Monday, October 19, 2009

Are you being fair?

Years ago, when I was still working full-time, an employee gave me feedback on my performance as a manager. The one thing that stuck with me is that she appreciated the fact that I was a fair supervisor - I didn't favor employees, I treated all employees with respect, regardless of their position, and I was consistent in the way I managed. I can't tell you how happy that made me! It's one thing to be told that you're a nice manager or an easy manager...but if you've every managed people before, you know that some things you have to do aren't so nice and aren’t so easy...so being called fair was a compliment in my book!

Shortly after that review, I started thinking about whether or not I really was being fair - not only to myself, but to my co-workers as well - given the fact that I was so sick with lupus. Was it really fair to be fatigued and foggy-headed while trying to run a department? Was it fair that I struggled to attend meetings and/or client sessions because it was so hard to walk from one end of my building to another? Was it fair that, because I was working too hard, too long, and had too much stress, I had frequent doctors' appointments, hospital visits, and sick days, keeping me out of the office? Of course not!

In fact, it was very unfair for me to continue, day after day, to put myself in a situation that was taking a toll on my health, in addition to causing my co-workers added work, frustration, and concern. Once I went part-time, and my body started responding favorably to the fewer hours and lower stress levels, my health improved, and I don't think anyone was happier than my old co-workers!

That said, it’s hard to step back from a situation and evaluate your effectiveness at home and at work. Here's an excerpt from my book, touching on this very subject:

***
Reevaluating your productivity:

Begin by thinking about how you define “You.” How do you view yourself with and without lupus? What personality traits are most apparent? Have those changed since your diagnosis? When I asked myself these questions, I saw myself as follows: outgoing, a perfectionist, a good manager and well-organized. So were these attributes still applicable in my current state of illness? First, I had to admit that I wasn’t quite as gregarious as I used to be. Yes, I was amicable, but I just didn’t have the energy to be extroverted anymore. I thought of the last few dinner parties I’d attended. At each one, I sat quietly in a corner without really participating, desperately trying to make it through the evening without succumbing to fatigue, pain, or both.

Second, my desire for perfection was still present, but my standards weren’t what they once were. They couldn’t be, as my body was no longer capable of enduring the pressure.

And with my most recent health problems and reduced work schedule, was I flourishing in my career? I was still working, but my performance wasn’t stellar or consistent. Was I living up to the expectations I had (or my company had) of a hands-on, successful manager or employee?

I needed to acknowledge that a) I wasn’t operating at full capacity at home or at work, b) I was more effective when I was healthy, and c) I wasn’t performing any task better or faster than someone else could. Acknowledging the truth in each of these statements was difficult, but I grappled with the third one the most. Wasn’t I the only one who could do my job as I did? Wouldn’t the household fall apart if I stopped taking charge? As much as I wanted to believe the answers to these questions were true, I couldn’t deny the reality of the situation. Although I was making significant contributions, I wasn’t indispensable.

A friend of mine in the leadership training arena opens each of his training sessions
with the following statement:

"Please turn off all cell phones and pagers. If you happen to subscribe to the myth of indispensability, then at least switch your phone to the vibrate position."


While this statement made me chuckle the first time I heard it, it reminded me that if I took a break from my busy lifestyle, life would still go on. In fact, I could make more of an impact if I took time off to get healthy. I could reduce the tasks I was struggling to accomplish and instead focus on just a few that I knew I could do well, despite my disease. I had never been content at being second best, so wouldn’t life be more enjoyable if I was actually succeeding at it?

***Quote courtesy of Mac Bogert, from his training materials for "Leadership Skills for Non-Supervisors."

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