On Work-Life Balance

I was once reading this interesting book authored by Nigel Marsh titled “Fat, Forty, and Fired” that talked much about himself on how he found life beginning at age forty. Three points he would like to share in his book are:

1. Ask ourselves why we are here, working…

It was a famous question from Saint Benedict to his followers in end of 8th century. “Let’s take a pause for a moment to justify our miserable existence, and try to deeply think about on why we are here in this world to work?” To have more money, to have a better living for the entire family, to be praised and recognized, to serve the society, or to make a difference to the world? Pick one answer or we may have our own already.

2. What are our priorities in life?

Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase CEO) have these priorities; “My first priority is my family, the second is my country, the list is so long, and somewhere in the middle is JP Morgan, or the company where I worked in general”. We have our own priorities, that we based our work-life balance upon. We may have our company as our first priority, that is totally up to us to decide.

3. Define our own work-life balance

We need to approach work-life balance in a balanced way that built from three foundations; physical, emotional, and spiritual balance. If we cannot fulfill one, some, or all those three, we are basically suffered. Some fall to a trap thinking that we are going to have life when we are retired, or by Nigel’s definition fat, forty, and fired. But the truth is our life starts now, and it is far closer than “when we retired”.

Work-life balance is somewhat not a very useful skill when we don’t have any work (that it be only life balance instead), especially when the money runs out. All the sudden, the idealism we set in the first place is no longer relevant, and we are back to square one of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

That is why we have to define our own balance. We need to face the truth that no government nor any institution will solve the problem for us, no matter how hard our company try to balance our work and life equilibrium, we are the individual that is solely responsible for the type of life that we want to live in. If we don’t design our life, then someone else will define it for us, and we may not going to like their idea of balance.

Faithfully Enlightened

“To the dull mind all nature is leaden. To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1803 – 1882) American Essayist & Poet

It’s been a month since my last writing, and I honestly stuck for that time being in generating idea. Hence, I have this tons of ideas running in my head without being able to contemplated it into a worthy note. Most of the time I have this ‘flash-of-inspiration’ (as similar to Greg Kinnear’s movie Flash of Genius) from books, movies, conversations, observations, practically almost everything. But for the last four weeks, my mind is as dull as a sleepy donkey for this particular thing of writing. And I don’t even know why…

I got a brief answer as instantly as I type dull mind on a search engine:

“People nowadays are more interested in exploring new latest gadgets and spend their time in hanging out with their friends and show what they’ve got, instead of studying their lessons and put a little interest in subjects that they weren’t into . Though they keep on setting time on that particular matter that they are going to study still their attention were caught by something unusual or usual things , for instance texting or watch TV instead.”

So I guess that was it, at times when TV was not around and gadgets were still far from being a necessary evil, people like Ralph Waldo Emerson would prefer to fill his time writing than watching HBO Box Office, and someone like Albert Einstein was too busy testing uber-genius calculation instead of texting with his genius club friends… And all I ever did I was carry away by this so called “genius device” an android tablet to be exact *sigh*. Now… stop all the blaming to this gadgetry thing. It’s not the gadget fault anyway, it was all me J

Conclusion conclusion… need to stop doing useless things, and start to fill the days with productive activities, start small, start now, and start with myself…

Stay Humble

“It takes humility and humanity to be accountable. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Humility is the realization that those who came before paved the way. Never fool yourselves into thinking that your success is yours alone. Your success is the result of your parents, the family that sacrificed to give you a better life, your professors, your friends, your neighbors, and those who encourage you. In fact. It’s important to respect what they have done, and to be grateful for it by giving back what you’ve earned.”Jamie Dimon in his commencement speech at Syracuse University-

I was happened to meet my life teacher, now he have his own business, still teaching Marketing, Business Leadership, and Entrepreneurship at some universities. We talked quite a moment over coffee and discuss about everything from business to personal life, anything that crossed our minds.

