Monday, July 26, 2010

Vacation from a Sabbatical?

It sounds a little bit like taking a vacation from your vacation. This looks to be a pretty busy vacation -- chasing around two six year-olds!

And I'm not even taking my computer or my new book project (which is close to 2/3rds complete on the first draft). Just R&R.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Using Fear to Manage Others

I received an interesting email this week from a former colleague who asked me if I thought managers who ruled by fear, did so because they were fearful themselves. The implication being that we pull our style from our own darkest corners.

Interesting question. I've certainly been fearful in the work environment myself (you can see earlier posts for more on that), I've worked for bosses who exploit fear, and I've occasionally used fear as a tool myself. The dynamics of all this are complicated, however.

To start with, most deeply seated fear -- the kind that borders on irrational -- is in us, not imposed on us (at least in the work environment, a kidnap victim's fear is undoubtedly imposed). If we aren't afraid of being embarrassed, of failing, or of being labeled, then it would be pretty hard for a manager or executive to make us afraid on that account.

Most of us, though, have some deeply held fears. If you're in management or a professional, and have been driving to achieve , the chances are good there is some deep seated fear in you. It can be a huge personal motivator.

Managers know about these fears (probably in most cases because they have them too, like my colleague said), and they sometimes exploit them. Some a little, and some a lot. No manager I ever recall meeting completely eschewed fear as a tool. The degree to which they do so depends on several factors -- their own personal style (some people are just natural terrors), their belief in the power of fear as a motivating tool, and the expectations of the organization, to name a few. There are undoubtedly other factors as well.

I don't think that most senior executives are Machiavellian by nature -- it just takes too much effort to operate that way (although I personally know of two exceptions to this generalization, for certain). Their use of fear, and mine too, was primarily instinctive and opportunistic. And in every organization I ever worked, there were structural expectations that management would use fear as well. For example, it wasn't uncommon to rely on the fear of public embarrassment to get people to work harder. Monthly and quarterly update meetings are structured specifically to do that. Another example would be the use of "stretch" goals, where management sets such impossibly high targets for people that they have little hope of actually achieving them, yet fear of a bad performance appraisal (formal or informal) is used to drive the employees to try just the same.

The unfortunately point is that fear is a powerful motivator, using it works, most people respond to it, and it is a cruel tool. And so it gets used a lot.

Kind of a perverse world we live in at times, isn't it?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It just doesn't matter...

There was a 1980's movie with Bill Murray, where he was a summer camp counselor -- the name of the movie was Meatballs or something like that. Anyway, I remember Murray leading the campers in a chant of: "It just doesn't matter,..." because they were losing some athletic event against another camp.

Funny what sticks in your head, and can amuse you years and years later. I have a lot of movie quotes floating around in my head, just like that one.

Anyway, I'm four months into the sabbatical now, and I'm finding my preoccupation with all of the petty details that went on in my work life not bothering me much any more. All of those labels we used to use -- "He's good," "She failed," its all so -- fabricated. I mean, in the big scheme of things, does it really matter if you did a great job on that particular presentation?

While I don't believe that most people have the capacity for Machiavellian plotting (although, I've met at least one CEO who does...), it's puzzling how the structure of corporations, especially the roles for managers and professionals, seem almost designed to extract the maximum amount of life from people, and quickly facilitates the discarding of the empty husks when finished. It just doesn't matter...

I'm starting to gain some new perspective on all of this -- by being able to look at it more as an outsider and less like a victim of the system. Some of those criticisms that those of us who were in the rat race used to shrug off, have merit to them. Take some time and think about what outsiders observe, and don't just discard it as unsophisticated drivel this time.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Just finished the most difficult section of my new novel, and thought that it would be nice to take a break. I'm about half way done with the first draft, and think I'll have it completed in another sixty days, more or less.

Weather is perfect here, and I went swimming with the twins in the lake a little earlier. They swim every day that its over eighty degrees and not raining. It was great fun.

Tonight we are off to Stir-up days in Ashland. If you're not from the area, Ashland is the little town we live closest to. I think there are about 2,500 souls there. Both of my older daughters are working at the local pizza place -- Breadeaux Pizza (pretty good pizza, actually), and Anna, our middle child, goes to the schools in Ashland, as will the twins starting in the fall.

We live, however, in what Paula and I call "Greater Metropolitan Ashland", about five miles north of the town in a rural area close to the Platte River. Our lake, Big Sandy, has about 100 lots on it, but only about six of those lots are occupied full time. The rest are just weekend getaway type places. So during the week, even on a perfect summer day, its fairly quiet.

But I digress -- its a beautiful day, so I think I'll just go and enjoy the rest of it!

Monday, July 12, 2010


Okay, here is an attempt to post a picture of the tattoo. Admire that muscular arm while you're looking!

Wow, it sure is quiet here...

I'm nearing the four month mark on the one year sabbatical, and things have definitely quieted down.

And there are some positive and some negative aspects to that.

On the positive side: I'm really enjoying the time with the family, and I especially appreciate building a connection with the twins before they head off to school this fall (kindergarden). I feel more relaxed than I have in a long time. I've gotten a lot of projects done, which feels good. I have time for contemplation, developmental thought, and development of a better sense of myself.

On the negative side: My social life, never much of a buzz, has really gotten quiet. All those things that I thought I would do -- well, I'm not doing them. Haven't played golf once, have only fished a few times, not really reading any more than I was before, etcetera.

On balance, though, its been a good experience for me so far.

Today I received two interesting looking emails -- one for a President's job out of the area in a very large business, the other for a small local manufacturing business for sale. I felt no compulsion to open either of them.

And I may be extending the sabbatical in any case. With the new adoption on the horizon, I'm not going to make the same mistake I did last time and rush back into work and regret it.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I haven't shared many family details that have occurred since the transition. In fact, I haven't shared many personal details at all, with the exception of my musings. As I reflect on all the things that have happened in the last three months, I realize it's a lot. Here is a brief list some of the things that are different.

Finished an addition on our house and relocated four of seven family members as a result (not to mention garage junk redistribution, and emptying a storage locker in Omaha).

Grew a beard -- tried to grow my hair out longer too, but honestly, there just isn't enough to work with, so I decided to keep the hair closely cropped. Everybody seems to hate the beard, except me.

Finished a novel (Leverage), and then hired an editor and finished it again! Hopefully, this will be the last time. Started a new novel, which I'm tentatively calling Incentivize (I love the overused/misused business-speak for titles).

Decided to add another member to the family. We will be headed back to Ethiopia sometime in the not too distant future to adopt a boy. For those of you not up to date, we adopted twin daughters from Ethiopia a year ago.

Sold my beloved red Lexus convertible, and my Chevy Colorado pick-up, and bought a Suburban. For motivation, see paragraph above -- need eight passenger seating. When you have a "midlife crisis" aren't you supposed to buy the red sports car, rather than sell it???

Wife and I got matching tattoos! Those of you who know me will probably be most shocked by this turn of events. It is an outline of Africa with a heart on Ethiopia. I've got mine on my right shoulder. If I ever figure out how to post pictures, I'll put one on the blog.

Well, that all seems like a lot for three months. Here's to changes that keep life refreshed!