December 21, 2010
TopicsActions, Balance, Communication, Focus, Leadership, lessons learned, self leadership, small business
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!
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Mandy, first of all…you know how big a fan I am of yours! Second…it is hard for us entrepreneurs to admit the areas we see we need to grow. Also as entrepreneurs running our own show, we sometimes have a hard time with “confrontation” because we are scared of potential, un-pleasant outcomes. Given those statements, you articulate something that we as self-employed entrepreneurs struggle with daily: setting boundaries for our personal and professional life, and releasing some of our prized possessions…our business. This has really made me think more as I begin to explore this same path of bringing in some outside help. I would like to hear how you have managed allowing a contractor work in your home office. Allowing this person to come into a private space to work. Keep up the good writing and critical thinking! LOVE IT! ~BR
You nailed it, Bobby… handing over control, even in small doses, is so hard for entrepreneurs! It’s something I continue to struggle with, but I am working on it! And of course, I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned or just listen to what you see as the potential challenges of expanding. We are past due for a phone convo, anyway!
Great reminder that everyone, and I mean everyone, receives our messages just a bit differently than we send them. That’s why it’s important to seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Thanks for the great post.
Thanks, Mike 🙂
Yes, I think it’s harder sometimes for us to remember that maxim… and that by seeking first to understand, we’ll more easily be understood when we do speak or share.
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Mandy – this inspired me to get back to my office rather than working in the living room, the TV room, the dining room – wherever it feels like I need to be so I can multitask where necessary. And, to remember how important the boundaries are – and how they inspire others. Sometimes the things we don’t really think about are the most impactful because they come from who we are.
Thank you so much!
Georgia, thank you for sharing your thoughts after reading this. Because I am somewhat of a private person, sharing this post was a decision I wrestled with a bit. So glad to know that it inspired you! Best wishes 🙂