April 2005 Insight Newsletter

Unfamiliar Sources of Inspiration

During a few days of vacation I found myself watching the TV show Super-Nanny with friends, something that would ordinarily not be my first choice. If you’ve seen it you may have recognized the same five principles of effectiveness at work. Far from being bored as I expected, I was amazed.

1. Every Activity Depends on the Same Five Skills
At first glance, parenting would seem to have little in common with being a CEO. Super-nanny in this case calmed an entire family with four seriously out-of-control children under age 10 in just a few days. The change was startling and dramatic in spite of – in fact, because of – the fact that she forbade any disciplinary action other than time outs (in available spaces at home, specifically cleared for the purpose of all except soft furniture).

Super-nanny introduced a simple chart of ten rules beginning with respect for each other and the rational penalties involved. The kids couldn’t wait to act out before she even finished reading out rule 1. You had to wonder about the wisdom of a written list with kids so young and aggressive that it seemed they would refuse to read even if they could.

Starting with the worst offender and his brother, she had Mom quietly, but repeatedly take them to the time out spots until they grew tired of escaping, had calmed down and apologized to her for their rotten behavior. This even included spitting in her face and urinating on the floor. These first disciplinary actions took an hour and half of relentlessly returning the children to their purgatories to complete just one short time out each (about one minute per year of age). This resulted in nearly instant and almost complete obedience to Mom… until Dad intervened and proved to be the ultimate problem.

Dad, having been the main disciplinarian (using threats we never quite got to see, but could easily imagine), was slow to give up his former style of punishment. As usual on returning home he “took over” the discipline even though mom had already done a great job. By doing so he undermined her success and the kids immediately went back to their physically bad behaviors with her – their customary way of responding although they would eventually give in to his superior physical presence.

Super-nanny took him aside and firmly demonstrated via role play how he typically disciplined by becoming loud and aggressive when challenged, using his size to intimidate instead of remaining calm and focusing on a firm discussion route to better behavior. He absorbed the information effectively and immediately the family returned to finding measured, discussion-oriented solutions to their frustrations instead of acting out. How they enjoyed their new-found peace and cooperation was a miracle to behold.

Though I’ve seen this work in the most stressed union bargaining and with both upset employees and customers, it was an eye-opening demonstration of the effectiveness of keeping one’s balance. Remaining calm and positive in an unbelievably bad situation with children who looked not only completely uncontrollable, but too young to be open to reason achieved results in just a couple of days.

I was strongly reminded of bosses who yelled, insulted, threatened, intimidated and even fired potentially good employees at great cost both in termination pay and for replacements. Exercising authority is a puzzle for some managers. They’re tough to coach when they fear losing control and can’t trust employees. This doesn’t seem to be something that is discussed much in management training unfortunately. It was a great reminder to me to focus on things people should NOT do – fatal flaws that progressively get them out of control – as well as things they should do. Both are amazingly simple and work in every situation, which makes them easy to practice and improve quietly and rapidly.

You can find more about all five key ingredients that support the central one of balance on the web site www.CrispStrategies.com.

2. The Power of Balance at Both Home and Work
This example of a home problem certainly shed added light on the value of achieving balance at both home and work. One could see just how often people needlessly exhaust themselves in one situation and how that would seriously reduce their capacity to fully concentrate elsewhere. Helping people develop balance within themselves is a strong step toward them learning to balance external forces causing problems with or among others. I’ve often said, “Control starts with self-control, management with self-management, leadership with self-leadership.” It’s clear this applies in every area of life and work. Even what painter Henri Matisse said applies to art and life: “What I dream of is an art of balance.

3. Work-Life Balance – A Growing Concern
I will shortly be presenting two sessions for Federated Press called “Structuring Cost Effective Work-Life Programs” (details here– see session 1). A key message is that finding balance is typically a no-cost or low-cost solution to many problems that stop people from succeeding in a wide range of areas. Workplaces can’t provide everything an individual needs, but they can encourage and demonstrate rational, positive management that includes helping people develop balance. A lot of it remains up to individuals to build an understanding of what they need and the habits to achieve that. I can see this is an area that warrants even more attention than I presently give it on my web site. Stay tuned for more.