WHAT DEFINES A GREAT JOB

I recently had the privilege of speaking to a group of young business graduates in London about how to manage their careers. It was an exciting couple of hours for me, and helped to reinforce my belief that every generation is smarter, more exciting and more interesting than the one that it follows.

One of the questions that I was asked was, notwithstanding my three career rules of “never do a job you hate, never work for a boss you can’t respect and never work for a company you can’t be proud of”, which of my jobs did I love the most and why.

It was a hard question to answer, as I loved much about most of them, and learned something from them all, not always in a positive sense, but nevertheless in a way that was important for my understanding of the business world and of people, and therefore critical for my future.

It did however make me think about what for me were the criteria that differentiated a great job from the rest, so here are the elements that were important to me, and which I discussed with my young audience.

Doing something worthwhile … While it was one of the shortest roles that I had (4 years as IT Manager at the North Canterbury Hospital Board in NZ in the early 1970s), it was one of the most satisfying in terms of making a difference. We were pioneers in the truest sense, using technology to develop systems such as ophthalmological testers, biochemical blood testing, patient record keeping, laboratory test management and automated patient admission and discharge. It was not the best paying job that I had in my career, and it was a public sector role which I have always belittled, but it made me realise that it doesn’t hurt if at some time in your career you do something that benefits others more than it benefits yourself.

Getting valid recognition … Getting a pat on the back and a handshake, or however else you define it, when you have done your job well is incredibly important for everyone, no matter how senior one becomes. I loved the 100% Achievers and the President’s clubs (not just for sales people) that I was fortunate to attend, not only for the fact that you got to mingle with some of the highest performers in the company, but also because it enabled you to show your partner that your hard work was being valued. Even after I became the CEO/President who actually hosted the Achievers’ Clubs, I still found these 3 or 4 days of recognising excellence in others to be some of the most satisfying in any of my roles.

AUthor: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge; via Wikimedia Commons

AUthor: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge; via Wikimedia Commons


Being challenged … When I joined DEC in 1977 as a salesman, my territory was the whole of the South island of New Zealand. This meant that as well as selling to commercial IT Bureaux and Corporates, I was also selling to Universities and Laboratories. The former put me in touch with some skilled business people, and the latter with some of the sharpest research minds in the country. Just to be able for me to try to understand what these people were doing, with technology that today would not have enough capability to drive a mobile phone, was a perpetual challenge, and one which made me realise that being forced out of your comfort zone is a privilege rather than an onerous task.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


Having great people to work with … When I joined SAP at the end of 1993 it was just starting out on its meteoric rise through the enterprise application market. The company at the time attracted people who wanted to change the world, but who wanted the freedom to do it in their way, something I have called “passionate, driven anarchy”. In my time at SAP I had the opportunity to work with some of the most exciting, crazy, brilliant, innovative people that I have come across in my 45 year career in IT, and many whom I still count as colleagues and close friends today. Working with great people makes it all so much sweeter and so much more worthwhile.

Author: Vladislav Bezrukov; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Vladislav Bezrukov; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Having an awesome mentor … At Sun Microsystems I was fortunate to be asked to head a project on International Account Management, under the watchful eye of Carol Bartz who went on to head Autodesk and Yahoo. She was a tough, seasoned capable executive who helped me to understand the minefields, the networking, and the way one had to approach getting something done in the “collegiate” Sun environment, as well as making me question my own gender biases at that time. Having a skilled, knowledgeable mentor can save you time, energy and effort in achieving your goals, and will drive a critical learning process in your personal development.

Author: Jainux; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Jainux; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Having a boss to emulate … I have long believed that the main reason that people resign from a company is because they have not been able to build a valid working relationship with their immediate manager (see “People join companies but leave managers” posted April 8, 2013), and having a boss that is a role model in management and leadership beliefs and practices is critical in learning the craft. Skilled management is a true art form (and science) and being able to learn from a master practitioner is the best apprenticeship one can have.

Having the freedom to learn and grow … In the 1960/70s International Harvester was not only a market leader in the manufacture of trucks and farm equipment, but was also a company that was ahead of the pack in the manufacture of future managers. They had a belief in recognising and developing people whom they identified as being potential future leaders for every element of their business. In the early 1970s, and quite some time before I became Head of IT, I was put through a 3 month in-house management development programme to prepare me for a possible future role. I have seen little to rival this in the last 40 years. Finding a company that is prepared to invest in you for the future is a rare and most valuable commodity and an opportunity to learn and grow.

