Archive for October, 2013

Work/Life (Im)Balance

It’s been quite an interesting couple of months in the Charney household, starting back in July when a lightning strike turned a once-noble tree into a bunch of Jack-and-the-Beanstalk-sized toothpicks.

And that was just the Overture.

That lightning strike knocked out two garage door openers, the cable box coming into our house, the air conditioning unit, one computer, and a hard drive.  Complete with burn marks.

And so ended Act One.

The incredible rain that accompanied said lightning strike revealed a leak in our basement that appeared to be coming from under our front door. That meant hiring someone to move a very large slab of granite and then take a look…only to find that much of the bottom layer of our front door was rotted out and needed reasonably immediate replacement, and at a cost that rivaled the annual tuition at Dartmouth.

But that was merely Act Two. [Sigh.]

Fast-forward a couple of still stressful months (minor surgery for one of our dogs, bit of a health scare for one of her owners), and we notice an odd—very odd—smell coming from the basement.  At first we thought that perhaps something had gone and died down there, but then my wife remarked that it smelled, at least a little bit, like gas. (Fortunately, when you call EnergyNorth and press “1 if you smell gas,” they show up almost before you tap the “End Call” icon on your iPhone.) A few quick tests and the answer comes back: Yep. A hairline leak. In the copper line that runs underground from the tank to the house. Seems the lightning damaged that pipe, and we’ve just lost 300 gallons of propane.

Ahhh… but there’s more….

We then faced a little bit of a cold snap, an early fall nip in the air. (Here in New Hampshire it’s not that strange to get a September night that dips near freezing.) So we ever-so-reluctantly broke down and turned on the heat for the first time this season.  Only the heat wasn’t cooperating. The lightning apparently knocked out the furnace, too, and it was another three weeks before all approached normal once more….

Why are we bothering to tell you all of this? For one simple reason: This kind of stuff happens often. And to lots of people. People you work with. People you work for or who work for you. People you sit around conference tables with and talk on the phone to. Every day. Often you can’t really see it, but it’s there somewhere. People’s lives are complex, messy things, built with recurring stresses.

In our case, no one we worked with really had any idea how much stress we were under. We still got up each day and did what we needed to do to help our clients, meet our deadlines, submit our proposals, etc., but there was no question that things were just a wee bit off. Patience was a bit thinner, days were broken between work and visiting repairmen, and a few things—the least important ones for the most part—slipped by a day or two now and then.

As each day went by the volume on the stress-o-meter turned up just a little bit more. Our work-life balance…wasn’t.

If you look around you, the odds are good that at least someone nearby is dealing with a work-life imbalance. Maybe an older relative has a sudden health problem or a child is fighting a chronic cough. Maybe a credit card bill is overdue or a ten-year old car needs an engine rebuild. These are all just different kinds of lightning strikes, and we do well, as managers and leaders, to remember that everyone around us has something that they’re dealing with, some part of their life that they’re trying to bring back into balance.

We won’t always know what’s going on. Some people mask their issues with stoicism while others live a heart-on-sleeve existence. But it doesn’t matter. As leaders, we only need to remember that work-life balance isn’t a thing people have or don’t have, but a thing people continually work at. Recognizing this truth makes us more effective as leaders.

What’s been your experience? How do you help others through their times of stress, and how have others helped you?

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Coaching or Mentoring: Which is Right for Your Company?

The short answer? Both.

While the response may seem initially flippant, the truth is that these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, though they are not the same thing at all. While certainly related, coaching and mentoring offer different approaches to different problems–and utilize different techniques.

In general, we think of coaching as a relationship based on the person and his or her role in an organization, while mentoring is a relationship based on the activities or skillsets required for a role in the organization.

Put another way, a coaching relationship is one where the outcome is a more fully realized perspective for the coachee on his or her role within the organization as a productive, important, valuable, and knowledgeable member of the team. Mentorship may sometimes achieve these goals, but is targeted instead at preparing someone to carry out a specific function or set of functions as they move up in their career.

Authentic Leadership International describes coaching as “person-centered, which means that the individuals being coached are seen to have the ‘right’ insights to answer their own questions. The coach does not come into the conversation as the expert in the client’s life; rather, the coach holds the client as resourceful, creative and whole – very capable of finding her own solutions.” This differs from mentorship, which, as Management Mentors says, “is most often defined as a professional relationship in which an experienced person (the mentor) assists another (the mentee) in developing specific skills and knowledge that will enhance the [developing] person’s professional and personal growth.”  Mentorship also generally suggests a situation in which a senior person takes a more junior person “under their wing.”

So when should you look at one versus the other? A good place to start is with the goals you’re trying to achieve for specific people in your organization.

When you’re looking to develop attitudes and approaches to leadership and business in ways that create your next generation of effective leaders, then coaching—which centers on the person—is often your best bet. When you’re looking to develop skills in order to help people move up in the organization, for example, you are likely to care a great deal about specific skill sets and management techniques. In such cases, mentorship is a good option. Mentors—usually more senior people who have the skills you’re hoping to grow in others—can provide subject matter and cultural expertise, and can work with individual mentees over extended periods—often a year or two.

Importantly, mentoring and coaching work hand-in-hand, and often (as I said up front in this essay), the right answer is to use both. One area where this is key is in the development of a succession management program (the subject of an upcoming essay and Youtube video—stay tuned), where you need strategic, tactical, operational, and personal growth for all your targeted successors. Another example is when people make a significant job shift within your organization, a shift into an entirely different role (and, sometimes, location). In such cases people will enter a new culture (both personally and professionally), and will also be looking to acquire (or significantly sharpen) skill sets.

The bottom line is this: Any serious effort in employee and leadership development will need, at some point, both coaching and mentoring.

How do you differentiate the two? And how do you use coaching and mentoring in your organization? Follow and tweet us at @charneycoach and let us know, or leave your comments here.

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