Thursday, March 28, 2013

Imagine working for a great boss every time!

Today is National Boss Day. 3 out of 4 employees report that their boss is the most stressful part of their job! More employees would prefer a new boss over a pay rise when it comes to improving their satisfaction at work. Ouch!

If you have a great boss, show your appreciation. Good or bad, bosses are a fact of life, and have been since ancient economies established master-slave relationships—the Pyramids were not built with collective agreements!

While workplaces today are (perhaps?) a little more humane, most of us have to navigate the power dynamics that go with any employer-employee relationship.

Some individuals are very flexible and can adapt to the operating style any boss. The rest of us actually have a preference for being managed. In fact, certain management styles bring out the best in us.

Operating Style of your boss can lead to conflict

I’m not talking about personalities here—whether your boss is warm, cold, two-faced, compassionate, analytical, judgmental, whatever. I’m referring to their operating style and the way that you, as an employee, best relate to authority.

For example, some employees need a hands-off relationship with a boss who allows them to exercise independent control over their specific area of responsibility. If they end up with a boss with a ‘directorial’ style—one who wants them to operate and perform in the manner the boss identifies as correct, appropriate, or most effective—then conflict is inevitable.

Without a clear understanding of this dynamic, we can get ourselves into a lot of hot water with bosses. As a career expert for the past 20 years, I have seen employer-employee conflicts played out in all kinds of scenarios…many of which could’ve been avoided or minimized if the individual—whether they were a boss or subordinate—had clarity about their preferred management style.

How do you prefer to be managed?

Most of us have never been taught or shown how to interview a potential boss for their preferred operating style, or how to negotiate with a boss in order to help them manage us in a way that brings out the best in us.

For example, if you function most effectively under a manager who provides you with initial support and direction at the outset of a new assignment of responsibility, then leaves you pretty much alone to carry it out…you probably need to learn how to tactfully help them do so.

But, if you get stuck with a micro-manager, you’ll have to grin and bear it, wait them out (the average tenure of a middle level manager is 2.5 years), or find another job–because this is a clash of styles that cannot be resolved through negotiation.

Many clients have described to me “a great boss” who provides intermittent support and direction at key points in a task, assignment, or responsibility. For them, the right manager offers assistance in making critical decisions. These individuals work best when they can count on their boss to have their back when unforeseen difficulties arise.

Others actually work most effectively with a micro-manager, a boss who provides continuous support throughout—touching base frequently and offering direction and advice when needed. But, if they end of up with a boss with a leader style, who prefers to paint the big picture and inspire others to follow him/her (or their program, cause, or mission) and leave the details to others, then they might dismiss this manager as inept or ‘political.’

Collaborate means to co-labor

In some cases, I have met clients who remember a single ‘great boss’ experience, followed by a series of bad bosses. A deeper analysis of their motivating situations reveals that they function most effectively under a manager who treats them as an equal, who works with them as though you were involved in a joint effort. In order to thrive at work, these individuals need an open-minded manager who has a genuine interest in their ideas and suggestions, as well as one who offers suggestions and advice when they ask for it or need it. When they don’t get it, they blame the boss.

Some even quit their jobs and go solo, only to discover they hate working on their own and need the dynamic of a workplace to bring out the best in them but they don’t know what that is until we do a deep analysis of their enjoyable experiences at work and outside of work. Then we discover they thrive in situations where they collaborated with others towards a goal.

Collaborate comes from ‘co-labour,’ or working together, and this kind of dynamic between employer and employee does not occur often, although when it does occur, interestingly enough, it tends to be a female boss who prefers to interact with subordinates in a participatory rather than authoritative fashion, preferring not to rely on administrative policies but on keeping others involved and keeping the momentum going.

There are bad bosses and good bosses in the world of work. But each of us can learn to better manage our relationships with authority by understanding what operating style used by a boss brings out the best in us. Then we can help create that at work or, at the very least, look for a manager who prefers to work with our preferred style. For More Information Please visit

Career Change Advice for Talented Women with predictable, boring, mundane jobs

Tuba Cookey is an extremely talented woman who had immigrated to Canada from Nigeria to go to work in high level finance. She had earned her first degree in England and had got  a Masters degree in Canada some years later before returning to Nigeria to continue her banking career.

She said that while she was in Ottawa looking to move from her job in financial sector research, she thought she should “take advantage of the kind of career consulting (that I offer) that doesn’t exist in Nigeria,” and explore her options for career change.

I had Taba write “her story”–eight examples of experiences that had been very satisfying for her throughout her life. They didn’t have to be job related.

What came up again and again is that she thrives with new competitive challenges that force her to stretch herself beyond anything she had ever done before. She also needs those challenges defined with deadlines and guidelines for measuring success. For example, she was usually one of the best students in her schools and was the only student in her graduate school class to complete her master’s thesis in time to graduate on schedule.

When she moved from Nigeria to London at age 9, she quickly established herself as one of the star sprinters in her elementary school. Before long, having run out of female competition, talk in the playground was that she should take on the fastest boy runner in the school.

