Work and Family: You Can be Great at Both?

When I answered the phone he told me that his regional executive suggested he give me a call, rather than simply calling the 800 number for assistance. This executive and I had several personal conversations and his confidence that I could help one of his managers was communicated clearly to the person on the other end of the phone. But after hearing the manager’s first statement, I knew that this one would be a challenge. After our introductions, he said “I don’t think that married people are cut out to be managers for this company.”

Wow, that is surprising. I know a whole lot of managers in the field and in corporate who have very strong and healthy marriages. Why do you say that? “Well every person in management I know around here is either divorced, separated or having a lot of trouble in their marriage”

Man, that’s unfortunate. How is your marriage doing? “I think it is pretty good. We have been married a few years and have a little girl who is a lot of fun. You know I work about 80 hours a week now and its harder. We used to fight a lot about it, but we don’t anymore.”

I caught him a little off guard when I responded, ‘Really, So, when is she leaving you?’ “What do you mean, when is she leaving me?”

Well, in my experience a woman will fight for her marriage for a long time. When she was fighting with you about all this she was raising up what I call the yellow flags, telling you that there is a problem. You tell me that you are no longer fighting, but nothing else has changed. That tells me that she has finally raised the white flag of surrender. Two things might occur when that happens. You can continue on in a life of mediocrity, which many do. Or, the unhappiness can be so overwhelming that she could soon raise the red and final flags of “I’m outta here”. That’s when she informs you that she can no longer live like this and now wants a divorce. You would be surprised by how many men come into my office and tell me that their wife has asked them for a divorce and they sit there all broken up and dumbfounded, telling me that they had no clue that there was anything wrong. It is as if they think that as long as she was smiling, cooking the meals, cleaning the house and having sex with them, that all was well on the marriage front.

That is when he interrupted me abruptly and said, “O my God, my brother-in-law is sleeping in my house on my sofa right now since his wife kicked him out, and all he can say is that he didn’t know anything was wrong. It was as if she had never indicated there were problems, but my wife and I knew there had been problems for years.”

Man, that’s unfortunate. Maybe your marriage won’t turn out that way. You know, some women are troopers and will put up with a lot for the sake of ‘family’ or at least the image or fantasy of ‘family’. “ I am not sure I want to take my chances with that, but I am also not sure I know how to change things. I mean, this is my first manager’s job and I have a whole crop of new assistant managers who are pretty green. I mean, I simply have to work these hours to stay on top of it all.”

That may or may not be true. I would think that the people who promoted these people to assistant managers believed they were ready for the responsibilities of the job, especially if they were under the supervision of the right coach. And I hear from your regional executive that he is certainly concerned about you and your family. Maybe they are actually more ready than you have given them credit for. It may be worth further exploration.

We then discussed the skills of delegation, development and accountability, and the role of him as a coach in that process. I encouraged him to look into this and let me know what happens.

About three weeks later I received another call from this manager. “Tony, I am now working 55 hours a week. I am spending time with my wife and daughter, and things are going really well at work and at home.”

What happened? “Well after our call I got my thoughts together and gathered my assistant managers and told them that I had been putting in 80 hours a week and had been sacrificing my life and family for the company, and that I couldn’t do it any longer. I told them they would have to step up. And you want to know what they said? They said that they were wandering how long it was going to take for me to let go and let them do the jobs they were hired to do. I mean, I had actually been micromanaging them and making them feel completely incompetent all because of my own insecurities.”

How are they doing? “You know, they aren’t perfect, but they are doing a decent job. I am working on being an involved coach and helping them get better, and it really is a much better way to live.”

How about your brother-in-law, how is he? “Man, I gave him ‘what for’ and told him he needed to get his act together and step up to his responsibilities and make things right with his wife. That got him up off the sofa and out of the house. We will just have to see if they can make it work.”

How about your wife, how is she? “She’s pretty happy that I am doing this and making these changes. She’s a little skeptical about whether it will stick, but I told her, and really meant it when I said how much I love her and our daughter and want to really make sure we are happy for the long haul. Man, I couldn’t imagine life without either of them”

He went on to say, “She understands that there will always be ebb and flow with the schedule and time requirements of this business, but she truly heard me renew my commitment to our family and believes that together we will ensure that work never keeps us from what is most important to us, even if that eventually means finding another line of work. And that is about the very best I could ever ask for, don’t you think?”

I think that’s pretty good, I responded.

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