The world needs heroes: people we look up to, admire, emulate. They are purveyors of change, strength in crisis, rock solid in stormy seas. They also raise the rest of us up during sunshine days. The best leaders, I am told, are those who put great ideas into practice that everyone else claims were their own.

Great leaders not only rule. They rock.

McKinsey Quarterly issued a most inspiring piece entitled “Leading in the 21st Century” the other day. Call me crazy, but I saw the Power of Slow throughout the entire twelve pages. I’m nerdy like that, culling through business articles because I like to learn from people who are so much smarter than me and think we might just have something in common.

The article spotlights the thoughts of six prominent global CEOs: Josef Ackerman (formerly of Deutsche Bank); Carlos Ghosn of Nissan and Renault; Moya Greene of Royal Mail Group; Ellen Kullman of DuPont; President Shimon Peres of Israel; and Daniel Vasella of Novartis.

One common theme from all of them is knowing your limits, learning how best to spend your time and taking care of yourself. Shimon Peres was by far the most eloquent of them all. He said things such as “The mind of a leader must be free – a mind that can dream and imagine. All new things were born in dreams.” Yes! As I like to say, if you don’t get enough sleep, that American Dream will never happen.

Carlos Ghosn talks of global empathy, a notion I have wholeheartedly supported all my life. We are all in this life together. You might look, sound, even smell different than me, but I bet you feel love the same way I do.

Trusting your instincts was another shared notion. Knowing when to delegate what and to whom is essential. Josef Ackermann claims “no CEO can do it all on his own. You need the expertise, judgment, and buy-in of your team.” I agree. If I didn’t have fabulous colleagues on whom I could rely, I’d be half the public relations professional I am today.

Once again Shimon Peres inspired me with his claim that leaders must have “ambition for a cause greater than themselves.” To be the master of your own ship, you must believe in something beyond yourself. Only then can you navigate the waters in this world. Sharks may be in your ocean, but you’ll hopefully have friendly dolphins too!

Staying grounded in the face of crisis is another key point. As the article suggests, reserving critical decision-making for those times when we are most rested is a wise choice. Acting out of impulse, exhaustion or decision fatigue is not a good idea.

That’s where the Power of Slow can help. Step back. Admire the grand design that is your life. You are the architect of your own reality. How are you doing thusfar?

Video bonus: Bloomberg recently followed media mogul, Je’Caryous Johnson, to see how he spends his time. The best part? His business day ends at 3 pm. After that, he says, he dedicates his time to writing. “It’s just me, my laptop and God.” Creatives are like that!

Fortune 500 magazine recently reported on research conducted by Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics and others on how much time CEOs spend at work. Entitled CEO Time Use Project, this study is headed by Raffaella Sadun, an Italian academic at Harvard who released the first findings of Italian CEOs in a pool of over 200 from around the world. On average, Italian CEOs work 48 hours a week.

What researchers have found is people themselves tend to stretch the truth about how much time they spend at work, a finding that places John Robinson’s Time Use Survey research into question (the next one is due to be release later this month). While many of his respondentsclaimed to work up to 80 hours, many of them really only worked 60. Even back in 1998, the self-reporting methodology was called into a question.

This finding drives home a point The Power of Slow makes, well, time and again.

Time is a subjective thing.

But the folks at LSE, Harvard and elsewhere believe they can translate time into money by quantifying productivity through hours work and profits made. The point of diminishing returns is an important one to make. And I’m relieved to see they’ve factored that into the equation.

The underlying motivation for looking at how CEOs spend their time (as reported by their assistants who have a stronghold on their calendars) is to find the correlation between how CEOs spend their time and firm performance.

Reconstructed from their time use diary, researchers were able to determine what they did when:

• Activities type (meetings, phone calls, travel)
• People they interact with (e.g. function, links with the firm)
• Physical location (e.g. HQ vs out of firm)
• Scheduling (e.g. planned vs. unplanned)

And they found that there is indeed a point of diminishing return. But for one percentage point rise in work hours translated into a 2.14% increase in productivity (as defined by revenue per employee). Interestingly, however, researchers dissected how they spent their time and the ability to translate that into direct productivity. For instance, meeting with employees brought more productivity than meeting with consultants or other outsourced personnel.

So how you spend your time really does matter.

According to Jason Fried and David Heinemeir, authors of Rework, “[workaholics] don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done. (page 26)”

So there is power in slow. Working less, and smarter, can translate into higher productivity.

The question is where is your pivotal point? Does working 20 additional hours to an already heavy workload really give you 20 hours’ more productivity? I think not.

Throwing money (consulting hours) at a problem won’t necessarily result in a higher return. There is a balance.

And that’s when you need to push yourself away from your computer, take a walk down the hall, snap off the lights and call it a day.