Author: Joost J. Bakker; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Joost J. Bakker; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


MUSINGS ON A 33 YEAR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY

“Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend is his wife.”
Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Three years ago I wrote a somewhat tongue-in cheek (some said it was more like foot-in-mouth) post on our 30th wedding anniversary (see “Musings on a 30-year wedding anniversary” posted May 9, 2011). That was supposedly our pearl anniversary and this one is our amethyst anniversary, but I am not sure why so many anniversaries are based on precious and semi-precious stones as traditional gifts, as I would have thought that living in France we would now be due for a cheese or a foie gras anniversary. Fortunately, we overlooked our 32nd anniversary traditional gift as that one turned out to be “automobile” … a near miss !!!

Author: Juppi66; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Juppi66; via Wikimedia Commons


This time I have been prodded by a number of my readers who said “OK, no more of this management blog. What we all want is to read about how to be married that long”.

So Claudia C. and Susan E.T., at your request, this blog piece which is on my six main rules for being married so long is for you. It may not work for everyone, but it seems to have worked for us. I am not trying to say that any of this is easy … it isn’t.

– Marry your best friend, but only if you have the “hots” for them … I have no doubt that most get married based mainly on the “hots”, and I do not want to minimise their importance, but even for those who have the sexual appetite of a satyr, you will only spend a relatively small amount of your time satisfying these needs. The rest of the time you will need to make sure that you actually like (not just love) each other as people. You need to make sure that you have similar life goals, that you are interested in each other’s lives, and that you can enjoy being together. Being keen to talk to your partner about everything and anything is critical.

Source: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei; via Wikimedia Commons


– Accept that passionate people will fight, so do it well … There is nothing wrong with a good argument with your partner as long as it is done in a way that strengthens rather than weakens the relationship. That means you have to be honest about what the fight is about, and focus on what you are trying to resolve. Do not bring up past transgressions, compare your spouse to historically evil people, point out personality weaknesses or just keep screaming in a way that doesn’t allow discussion. Forget who started it or who is at fault, so when it has gone far enough, be prepared to be the one to apologise and offer to make up, and then forgive each other. No matter how contentious the issue, never ever go to bed without a resolution. If you can’t forget, you must at least forgive and move on with life. Sulking is only for pre-teens.

Author: Brocken Inaglory; CC BY-SA 1.0, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Brocken Inaglory; CC BY-SA 1.0, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0; via Wikimedia Commons


– Look at your parents … they will be your role models whether you want it so or not … Both our sets of parents had long, successful, loving marriages, which I believe meant that we went into our own relationship with a belief that marriage could work for us as well. That doesn’t mean that it was all easy for us, or that we didn’t have to work at it, nor that we didn’t make lots of mistakes. The important thing is to keep loving and caring for each other, and to look at your partner while trying to remember how you felt about each other on the day you got married, or at the moment that you realised that they were the one person you wanted to be with.

– Keep laughing with, but not at, each other … You have to enjoy each other and doing things together. We love going away with friends, but enjoy even more just getting away on our own to do things together, to talk to each other and to just enjoy each other’s company. There is much in life that is amusing and even hysterical, and it is important to continually be able to share a really good giggle with each other. You should never underestimate the power of surprising your partner with something that will bring a smile to their face. We have had some hysterical fits of laughter when confronted with some of life’s strange situations, and then not remembered the next day what it was that we were laughing at, but just enjoyed the fact that at the time we had shared one of life’s funny moments.

– Share the loads – all of them … No matter how hard one of you works at your career, and even if you are the sole bread winner and your partner stays at home, when you are together you share all the loads and chores. This includes but is not limited to cleaning, washing, gardening, childcare, complaining about your boss, your financial situation, the stresses of your job, your life concerns and anything else that must be done to build and protect a life together. There are no gender-specific roles and duties, just two people who share what needs doing.

– No secrets, no lies, total respect all the time … Treat your partner with respect all the time, not just when you are with other people. Even when your partner says something that makes no sense to you, and is a statement that you consider to be totally incorrect, you have to give them the respect that they have earned just by tolerating your own imperfections and foibles … we all have them and we all make mistakes. Discuss it if you must and then just move on. There should be no secrets (other than for surprise gifts) and no lies … ever.

As said by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) “When marrying, ask yourself this question: Do you believe you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age ? Everything else in marriage is transitory.”

Author: F. Hartmann,   circa 1875; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: F. Hartmann, circa 1875; via Wikimedia Commons


HOW IMPORTANT IS WORK LIFE BALANCE ?

“Balance activity with serenity,
wealth with simplicity,
persistence with innovation,
community with solitude,
familiarity with adventure,
constancy with change,
leading with following.”