“Finally, a date and hour was set. It was close…but there was no doubt about the result: I won, and that was the end of John’s bragging about how fast he was,” Taba said.

At some point during this career audit, she accepted an offer as Standards and Insurance Manager for a Canadian government agency that was charged with protecting consumers’ deposits in event of the failure of federally regulated banks and trust companies. She didn’t understand why at the time, but found herself so bored and frustrated with her job.

We figured out that even though her position at the government regulatory agency might be the perfect job for someone else, it was “just pushing papers” for her. Many jobs, including the one she was in at the agency, organized to be predictable and mundane and often become simple and boring for talented people like Taba.

Using “her story,” we determined:

* The work environment she would thrive in.

* The type of work she would thrive in.

* The way she likes to be managed.

* The way she likes to be rewarded.

* What motivates her.

* And how she likes to approach tasks.

“My work with George made me realize this sort of work was thoroughly unsuited to me” says Taba.

She began to seriously consider returning to Nigeria and we talked about the need for African ex-patriates to return home and use their knowledge and expertise in developing Africa.  She decided to go back to Nigeria without any prospects for a job. I told her that she had lots of talents and people would recognize and reward her for that.

I think that one of the reasons ex-patriates don’t go back to their home countries after being educated abroad is because they’re worried they won’t get challenging jobs. I knew it wouldn’t be a problem for Taba because she has talents that transfer across borders. It was just a question of packaging her talents to be recognized and rewarded in different cultural contexts.

So we had to put her talents into a resume to show what this person could do for an employer anywhere–a dramatic example of how her talents transfer across cultures and borders.

She sent me an email saying, “An amazing opportunity opened up in Ghana. I am a Program Manager with the African Finance Corporation (, based in Accra, responsible for overseeing all IFC leasing development programs in Africa. IFC is the private sector arm of the World Bank, promoting development through loans, equity and technical assistance to the private sector.”

A lot of businesses in Africa have difficulty in accessing traditional bank financing, and leasing provides an attractive alternative to such companies. The program aims to promote the role of leasing through training, public awareness, attracting new investment into the industry and working with the authorities in specific African countries to improve the legislative and regulatory environment for leasing.

This job is challenging for her because it is so varied and really stretches her capabilities. Also, she travels all over Africa and has to deal with different personalities in differing cultures. She needs to be in circumstances that stretch her, like beating the fastest boy in school.

“The other day I went through the life stories I had written and the analysis you had done four years ago now, and was amazed at the way it has all come together in my present job,” said Taba. “It is really quite uncanny. But then again perhaps not, since you had so accurately identified the kind of work and environment that would give me ‘jobjoy’ and I have finally found it. It is not surprising that I can now say without hesitation that I have never enjoyed work so much, and…yes, feel fortunate that I am actually getting paid for it. I come to work every day with a sense of anticipation, and hardly know where the time has gone at the end of the day. I actually have to tear myself away! This is such a change from so much of my previous life spent clock watching and day dreaming at work.”

When we get into a jobfit, other parts of our lives often fall into place.  After a few years in this job, Taba returned to Nigeria in 2008 .  “It is great to be back home, I think age is finally taming my itchy feet!”  She was recently married, and took a new position with the Nigerian Stock Exchange.  Congratulations, Taba, in  putting down roots!

–with Nick Isenberg
For More Information Please visit

Monday, March 25, 2013

Is it money or meaningful work?


Work-life balance is one of those buzz words that characterizes the zeitgeist of our times. We live busy, hectic lives and, in order to control all this activity, we often separate our different spheres of activity into compartments of work, family, socializing, romancing, education, politics, religion, and so on.

This compartmentalizing also extends to our mental and emotional lives, to what we do and believe, to what we value. Work-life balance is about aligning our being with our doing.

Easier said than done, right? In fact, there is strong evidence to support the conclusion that there is very little work-life balance in our lives. We might want it…but we can’t get it!

Highest levels of job stress

One major study commissioned by Health Canada[1] found that the highest levels of job stress and depression in Canadian public servants were found in Ontario public employees at municipal, provincial and federal levels:

“While they may earn the nation’s highest average salaries, Ontario workers reported the lowest levels of job satisfaction and the highest intention to leave.”

Reducing work-life conflicts is not a high priority for most employers even though doing so is proven to be a major factor in better job performance, according to Paul Fairlie[2], a researcher that I spoke with recently. He designs and conducts surveys related to meaningful work. He says that the same 9-10 dimensions keep coming up in research.

Is it money or is it meaningful work?
It’s both. It’s a two-stage motivational process. People need a certain amount of money to be comfortable and to feel appreciated at a level similar to others doing the same job. Beyond these few extrinsic drivers, the vast majority of people pursue intrinsic rewards, e.g. meaning-based goals and values.