I like hiss humility and friendliness, he is walks his talks, and he share his thoughts to everyone, he got nothing to hide… my typical favorite. A particular conversation that I would like to share with all of you is his story about how humility not only will take us to the top, but it will keep us there. He make an example in football, a rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF, a classic Catalan vs. Aragon tribe dated hundreds of years back. But the center of his attention is not the football clubs, instead a young and talented Argentinean Lionel Messi and a pacey Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo.

He asked me this simple question:

“Aji, which one of those two is the best player?”

“Messi of course” I answered without hesitation

“Why is that? Ronaldo scores more in local league right?”

“Well indeed, but Messi plays for his team, on the opposite Ronaldo plays for himself”

He nodded his head of agreement, before asking another question

“Do you think he will be best player for years ahead?”

“Yes Sir, I believe he will”

“What does Messi have, that Ronaldo doesn’t, so you can be so sure he’ll stay on top for a long time?”

I told him that Messi have all the passion to succeed more than anybody else, he was born as a baby with hormonal problems, he was much smaller than he should be. He have a dream to become a professional football, but no football club in Argentina wanted to take him as a student because of his physical appearance, until a scout from Barcelona Junior spotted his talent and gave him a chance to try out in Spain. And the story goes.

He nodded again, and then gave his comment, “Almost every footballers have that passion, maybe even more. Is there anything that differentiate him with other best players like Zidane, Ronaldo Nazario, Ronaldinho, Kaka, and Cristiano Ronaldo?”

I paused for a moment, I truly didn’t have the perfect answer. He then answered his own question after a while

“If you look at Zidane, he have this uncontrolled emotion that degraded him in the World Cup Final, Ronaldo Nazario and Ronaldinho couldn’t resist the temptation of success and fall into night life and destructive behavior, Kaka put disrespect to his team mates and his coach, Cristiano Ronaldo can’t accept losses and blamed the officials for it. On the other hand, Messi is a humble person, he takes both winning and losing well, and he keep it that way even after inaugurated as world’s best player by saying ‘Iniesta and Xavi should receive this honor, because they have won the World Cup, while I haven’t’. Such humility I believe , not only the key factor to take you to the top, but it will keep you there. Arrogance on the opposite will take you down along with your pride”

I couldn’t agree more with him. If we look around us, we’ll soon enough find out those who have the quality to be succeed beyond success by indentifying humility as one of their personal values. Just like an old Indonesian saying goes “The more a rice plant bloom by its seeds, the more it lower itself”

Leaders vs. Managers, an Ongoing Debate

I received an interesting article from my colleague, titled “From Management to Leadership” authored by Thierry Le Métayer, an INSEAD Professor. The article describes the differences between leaders and managers which the article concludes that Managing is different from leading, a manager needs to be result oriented, practical, and operational. A leader needs to have vision, passion, and motivation.

Truthfully, I’m along with such quest, to reveal the path to succeed above success. However, the quest is most of the time stuck with the paradigm that leaders and managers are different, they constitute different side of the coin, probably because academicians are all tend to refer, and practitioners are somewhat trapped to the theory of what Warren Bennis in his book “On Becoming a Leader” describes his view of the differences between managers and leaders as follows:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader has his or her eye on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

From the very deep of my conscience, I’d say that can’t be it, it is not about comparing one being a strict machine and other being a true artist. It is not also one cannot have mixed set of skills to do the job effective and efficiently. And it’s not about climbing corporate ladder from an operator, to become manager, and finally to become leader, where having an astute leadership skills is the ultimate accomplishment, a proof of success of being on top.

John P. Kotter in his book “What Leaders Do” have slightly different perspective on his observation about the distinction between management and leadership

  • “Leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action…… Both are necessary for success in an increasingly complex and volatile business environment.”
  • “Strong leadership with weak management is no better, and is sometimes actually worse, than the reverse.”
  • “Companies manage complexity by planning and budgeting, by organizing and staffing, and by controlling and problem solving. By contrast, leading an organization to constructive change involves setting a direction (developing a vision of the future and strategies to achieve the vision), aligning people, and motivating and inspiring them to keep moving in the right direction.”

