drop the ball | Book Review

"Martin, I've been bringing my clothes to you for nearly two years now.
How come you never told me you guys deliver?"

"You never asked?" (p. 102)

Tiffany Dufu, rather personally, shares with us the ultimate manager/leader struggle in the form of a personal memoir. If you've ever had trouble delegating anything, especially at home, you'll relate to her story.

Dufu recalls: "I had grown up being told I could do anything I put my mind to, and as I got dressed that first morning back, I couldn't imagine I'd have to compromise on anything: career, marriage, raising a family, keeping our home life running smoothly while advancing the cause of women and girls (p. 2)." How many of us have entered the workplace, accepted a promotion or volunteered to do more with that mindset? There's a good chance, as Dufu found out, our idealism may be shattered on day one.

One of the Dufu's observations is that the professional world assumes that every full-time employee has someone else managing his or her home (pp. 4-5). In her case, where this was not happening, she (and in particular many women)

... end up more exhausted, stressed out, depleted,
and sick than any previous generation of women
(p. 6).

This review highlights key inflection points along Dufu's journey from manager to leader, including several takeaways which comprise her developing leadership philosophy.

Part I | Omnimanager | Omniwoman

Dufu's begins by setting up the environmental circumstances forging her fierce self-reliance: My parents broke a vicious cycle of poverty, substance abuse, and violence in one generation, and in the process, they taught me a fundamental truth: if you want something you've never had before, you'll have to do something you've never done before in order to get it (p. 17). She also relates how fragile this can be, as her parents divorced, and shares her mother's struggles afterward.

Dufu struggled to maintain control of her household -- fueled in part by a reluctance to abdicate responsibility to the one place female authority is unquestioned (p. 59) -- while succeeding as a professional. Recall in our Setting Leadership Priorities workshop self-evaluation, many of our scores plummeted because we likewise overburden ourselves rather than delegate or develop others.

Judith Shulevitz (p. 15) reinforces this in her 2015 New York Times op-ed, "Mom: The Designated Worrier:"

"I don't mean to say that she'll be the one to do everything --
just that she'll make sure that most everything gets done."

Serious self-reflection was in order: "Professionally and publicly, I was an advocate for women's empowerment, but privately I was on Stepford wife (p. 36) autopilot." In our Setting Leadership Priorities workshops, we define effective as doing the right thing and in order of priority. Dufu essentially admits she had not learned to delegate or prioritize. Her problem was that she had fallen into a trap of imaginary delegation (p. 45). It's a great term. Think about what we signal to others when we are perfectionists -- that there is only one correct way to do anything -- who in their right mind will volunteer to help us out?

Dufu candidly defines her perfectionism as Home Control Disease (HCD), and it appears her case was not mild. She shares...

... many women still focus obsessively on everything about it [the home] --
how it's organized, how it's managed, and how the cooking,
cleaning and caretaking get done, right down to the smallest detail
(p. 53).

Part II | High Payoff Activities (HPAs) | Priorities

For Dufu, candid feedback from her Sage Mentor Margaret Crenshaw was invaluable: "You've got to slow down and prioritize (p. 82). You can't do everything. What do you really want?" This reinforces how essential feedback is and why requesting feedback informs a well-written Leadership Philosophy.

Similar to Dan Pink's correlation between motivation and purpose, Dufu cites Joanna Barsh's (In How Remarkable Women Lead) writing about the critical role that meaning plays in the success of women (p. 83). She and her husband Kojo adopted a different mindset:

... instead of waiting for life to happen to us or for someone to tell us what to do, our marriage would be its own blueprint (p. 90).

In short, Dufu adopted an active rather than passive mindset. Instead of focusing on being perfectly busy, she now understood what you do is less important than the difference you make (p. 94). She then examined eight items on my [her] original to-do list, and found that only one of them was critical for me [her] to complete myself [herself] in order to accomplish what mattered most to me [her] (p. 96). Bravo!

The D Word | Live Your HPAs

Dufu tried a delegation experiment - she ignored the mail, allowing it to pile up until husband Kojo took notice. Eventually, and for the first time, he really saw the mail, and felt the desire for it to disappear (p. 116). The takeaway: "Kojo had a threshold for disarray at home -- (p. 117) his tolerance was just way higher than mine."

This led to a series of task requests and commitments (think Christine Comaford's Smart Tribes) leading to a (p. 126) Management Excel List (MEL). The MEL didn't just divide tasks between the couple since they both prioritized making a difference in life. "The most interesting part of our MEL exercise (p. 127) was deciding which X's should go in the No one column." It's a fantastic example of genuinely deciding how to live according to one's HPA's.

Who then to delegate to? Dufu tapped into a blend of personal and professional networks, in a way describing a family contract (pp. 142-149), or in her case a village including five groups of people:

• Family members
• Neighbors
• Nonpaid Working Moms
• Babysitters
• Specialists

On The Other Side | Leadership

Now managing her HCD, Dufu accepts that in every home, there are leaky faucets: "It's time to take a page from Princess Elsa of Frozen (p. 154) and simply let it go." This new understanding allowed formation of a leadership mindset, and likewise revealed examples of self-limiting behaviors:

• Women become less eager to speak their minds, and their
companies are denied their potentially valuable contributions (p. 171).
• Women are concerned that being highly talkative will result in negative consequences (p. 171).
• "Done is better than perfect" (p. 166).
• Gratitude is a particularly powerful form of affirmation because it enables value -- and everyone wants to be valued (p. 175).

Dufu's leadership mindset also applied to home life: The more capable I assumed he [Kojo] was at home, the more energy I was able to direct outside the home, and the less time I wasted worrying about how well the kids were being taken care of when I wasn't there (p. 181). This refreshing perspective contrasts many messages we receive daily as described in Throwaway Dads: The Myths and Barriers That Keep Men from Being the Fathers They Want to Be. The authors (p. 184) Ross Parke and Armin Brott discuss framing or male stereotypes in the media, and the three messages we need to retire (pp. 189-192):

• "He can't manage the details"
• "He isn't here."
• "He doesn't know what best for our children"

Now in an authentic leader role, Dufu becomes more aware of her energy, rather than managing to-do list. She describes three happiness hurdles (pp. 192-202):

• Break free of guilt
• Respect our boundaries
• Develop Happiness Habits

and four Go-Tos most effective when integrated into our daily routines (p. 225):

• Going to exercise (building your stamina)
• Going to lunch (building your network)
• Going to events (building your visibility)
• Going to sleep (building your renewal)

Notice how Dufu has now integrated leadership, happiness and energy. That's authentic. Instead of striving to meet unrealistic (see Daring Greatly) expectations and hustle for "likes," we can refocus energy on what matters most to us -- as any insecurities we might experience are being spurred by an incomplete picture to begin with (p. 242)."

The final summary:

Loving ourselves as imperfect is
the prerequisite to Dropping the Ball (p. 245).

Note: Tiffany Dufu generously provided a copy of her book for review.

JE | July 2017