Leadership is Promoting Work-Life Balance

As Community spread continues the possibility of us returning to work from home with varying scales remains high.

We have spent 3 months practicing work from home and most of our teams are now ready and equipped for this reality.

As I continue to host group coaching sessions with leaders and teams, most teams are concerned with the their work life balance and ask how to maintain this as they go forward. 

As work from home becomes institutionalized, it may be difficult to actually perceive a separation  between our work and our personal lives.  Our workplaces have now encroached our lives.

We no longer have to leave home to go to the workplace and we can no longer close our doors on the workplace.  Our dining room table is now an office desk, our kettle is the work coffee station and our co workers noisy radio is replaced by the sounds of the children’s cartoon.

Those of us who have sworn never to take home work, now have work as permanent and prominently features at our homes. It seems that the balance has been tilted on the side of work since it now resides with us at home.

There are two aspects of this for me.  There is the work and the life, that we are being asked to hold in balance. I want to separate them before I rejoin them so that we can deal with either as a separate piece before bringing them back as a whole .

Lets deal with life

What was the quality of your life before the Coronavirus?

Were you happy, proud, disappointed with your life before the Coronavirus?

The stay at home and the other effects of Corona would have compounded and shown you exactly what is the quality of your life.

A lot of us live our lives with distractions, which  is not a bad thing. They may look different from person to person and they keep us going. For some of us it may be the exercise, for others liming, for some travelling.  What’s yours?

During covid we had to stay at home without distraction and face ourselves. We had to look at the man/ woman in the mirror and we got a long hard look at our reflection.  For the first time in a long time, we saw how we related to ourselves and to our families and our loved ones. Maybe we liked what we saw, maybe we didn’t. We were forced to acknowledge our way of life and not all of us wanted to keep looking.

Part of our lives is also the relationships that we share. Cabin fever is a real thing and for some of us we learned that we didn’t know and in some cases we may not like the people with whom  we lived.

We realized that with the bustle of life that we were not spending quality time with each other and we needed to relearn each other.  This may have been rewarding to some.

I saw a hilarious and horrifying tweet thread that suggested that people were horrified at their spouses workplace ego.  Some people recognized that they were living with the office bully or living with the brownnoser.  We have never seen how each other work and now we may have had to recalibrate our opinions of others based on their work behaviour

That’s a lot of reveals in a short space of time, which did not always help our life.

In response to the messiness of life very often we turn to work. It makes perfect sense.

As humans we do what brings us pleasure and for a lot of us our work is joy. Work is also predictable we more or less get what we put into the job. Life on the other hand is messy, involves other people and plans often go awry.

It’s a no brainer about where to invest our time, work gives us a more immediate and  much higher return on our time investment.

At work, we realized that there is a difference between accessible and available. Team members may be accessible and they do not need to be available at all times.

Most leaders confused the two thinking that because they knew where team members were that they could call on team members whenever they wanted. For most leaders this was a teething problem, they were new to managing teams remotely and thought this was the best way forward. over the last 3 months some leaders realized that staff were in fact being responsible and doing as they required and eased up on this behaviour.

Yes I am aware that there are some leaders who are still closely monitoring their teams.

I don’t think this is a phenomenon of working from home. I think that in those teams there was always a lack of trust and the remote working is highlighting  the situation.  These leaders either have no trust in themselves as leaders, or don’t trust that their teams will follow their lead or don’t trust their team members.

I have not heard any leader complain about the lack of productivity during the work from home and most team members have said that they have achieved more than their expected results.

Lastly leaders, What is the culture of your office around work?

Some workplaces celebrate long hours and think that people who put their personal or family life first are losers.

Some offices promote missing family events as signs of loyalty to the office not realizing that life is being destroyed.

Some team members sacrifice family time and relationships on the altars of high performance and leaders applaud these decisions as evidence of dedication.

At these workplaces long hours, weekend work and tight deadlines are considered hallmarks of success. 

Now that we have examined work and life dear reader what do you preference your work or your life? What is the reason for your preference?

A 2001 study in the UK said that work life imbalance was more likely to be reported, by those working longer hours. It was also more likely to be reported by those in managerial positions and on a higher income; by women rather than men and by those with dependent children; and by multiple-job holders.

On the positive side, those who reported that they worked in an organization with a friendly climate, where more human resource practices are in place and where they have more scope for direct participation and autonomy, reported less imbalance. 

