The six-word phrase that matters most

Picture of boys playing soccerDid you know there is a parenting phrase that brings student athletes happiness, confidence, and a sense of fulfillment? It’s just six words: “I love to watch you play.”

Years ago, I first came across a variation of this phrase in the program for a local Nutcracker performance. My friends’ daughter was playing Clara, and they placed an ad in the program saying, “We love to watch you dance. Love, Mom and Dad.” It made an impression on me. It was so simple, supportive, and beautiful.

I like to think that I’ve used it many times since then to encourage and praise my kids, but I’m not so sure I remembered to. However, it was top of mind when my husband and I sat down to write a letter of love and affirmation for our daughter, to be given to her at a high school retreat. Our daughter is a talented writer, and in our note to her, we said: “We love to read what you write.”

Coincidentally, a few days after the retreat, I came across Daniel Coyle’s article in the Huffington Post: Five Ways to Nurture Talent (Without Being a Psycho Parent). In the article, he shares informal research done by collegiate coaching experts about ways parents had made a positive or negative impact on their children’s development. One of the “aha’s” from their interviews is what Daniel Coyle says may be “the wisest parenting tip I’ve ever read.”

The kids reported there was one phrase spoken by parents that brought them happiness. One simple sentence that made them feel joyful, confident, and fulfilled. Just six words. I love to watch you play.

Given how important the phrase is to student athletes, and the impression it made on me when I first saw it, I started wondering how it could be adapted by leaders to make their teams feel confident, happy, and engaged with their work.  For example,

I like to watch you lead meetings.
I like to read your reports.
I like to watch you give presentations.
I like to see you help customers.

What do you think of this phrase, as a parent or as a leader? Have you used it yourself? Thinking of opportunities to use it more in the future? Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts. After all, I like to read your comments.

–Karen

© 2014 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.

The true goal of leadership and parenting

Picture of an empty bird's nestMy husband and I have had a few practice runs at empty-nesting. Stretches in the summer when our kids visited my family on the East Coast, and my husband and I stayed in California for our jobs. While we missed our children a lot, we have to admit it was a nice change. No milk in the fridge? No worries. Decide to go on a date night at the last minute? Sure! Life without our kids around for a few weeks had its benefits.

As we look ahead to empty-nesting for real, we hope that our children are prepared for life, are set up for success in whatever they choose to do, and are happy. Isn’t this the true goal for any parent?

Making them successful and happy is also the true goal for any leader. It’s our responsibility to ensure that our employees are successful in their careers, guiding them to deliver on business needs while learning new skills to stay relevant and grow their careers. We want them to be happy and engaged with what they are doing so they can do their best work.

Often, the challenge is identifying the next skill someone needs to master. Because everyone is unique and there are external factors to consider, there’s no playbook to follow. Once you’ve taught your kids to do their laundry, is cooking next? Or financial literacy? What’s going to best meet personal and family needs? With employees, do they next need to learn a technical skill or a management skill? And what skill will best serve your company’s objectives?

My advice? Set aside time on a regular basis to reflect on how you’re going to meet the true goal. And look ahead to empty-nesting, whether that means having your children become independent and move out of your home, or delegating areas of responsibility to your team so that you have bandwidth to learn new things yourself.

–Karen

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

Alone, but Never Alone

Woman looking out of a windowWhen my kids were infants, I remember rocking them back to sleep in the middle of the night, looking out of our living room windows across a canyon. Seeing the lights in the other hillside houses helped me realize there must be dozens of parents nearby who were awake just like me: nursing babies, consoling kids after nightmares, taking temperatures, giving hugs. I wasn’t the only person not getting a good night’s sleep, and it was strangely reassuring.

I was similarly comforted as a startup CEO. How many other entrepreneurs were out there choosing just the right words for a pitch deck, searching for talent to join their small team, balancing new product ideas with the need to focus, or second guessing their business model when a new competitor comes on the scene? The uncertainty of it all was overwhelming at times, but I knew I wasn’t alone. Others were on the same journey.

“It’s lonely at the top” is a well-known adage in leadership circles, and there are plenty of strategies for dealing with the isolation. You can reach out to other leaders to get advice and support. You can work with an executive coach. You can have a trusted mentor. You can read leadership books and blogs. I’ve used all of these strategies over my career, and they’ve definitely helped.

During my maternity leaves, I used similar approaches to deal with the same feeling of isolation. I joined mothers groups and took exercise classes with other new moms. I read parenting books. All were helpful.

Yet, there were still times, as a leader and as a parent, that I was alone. Alone with my thoughts, the decisions I faced, the positive smile I would have to put on when I opened the door to that next meeting or that next family meal. Knowing that others were going through similar challenges and surviving, possibly thriving, made all the difference in the world.

How about you? How do you deal with the sense of loneliness as a leader or as a parent? I’d like to hear from you!

–Karen

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

Doesn’t everyone feel like an impostor, at some point?