Or go on vacation, like we are tomorrow. How many work hours are enough depends on you. Research shows we all have our pain point.

And remember: there are only 168 hours a week. What will you do with yours?

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This morning I drove 90 minutes round trip for a 90-minute meeting. It was a woman’s networking group that convenes at lunch every month or so to talk about our evolution. It’s aptly called the Evolve Network, and today in particular I was encouraged by the amount of talent in the room.

I became acutely aware of what a resource we women are, not only to each other, but to the world at large.

Talent Management magazine recently reported on the fact that women’s income is rapidly increasing compared to men’s; we’re at a whopping 81 cents to every man’s dollar (hey, I remember when it was 75!), yet companies aren’t always swift to adopt a more women-friendly atmosphere.

According to the World Economic Forums “The Global Gender Gap Report,” which ranks 134 countries based on the size of income gaps between men and women, along with chasms in education, political empowerment and health, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden win out. Chad, Pakistan and Yemen showed the broadest gender gap while the United States had a boosted ranking of #19 versus #32 just one year ago (I do wonder how much of that has to do with the ‘mancession‘).

While the author of the article, Mike Prokopeak, agrees that bringing the income gap into balance is one way to counteract the unfairness in the workplace, he also states that

“another is broadening work-life programs to better leverage the contributions of women and benefit men. Most employers still structure jobs based on the assumption that someone is at home taking care of the family, and some women are put on the “mommy track,” forcing them to trade career opportunities for raising a family.” Full article here

The ‘mommy track’ is one reason why I work from home, creating not only my own career path, but also my own rules. It works well, except for those moments when the battle over who gets to use the bathroom when boils over into my conference call time with the East Coast…

Life in the slow lane can have its challenges!

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When Reality Hits

April 7, 2010

The Power of Slow is about mindful living; When Reality Hits: What Employers Want Recent College Graduates to Know takes a good look at what it means to engage in mindful working.

The book is organized into twelve chapters that cover the gamut of corporate culture: from table manners to a firm handshake to my favorite topic, cell phone etiquette. In concise language motivational speaker and author Nancy Barry offers clear guidelines on the do’s and don’ts of work life for recent college grads.

Even for a veteran PR professional such as myself, I found her tips to be refreshing, sometimes even humorous and always respectful of the person she’s trying to help. Although some of it was repetitive (we know smiling in most cultures is an ice breaker, which she mentions a lot), what I appreciated the most was the can-do spirit she imparts to young workers.

She also offers helpful advice on how to deal with constructive criticism. She sees in everything an opportunity to learn.  “[I]f someone is trying to give you feedback, resist the urge to immediately defend yourself. Listen to what they’re saying.” And we all know that saying “I take complete responsibility” is an effective way to stop your boss’s tirade and move on.

Her largest power of slow message can be found on page 13: “Pace yourself…Work hard, but be careful about the potential stress if you work all the time…Technology has changed the way we work. Thanks to cell phones, BlackBerries and e-mail, there’s an expectation we should be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Once you start working all the time, your colleagues and clients will come to expect it.” Later in the book she seems to offer contradictory advice by saying to ‘do what it takes to get the job done,’ but remember there is power in saying ‘no,’ which she also admits. Sometimes proper expectation management is the fastest road to success.

Be sure to take this book along for the ride. Whether a younger or more experienced worker, we can all benefit from Nancy’s message to remember to play while we work and that sometimes all it takes is a good homemade double chocolate chip cookie and a hand-written note to make all the difference in how our work lives unfold.

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The American Time Use Survey, released every year in June by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reveals not much as changed since last year in how we spend our time. According to their 2008 report, one-half of our daily leisure time (2.77 hours) is spent watching the tube. Socializing came in a distant second (about 45 minutes daily). Men (3.01 hours ) watched a bit more TV than women (2.55 hours). I don’t suppose those financial shows count, do they?

Nonetheless, the interesting difference this year is that people worked .1 more hours at home than last year (that’s six more minutes for the fractionally challenged). That either means more people are telecommuting or are staying connected to the workplace even longer. A full twenty-one percent (as opposed to twenty percent last year) worked 2.90 hours a day at home on average. When looking at full-time employed men only, that numbers jumps to 3.13 hours a day.

How are we spending our time? A lot of it is spent in front of a monitor. Screen time is becoming more and more prevalent every day…

…think again.

When it rains it pours is a saying that applies to most of life. Sometimes we’re on a high; other times we seem to be headed downhill. The roller coaster ride called life never ceases to provide us opportunity for learning and surprise.

Such was my day today.

July 2009 024After working a fifteen-hour day wrangling 50+ extras on a set with two live elephants, I’d say I had earned a time-out this morning. It seemed to flow well until I met resistence on the phone with one of my clients. Her tone was sharp, and I felt wrongly accused. Clearly my system was worn. I needed a break, and it didn’t seem as though I was going to get it.