This report gives us some tips

Lets start at the top and be deliberate about the culture that we are building around work and life. 

What do our cultures promote? We need to ensure that our workplaces do not penalize fathers for wanting to see their children being born or that women don’t lose their spots because of maternity leave.  We also need to have a culture that does not penalize people who want other things.

Leaders we need to  encourage team members to take their holidays to attend family functions and to take breaks from work.

We need to stop thinking that if I can do it they can do it as well and understand that each individual has different needs and different levels of contribution to make.

We need to be flexible.

We need to highlight the need for routines with our team members. Encourage them to plan and take scheduled breaks.  Retain the morning 10-minute coffee break, the lunch break and the bathroom breaks. Remind them that the breaks offer a good time to check in on their children. We should be monitoring for those exceptions as well.

Lunch-time can offer opportunities for socialization through lunch and learns and families can be invited in.

Leaders encourage team members to find their rhythm and point out when their routines are also not working. 

We can demonstrate what routines look like by scheduling meetings at the same time each week and having work deadlines .

We also need to ensure that team members work a certain number of hours a week. 

As community spread widens, we need to be physically distant  and we do not have to be socially distant. 

Leaders reach out to team members and and check in both with those who live alone and those who live with others.

Some clients host zoom hangouts during which team members have a coffee together and shoot the breeze.

Leaders we need to plant the seeds and remind staff that there is more to life.

This may seem like a ticklish topic since we often think that Money is the main factor to the quality of life. Before I go on let me ask. Have you ever gotten a raise and 6 months after expenses just seem to rise to match the raise? Yes that happens with most of us.

What’s the quality of life that you are allowing yourself? What are you doing that takes away from or adds to your quality of life?

This is not about how much money you have it is about the people who are around you, you doing the things that you love unapologetically and the amount of happy or sad in your life.

What makes your heart sing? When last did you do that?

Many of  us at some point in time we give up the things dearest to us in pursuit of the career and then we are left feeling that something is missing.

As I progressed in my career as an accountant I gave up my love for writing and I felt the imbalance in my lifeIt is only when I restarted writing and published my two books that I felt resonance in my t became balanced life, since I operate daily with what makes my heart sings. 

Those who have regained your heartsong you know what I mean. For the others who haven’t take some time to think about that one thing that you did that you were just happy doing and reintroduce it into your life.  A sure way to maintain some balance.

On an individual level, let’s get help in every way that we can. It could be something as simple as buying frozen dough instead of making bread or ordering groceries to pick up instead of going to the stores or getting help to clean the house.  In whatever way we can lets make our living simpler and easier.

We also need to take care of our emotional mental and physical states by being aware of how we are doing. We need to slow down and pay attention to ourselves since it is ourselves that will bring us through. 

We know that work from home is in our future.  The second wave of covid will see many team members retreat to their homes. Beyond covid some employers will  realize that there are cost savings and promote work from home as the way forward.

Work life balance suggests that we hold the two in balance on a daily basis.

I have the image of a seesaw with work on one side and life on the other. Some days the seesaw tips in favor of work and on other days it  tips on the side of life. Think of the fine balancing act to hold the two sides of the see-saw at an equal level. It feels almost impossible to do so and this is what we struggle with. There is an unseen tension in holding the two sides even, it is difficult to maintain the balance.

Let’s try another image.  Think of the sea saw and move the life and work away from their separate ends and bring them together in the middle of the see saw.

Now work and life together become the pivot on which the see saw easily swings.  Feel the release of the tension. I know it sounds too easy.

Consider that life is a continuum in which there is a feature called work. It’s not either or it is part of our life. It’s just one of the multiple realities of our life and we hold it in perspective and in context to our lives.

I would love to know how you manage your work life balance.

Drop me a line at my website www/Maxineattong.com or via linked in or ig.

My intention  is to fuel your leadership spark so that together we can bring change to the systems that we live in.

 If you have any topics that you want discussed or any questions answered then visit my website and send them to me

At this time I am hosting free 30 minute online sessions with teams to discuss how to promote work-life balance. If you want to host a free online session for your team then Contact me on on my website at maxineattong.com, linked in or Instagram at Maxine Attong.  You can call or send me a whats app to 8687247642 or an email at maxineattong@gamil.com

Thank you for reading

Starbucks – Time to do the hard thing

There was an outcry over the recent actions of Starbucks team members. In one instance the barista called the police on two men who were waiting for a friend and in the other case the barista refused to issue the bathroom key to a man. In both instances, the men were identified as black.
Starbucks immediately responded. The leadership apologised and shortly thereafter team members from 8,000 stores attended racial bias training.

