Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to be a good Parent and/or a good Leader

I normally like writing my own stuff, but someone sent me this today and as I'm passionate about the fact that parenting and leadership all happen on the same vein I thought I'd post this one up. He's a bit mediocre but I like some of his stuff. Look forward to your comments!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How to Get Things Done

I read a book recently about how to get things done. It was great. It's all about lists and having 43 folders. The advantage of getting yourself all organised is that you won't be stressed out because of having all those things on your mind and also you'll be more focussed and make the right decisions. The guy who wrote it, David Allen, suggests that there are five stages to managing your workflow:  

  1. collect inputs
  2. process inputs
  3. organize results
  4. review options for next actions
  5. do a next action
Now that's all well and good, and I could go on about the whole book, but think of it like this, let's say you were to read a book that would teach you how to swim, or how to ride a bike in ten easy chapters, would you really be able to do same once you finished the book?  Well I wouldn't, but I do know that there are different types of learners and that some people would be able to do things on foot of reading a book. 
I'm a visual person, I like mind maps, ones like this:

But even then, mostly they just look great but don't inspire me all that much. This week I made a breakthrough though, as to what does work and what doesn't. I had booked a week off work to go away on holidays, but the holiday fell through and I decided to still take the week off. It was a whole week. It meant I could get everything done, yay! Well needless to say I only managed to get a lot of sleeping done, watch a good few movies, catch up with about a dozen people for coffee and/or lunch, go out late and party a bit more than I should have and have a few nice walks. Well that all sounds great, but let's face it, a time management guru would remind me that such activities are only a mere part of what needed to be done, maybe 20% of my activities, what might be labelled as 'leisure time'. I didn't get the backlog of laundry done, didn't drop stuff off to places like the dry cleaners or the bottle bank. Didn't ring the insurance people about that policy I cancelled, didn't do all that admin work like sending the doctors receipts back to the health insurance in order to get a refund. I didn't get the car serviced, nor did I plant the rest of those bulbs in the garden. 
But then something happened yesterday that made me realise how easy it is to get things done. I got a call at midday announcing an imminent family visit at 3pm. In the three hours I had to prepare, I managed to clean the whole house, make a vegetarian feast, pick up the rubbish in the back garden, and the chair that had been blown down to the end of the garden in that storm a few weeks back and made the whole garden look unkempt. I also washed out the bins and changed the bed linen for the visitors bed. 
So yes, I'm one of those people who works under pressure. The day job suits me as it means I get everything done on account of not having much time. So, here I am, way past my bedtime as usual, but I'm not here regretting my activities of the past week, in fact, I've decided that they were more important than the imminent things I'm supposed to be doing, and for that reason I actually did get things done. Besides, next week I'll be so busy at work that I'll end up getting the housework and the other stuff done in the evenings, purely because I feel I have no other time to do it. 
So that's why they say if you want to get something done, always ask a busy person...

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Business of People

I'm in the people business. Communication, getting your message across and all that jazz. To some it's the crux of all business, to others it's fluffy stuff. The reality is this though - how you communicate your message decides a lot more than just the message. There are those who will tell you interpersonal communication is a nuisance. They wonder why they have to humour people when the message is xyz, crystal clear and who cares what the person receiving the message thinks? Others will argue that the message itself is irrelevant, it only matters that you know how to deliver it in a clear and motivating manner.
Me, I believe in a bit of both. But it's not as easy as that. When you work in a large corporation, especially an international one, there's more than just the message and how you deliver it, there's also corporate culture, political correctness and trying to say something in one sentence that will appeal to the mindsets of the 29 cultures you work with. And you need to do it by lunchtime.

But there's something else. There's being human. As a rule, I believe that we all have moments when we believe ourselves to be a culmination of the three wise men and Jesus combined and that our word is the last word and we need to spread it. And sometimes those wise people break all the rules that the business gurus preach, and even if they normally end up sounding blunt and pedantic, there are times that it's so damn human it's just that bit better than all of the gurus combined advice.

