Professional Development

  • Why You Don’t Need That Vacation

    By Susan Battley


                                                   “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”   – Marcel Proust


    With more than half of the year over and the summer zipping by, let’s take a fresh look at why you don’t need to take a break from work:

    • You think you’re indispensable. No one can fill your shoes, or hold down the fort in your absence. Even with all the available technologies that can keep you in touch with the office – and them with you – your physical presence is essential to keep disaster and mayhem from occurring.
    • Fresh ideas and perspective are immaterial to your ongoing success. Who needs a refresher period to spark creativity when you can bask in the comfort of same-old, stale thinking?
    • Others might slack off in your absence. You wouldn’t want to be a role model for anything other than a strong work ethic.
    • You have no personal life. Workaholism is a strategy for filling a void or avoiding challenges or dysfunctions in the rest of your life.

    I could go on, but I think you get my tongue-in-cheek point.

    Just as athletes need to alternate performance with rest periods for optimum results, smart professionals realize that vacations are critical to maintaining their competitive and creative edge at work.

    The alternative is a loser’s game, maybe not in the short-term, but definitely in the long run: burnout, subpar decision quality, and decreased innovation and motivation. Don’t delude yourself into thinking otherwise.

    “Yes, but…”

    A refrain I hear all too often from executives is: “Yes, I really want some down time, but there is simply no end to the incoming demands and issues I have to tackle.”

    If this is your day-to-day reality, consider it a red flag that you are spread too thin and your situation is unsustainable. 

    Corrective action is needed.  Often this involves structural changes in roles and responsibilities, delegating to others, or adding personnel.

    If you have a history of not taking vacations, canceling planned vacations or scaling back vacation time after the fact, consider these as warning signs that something is amiss with your attitude and/or actual work responsibilities or performance.  A compulsive workaholic organizational culture can also be at fault.

    If you are a leader or senior decision maker, it’s important that you set the tone for vacation time by your own example.  Individual, team and organizational productivity will benefit over the long-term and promote sustainable success.

    [See also, Vacation Approved: Five Vacation Action Tips ]

    Copyright © Susan Battley.  All rights reserved.

  • Would You Hire Yourself? Take a Clean Slate Approach

    Biz man crop_OK

    “This is interesting,” said the CEO, studying the whiteboard we’d filled with a detailed position profile. Hank, I, and several board directors were updating his company’s succession plans in light of his expected retirement in two years. Updating his own position profile – role, responsibilities, and success criteria – was key to identifying possible internal candidates for his job.

    “Our business has changed drastically in the past eighteen months,” Hank noted. “We have more overseas suppliers, more regulation to contend with here and abroad, and more strategic alliances to manage.” He shook his head in mild disbelief. “If I were looking for someone to fill my shoes now, I probably wouldn’t hire myself.”

  • When Are You At Your Best?

    By Susan Battley

    Here’s a million-dollar question to add to your repertoire:

    When are you at your best?

    Now I’m not referring to the time of day, but rather to situations, tasks and activities that align your professional talents with your career passions.

    Guess what? Very few people tell me, “I’m at my best at meetings.” And except for early-stage job hunters, I almost never hear, “I’m at my best in a crisis.” Indeed, anyone who’s been in the workplace for any time knows that it’s almost impossible to be your best in a crisis.

    This is not a superficial question. In fact, it’s what I call a core best practice question, intended to prompt reflection and strategic analysis. Kevin Roberts, the global CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi, passed it along to me some years ago.

    How would you answer this question for yourself? Athletes talk about being “in the zone.” Psychologists speak of “flow states.”

    For example:

    • Those with a creative orientation may say they love to develop new products… or theories.
    • Analytical types often delight in solving big, thorny problems.
    • Great salespeople love to influence others.

    Sometimes, people assume I’m asking them to describe their current role and responsibilities, but I’m not.  Rather, I’m interested in learning about what really fires them up. Then we can look at how their true professional interests and aspirations intersect with their actual work position and activities.

    Do they intersect? And if (hopefully) they do, on a day-to-day basis how often does the person – do you – have a chance to operate in this sweet spot?

    The greater and more sustained the intersection, the greater your satisfaction and enduring success.

    Action Steps

    • Ask yourself:  When are you at your very best? Has this changed over time or circumstances? Are you able to be your “best” on a regular basis?
    • Ask those you supervise:  When are they at their very best? Do they know? Do their opinions coincide with your own assessments?

    To do great work and to deploy your organization’s talent to maximum advantage, you need to have the answers at your finger tips and act on them.

    Copyright © Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD. All rights reserved.