From these events I conclude Starbucks leadership empowers frontline staff. They trust the staff to make decisions and to act on decisions made, without seeking permission. As a result, the baristas made decisions about who were allowed access and who were not. Why? Because that is the way that Starbucks does things. It is its culture.

By extension, I conclude that if two separate employees can authoritatively discriminate against two different black males, with no fear of recourse, in two distinct circumstances, then at Starbucks, this is the way that black males are treated. It is its culture.

Company culture is reflected in what is done and deemed acceptable at the very lowest levels of an organisation. Culture is demonstrated by the actions of the persons whom are away from the mikes, away from the glitz and glamour and who will never grace the cover of the Forbes and Fortune 500. These are the people who tell the world exactly what your company stands for and its core values.

A well written apology in sincere tones and  racial bias training sessions are great first steps for the leaders to say to staff that this is not whom we are. Yet we know that words have no meaning without context, and that if leaders do not reinforce the training then it goes to naught.

Starbucks’ leaders have done the right thing, now Starbucks’ leaders need to do the hard thing. Leaders at all levels of the organisation need to self reflect, to be honest in admitting the current culture and to determine how the company should move forward. Whatever the decision, leaders need to ensure that the operations are realigned to actively support what is espoused.

I offer Starbucks leaders the following questions to begin the process:

  • Where are black males In Starbucks?
  • How do we treat with black males in the Starbucks?
  • What are the things that are said about black males in Starbucks?
  • What are the things that are not said about black males in Starbucks?
  • What sort of jokes are made about black males ?
  • What is the our policy and procedure for reporting discrimination?
  • What does the data from these policies indicate to us?
  • Are we satisfied that the policies work or are easy to use or are being used?
  • How do we discourage micro-aggression?
  • How do we educate non- POC (people of color) about micro-aggression?
  • What are the black voices within Starbucks saying on this matter?
  • What conversations do we have on race?

For the rest of us leaders, the the lesson is clear – Culture is what our staff does. What  our staff does tells the world what our culture is..

What is your company’s culture? What does your staff do that isn’t aligned to your culture? What are you going to do about it?
If you want to change your company culture and ensure that staff behaviours are aligned to your core values then drop me a line. I can help.

(photo credits :Trinichow)

Shadows vs Mirrors – Leadership Paradox

When I was a kid, I loved playing with my shadow. With my back to the sun, I casted my shadow over everything, fascinated by the way it grew and diminished according to the placement of the sun.
As a teenager, I walked in others’ shadows to learn the ropes, to understand the best paths to walk and to easily fit in. By adulthood, I accepted that to grow I had to forge my own path, take what I learnt in the safety of the shadows and convert it to my truth as I exposed myself to the sun.
Larry Senn, in his 1970 doctoral thesis popularised the idea of “shadow of a leader.” His research showed that organisations often become shadows of their leaders.
People want to emulate leaders even without being bullied or coerced (to do so). Staff mimic the language, the style and the behaviour of the leaders as they try to understand the culture, to fit in, to negotiate and manoeuvre their way through the organisation, and to be promoted.
Whether intentional or not, leaders set the culture of the organisation by their expressions of personal likes or dislikes, their personal traits and characteristics and their behaviour.
They stand with their backs to the sun casting long shadows over the organisation. No doubt that Senn was onto something but should we as leaders some 47 years later, be casting shadows in our organisations?
We want our teams to have the same core values and to be aligned to organisational vision, but does this translate to staff being “a chip off the old block?”
Yes we want the stability that homogeneity brings, but how does that serve us in times of change?
We are all human, therefore by design we have flaws. Consequently, as leaders there are times when we are flawed in our thoughts, words and deeds. What if the shadows we cast include our flaws? What if as leaders we project shadows that conjure shadow puppets (changing fingers and hands to wonderful sights) – that are miles from the truth?