I worked for a nameless corporation once, where, as in most big corporations, the place is run by the tea ladies. One morning I was down for my early morning life advice combined with a cuppa from a nice safe plastic cup that passed all health and safety regulations when tea lady one informed me that someone on the night shift had stolen two pieces of corned beef from the fridge. (There were two tea ladies, and they operated a bit like a weather house. If tea lady one was in good mood, tea lady two would remind you that life was all fire and brimstone, but if tea lady two smiled at you whilst you were buttering your scone, tea lady one would shout across the canteen that didn't I tell her I was on a diet so why was I eating that scone and that she's only telling me for my own good.)
Well anyway, back to the missing two slices of corned beef. Tea lady one reckoned she knew exactly whodunnit. So she ignored all corporate guidelines with regard to processes and procedures in order to take immediate action. It involved a piece of paper, a pen and some sticky tape, and this appeared on the fridge:

You couldn't blame her. The fridge in question contained milk and butter that was a free for all, but if you took two pieces of corned beef that some day shift person had left for their lunch the next day, well let's face it, you were nothing but a nasty thief (at least in the eyes of the tea lady, and don't forget the power of tea ladies.) Some people philosophized. Could you be a nice thief? Maybe leave a thank you note or be a bit of a Robin Hood? Who cared. There was no more nasty thievery after the note on the fridge.
But then something happened. A manager in the organisation with an eye for politically correct signage, took offense, and it ended in a battle of corporate procedure versus one humans view of justice. He wanted the sign removed. She didn't. They met somewhere in the middle, which to me, always means they both lose. The sign was replaced by this:

It reads: Only Milk and Butter are for common consumption, everything else contained within fridges is the personal property of your colleagues. Please do not take or partially use other peoples belongings.
I'm not sure what the communication gurus of the world would say about all of this, I can only tell you what I think: if you ever work for a huge international corporation that is politically correct, values people, is driven by policies and procedures and also treats employees to free tea, coffee, scones and toast; don't go taking other peoples corned beef from the fridge. There'll be serious words...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Best Advice Ever

One of those annoying forums that I've joined on LinkedIn, recently asked the question: what's the best advice you've ever been given?' I assume it was meant in a corporate sense, but the first thing that came to my mind was this: children need the most love when they're on their worst behaviour. 
Of course, this piece of advice was very interesting to the mother of three badly behaved children, one of whom was prone to major tantrums, so I decided to test it out. It was a normal afternoon. My daughter had just thrown the TV remote control at the window because I wouldn't allow her to cut her own hair with a nail scissors. That the window had cracked as a result didn't seem to cure her anger, so she did the rigid back and the big tears move, before throwing herself on the floor kicking and screaming until she managed to kick over a cup that hence spilled cold tea onto the floor. This was the part where I normally either started to join in by screaming myself whilst dragging her to her feet, or alternatively by just bursting into tears and ending up on the floor too. 
The new advice changed all that. Whilst in mid-temper and preparing to throw a cup through a glass cabinet door, I swooped down like an eagle and picked up the child. 'C'mere to me', I said, landing us both on the sofa, 'you're my gorgeous girlie, and I hate when you're sad.' She tucked her head into my arm and whimpered. Then she fell asleep. 
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not an easy touch who'll let someone walk all over me, I just find it's easier to deal with the bad behaviour after the tantrum, so the empathy during the tantrum is an instrument to nip it in the bud.  It's also quite probable that my child was so traumatized by her mother being kind that it shocked her into never having a tantrum again. 
But I've edited this piece of advice to suit other situations, and I'll swear by it. I'd say: people need the most empathy when they are on their worst behaviour, or underperforming or just being difficult. Don't even analyse it, don't ask yourself why that person is acting this or that way, just be nice to them, be supportive, be on their side, help them. Believe me, you'll find it works. 
Besides, when people irritate or annoy you, are rude to you or make your life difficult, being nice to them in return will have an impact on that behaviour, and even if it doesn't it'll impact you, you'll feel better for not entering things at their level. 
I've a few more bits of advice that'll be on offer on my new business blog, which I'll let you know about once it's all set up. 
On the subject of tantrums though, I think this TV commercial also offers some even better advice...


Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Day in Court

It's a bit like an extended family gathering: the judges, barristers & solicitors are the grown ups. They have that look of silent understanding that they are the world wisely stalwarts, pillars of society you might say. The Gardai, now they're another story. They sit giggling and chatting in rows like a bunch of teenage cousins, one trying to outdo the other with a smart comment or a jibe. Every now and then the judge will go 'shush' and they all shut up for a few minutes until the next bout begins. 
The defendants and the accused, well they are the outsiders who, for whatever misfortune, have been dragged into this family melee ( and pay attention to the word melee, it will reappear further down the page of this blog). 
So the grown ups begin to mediate. First of all a Garda puts forward an appeal. A woman is appealing the fact that she has been disqualified from driving for three years. Granted, she was twice over the limit, she admits that, but she only had a ten minute drive home and her designated driver had let her down. Besides, the Garda points out (at the cost of the tax payer) this lady is a nurse, and doesn't she have an awful big mortgage and she needs the car for work, could we not make the punishment more lenient?  The judge is not impressed, he says he should really be sending her to jail. I'm on the edge of my seat as I listen.
I'm now at risk of causing one of the grown ups to bang down a hammer and shout 'order in court', because all of a sudden I'm bursting to jump up and shout 'so if it was only a ten minute drive, why didn't she call a taxi?' In fact, she could have walked.  But I don't. The judge doesn't grant leniency, but he does point out that he should be imposing a jail sentence but that in this case he won't. The reason - because she's a nice good girl, a respectable nurse, so he'll let her off. Not only do I want to jump up at this stage, I want to jump up and down on a pogo stick and ask the judge does that mean he'd send her to jail if she were a busker or a bar maid?
But then the next case comes along and all of a sudden nobody cares about the legless nurse who lost her wheels anymore.
The court hears how two brothers 'exchanged words' with a man outside a pub. Then one of them threw a punch at the man, then the man fell to the ground and yer man gives him a right beating. It sounds very black and white, just the thing for the law, a person in the right and a person in the wrong. But it starts to get messy. It seems the fight had more than fists, it had legs and roots and history and a rift between two families going back a generation. And as if it could end there, no. The two brothers, big lads, one of them a boxer decided to get reinforcement. So they went home and got their mammy. This is the bit where I'm on the edge of the seat again. Their mammy? Two fist fighting boxers pick on one guy, beat him up, and then go home to get mammy to come sort it out. And that's just what mammy did. Mammy drove the lads back to the pub and they got going on their victim again, whilst mammy had a go at the victim's wife. 
I'm expecting the judge to give this guy a spell behind bars and a hefty fine, but then the boxer lad's solicitor stands up. 
There were important points to be made. Theoretically, the man who was attacked actually fell to the ground and was not pushed by the boxer lad at all. This is because by the time the boys had gone home and gotten mammy, the other side had gathered a few supporters too, so what ensued was not one man attacking another, by now it was a melee (remember I said that word would come back?).  Things got mentioned, such as the fact that some members of these two warring families were first cousins, and that nobody was sure what exactly it was that started up the feud twenty years ago. Although the accused had a string of previous convictions, his lawyer pointed out how  he was a family man who was very keen for this feud to end. Strange way of initiating the end of a feud, but I was getting used to being quiet at this stage. 
The judge said that he should really be sending this guy to jail (with the nurse who should be getting sent to jail too), but that if they all agreed to go to mediation and get it sorted that he'd let them off as long as they gave some money to the guy who they beat up. The money was to make up for the fact that the guy had had to go through some operations to have a metal plate put into the arm that got broken during the melee. 
I decided that I should have been a judge, because just the night before, after listening to my two sons argue the same point for over two hours - it was more a heated discussion about who owns the earphones than a melee. So I told them to shut up and eat their dinner and that after dinner they were to stop talking about the problem and start looking for solutions. Not rocket science, but maybe there really is something about getting the mammy involved after all. 

Then case 11 was called - The State against Margaret Treanor...