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A new study suggests that working mothers who have a supermom, “do it all” attitude are at a greater risk for depression than women who expect it will be difficult to raise a family while working outside the home. The research also found further support for working moms – despite work-family conflict, working mothers have better mental health than stay-at-home moms. One could surmise then that working moms who accept the reality that they cannot be perfect in all areas of their lives are less prone to depression.

The study was led by Katrina Leupp, a University of Washington sociology graduate student. Leupp used data from the Department of Labor’s National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and analyzed responses to questions about work-life balance and gender roles from women who were between the ages 14 and 22 in 1987. This data was then compared to depression measures collected from the women at age 40 (from 1998-2006).

I find this supermom-depression link interesting for a few reasons. The research looks at expectations – expecting more than what you can handle, or taking on too much isn’t good for your mental health.  If we posed the same set of questions to today’s generation of young moms, would the results be the same? The role of working mothers was different 30 years ago, even 10 years ago than it is today. We also have more (although not enough) flexibility in the workplace and Dads who spend more time with their children than they did 30 years ago. I would think after seeing our own mothers navigate the workplace, our views have changed as we have gained a better understanding of what is realistic and what is not. It would also be interesting to see what expectations today’s generation of Dads have as well.

It is through experience that people realize what works for them and what is really necessary. This holds true for figuring out how to be a parent, as well as how to juggle work and family, or work and a personal life. Parenting is a good lesson in time management and prioritization. Which is why I identified with this quote from Ellen Galinksy, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, taken from the article Supermoms At Higher Risk For Depression: Study:

[Work-life] "Balance" is a guilt word; it implies you have to have everything on an even keel and that if you give to one side, you take from the other. [Work life] "Fit" on the other hand implies that what works best for me might not be your best solution.

With support, I do think it is possible for moms to accomplish all their personal and professional goals. Work life fit is about having the flexibility to do what works best for you, which may not be what works for your co-worker. Although Leupp’s research did look only at mothers, the idea of work life fit applies to all employees. Deciding what works best for you to be able to successfully meet your work obligations and have a healthy family helps define your own meaning of “supermom.”

Instead of accepting that we must “let things slide” to create this elusive “balance,” why not figure out how we can help support moms, and all working parents, as well as employees who want a life outside the office. A supportive partner or support system at home is a great start. As leaders and managers, we can also provide our employees with greater flexibility in the workplace. This can empower supermoms to be everything they want to be, without risking their health.

Here are some video resources that will inspire ideas for how to establish more flexible practices in the workplace from some of our winning organizations:

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/the_queenofcurves / CC BY-SA 2.0

For my book, “The Intangibles of Leadership,” I set out to uncover patterns in the attributes that truly distinguish those who succeed at the top levels. I found that extraordinary leaders possess certain characteristics that fall between the lines of existing leadership models, yet are fundamental to executive success. Development of these “intangibles” can mean the difference between being a good senior executive and a great leader.

Knowledge gleaned from previous experiences does not become wisdom until it is consciously applied to new circumstances. Great leaders don’t just think about what happened, they think about why it happened.

TIP: Build wisdom by designating time for self-reflection. Reserve an hour each week to think about the “Big Stuff.” What decisions did you make? What have you learned in the last 7 days?

Social judgment is the ability to analyze people and situations, then making good decisions based on that information. Leaders who possess this intangible have a deeper appreciation of what is motivating the person across the table.

TIP: Step back and observe meeting dynamics. The pace and flow of the discussion provides important clues as to: what the group cares about, topics that are uncomfortable, and which issues will require the most guidance.

No leader can maintain steady performance at the top levels of business without his or her decisions being anchored by a consistent set of values. This stability and steadfastness affects every relationship.

TIP: It may seem basic, but stick to “doing the right thing.” Be nice to people, let others win occasionally. Be thankful, polite, and respectful. People will notice these positive characteristics and define you as having integrity.

People with presence are not easily forgotten. It isn’t simply because they have power; it’s because they know how to use it. Understanding the impact of your presence is crucial to running a successful team.

TIP: When you step into a room, look people in the eye and offer a firm handshake. Let the conversation unfold and then create a strong impression by pulling together the main discussion points.

Self-insight is the primary tool for growth and development. If you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, you can become the most effective type of leader: strong and focused, yet adaptable.

TIP: Do you have trusted advisors you can talk with? If necessary, look outside the organization. Include people you can trust to give honest feedback, no matter how difficult it may be to hear.

Awareness of your emotional patterns and triggers, and the ability to manage those feelings, are paramount to fully formed leadership. Many business leaders have similar skills, but only a remarkable few master their emotions.

TIP: Executive maturity depends on your ability to recognize not only your own signals about how you are really feeling, but also those emitted by others. See if you can spot subtle hints in your team.

People aren’t looking for their leaders to be ineffectual, but they do want to see a willingness to take risks and fail. Leaders who admit when they are wrong are perceived more favorably.

TIP: A very important part of being fallible is being, simply enough, real. Let people in. Show them a bit of the real you. It will make an enormous difference in the way they trust and invest in you.

Some leaders exercise their influence so delicately that those around them happily follow without questioning why. Others are more insistent, forcefully staking out their territory at the front of the pack. Both methods require will.

TIP: Will requires “stick-to-itiveness.” You can’t quit. When obstacles keep getting in your way and it seems that you’ll never meet your objectives, remember this: You are probably just a hair’s breadth away.

In a study of world-class performers, few had been considered prodigies. The most accomplished subjects had worked hard for years to succeed. The conclusions are powerful: Drive, energy, and persistence propel people to the top.