Some people can be cynical about these kinds of results, and prefer to pursue extrinsic goals, such as money, prestige, status, power; rather than intrinsic goals, such as meaning or socially useful work. But the research clearly shows that money rarely shows up as a major influence on motivation and behaviour once basic needs are met.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Rewards

Instead, studies are consistent in showing that most people are, in fact, more intrinsically-motivated. If they become more extrinsically-motivated, it’s because of negative work experiences. Let’s face it, work can be a pretty harsh environment, involving layoffs, unfair dismissals, nepotism, corruption, and so on. It’s no wonder that many individuals acquire a cynical attitude: “Fool me once, shame on me…try to fool me twice, forget it, just pay me!”

As Paul learned from surveys, it is understandable that many people are more likely to choose a raise over more meaningful work, but that doesn’t stop them from wanting more interesting work. His research demonstrates that most employees still want self-actualizing work; they want to make a social impact; they want personal goals/values alignment with jobs/work/employers; they truly want a sense of personal accomplishment.

When they get it, they are more likely to stay with their employer and report higher levels of satisfaction, commitment, engagement, and discretionary effort.

Meaningful Work Index

Furthermore, the higher they score on his Meaningful Work Index (MWI), the more likely they are to experience fewer physical and mental health symptoms. He reviewed 2 national studies in 50 states and found that employees with a high MWI score measured low burnout, low depression, low stress, and low anxiety.

However, when employees don’t find meaningful work with their employers, they disengage–the rate of days lost to sickness and loss of productivity rises dramatically. Indeed, the stats suggest that a growing fringe of Americans and Europeans are withdrawing from work as a meaningful life pursuit.

Work-life balance enables individuals to become self-reliant, make informed choices and find satisfying and fulfilling work and lifestyles in today’s rapidly changing labor markets.

Leaving large orgs for lifestyles business

Many of them are leaving the world of institutionalized work and creating a lifestyles business, which is a small enterprise that shares the following characteristics:

- Set up and run by its founders

- Aim of sustaining a particular income level from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle

- Does not require extensive capital to launch or sustain (limited scalability or potential for growth)

- Suitable for sole practitioners, husband-and-wife-teams, or small groups in “creative industries”

- Dependent on founder skills, personality, energy, and contacts

- Founders create them to exercise personal talent or skills, achieve a flexible schedule, work with other family members, remain in a desired geographic area, or simply to express themselves
Creating such a business isn’t for everybody but more people than ever are leaving their corporate jobs to try it for themselves.

[1] “Where to Work in Canada: An examination of regional differences in Work-Life Practices,” Health Canada survey, Linda Duxbury & Chris Higgins, Ottawa’s Sprott School of Business, 2001

[2] Paul Fairlie, Ph.D., President & CEO, Paul Fairlie Consulting, Advancing the Science & Meaning of Work
For More Information Please visit

Talking Your Way Into a Job


Jerry (due to the security nature of his job we are not using his real name) came to my office a victim of the high tech bubble burst in 2003 with an interesting problem. He was a middle manager in his middle 40s and didn’t know how to look for a job. He really never had to look for a job in the past. He had a good reputation and as long as things were going well with high tech start-ups, employers were coming to him.

However, things were no longer going well. He had spent most of his career in aerospace and telecom research and development. By time he came to me, he had spent most of his summer sending out resumes without success.

What Jerry needed from me was coaching on how to target companies and tell his story in a compelling manner–concepts that he’d had no reason to think about very much in the past. He also had to learn where he best fit and what kinds of jobs to avoid. He was quite willing to do all three.

The first thing we did was work on “the fit.” The opportunity of “making a killing” was the main draw to his previous jobs. In retrospect, he realizes they were not good situations because he didn’t ask enough questions. He even described his last job as a “toxic work environment.”

What he really needed was an opportunity to use broad organizational and leadership skills to manage technical projects with some high risks and exciting challenges. He also wanted to work with a “reasonably-sized group,” which he defined as “over 10 people.”

Our next step was to have Jerry increase his networking skills so he could make contacts to find his hidden opportunities–positions he would fit that might not even exist. He did this by creating a spreadsheet of 20 target companies, who the principal players were at each company, if he knew any of them and how to contact someone if he didn’t know somebody at the company.

Next he called each company and wrote into the spreadsheet what they talked about, when to check back and how he had left off the conversation.

Then he would meet with me every two to three weeks and go through what he did. If he was called for an interview, we would go through typical questions and the methodology of answering those questions the day before the interview. We also went through a debriefing during our next meeting after each interview.

Most people go into an interview with the assumption the employers know what they’re doing. Employers are just human beings, too, and they’re subject to all kinds of flaws and weaknesses.

So instead of just answering questions, Jerry had to learn to tell “his story” in a compelling way. People think that when they are being interviewed, they are being interviewed for a job vacancy. If they can communicate their value–Here’s what I bring to the table; here’s what I bring to the company–more than a third of the time, the employer will create a job for them.

It certainly worked for Jerry. After two interviews at major defense contractor for a posted vacancy, the senior managers created another job, one that is a perfect fit for him. He’s in charge of the research for designing most of the surveillance equipment used to protect Canada.

Jerry got the job because he had a coach that helped him stay focused on what he really wanted and then Jerry did the work. For More Information Please visit