Pam Slim’s new book Body of Work is out. You may already know of Pam as the author of the bestseller Escape From Cubicle Nation. This one takes a brilliant new tack on the whole idea of careers, refocusing your work life as a reflection of who you are, who you are becoming.
I’ve already bought two copies — for a daughter and a sister — even though Pam sent me an early copy for free. Both are in different inflection points related to what they do next, gathering in what they’ve done so far, and Pam’s way of looking at things is perfect for that.
I don’t give a lot of endorsements or recommendations on this blog, but I can’t recommend this book more highly. I bought copies, one for a daughter and one for a sister, both of them brilliant people looking at what comes next, professionally. Pam Slim is a brilliant writer, a natural empath, and the best source of thoughtful career advice I’ve ever known.
I can’t resist quoting from Bob Sutton, Stanford Prof author of The No-Asshole Rule and other great books, who said of Body of Work:
I was struck by how useful, engaging, and downright fun that Body of Work was to read. For starters, Pam applies a compelling frame — as the title says — where she advises that each of us would be better off as thinking of our career as a body of work rather than climbing a ladder or taking the path to the top. I found that so simple and so powerful — both because I think it is a more accurate frame, and because it focuses attention on what gives each of us intrinsic joy, not just on the competitive nature of work and the money.
I’m troubled. The problem, in a nutshell, is that saying jerks and idiots are bad bosses is a bit too easy. It implies that not being a jerk or worse makes you a good boss. And that’s not always true. Nice people can be bad bosses.
Still, there’s this problem: By focusing so much attention on what not to do, and who not to be, we tend to undervalue the hard side of being in charge. Being a good boss also means following up on unmet expectations and disappointing performance with leadership, advice, teaching, and demanding better.
I think I did this wrong myself. I think I let being a supposed nice guy interfere with my managing a company. You can’t be liked by all and also optimize performance. Sure, some people work best when left alone and encouraged, but – hard, ugly truth – others lose interest and grow entitled. Good bosses deliver both positive and negative feedback. Good bosses make the company better. Whether they’re liked or not.
This is not Bob Sutton’s fault, not the fault of his work. But he tells great stories of jerks and idiots, and stories are powerful, so stories gather. So we unconsciously think being a boss is about being nice. We forget the hard part.
To be honest, I thought it was a joke; irony, perhaps, or sarcasm. But no, to my surprise, I clicked on Love Your Business More Than Your Family, a column on entrepreneur.com, and he’s serious. Author George Cloutier says:
Your cell phone is for keeping in touch with clients and sales managers in the field, not for taking calls from your spouse throughout the day about what groceries to pick up on the way home. Cutting out early to take your kids to baseball practice three times a week, or picking up your Aunt Tilly or Uncle Ned from the airport, are unacceptable interruptions to success.
You can keep doing these things and waste dozens of hours each week. Or you can focus on the financial future of your business and work all day, every day. You are the only person responsible for fixing your business and making it better, and that isn’t going to happen while you take 14 personal phone calls a day and attend local Cub Scout meetings three-times a week.
That is extremely bad advice. I have absolutely nothing against George Cloutier. I’m even a fellow columnist on the same entrepreneur.com site, where I do a column on business planning. But sheesh, how can I read that, and not write about it? What would Bob Sutton (author of the book on business a**holes) say about this?
How wrong is George’s advice? Well, there’s no way to list all that’s wrong with it, but here at least is just a brief start on that list:
It’s bad for your life. And business is to serve life, not life to serve business. Make no mistake about it; if you choose to “work all day, every day” do it purposely and knowingly, recognizing that you’re sacrificing your life for a business. Stay single and alone. Don’t ever have kids.
It’s bad for your business too. You don’t manage a business, manage a team, make decisions, and get through the long hard days without balancing your life. People eventually blow up when they try.
OK there are exceptions, but what if you aren’t one of them? What if you sacrifice everything and you don’t end up like Richard Branson, water skiing in the Caribbean with a naked model? Some totally obsessed people end up wealthy and happy; but obsession doesn’t create the success, and most of them are just lonely and full of regrets.
Am I exaggerating here? I should add that I’m not just quoting him out of context. He means it. He starts with an obsolete tale of an obsolete business school professor from about 40 years ago telling married students to give up because they couldn’t be married and successful. Here’s what he says about that:
He told them that a family would get in the way of their success, so there wasn’t much point in them taking his course. In the end he let them stay, of course, but he wasn’t kidding. That was his way of making an important point: If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to love your business more than anything else–even your family.
And he finishes with this conclusion:
Often you will feel tremendous pressure to take time away from your business to devote to family matters. But in the end, the best thing you can do for them is to create the legacy of a business that is thriving and financially sound. When you’re retired, wealthy, and able to spend Valentine’s Day and other special occasions with your kids and grandkids at your winter home in Hilton Head, you’ll be glad you devoted so much of your time to your first love: your business.
Don’t believe him. I do hope that George is in Hilton Head with kids and grandkids. But if you or I follow his advice, we wouldn’t have anything at all to do on Valentine’s Day. Neither our kids nor our grandkids will be spending time with us. They’ll be with our ex-spouse and probably the step-parent who actually raised them. Skip the occasions, the practices, the parenting, and plan on being alone. And, unless you’re very unusual, regretting it. To paraphrase a line from Hello Dolly: “and on those cold winter nights, Horace, you can snuggle up to your cash register. It’s a little lumpy, but it rings.”
Life is way too short to lose to business. Bring business and life together, mind your balance, and be successful at both. That’s what entrepreneurship is really for.
During in the recession of 2001, I let 5 people go in a single day. Our sales were down, but we held on, for too long, hoping things would turn up in time to save the jobs. They didn’t.
Letting people go is the hardest thing a small business owner does.
But from that hard time I discovered something surprising. It was easier to let 5 people go, all on the same day, than to fire one person separately.
When it’s 5 at once, they don’t feel like they’ve failed. They don’t suffer that personal failure that comes when it’s one person at a time. They know it’s the economy.
When it’s one person, there’s no way around the sense of failure. No matter what the circumstances, or what the words, it hurts.
The hardest thing I’ve had to do was fire somebody who was honest and hard working but had to go anyhow, for good reasons. That was way harder than letting 5 people go on the same day.
We went from 36 people before the 2001 recession to 24 at the worst of it. Most of that decline was through attrition, but there was that one hard day.
I’m glad to say that Palo Alto Software seems to be weathering the current recession without laying off any employees, this time around. We’ve actually taken a couple of new people on. That’s a credit to the new management team, not to me.