) every single minute that you were at work, after 5 years you’d have a good chance of being an expert. Five years is a really long time! But, if you are also practicing delegation at home seven days a week, you are going to master it that much faster.

The math may be simple, but I hope that my point is compelling—that we can become more competent leaders and parents by recognizing and then utilizing overlapping best practices. The more opportunities we have to employ these best practices, the more skilled we will become.

What do you think about changing the conversation away from work-life balance to a celebration of the opportunities we are given as working parents to practice leadership skills at home and parenting skills at work? I look forward to hearing from you.


© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

The “Aha” Moment

As a mentor, I’m frequently asked for advice about delegation, a skill that many new managers find difficult to master. I firmly believe that delegation is difficult until the first time an employee surprises you by doing something better than you would have done yourself. That is the “aha” moment that changes everything.

At home, I had such “aha” moments as I’ve watched my children do their chores over the years. When they were young and just starting to help prepare meals, I remember asking them to get strawberries for lunch. If I had done this myself, I would have washed the berries, removed the hulls, and cut them into bite sized pieces. My children “streamlined” the process by washing the berries and putting them directly on their plates. Call them lazy or call them clever, but they knew they could get away without cutting the berries because they could nibble around the hulls.

A more recent “aha” moment happened as I watched my teenagers divvy-up household tasks. When I asked them to clean up after dinner, they figured out how to split the work of loading the dishwasher, putting away left-overs, and scrubbing the pots. If I were the task master, I’m sure I would hear cries of, “That’s not fair” or “I had to wash the pots last night.” Instead, they worked it out without any help from me.

With all due respect to my children, the “aha” moments I’ve had at work are more significant. I’ve been impressed over and over again with how my staff approaches tasks, utilizes their network of colleagues to brainstorm solutions, and creates top-notch deliverables. They get more done than I could possibly do myself, and they do it well.

Whether as a parent or as a leader, I see three reasons to delegate:

  • Delegation frees me to do higher-level tasks. At work, this means I can spend time thinking strategically about an opportunity. At home, I can spend time on a hobby or paying bills.
  • Delegation teaches new skills to my team or my children. My employees need to know how to talk to customers, write executive summaries, and prioritize work. My kids need to know how to tidy their rooms, use the microwave, do laundry, and clean a toilet.
  • Delegation involves others to create better ways of doing something or thinking about something. Co-workers often identify better approaches to get something done. Teens might play their favorite music to make a chore fun.

However, I realize that delegation can be difficult to do well. Imagine when I ask my children to tidy their rooms. In my mind, a clean room has certain characteristics: the bed is made, clean clothes are put away, and dirty clothes are in a laundry basket or, better yet, in the washing machine. Not surprisingly, my children may have a different definition of a clean room. It may mean everything that was on the floor is now piled on their desk, or that the basket of clean laundry is tucked away in the closet, out of sight. The potential for misunderstanding is huge.

There are so many reasons why delegation can fail, at home or at work, including:

  • No clear definition of success. “I’ll know it when I see it” doesn’t work when delegating. I need to describe what a finished work deliverable will contain or what a clean room will look like. I regularly remind myself that my employees and my children can’t read my mind.
  • No context of why a task needs to be done. “Because I said so” doesn’t work well over the long term either as a parent or as a leader. I need to explain the consequences of not doing the chore or the work assignment. Will I take away a privilege from my child? Will our department be denied a budget request if the proposal isn’t completed? By being specific, I try to motivate my staff or my children to do the task.
  • No timeframe for completion. We all tend to be excellent procrastinators. However, if I want my kids to clear their backpacks from the family room before guests come to dinner, I need to be clear about the deadline.
  • Relegation, not delegation. I don’t ask my kids or my staff to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. If there is undesirable, dirty work to be done, I take turns doing it.
  • Micromanagement. While I may share suggestions for tackling a project, or check in every so often on larger projects, I try not to micromanage. This is often challenging because I am a bit of a control freak. But, I try to let my child or my employee make decisions about how to get a project done. Otherwise, they will learn only from the way I have done things before and the mistakes I have made, which, in turn, influence how I do things. They need to experience their own challenges, make mistakes, and figure out approaches that work best for them.

So, whether I am asking my kids to help with housework or asking an employee to take on a new project, I follow this simple best practice:

  1. Describe the task
  2. Explain why the task is important
  3. Specify what success will look like
  4. Identify when the task must be completed
  5. Step away
  6. Observe and learn by how the task gets done

By following this best practice, I’ve had many “aha” moments. I look forward to hearing about your experiences, and I hope that your “aha” moments start rolling in.


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© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.