Photo of a newborn baby with hospital ID braceletAfter I gave birth to our daughter, I remember sitting in the back seat of our car as my husband drove us home from the hospital. As I kept watch over our tiny baby, my husband commented that it seemed strange that we didn’t need a license to prove we had the basic skills for taking care of a baby and a safe place to raise her. All we needed was an infant car seat and matching wrist identification bracelets.

This was the first time I was aware that my husband could feel the Impostor Syndrome, a situation where capable people are plagued by self-doubt. Where they ask themselves, “When are they going to find out I’m not qualified?” When they hold themselves back from taking on additional responsibility because they haven’t yet learned to do that kind of work. When they don’t have confidence in their abilities.

Research on the Impostor Syndrome shows that women tend to feel it more intensely and be more limited by it than men. That’s certainly consistent with my experience.

In fact, I have a friend who asked a panel of male leaders about the Impostor Syndrome. In front of an audience of women, she asked the men about their careers; one of her questions was, “Tell me about a time you experienced the impostor syndrome.” When they looked at her quizzically, she realized she needed to explain it: “You know, a time when you didn’t think you were capable of doing the job. How did you handle it?” They still didn’t grok the question. They ended up sharing stories about proud moments of their career, when they surpassed goals or did the impossible. My friend turned to the audience of women and said, “They don’t get it. They’ve never experienced the impostor syndrome.” She couldn’t believe it.

I started wondering about their personal lives. Maybe they had never felt like impostors at work, but what about as dads? Did they ever feel unqualified to bathe their infant or take care of their sick child? And, is the opposite true for working moms? Do women tend to feel highly qualified to raise children, yet have an inner critic shouting at them all day at work?

All of this makes me wonder…Can women leverage their confidence in parenting to overcome feeling like an impostor at work?

I’d like to hear from you, my readers. Have you felt the Impostor Syndrome at work? As a parent? What’s similar or different between these experiences?

–Karen

Interested in the research on the Impostor Syndrome? See the summary in Sheryl Sanberg’s “Lean In“, page 193.

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

Get ’em out of the cave

Photo of a cave“I’m sure the first caveman who went over the hill to see what was on the other side—I don’t think he went there wholly out of curiosity. He went there because he wanted to get his son out of the cave.” — Studs Turkel, “Working”

I love this quote. I heard it for the first time when my 16-year old was in his school’s performance of “Working.” This musical, based on Stud Turkel’s novel of the same name, is a collection of interviews with the working class in America. My son played a steel worker, who described his desire to make things better for his kid, to get him out of the cave. Such is the case for many parents. We want to raise our children in a different, often better environment than our parents could offer to us.

It got me thinking about leadership and getting employees “out of the cave” when they’re stuck in ruts. With a change in environment, job responsibilities, or even daily routine, employees can gain new perspectives, be more innovative, combat burnout, and become more engaged with the company and its mission.

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m surrounded by parents who seek enrichment activities for their kids. But, I can’t say the same for all the executives I’ve worked with over my career in the software industry. Sure, some have been great at identifying development opportunities for their employees, but others seem to get caught up in the business at hand and never seem to think about enrichment for their teams.

As inspiration for all of us, here are some tried-and-true approaches from parenting that I’ve seen successfully applied to the workplace:

Parenting Leadership
Exchange programs
Just like you might encourage your teens and college students to explore student exchange programs or mission trips, ideally in a different country… Look for opportunities for your employees to work from another office for a short period of time, ideally in a different geography.
Shadow days
Just like you might ask a co-worker to take your kids to a meeting or lunch on “Bring your kids to work day”… Match a top performer with an executive in another area of your business, and have him or her shadow the executive for a day.
Summer camps and sabbaticals
Just like you give your kids time to do something different when they’re not in school, such as camps, travel, or just unstructured time during the summer… Give your employees a 5-day “sabbatical” each year to work on whatever experimental or research project they chose, just so long as it might benefit the team or the company.
Temporary jobs
Just like you might help your kids find part-time jobs or internships… Identify rotation assignments for your employees. Could they step into a new position until you can hire the full-time person? Or fill in on another team who is looking for temporary contracting help?

With each of these approaches, kids and employees are exposed to different cultures, ideas, opportunities, and challenges. The overall impact? Improved happiness, confidence, engagement, innovation, and productivity.

I’d love to hear your approaches to getting your your kids or employees “out of their caves.” Please leave a comment!

–Karen

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

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.

Ask the Readers: Do you have a favorite book for parenting AND leadership?

Ask the readers

I’m always thrilled to come across leadership books that give me ideas for being a better parent, and parenting books that I can use professionally to make me a better leader. I’d love to read more of them. Do you have one to recommend?

Earlier this week, I visited Hackbright Academy to help with a workshop on interviewing skills. Poornima, my partner at Femgineer, taught the workshop, and at one point she mentioned that I have a blog about the intersection of leadership and parenting. Her comment led one of the students to approach me at a break to find out more about my blog. She shared with me that she has two children, and that, for years, she’s been noticing overlaps in parenting and leadership. In fact, there was a single book that had a huge influence on her both her parenting and leadership styles. It’s called “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. I’ve added it to my list to read!