As much as I agree more with Kotter, I would prefer to consider human potential should not necessarily to be divided in a rigid way. I believe each and every one of us is a leader as well as a manager in an equal proportion. We can be organized and creative in the same time, we can be rigorous along with being innovative, we can be structured and allowed chaos to better understand the situation and seek for solution, we can think of technicalities between envisioning, so on and so forth. What matters more is to place equal perspective of management and leadership in a proper way before taking any action. That will give us a more complete, holistic, and end-to-end point of view. What needed to be avoid are; micro-managing and far-sighted.

By having an equal proportion of management and leadership skills at every level, we can deliver our work effectively and efficiently, creating value of highest standard, and last but not least, we can develop and engage with people in a more profound way.

Why Change is So Darn Hard

“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Even for those who don’t believe in afterlife, they don’t want to die either. The same paradox with change” – Me saying

Change is something that happens to us in every breath that we take, in every step that we make, in every choices that we face, from the moment we wake up in the morning until we fell asleep at night. Not just us who naturally change by getting older, or by choice like career, marriage, education, etc. Everything around us is the source of change, the weather, the season, the people. The only certain thing that never change is the change itself, whether the change is incremental or radical, predicted or unanticipated, by design or by accident, for better or for worse, we are the subject and object of change, disregard we favor it or not.

Do you ever heard the anecdote of “nobody likes change”?, well, the phrase was something that need to be redefined. The more appropriate wording would be like “Most people don’t like uncertainty caused by unanticipated change, fear it won’t benefit him/her in the future”. Take these examples: Most people wanted to move to a bigger house, and when they finally have it, they are thrilled as well as felt troubled with the moving. Or those who wanted a six-pack abs but felt tortured during the work out? Those were just examples of how everybody wants to change for the better, but afraid of the pain during the process.

Change is essential for our growth and development as a person and a business leader. Without change, as the old saying goes, “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got.” Our ability to maximize our performance and productivity depends on our ability to change in positive ways. But, as anyone who has ever tried to change knows, it is far from simple or easy. Change can be slow, frustrating, and painful; it can also be engrossing and inspiring. Whether being a better co-worker, building our confidence in a new job, or dealing with work stress more effectively, change is the most difficult-yet rewarding-thing we’ll ever do. So why is change so difficult? And how can change be fostered?

Yes, change is difficult, despite the “quick and without any effort” claims of motivational speakers and self-help books. But I’m sorry to say that change just doesn’t work that way. In attempting to change, we are swimming against the tide of many years of old habits, rusty culture, and outdated mindset. But if we can overcome those obstacles and commit ourselves to a new direction in our life, amazing things can happen.

Because change is so difficult, it must come from a very deep and personal place inside of us. Change starts with a simple, yet powerful, epiphany: “I just can’t continue down this same road any longer.” When we experience this realization in the most visceral way, then we have taken the first step toward change.

Just as emotions can act as obstacles to change, they can also provide a powerful impetus to change. Whether positive, such as hope, inspiration, or pride, or negative, such as fear (of losing a job), emotions can be potent motivators for change.

Courage may be the single most important characteristic for changing our life because change requires risk and risk is scary because we may fail (of course, the other side of the coin is that only by taking risks can we truly succeed.). Courage to change means the willingness to acknowledge aspects of ourselves that we may not know about or may not like, and to confront “bad” emotions we may feel as we learn about ourselves. Courage enables us to reject our old selves, chart a new course in our life, and then “boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Change is much like jumping into cold water. It will be a shock at first, and we will initially regret having taken the plunge. But, after we are in the water for a short while, we begin to adapt to the coldness. What was then intimidating is now approachable. What had been unknown is now familiar. What was then painful is now invigorating.

Unfortunately, there is no certainty in change. We don’t know if, when, or how we might change. And that lack of certainty can be truly terrifying. Yet, we must be willing to accept that uncertainty if we want to change. The only way to overcome our fears is to take a leap of faith. A philosopher once said, “Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.

