Linda and myself have recently taken to walking the roads at the dead of night, wearing 8 layers of clothing to block out the wind and the damp. Rudolf is not the only one sporting a red nose this Christmas. We’ve been admiring the Christmas decorations, despite the fact that there seems to be less houses ‘dressed up’ this year. It will be a sad state of affairs if Santa gets made redundant during the recession. News Flash: ‘The light at the end of the tunnel is being turned off due to further cutbacks’.
What’s not to like about Christmas? Santa is always well turned out. Despite carrying a bit of weight, he seems pretty agile, climbing down chimneys of every configuration, clocking up more air miles in one night than Ivor Callely could manage in a week of expense claims! On a recent cold walk we got talking about the kids, a time for self-reflection on how we score as parents.
Child Expert: Now I don’t wish to be boastful, but did I mention that I used to consider myself (past tense) somewhat of an expert on managing kids? In Cabra, I worked with teenagers in Youth Clubs for many years. More recently, I had a lot of contact with the Students in NCI during that wonderfully formative time in their lives. And I made a real effort with my own little ones, helping them to understand the world.
Troubled Teenagers: My particular specialism was troubled teenagers. To cut to the chase, I understood them. Then, almost overnight, a tragic thing happened in our family. Three wonderful little kids, Amie, Cillian and Nicole, who formerly did what they were told (most of the time), morphed into the most awful teenagers who ever inhabited the planet. All that pseudo expertise, gained through the virtual management of other people’s teenagers, evaporated.
We’re praying now that our kids will be late developers – because we’ve given up on any early promise. The word adolescent is so hard to spell, I’ve given up and just use ‘it’. I’m not even quite sure where it all went wrong. Probably a lot of it is down to their mother’s influence (coincidentally, Linda never reads this blog!). The only saving grace is that they seem to have developed a sense of humour. Instead of studying, they regularly engage me in deep conversation about life’s great mysteries like: What colour does a Smurf go when you choke it?
Work Link: So, where’s the link between unruly teenagers and the world of work? In my job I meet some managers who are struggling to deliver. Sometimes the fogginess of mid-career drags them down into 2nd gear. For others it’s a sense of coasting, of talent being underutilized. In the tougher cases, some managers underperform and put themselves seriously ‘at risk’. When I talk to people in the underperforming group about what’s happening – I’m amazed at how often the central focus, the lightening rod for all their angst, is the boss; s/he should never have been hired, is a poor cultural fit with the organization, they are not ‘value driven’ etc. Just like I’m ruining my teenagers’ lives, the boss is screwing up their career. And they fervently believe that if they were doing the boss’s job, it would be done so much better.
Normally I highlight the irony of this stance: “Just let me get this straight; you’re underperforming in your current role, but would be a stellar performer in a more senior role?” Subtlety does not always work and they take the opportunity of a lull in the conversation to re-tell how awful life is as an underling to the world’s worst boss (to deep dive into this particular topic, read Robert Suttons’ book Good Boss, Bad Boss and unearth real gems; like the CEO who made the first ‘Employee of the Month’ award to himself).
Core Message: Forget about doing your boss’s job. Do your own job. If you do today’s job superbly well, despite the roadblocks, tomorrow will take care of itself. When I was observing those unruly teenagers from a distance, I was pretty sure I’d be a good Dad. But it’s turning out much messier in real life. In similar vein, the boss’s job can look a lot easier from a distance and it’s all too easy to outplace the blame.
New Year: So here’s the thought. Both winners and losers are self-made, but only winners acknowledge this. If you really do work for a Desperate Executive, then move on to another role or another organisation. Otherwise, focus on what you can do to improve your own performance rather than fixating on someone else.
PS The old Christmas jokes are the best. Two snowmen are talking and one says to the other: “Can you smell carrots?”
Every best wish to you and your family for a really happy Christmas and continued success and good fortune in 2012. I’m taking a short blogging break. Back on line in early January 2012 with more reports from the consulting trenches.
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