  • How We Really Make Decisions

    By Susan Battley

    “The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will the communication between the senses and the mind.”
    – Napoleon Bonaparte

    Most executives like to think they check their emotions at the door before making business decisions. The idea that cool, rational analysis breeds better decisions is not new. Unfortunately, acting rationally is not as simple as it sounds.

    Research in behavioral economics suggests that emotions have a way of affecting management and business decisions. Anger, in particular, can increase risky choices and behavior, thereby compromising your effectiveness and results at work.

    Research by Gerben A. van Kleef suggests that anger can have a negative effect on negotiations. Angry people tend to yield more concessions in small deals with strangers. Anger can also poison negotiations in ongoing relationships by establishing long-term negative impressions and low satisfaction levels. The conclusions make intuitive sense.

    Have you ever seen a patron at a retail store argue with a clerk over the price of a returned item? In many cases, the angry patron will simply accept the lower price and storm off rather than continue the argument. And when management and union representatives snipe at each other in the newspapers before the talks begin, you can expect difficult negotiations.

    When research backs up intuition, executives should take note: Expressing anger may get you what you want in the short-term, but it can backfire by sabotaging long-term, ongoing relationships. In other words, bellicosity is a poor management technique and a high-risk approach to conducting business.

    Social psychologists at Carnegie Mellon University have shown that people who are angry tend to make more optimistic risk estimates and lean toward choices that carry higher risk.  These investigators also examined fear and subsequent decisionmaking in unrelated situations. Unlike anger, which prompted more optimistic risk assessment and greater risk-taking, they discovered that the “fear factor” made people risk-averse and overly cautious in unrelated contexts.

    In another study the researchers looked at two more emotions – sadness and disgust – and people’s subsequent buying and selling behavior.

    People who felt sad or disgusted, they found, tended to allow these emotions to affect buying and selling decisions in an unrelated situation. Sadness elicited a desire to change circumstances. As a result, sad people were willing to pay more for items and sell them for less.

    Disgust, on the other hand, caused people to want to get rid of what they had. They were willing to sell cheap, and they wouldn’t buy unless prices were very low.

    Consider the implications of these findings for everything from impulse shopping and sales tactics to major business negotiations and transactions.

    Copyright © Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD. All rights reserved.

  • The Perils of Busy-ness

    By Susan Battley

    From what I observe, unproductive busyness may be the most critical behavioral problem in organizations today. A common complaint I hear from leaders and managers involves the proliferation of low-value tasks and activities.

    In fact, a recent survey of 9,000+ executives indicated that decision makers worldwide are experiencing more distractions from core strategic focus.

    Why do so many smart, talented people end up losing valuable time and energy, rather than acting in truly productive ways? Because everyday managerial work is hazardous to focus. Days are full of interruptions and unexpected demands on time. Meetings can proliferate like viruses. Automatic routines and rituals, poorly prioritized or unfocused tasks, and superficial behaviors sap managers’ capacities.

    I frequently see low-value activities squeezing out problems and issues that are much more crucial to achieving bottom-line results. Leaders, senior managers, and board members too wind up postponing complex “big picture” issues, instead spending their most precious resource – time – on putting out fires and attending to squeaky wheels.


    One way to get a grip on unproductive busyness is to apply the 80/20 Rule. Based on the Pareto Principle (1906), a mathematical formula Italian economist Pareto created showing that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the wealth, the 80/20 Rule was subsequently confirmed in a wide range of studies and contexts.

    It’s sometimes called the Rule of the Vital Few and Trivial Many: the impact of a vital few factors surpasses the importance of the rest of the factors, the trivial many. For example, 80 percent of your revenues comes from 20 percent of your customers. In other words, 80 percent of your results can be attributed to 20 percent of all possible factors.

    Eighty percent of your time and energy should be devoted to the top 20 percent of activities that constitute highest value and priority. Can you say you’re doing this now? (Be honest.)

    Of course, applying the 80/20 Rule presupposes that you have control over your schedule. In reality, this is often not the case. But I’ll bet you can do a much better job of time allocation than you’re doing now.

    • First, you need to be purposeful and identify very clearly what your top 20 percent consists of. You also need to have key stakeholders and implementers agree that these activities are indeed top priority.
    • Second, if something has to take a back seat or not get done, be sure it’s not part of this 20 percent.
    • Third, spend 20 percent of your time on the other 80 percent of your workload. Amazingly, you’ll get the “trivial many” done well enough.

    Eliminate unproductive busyness. Clearly identify and focus on your top 20 percent. Do this organization-wide and you’re sure to achieve greater overall productivity and efficiency, to say nothing of increased creativity and employee satisfaction.

    Copyright © Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD. All rights reserved.