– American author Jonathan Lockwood Huie

I have long believed that the only way to achieve work-life balance is to do something that you really love to do, so that the whole w-l-b question becomes irrelevant. However, my post retirement role over the last 8 years (external consultant/coach/advisor) has given me a somewhat different outside-in view of what drives senior people than I had when I was in the midst of it all. I have now come to realize that there is more to it than this alone, and that loving your job is the right starting point, but that it is not enough to keep some balance in your life.

Author: KVDP, Shokunin, Aungkarns; CC BY-SA 3.0; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: KVDP, Shokunin, Aungkarns; CC BY-SA 3.0; via Wikimedia Commons


I have no issue with people who want to devote themselves 24/7 to their work, as long as that is their goal, and they are fully aware that whilst they may have great personal career and financial success, they are likely to achieve very little else. I also have no problem with people at the other end of the scale who dedicate themselves to working as little as possible, not achieving much advancement in their career or from a monetary viewpoint, but who are determined to have as much free time as they can get in their life, as long as this is one of their key life goals that they have deliberately set for themselves.

The problem is that I keep coming across senior executives who are basically working 24/7 with only the occasional foray across the spoors of their family, or the scurry around a golf course, who bemoan their situation as being something that they want to change, but who feel that they can’t get off the treadmill. I have also quite recently had a number of close male friends who woke up one morning to find that their families had departed, much to their horror and surprise. Generally, his reaction was along the lines of “I was only working to provide the best for my family”, while her response was “I am living on my own, but with someone who occasionally turns up and interferes with my life, so I may as well live on my own without the interference.”

Author: Cobragym1; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Cobragym1; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I have been fortunate to have been married to someone who while being incredibly tolerant of the demands of my career, was prepared on a regular basis to let me know in no uncertain terms that I was breaching what was acceptable behavior. This included the time that I was running the SAP Asia Pacific Region, but was also functioning as interim CEO of SAP Japan. After 3 months of commuting from Singapore to Tokyo every week on the Sunday night red-eye and coming home late Friday evening, she “suggested” that I should rapidly accelerate the identification of the permanent head of SAP Japan. I did. The problem was that I had been so focused on ensuring that my largest geographic unit did not suffer from a lack of leadership that I had put all my energy and focus into running that business rather than finding a replacement for the previous CEO. The next time was when the region had grown to over 3500 people with revenues over €1B and I felt that I had to be everywhere at once. This time our “serious conversation” helped to precipitate our move to Europe and the changing of my role within SAP, and the last such conversation led to my retirement in 2006.

However, apart from these business treadmill takeovers, which my much wiser partner could recognize faster than could I, and despite my total commitment to whatever role I was filling at the time, here are 3 key rules that helped me keep some balance in most of my life, beyond the key one of finding the work that can light up your heart.

Rule 1: Build your own definition of work-life balance. This w-l-b issue has become a hot topic and the amount of discussion/verbiage keeps accelerating. Some people will insist that the key is to become more efficient, like Steven Covey does in “The seven habits of highly effective people”, but while this may make you more productive, it ultimately will do little to change the hours that you work if you do not mould your own attitudes and behaviours. You need to determine what work-life balance means to you, and with those who share your non-work life, and build your plans and behaviours accordingly. There is no “one size fits all”.

Rule 2: Be honest about your life goals. If your goal is to make money, have prestige and power, and you don’t want to be alone, either find a partner who has the same goals or one who is already wealthy and powerful. If you want to breeze through life doing as little as is possible, just accept that it is unlikely that you will ever end up with a beachfront home in Malibu. However, if you truly want a great career and a rich family life you can achieve it if you really work at balancing both, but you need some regular sanity checks to ensure that the focus remains on both, as it is easy to let the career take over.

Author: Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Rule 3: Accept that you are not so important that you have to be available 24/7: No matter how senior you are, no matter how Emperor-like your status, nobody has to be available all of the time. It is an illness to keep all your gadgets switched on all the time so you can continually check for emails, sms messages, twitter and the rest of the growing plethora of ways we can impinge on each other today, just so you can show the world how responsive you are. It really only shows how needy you are when it comes to wanting attention. People with balanced lives have their gadget habits well under control.

Author: Jeremy Keith; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Jeremy Keith; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The ultimate reality is that your own work-life balance is totally up to you. Whatever balance you truly want it to be, you can make it happen. Only very few people living in a developed nation today have no control over their work life.

