A Myth on Work Identity to Shatter

Last night I took another look at the print edition of Fast Company’s September magazine, and this quote jumped out:

“When we’re starting out in our careers, it’s easy to confuse what you do with who you are—which makes working long hours not only tempting, but identity-strengthening.”—Kate Bernhardt, in response to Margaret Heffernan’s online FC column, “The Hours”

The quote struck a chord with me because I’m presently coaching a couple of brand-new supervisors who are struggling with this. I’ve discovered that until I entered their world as a coach paid to coax better performance out of them they were largely going it alone—and have been for quite a while. They have no clear picture of the identity within the company they are supposed to be reaching for, and from day to day they work toward their next best guess.

As leaders we may do fairly well painting a picture of the company’s vision for our employees. What we need to get better at is painting a more personal picture for the managers and supervisors who work for us—how do they fit into the puzzle? In particular, new supervisors are the ones just “starting out in [their] careers” who need to have their emerging identities shaped with more foresight, learning good habits and not misdirected ones. Otherwise, the trap that Bernhardt calls our attention to is very easy for them to fall into.

As more seasoned managers we all nod our heads to the logical discussion of hours worked not necessarily equating to quality production or results, “Yeah, I know, I know, work smarter, not harder, blah blah blah ”” Yet easier said than done, knowing that regardless how you and your logical mind personally think about this, others still will judge the visual day-to-day behavior they see, something that Margaret Heffernan illustrates in the very first paragraph of The Hours.

While similar experiences happen for many of us, I don’t agree with Heffernan’s contention that,

“ ” an emphasis on hours is about dominance: Managers feel powerful when they keep you from your home, your loved ones, and your life. In the jealous battle that companies wage for your loyalty, keeping you at the office represents a victory.”

I think it’s as simple as the fact that many managers are overworked, need help and direction, and want company. And if you’re the boss, they need more than the vision painted in your company mission; they need your guidance and your example.

In line with this, Heath Row’s post this morning shares these views on what a great example may be: A Great General Manager.

Any other thoughts on this?
By the way, I do think that Heffernan makes some other good points in her column, and it’s worth the read.