Then the IRS sent me a letter stating I owed them a penalty, plus the self-employment taxes I had proven I do not owe. Twice.

So I waited until a reasonable hour on the East Coast to give them a call. It was then that magic seemed to unfold. Expecting the resistance I had felt with my German client, I instead received the warmest, kindest welcome ever. The representative went above and beyond the call of duty, even tracking my profile when we erroneously got disconnected so she could get my number when I called back into the switchboard. She returned my call, cancelled the bill, and wished me a good day with the sincerest of apologies.

“Your frustration deserves attention. Let’s hande this right now.”

I was blown away.

So I asked her who her supervisor was. She clearly deserves recognition for a job well done. She modestly thanked me, telling me she was up for review and that it would certainly help. I wrote a letter of thanks and placed it in the mail the same day.

Kindness comes from the strangest places. Sometimes we expect it, and it does not come. We wonder why we should continue to be kind when it seems the world around us has turned stone cold. Then you enter a warm pocket of air where blessings abound. I could almost hear the Universe giggle in glee at the mere thought of surprise.

What a gift this ride truly is!

The power of slow says do things a little differently every now and then just to shake things up a bit and to liberate trapped energy that’s been caught in the rut of routine.

So when my casting agency asked me to be an extras wrangler on a daily soap for German TV, I got curious. And said yes.

Last week I worked harder than I have in ages. It is physical labor to round up thirty-some people on a set the size of Sesame Street. I had to contain their movements for a good twelve hours, and it was surprisingly fun. No one likes to be herded like cattle. But that was my job, and I tried to smile while doing it. With a heat index of 95°F, it was a challenge at best.

Next week I will be filming with an elephant on set. If they need an extra(s) wrangler, I’ll be there with whip in hand!

The fifth in a series of work-life balance stories brings us to Los Angeles and New York where Yelizavetta Kofman and Astri von Arbin Ahlander, respectively, offered their astounding insights into Generation Y’s views on work, life ,and parenting.  As co-founders of The Lattice Group that specializes in Gen Y workplace issues, this dynamic duo provided an astounding breadth of knowledge in all areas of life.

They view balance as an impossible notion and equate the attempt with trying to win the war on drugs. What they do believe, however, is the ebb and flow of life. Sometimes they see themselves as working more or working less, depending on their life situations. Embracing entrepreneurialism is the underlying factor in providing the most flexibility and for striking an equilibrium in our lives.

What I found most empowering about their message is we can climb the lattice to success, making lateral moves as equally justifiable as straight shots to the top. Facetime is put into question as Gen:Yers tend to embrace a more mobile work style.

Below you will find the entire interview. So grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage and enjoy the read!

CLH: Which workplace issues are most pressing for Gen Y today?

lizLiz:  This is a difficult question because Gen Yers are so young: they don’t have kids or families yet and most, at least in the United States, aren’t thinking too far ahead. A recent survey of graduating college seniors by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reported that out of fifteen possible job attributes, the top three chosen by American students were: opportunity for advancement, job security, and a good insurance package. So Gen Yers, understandably, are concerned mainly about health insurance and security. In European countries, Gen Yers don’t have these workplace concerns because they are provided universally by the government. They are more likely to answer that they are concerned with issues of flexibility (the ability to work from anywhere and to have flexible hours). I would say that flexibility is definitely a main concern for American Gen Yers, too. Gen Yers grew up with the internet. They don’t understand why “facetime” at an office is so sacrosanct when they know they can do the same work from somewhere else. I would say many Gen Yers are looking for a workplace that is more than just a paycheck.

They want to feel useful and connected to an organization, which is why strict hierarchies are a turn-off.  So I would say the availability of certain benefits like health insurance, flexibility, and “buy-in” are the most pressing workplace issues for Gen Y. That, and finding a job in this economy!

astri1Astri: I agree with Liz, but would like to underscore the Gen Y resistance to facetime. Nearly all of the Gen Y:ers we spoke to expressed frustration with long work hours and what they perceived as time ill spent because of the value superiors put on facetime. As one young engineer commented, many of his peers would take more time to do their tasks than they needed in order to drag their work out over more hours- putting in a lot of late hours was considered a measure of diligence and commitment, no matter how those hours were spent. As Liz commented, Gen Y:ers are of a high-tech generation that know they can work in many places other than in an office and a lot of them expressed a desire to be more flexible in when and where they work.

This will only become more important when they have more complex family concerns.

CLH: How do Gen:Yers view work-life balance?

