I am my father's daughter in many ways. From him I inherited love of power and a need to control, intensity in pursuing my goals, a strong sense of organization, and an identity based on a need to succeed at work. In the future, I hope to be able to use my legacy in a positive way, while avoiding some of the mistakes my father made.
I have a photograph of myself in high school. I'm seated behind my father's imposing wooden desk, sitting in his huge leather chair. And I'm smiling. I used to tell my father that my ultimate goal was to be in that chair for real. I wanted to sit behind a big desk and have people deferentially pop their heads in and ask for a minute of my time. And I wanted them to be nervous.
I've learned some things about power since that time. Although I still want to be in a powerful position, I think about it in a different way. I want to use power as a means of transferring my knowledge to others and guiding a group of people to success. Obviously, I'm not ready for that yet. I learned from my father that power is something you need to grow into, and that needs to be given to you willingly rather than demanded.
More importantly, I've learned that power must be moderated. A manager's job is not only to get the job done well, but also to develop his or her subordinates. Any manager who insists on controlling every situation will most likely stifle her subordinates' development.
I have the same stubborn intensity my father possessed. At work I often set goals and deadlines for competing projects. Once I had committed to finishing a project by a certain date, I did everything to get it done on time. Even when no one else seemed to care if it got done, I would stay up all night finishing it. Often my pursuit of goals and my commitment were not useful to myself or my company, and may even have distracted me from starting new, more important projects.
I believe now that goals should be flexible. What seems like a valuable goal when a project begins doesn't always make sense a few months later. I can't say I'm ready to change my ways yet, but I've realized that stubborn persistence toward the wrong goal can be more of a liability than of strength.
I also learned my father's time management and organizational skills. I manage work overload on the job and at school by staying one step ahead of the game. 1 write prioritized to-do lists; I finish papers or projects a day early; and I schedule my days tightly so there's no room for decisions because I always know what I need to do next. I keep panic at bay by convincing myself that I control my work, rather than it controlling me.
Nonetheless, like my father, when my system falls apart, I get very anxious. I can't tolerate uncertainty or unexpected schedule changes and I'm resentful of people who interfere with my sense of order. I'm inflexible because I'm overscheduled.
Life in an organization is often uncertain. Managing time well is important of course, but so is flexibility and adapting to change. Managers are interdependent, and the people I will have to depend on won't be as organized as I am. I've already realized this on group projects. My group members often procrastinate. As a result, I drive them crazy with my incessant hounding, and they drive me crazy with their inability to buckle down and get the job done before the last minute.
What's the solution? I'm not sure. I wouldn't trade my ability to manage time for anything. But I do think I need to develop more flexibility and let others get the job done in their own way, without becoming resentful.
I've been working since I formed my own bakery at the age of twelve. I babysat, ran a day care center, worked in department stores, waitressed and worked as a writer. I worked throughout college even though my parents would have provided me with money. I never took the trip to Europe I had planned when I graduated because I wanted to work. Why? Because I need to earn money. I feel lost without a job; without a paycheck; without a title.
What's the result of all this diligent working? When I'm old, will I look back and fondly remember the days of delivering pizza to hungry teenagers? If I look at my father's example, probably not. If I listen to anyone who's finished their career, probably not. But will that stop me from working? Probably not.
However, there are still important lessons to be learned from my father's experiences and the reflections of senior executives. I can try to look forward and imagine how I will feel about my life in thirty years. Will I be proud of the things I've done, or regretful about the things I've sacrificed?
The two most important lessons I've learned from my father is the need to find your own way in your career and strike a balance between work and outside life. Finding your own way can be difficult, especially at lower levels. I've often found it hard to resist the temptation to conform to my employers' expectations. I watched my father resist the culture of Universe Electronics. He didn't change the organization, but he didn't change himself either. And from that I learned that it is possible to survive in an environment very different from yourself and still maintain your identity. But I also learned that you probably won't be very happy so you should strive to find a compatible firm.
In addition, I've learned the importance of balance. Work and career success are important. To succeed and be happy, managers need to set career goals and commit to reaching them. But work is not enough. You can't define yourself solely in terms of success at work, or every setback will be devastating.
My hope is that I will remember some of the messages I took from my father's life as I travel along my way. And while I might not always do the right thing, I hope that I will always feel that I've made the best decision I could. Someday, when I'm older and I'm looking back on my career, I hope that I can say that I've been true to myself and that I've focused my energy on the things that are really important.
Advice on Middle Age in Management
- Recognize that technical and interpersonal skills are necessary for management success but insufficient to suit you for senior management. Expose yourself to broadening experiences that will help you develop a conceptual and integrating perspective.
- Don't put all your eggs in your career basket. In addition to family concerns, cultivate outside service and advocation activities as you approach mid-life.
- Examine what is the most viable path for you to maintain personal generativity. Can you infuse your existing duties with sufficient novelty? Can you find serious off-job pursuits that will provide new reinvigorating challenges? Can you find new enjoyment from mentoring your juniors to perform better, perhaps even surpassing you?
- Most ambitiously, perhaps, is there a dramatically new career which you could prepare for and eventually move into?
- If and when you experience mid-life uneasiness with your career, share these feelings with your spouse and children. They initially may not like or understand what you are saying but necessary later changes, if any, will be much easier if they don't come as a surprise.
- Learn from the tragedies of others that leaving your family and living a middle-aged bachelor's life is seldom a viable answer to the pain of losing career momentum and being plateaued on the job.
- Learn from your major experiences by writing private after-action memos to yourself. Periodically review them to detect unhelpful behavior patterns that you might try to modify.
- Conscientiously work on confronting novelty by building change into your job and personal life. Periodically experiment with changing one major activity in your job-eliminate it, ignore it, delegate it, or change it.
- Similarly, periodically define personal growth and maintenance objectives that will force you to confront a new task in a way that will exercise your ability to perceive deeply and to master yourself.