When I determined how I wanted to lead and decided the reasons why I wanted to lead I was no longer interested in having mini-mes on my team. While team members and I needed to be on the same page with respect to core values, vision and how we wanted to work, it was important that each team member bring who (s)he was to the workplace. In this way, we created a team of diverse opinions and skills, we challenged each other, we provided different opinions and thoughts and in this way we each grew.
I often held up a mirror to myself to see what I needed to change. I also held that mirror up for team members so that they could see themselves and autocorrect as they needed to. At times, I had to hold the mirror up for the team and determine what qualities were missing in the team, then decide to adopt and encourage others to adopt the relevant behaviour.

Leaders can consider being a mirror in and for the organisations in which we work. We can model the organisational culture that we want, even when it bucks the prevalent culture. We can reflect another way of working that invites meaningful conflict which may be suppressed when all staff sing off the same hymn sheet. We can promote the growth and development of individuals so that they display their full intelligence. We can create environments for risk taking that invite creativity. We can harness the variety and diversity that team members bring to spur our organisations forward.

To look in the mirror, we have to step out of the shadows, become aware, take responsibility and determine with team members what actions need to be taken to achieve our agreed destination.

Whose shadow are you walking in? What shadows are you casting on your team?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win.  She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations.  She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational  Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

5 Steps To Unleash Innovation & Improve Work Culture

Getting your people to contribute more to your organization while simultaneously establishing stronger talent retention must cost a pretty penny, right? Not really, says corporate coach Maxine Attong.

“You don’t necessarily need to add expensive new ingredients to the stew, you just have to know how to use your ingredients better,” she says. “A talented chef – or in this case, corporate or organizational leader – knows how to let an ingredient speak for itself, perhaps with just a touch of seasoning, or guidance.”

What is the guidance – competition or incentives such as bonuses? Not exactly.

“Most employees want to have more input,” says Attong, a certified facilitator and author of “Lead Your Team to Win: Achieve Optimal Performance By Providing A Safe Space For Employees” (www.MaxineAttong.com). “However, personal issues, fear of being laughed at or anxiety of not getting credit can stymie contributions from a leader’s staff.”
If a leader can engender a real sense of trust, the organization will benefit both from the individual and the team’s ingenuity. A reliable way of establishing a trusting climate is to make team members feel safe, says Attong, who offers five steps for doing so.

Share responsibility; practice “I” statements: With openness, encourage interaction by having team members and leaders enforce the rules and monitor the use of common space. When members break the rules, the team discusses the problems and decides on the sanctions and steps necessary to assist the member in following the rules next time. Speakers are discouraged from using the word “you.” Instead, they use “I.” This simple yet effective practice encourages personal culpability and discourages blame.

Consistency: Teams need to consistently follow the agreed-upon rules as they set the boundaries and the tone for relationships. Following the rules makes the behavior in the space predictable, which limits uncertainty and increases feelings of safety. Consistent application of the rules helps the team to increase trust as behavior becomes prescriptive and members know more or less what will happen in the room and how they will be treated.

Judgment: The members must feel that they are not being judged. If someone says that an idea is bad, the speaker will shut down and feel embarrassed. In the future that speaker will hesitate to give ideas, since he feels his ideas may not be good enough for the team. Less confident team members may refrain from presenting ideas if they are uncertain of the quality of the ideas. However, many ideas that may seem strange or unorthodox at first can wind up being some of the best.

Good intentions: Not all team members are effective communicators so it may be difficult for some people to frame and cogently express their thoughts.

“I assume all team members have good intentions and want a positive outcome,” Attong says. “Even though what I am hearing may be contrary to that assumption, I hold on to the thought so that I am able to fully understand what the member is saying before I react.”

When listening this way, the leader delays having a reaction and has time to assess the situation before responding. When the leader has emotionally detached from the situation, he can then ask questions to clarify the situation.

Norming: By this point, team members seem to embrace each other and there is a spirit of togetherness. Do not be fooled by this. This doesn’t mean that your team has normed—that each team member makes decisions that advance the goals of the team. It means that the safe space concept has allowed them to see each other in a more neutral light and accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses. While the space may act as an accelerator or catalyst for the team to norm, it is not magic. It does not mean that whatever problems existed within the team before have miraculously disappeared. The leader still needs to pay attention and check the team temperature. Regular team meetings and team building sessions should still be conducted.

Maxine Attong is the author of two business books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead your Team to Win. She is a Keynote Speaker,  Executive Coach, Organisational Development consultant and of course an Accountant.