TIP: Do you shy away from “big” issues? Don’t! Take them on. See what you’re made of. The more you force yourself to invite such challenges, the more confidence you’ll develop in your own ability.

Leaders need an underlying belief in their ability to attain a set of objectives. Those lacking this tend to make safe decisions, adopting a CYA approach. Extraordinary leaders know their boundaries of competence and masterfully exploit them.

TIP: Seek the help of a mentor or role model. Spend time with someone you look up to build confidence through osmosis. Extraordinary leadership is contagious and you need to get the bug.

Careful attention to these “Intangibles of Leadership” can bring tangible results to your leadership style and your organization’s bottom line.

Dr. Richard Davis is a management psychologist and partner at RHR International. He is author of “The Intangibles of Leadership: The 10 Qualities of Superior Executive Performance” (Jossey-Bass, 2010): http://www.intangiblesofleadership.com.


I was perusing the web the other day, and I came across a blog on the website Dynamic Business. This particular blog argued that work-life balance should be re-defined as “flexible working,” the idea that workers should have greater control over how, when and where they interface with work. The author argues that technology makes it possible to create this flexibility but also cautions that “it means recognising that we’re unable to give 100 percent all of the time and establishing a personal routine that helps us balance long-term the work and personal demands we face.”

It’s about time we start talking like that! Why is it that new doctors are creating a better work-life interface than call center employees? Why haven’t we figured out how to create work cultures and structures that support flexible working across a broad spectrum of jobs?

Too many people automatically argue that flexibility can’t be a reality in a particular job. The most common arguments I hear are:

  • The job requires that employees be in the office, so there is no possible way to provide them flexibility.
  • Employees will abuse flexible working, especially if we give them the opportunity to work from home.
  • We can’t implement workplace flexibility because it will create unfairness.

Each of these arguments falls apart when you start considering the various types of workplace flexibility. And some consultants regularly work with organizations to dismantle those arguments.

The reality is that flexible working is possible, but you have to be willing to do three things:

  1. Think outside the box. Don’t confine yourself to assuming there is one right way to create flexibility across an entire organization. Flexible working doesn’t just have to involve scheduling or telecommuting.
  2. Find out what sorts of demands employees face from work and non-work life that decrease their ability to optimize their performance in either domain. If you don’t know what kinds of issues help to erode their work-life interface, you cannot possibly hope to make improvements there.
  3. Be willing to truly support a more flexible workplace culture. If you don’t truly support it, employees will not benefit from it. That means that if you are concerned about “abuse of flexibility,” then you need to take steps to ensure that cannot happen (e.g., introduce outcome-oriented performance, offer flexibility with greater autonomy as recognition for past performance). You might even try rolling out pilot programs (which I generally recommend anyway) to ensure that flexible working is producing no ill effects on performance.

Of course, there are going to be barriers and challenges in creating a more flexible workplace culture. It can be difficult any time there is change, but if you implement a sound, data-driven, systematic process, you may find yourself with a more flexible workplace culture and improved employee performance.

Photo Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/rohit_saxena / CC BY-NC 2.0


A few weeks ago, I was invited to go down to Houston to work with a group from NASA as they were anticipating changes due to the Space Shuttle Program ending, the biggest change for NASA since the ending of Apollo 40 years earlier.

My job was to talk to them about the psychological tools they could employ to assist them to respond to those being laid off, to those who would be surviving the cuts, and to identify how to move forward during the uncertainty of what happens next for this vital agency.

As part of the arrangements for bringing me down, I received a personal tour of the Johnson Space Center. I was a young boy when the Russians put the first man into space (yes, I am that old). During the tour, I saw one of the Atlas rockets that propelled the Apollo astronauts to the moon and I sat at the controls of one of the space shuttle simulators.

But the part of the tour that I found most interesting was a little piece of organization employed since the early Mercury and Apollo missions.

In mission control, there are two separate rooms set up for each mission. One room is the room that I saw frequently when I watched Apollo missions as a boy. That room is filled with screens that report data from the space vehicle, with a mission director who monitors the information and keeps the mission on track.

There is a second room, located on the floor directly below mission control for a group of engineers. In this room, when there are difficult problems that must be solved, the engineers work to solve problems that might endanger the mission. In the movie, Apollo 13, they showed a scene where the engineers dumped a box full of random parts on a desk and said these were the things the astronauts had in the capsule to fix the problems they were encountering. That scene was a replication of something that actually happened in this second room. It is located directly below the mission control room because it was designed before the advent of sophisticated computer networks. There were a series of vacuum tubes where data from mission control could be put in the tube and sent down and the solution could be sent up in the original rooms. Now, of course, they exchange messages through the network.

The reason I found this so interesting is that I was going to talk to them about this psychological process during my presentation. The process for solving problems, in the human brain, is sophisticated but it is all consuming. When a person is dealing with a (real or perceived) threat, he or she will be fully immersed in reacting to the threat. It is very difficult to attend to anything broader, which is not related to the threat when this mindset is established. The functions of the brain when we are attempting to survive are separate from the way the brain operates when we are thriving. By separating the functions in the planning of a mission, the scientists at NASA freed the team in mission control to be able to continue to think about the broader mission (thriving) while a second team was tasked with resolving the problem (surviving).

This is a process that many companies could explicitly replicate with positive effects. Business is frequently stressful. When something goes wrong, it is important to understand that the resolution of a problem will occupy a significant amount of mental energy and focus. It should do that. But the problem is that the broader picture will get lost while the focus is on the resolution of the problem. By separating the two processes, you can keep your mission on track even during difficult times. If your business is in a survival mindset, it is only seeing part of the whole picture. You also need to have some individuals in your business dedicated to thinking about how to make your company thrive.

Photo Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/sideshowblues / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



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