Liz:  Again, this is different whether we’re talking about Americans or Europeans. American Gen Yers largely view work-life balance as a personal responsibility. You either figure out how to balance your work with the rest of your life, or you don’t. Sure, it would be nice if employers provided an environment conducive to work-life balance–and it may go a long way toward reqruiting and retaining Gen Yers–but, mostely, it’s seen as a personal responsibility issue. This is not the case in Europe, where Gen Yers demand a lot more help from their government and employers.

What work-life balance means, exactly, is very different depending on the individual. For some, it means being able to balance having kids and a career in the future. For others, it means the ability to sustain interests and relationships outside of work.

Astri: The difference in views of work-life balance between American and European Gen Y:ers was striking. While American Gen Y:ers largely considered it a personal problem for which they had to engineer their own personal solutions, European Gen Y:ers expected a lot of help from companies and from society as a whole. Europeans thought that work-life balance was a right that they should be assisted in getting while American Gen Y:ers viewed it as a highly desirable goal which they generally had vague notions about how to achieve. The result is that Europeans are likely to make more demands than their American counterparts. The danger with treating work-life balance as an individual’s problem and not society’s is that people risk feeling alienated in their struggle to “figure it out,” and thus don’t start making the kinds of demands that eventually lead to systemic change.

CLH: Most Gen Y are still ‘kids’ themselves. How do you think Gen Y will handle raising kids differently than, say, Gen X?

Liz:  Frankly, this is a big mystery. Gen Xers pretty much invented the phenomena of “intensive parenting” — think yoga for infants, countless sports practices and music lessons, and greater competition for college admissions. I really don’t know if intensive parenting will wane with Gen Y. Competition for college admissions will probably only get more cut-throat. On the other hand, the current economic crisis and “thrift chic” mentality may drive some Gen Yers to reject this kind of child-rearing. Driving a Hummer full of toddlers to soccer practices everyday isn’t exactly good for the environment, either, and Gen Y is more concerned with sustainability than previous generations. I believe “shared parenting” (a la Lisa Belkin’s New York Times Magazine article) will become more prevalent, but probably not the norm. Unless the government and employers step-up and provide paid parental leave to both men and women, women will likely remain the primary caregivers.

Astri: The Gen Y:ers we talked to, both men and women, emphasized the important of having time for children, of being there with them. Male Gen Y:ers didn’t want to be distant fathers (as many of their own fathers had been) and female Gen Y:ers didn’t want to be the sole caretakers (as many of their mothers had been). And so, there is some hope that Gen Y will actually “parent” rather than “mother.” But, as Liz said, before American policies become more family friendly and gender neutral (such as paid parental leave for fathers as well as mothers, the de-stigmatization of flex policies as “female” and a denoting less career ambition etc), it is a mystery how Gen Y parents will realize the goal of equal parenting.

CLH:  How do you define ‘balance’?

Liz: Personally, I don’t think you can ever achieve “work-life balance.” That would be like winning the “war on drugs”– impossible. The Spanish refer to this idea as “work-life reconciliation” and I think that’s more attainable. Or work-life effectiveness. In my own life, I know there will be times when I put my work ahead of my family (they’ll get over it). Other times, family will definitely come first. I think the first step is trying to figure out what you want in life. I want to have a job that I love and be very, very good at it. But, at the end of the day, I know my relationships with family and friends will be more important to me, so I am prepared to make some sacrifices in terms of pay and prestige. Eventually, I want to have a job that allows me a lot of flexibility in terms of my day-to-day hour,  I want long vacations (I’m talking like 4 weeks in a row), and I may want to be able to have reduced work hours when my children are very young.

Will I be able to achieve all this? Certainly not in the very near future, but I do think it’s possible. I think the key to achieving “work-life balance” is finding a partner who shares your goals, or at least is willing to help you achieve your goals.

Astri: Liz hit the nail on the head: achieving work-life balance has a lot to do with who you choose to build the “life” part with. We heard this over and over again in the interviews that we conducted with seasoned professionals. The ones who truly “made it” always cited the importance of an understanding spouse so that the work-life equation was never theirs alone to bear. My tip is to make sure you know what your partner is expecting right off that bat (those conversations might seem awkward, but they can really be enormously instructive).

For me, career is incredibly important and so finding a partner who respects that is key. But saying career is important doesn’t mean that family isn’t. I am fundamentally opposed to the status quo of what we call the “ladder society,” where a successful career hinges on a consistent, linear latticegrouplogo1upward-bound trajectory. My idea of balance is linked more to a “lattice career,” meaning a more sequential development where both men and women can make lateral moves as well as slow down for a while without losing all of their momentum. I hope to work all of my life, but I expect to work differently in different phases of my life. Balance for me is making that kind of a lattice lifestyle possible. How to do that? As many of our Gen Y interviewees on both sides of the Atlantic recommended: by being entrepreneurial and having as much flexibility as possible.

CLH: Thanks so much for your valuable insights!

Liz & Astri: Thank you!

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