“In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.” –American singer/songwriter Patti Smith

MANAGEMENT PITFALLS

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
English playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Author: Nobel Foundation; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Nobel Foundation; via Wikimedia Commons


I recently had one of the subscribers to my blog, and one who is also a very regular reader and commenter, ask me whether I had made any mistakes during my career. I was delighted to be able to tell her that I made hundreds of them, and that hopefully I had learned something worthwhile from most of them. I also said that I plan to keep making them for the rest of my life, and that I hope that I can learn much from these as well.

I have found that we can learn much more from our mistakes than we can generally learn from our successes, but there are some serious mistakes that some managers make as they climb the corporate ladder to senior management nirvana, and which are ones that should be avoided at all costs, or rectified immediately if already in place.

Here are just a few that can get in the way of becoming a successful senior manager and true leader.

– Becoming self-important … It’s not hard to become somewhat pleased with yourself as you start to climb up into the rarified air of senior management. As you start to accumulate a retinue of personal assistants, executive assistants and a general horde of people who will go out of their way to do things for you, it is no surprise that some managers can start to believe their own marketing. If you then add to this the visibility that is accorded through external government and corporate boards, media appearances, conference keynotes and perks such as cars and drivers, first-class travel and even the use of the corporate jet (for some), many executives start to see themselves as being “well above and well beyond the herd”. It is important to remember that the only real difference between you and your people is that you now also carry the responsibility for their future. I understand that the financial and physical rewards are greater the higher that you climb, but ultimately the only real differentiator is your job description and the added responsibilities that it carries.

Author: Gerry Stegmeier; Source: http://www.airliners.net/photo/Untitled-%28Corporate-Jets%29/Cessna-560XL-Citation/2052731/L/; GFDL; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Gerry Stegmeier; Source: http://www.airliners.net/photo/Untitled-%28Corporate-Jets%29/Cessna-560XL-Citation/2052731/L/; GFDL; via Wikimedia Commons


– Not communicating … “Scientia potentia est” (knowledge is power) may be true when translated into its true meaning of “wisdom is power”, but is a serious problem when used in its more common translation of “information is power”. While I do not advocate that you “wear your heart on your sleeve”, the more that your people know about what is happening within the company, the more they are able to understand the issues and opportunities, and then the more they are able to be part of contributing to what needs to be done. Managers who do not share their knowledge with their people do so either because they feel that this is one of their key power differentiators or because they do not trust their people. Neither reason is acceptable. This need for ongoing communication also includes one-on-one interactions to give your people regular and timely feedback on what and how they are doing, as well as giving you a chance to hear from them what they deem to be important.

Author: The White House photographer Pete Souza; Souce: https://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/4876682057/; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: The White House photographer Pete Souza; Souce: https://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/4876682057/; via Wikimedia Commons


– Believing in “do as I say” … Some managers seem to suffer from the delusion of believing that because they are senior “if they just say it, so it shall be”, when the reality is that people will always tend to copy the behaviour and attitude of their boss, irrespective of what public pronouncements s/he makes. The only way to set the values and standards for acceptable behaviour in your organisation is to live them totally yourself, without compromise. This also means that you have to spend a significant amount of time on managing the behaviours of your people as they are exhibited, re-enforcing positive behaviour and stopping negative behaviour at its beginning.

– Focusing always on the urgent … There will always be hundreds of urgent issues for a senior executive to address and, if allowed to, these issues will take up all the available time (and more). Sadly, some managers see this need for problem solving as the key skill needed in a management role. It is definitely one of the critical skills needed (see “Managers solve problems” posted March 11, 2013) but it is also critical that management spend time planning for tomorrow as well as addressing the problems of today; the need to address the important as well as handling the urgent. In the same way that managers will make appointments to meet with other people, it is critically important that they also make appointments with themselves, and that they treat these allocated times with the same priority as they would accord to any other important appointment. This means no postponements, no cancellations and no interruptions. This time needs to be spent on reviewing current status and planning on how you can move your organisation from where it is to where it needs to go, and managing your own goals.

– Not building a dream … It is a serious mistake to believe that people work just for financial reward in a pleasant physical environment, although these are good serious starting points. To motivate people to do great things it is critical that you can also give them a vision and mission, which are aspirational and inspirational enough for them to want to be part of, and to contribute to the success. I am not just talking about a mission and vision statement, which most companies have and which usually just parrot each other about customers, people and innovation (see “The 3 great business lies” posted August 2, 2010), but about one which paint a dream that really answers “Why are we here and why it’s important” as well as why they should want to be an important part of it all.

Author: derivative work: Neotex555; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: derivative work: Neotex555; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” American author John C. Maxwell