After being on my own as a small business person for seven years, I recently contracted with a smart, talented young woman to assist me with day-to-day tasks, graphic projects and schedule management. The decision was not an easy one… I tend to be a private person and I need a certain amount of “mental space” in order to deliver my best work. I work from a (thankfully large) home office, which means any person sharing my work life is also sharing office space and mental space with me.
I’ve managed award-winning teams of creative, driven people during my previous work life at larger advertising agency and have also successfully led client-staff integrated project teams in the past, so I wasn’t concerned about my ability to effectively lead one contracted provider. I should have been concerned, and I am going to share some lessons learned with all of you.
Let’s set the stage
I knew Amanda Burr from both social networking and from several meetings in person at events and other functions; I knew she would be a good fit when she indicated her interest and I jumped at the opportunity to use her. Our prior relationship led to my first mistake: Not clearly communicating the boundaries.
How it happened:
Since I work from my home, I need to keep my work life and my home/family life as separate as possible in order to maintain some mental compartmentalization and balance. Typically, I am officially “at work” (all kid drop offs done, work clothes on, etc.) at 9:00 AM. Amanda typically comes into the office at 9:30, the time we’d set for her. It worked well for me because it gave me time to get tasks for her organized, etc. One morning, I saw her car outside the house at 8:30 AM as I was walking out (again) to the suburban with my oldest son and the baby for the last drop off of the day. It was a shock to me and probably to her, too, since I was wearing my indoor-outdoor fuzzy-on-the-inside slippers, among other not-ready-for-the-office garb.
She waved at me, rolled the window down and said she was just hanging out until 9:30. I was shocked… because I was completely unprepared for my work and my family worlds to collide in that manner. I had never explained to her that there were boundaries that were very important to me because I DO work from home, and therefore need to reduce intersections of those worlds when possible in order to keep my sanity and my focus.
We had a open and honest conversation later that morning and were able to clear things up, but we would have avoided the situation if I’d clearly communicated to her in the beginning that unlike an office, where it might be fine to “go in early” when you want, it wasn’t OK to come early to my home.
Another lesson learned, or more accurately, re-learned: We are always leading, every moment of every day. When I asked Amanda to think about and share with me what her takeaways (so far) were from her work with me, I was surprised at her answer. I’ve tried to expose her to many of the different types of work I do and to involve her in many day to day opportunities to build her professional skills and her resume. But, she said the biggest things she’s learned have been from watching me organize my life and work… how I keep things separate and compartmentalized so I can focus on what I do. “You keep the door closed during the day, and your family respects that, ” she said. “How you handle the logistics of being a mom to four and running your own business… that’s been inspiring to me to watch.”
First of all, I was incredibly flattered to hear her say that, because I often feel on the edge of insanity! But most importantly, it reminded me that we are always leading…. in even the smallest moments, words, decisions or actions. And, you never know what will stick with someone… make it count!