I bet there are many more books that cross-over between parenting and leadership. Chances are they were written for one audience or the other, but the advice is applicable to both home and work.

Do you have one to recommend? A parenting book that gave you ideas or inspiration to be a better leader? A leadership book that helped you with a parenting challenge you were experiencing? Please leave a comment to tell me about your favorite books. I’d love to read them.

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

When was the last time you made someone feel smart?

drawing of a light bulb
Image courtesy of bplanet / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Are there some people you enjoy spending time with because they make you feel good about yourself? My husband and I know an older couple who have a knack for asking questions that make us feel like we are the most interesting people in the world. (Believe me, we’re not.) This couple refers to conversations we had years earlier, complimenting us on our achievements since then and encouraging us to stretch ourselves in new ways. Given their advanced years, I’m pretty sure they must keep a diary of their activities, and read it before seeing us to be able to remember what we’ve told them. Whether this is their secret or not, they make us feel great every time we visit them.

I thought of these friends when I read “7 Tips for Making Other People Feel Smart and Insightful,” a blog post by Gretchen Rubin. (Gretchen is the author of the best-selling books “Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home.”) She writes

We all want to get along well with other people, and one way to do this is to help people feel good about themselves. If you make a person feel smart and insightful, that person will enjoy your company. The point is not to be manipulative, but to help other people feel good about their contributions to a conversation.

She goes on to share some suggestions, including taking notes about what others are saying, referring back to comments that they made earlier in a conversation, and asking someone to finish a thought if they got side-tracked. Each allows you to show respect for their ideas and their experience, and that you are paying attention to what they’re saying.  My favorite is asking for advice and acting on it. As Gretchen points out, we all love to give advice, and we feel smart when someone seeks our counsel. We may even feel brilliant when that person follows our recommendations.

Not only will Gretchen Rubin’s tips help you make others feel good about themselves, they can also help drive engagement. Are you a leader who wants to increase  employee engagement with your company’s mission and future? Or, perhaps you are a parent who wants to  improve your teen’s engagement with your family? Think about making them feel good about the contributions they’re making to any conversation, and making them feel insightful when you seek their advice.

Professionally, I ask others for advice frequently. I’m a collaborative person, and I appreciate learning from others and including people in my decision making process. But, do I do this at home? Turns out not nearly enough.

When I asked my kids if I looked to them for advice, they both shook their heads “no.” Whether they realize it or not, I learn from them all the time. Yet, learning from someone is different than asking them for input. When we seek advice, we’re trying to sort something out; we’re gathering perspectives to help us understand a broader picture. By default, we reach out to people whose opinions we respect and trust, and this, in turn, makes them feel smart and insightful. With teens who are still developing a sense of who they are and the adults they will become, seeking their advice gives them the opportunity to practice sharing their ideas and to develop confidence in their opinions. Chances are, they’ll also teach us a thing or two.

So, I’m making a resolution to include my kids in my decision-making process more often. Please share your ideas, or your stories about when you’ve sought your kids’ advice. I’d love to hear from you.

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

They’re Watching You

Picture of a businesswoman seated in an office chair with her hands behind he head.  “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it for a parent or a leader.

At the start of my career, I worked in an applied research group at Brown University. Our director frequently travelled to raise funding, always sharing great stories when he got back. Once, on a visit Microsoft, he attended a meeting where everyone leaned back from the conference room table, folding their hands behind their heads. It was a bit odd. Afterwards, he asked his host why everyone sat like that, and the answer was that Bill Gates (who was still the CEO at the time) tended to sit that way. Other Microsoft employees, without realizing it, mimicked his behavior.

Years later, I retold this story to a co-worker who had started cutting people off in meetings. As I gave him feedback about it, I told him that his team was starting to do the same thing. I then shared the Microsoft story with him to illustrate how easily habits can rub off on people. I asked him, “How are you going to feel if your entire team starts acting like you in meetings?” It was an “aha” moment for him. He saw the impact he could have in shaping the culture of our meetings, and he wanted them to be inclusive, not antagonistic.

My husband and I have noticed that our teens are picking up our habits. Most I’m thrilled with — things like manners, healthy eating, and a strong work ethic. But, then there are ones I’m embarrassed to admit. Like retreating to different rooms to watch TV shows streamed to individual tablet computers, our earbuds providing an even greater level of disconnect from the rest of the family. Like being overly competitive when playing board games.

It can be overwhelming to realize that employees and kids could be watching your every move, and consciously or sub-concisously deciding to mimic you. If they respect you, they’re going to pick up some of your habits. You need to be a good role model, 24×7. After all, “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it for a parent or a leader.

I’m looking for ideas for how to handle situations when people pick up your bad habits. If you have advice, please share it in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you.

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)