Leaders Covid Boundaries

Today I begin a writing partnership with Greg McBeth. Greg’s an engineer, co-founder with his wife Falon, consultant to entrepreneurs, and great writer. He’s also a gambler.  While I limit Read2Lead to a page’s length, Greg lets himself go into greater depth. We chose a topic, gave ourselves a little guidance, but then went off and did our own thing. I love what he wrote and think you will as well.   

In 1987 I lost my sweet 12th floor office in the City-County Building in downtown Detroit. They put me in a cubicle as we all moved into the restored County Building; with its 25 foot ceilings and cavernous rooms, private offices were impossible. What a blow to my 30-year old’s ego recently inflated to Good Year blimp dimensions by the acquisition of a degree from Harvard. The cube ended up more than okay. Tom McCarthy and later Hansen Clarke, my next-cube neighbors, could have been characters on The Office. But, geez, a little privacy, please! I also got my first cell phone (known then as a car phone) on that job. And got my first home modem on the next job. The boundaries demarcating space and time were disintegrating.  Work and home, end of the day, middle of the day, were all blurring.

Who could have prepared us for this, though? Our home has become a We Work office building, although in our case the kitchen is a permanent office and two “offices” double as bedrooms at night. We’ve got a therapist, two teachers, a full-time student and part-time student/office manager (for an empty office in SF), a former governor and me.  We’re lucky: our dog seldom barks, and no toddlers romp through our Zoom calls. I love seeing and hearing the wee ones on the other end of my Zoom coaching calls, but I know that for their parents the novelty wore off about 4 weeks ago.  I pine for the day of boundaries, walls, separation.

Time blurs, too.  Work gets monotonous. My Smart(ass)Watch tells me “Stand up. You haven’t moved in an hour.” I work hard, but things melt together; one task, another, get a cup of tea, start over. No commute to change scenery, listen to podcasts or tunes, and to transition from one world to the next! Groundhog day. Nerves fray. Patience wanes. It’s easy to get on each other’s nerves.

If this sounds a little – or, likely a whole lot – like your world, I’d suggest a few things that might help:

  1. Organize. “Good walls make good neighbors.” My son has a whiteboard on the fridge with who cooks and who cleans every night. He also posts there his therapy appointments to let us know when the TV room is off limits.  He made a sign for the door that flips. One side says “do not disturb therapy in progress.” The other says “Come in for your daily dose of Vitamin T”(T is for television).
  2. Ask. Don’t tell. For example, you overheard your spouse or adult child on a call, and you have great advice for them. Don’t give it! Or, at least ask if they’re interested. (I’ve learned that my wife doesn’t need my help very much.)
  3. Make observations, not judgments.  Here’s the difference. Observation: “I’ve noticed that the printer toner is running low.” Judgment: “Why am I the only one who has to take care of the office equipment.”  Or observation: “I’ve noticed you eat lunch kind of early.” Rather than: (sarcastic judgment): “It would be nice if you’d have lunch with me once in a while.
  4. Be generous; it goes a long way.  I did a 3-minute video a few years ago on the absurdity of thinking you can succeed in a relationship with a 50:50 attitude. And when we did our initial Leadingx2 waves of research to discover the drivers of great pairs at work, we found that “work ethic” was hugely important.  It’s hard to feel good about partners when they don’t pull their weight.  When my little home/family office members think “the old man is showing his white male privilege again” the morale goes down all around.  Conversely, when my wife constantly models the way (nightly scrubbing the stove top), we’re all humbled and inspired. So punch above your weight…to lift the weight off other’s shoulders.
  5. Get intentional and talk.  In geopolitics, boundaries mostly diminish conflicts. But most of our home boundaries got erased two months ago, and they’re not coming back real soon.  So, it’s worth taking a step back and asking your new co-workers, formerly known as family: “How’s it going?” “How can we do better?” “How can I help?” as we strive in strange times to

Lead with our best self!