Partially taken from Psychology Today: Why Change Is So Hard

How to Reach the Top? Don’t Get Intimidated by Anyone

I learned to have respect for other people but also not to be intimidated by them, because they’re people, I think that really helped me later on throughout my career.” – Orit Gadiesh, chairwoman of Bain & Company

How many of us felt intimidated by other people of higher rankings? Say of our own supervisors, bosses, clients, audience, CEOs, prime ministers, presidents, or even kings and queens? A few never, but most of us frequently feel intimidated by them for any reason.

Why do we get intimidated? Books said we are intimidated because we have no self confidence. That’s partially true in controlled research, but psychologically wrong. Even a self-contained and confident person can be intimidated by people that they considered smarter, handsomer, prettier, taller, fairer, richer, more success, etc. All the sudden, the confidence gone and they started to feel uncomfortable, nervous, unable to talk clearly, having cold feet, stammering, and blank mind. That because they see those people as a threat to their confidence.

Is there any antidote to this situation at all, that can overcome such awkward moment? Simply say, our perception defines our stance, if we started to perceive our supervisor as a pushy supervisor, our boss as a bossy boss, a client as a demanding client, that the audience will eat us alive, CEOs and presidents as gods up in the sky; we will defend our stance as an inferior to them, not as an equal partner.

There is a simple technique to defy the fact that they may be pushy supervisors, bossy boss, demanding clients, and fierce audience, that is to regard them as person(s) we feel confident with. To whom are you most confident with? To your spouse? friends? children? Pick any that suits you best, and defy those intimidating people as the people you feel comfortable to deal with. One of my colleagues, have once wrote in an article that we ought to help our boss as our friend, not as our boss. What he trying to say was; we need to equally put our stance equally to them in order to achieve the same goal in a productive and healthy manner.

Let’s take an example, when an analyst face a consultant, instead of considering the consultant as his/her boss, the analyst will achieve a better result if consider the consultant as a person that need to be assisted and helped with, ask them the right questions, and give them the answer based on your knowledge, tell them you don’t know when you don’t know, be sincere to yourself. I am sure they will help you as much as they can. Same thing goes to the consultants upward to the very top.

I put the statement from Orit Gadiesh at the beginning of the article because she is a perfect example of how not being intimidated by anyone is the single key factor to reach the top of the career ladder. Whenever you have to deal with anyone, put respect on them, but never get intimidated, because they are people just like us.

What Took You Here, Won’t Take You There

I was once talking to Telkom’s former HR Director and also a founder of one of the biggest Indonesia’s online HR practitioners community. He was mentioning that human resources practice today is merely all about leveraging people’s capability yet forgetting how to de-leverage (diminishing to be exact) the pre-existing mental blocks that might slow down the overall leveraging process. I was confused, so I asked him “Why should we diminish one’s capability when he still capable of moving forward by leveraging him/her with new capability? Wouldn’t be that a waste of time and money?”

He replied “That is correct in a narrower perspective, but completely different on the other end. When we started to move upward the ladder, we most of the time still thinking with the same paradigm of the lower ladder. We are urged to have higher degree of knowledge and behaviors on that new position, yet we fail to let go of what we have learnt so much in the past, and in the end, we start doing new things with the old way.”

He added “What took you here, won’t take you there… It is an inevitable fact that your past achievement brings you to your current position, say from staff level to supervisor level, It was your past that took you here, but it won’t take you higher if you don’t let go of what you’ve earned so far. What will make you step forward are the new capabilities as supervisor. It’s not only applicable to the vertical movement (promotion for example) but also to the lateral movement (e.g. specialty shift). If you were a Change Management expert shifting to become an HR Strategist, it requires transformation of your mindset to achieve the new goals.”

He make an example of one of his subordinate who were promoted from payroll admin to become an HR head department. Instead of trying to be a generalist to manage his HR team as a new responsibilities, he still focus on the payroll side which he excel at. And duly the fact, he was demoted back to his previous position.

We know that knowledge is valuable, but it will work best for what it was meant, not for something else. It doesn’t mean that we have to forget it, we just can’t use it for different case. And if we don’t try to step it aside for a while, we might fail to learn new things. What took you here, certainly won’t take you there…