Our contribution to International Mens Day
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Dropping the Mask
For the past 3 years, I've been encouraging leaders to speak from their hearts, and learn to share their vulnerability and humanity with their teams. The reasons for this being: it helps to build trust (the basis of any healthy human relationship); gives others permission to admit to making mistakes and to admit they are struggling or need help; and allows people to be fully themselves with each other and to drop the mask of infallibility. In this kind of environment people are more likely to feel emotionally safe and free to express themselves fully. If a leader cannot be vulnerable, then it makes it harder for those around them to be. Patrick Lencioni in his book, 'The Five Dysfunctions of a Team' discusses this issue and Brene Brown in her book, 'The Courage to Lead'.
In my experience, the men that I work with find this much harder to do. Is it any surprise given the emotional straightjacketing that most men experience as they attempt to fall into the social constraints of masculinity? There is much talk of authentic leadership these days but do men really know how to be authentic with each other? Many men have learned to hide their true authentic selves, imprisoned by a socially policed view of masculinity that says, "Don't show your feelings, be strong, compete, be independent, keep your cards close to your chest". Men can be terrified of showing vulnerability for fear of being weak and not man enough in some way.
I realise that in asking leaders to show their vulnerability I am asking men and women to begin to undo years of conditioning from the patriarchy. But it is happening. I had the most heartening of experiences just recently. I was running a workshop on how to hold high quality development conversations. As part of the session we were practicing coaching. This included a clear instruction not to give any advice. I was struck how one of the senior managers was struggling not to intervene with advice. It appeared, to me, to be an impulsive response. He just couldn't stop doing it. After some deeper exploration we unearthed a deep insecurity in him. His need for significance and whole sense of self-worth were tied up in appearing knowledgeable and that he had to have the answers. What happened next was the most beautiful thing I've witnessed in 10 years of training. He said to the group, "Do you know what, this has helped me realise that I've always felt that I have to work so hard to prove myself, and it's exhausting!". Wow, what a reveal. Immediately others in the room put their hands up and said that they felt the same too. The collective sigh of relief was audible. That is how to create emotional safety in a team. In that moment that man's credibility rocketed, and everybody's masks started to loosen. I was so moved I had a tear in my eye. Beautiful.
Tim works as a trainer, facilitator, coach and writer. If you are interested in helping your teams to work in this way, then please connect with him at email@example.com
He also runs 'Authentic Relating for Men' workshops. To find out more about these connect with him at: facebook.com/tim.vaughan.7777
Finally, he has contributed to a book, "Boys Do Cry" (available now on Amazon), in which men share their stories of living in a patriarchal system. All proceeds go to charity.
Family life - Changing for the betterEuan Smith
Euan Smith is a Partner in Pinsent Masons LLP Employment Team and is Head of Pinsent Masons Employment Energy Sector and Corporate Immigration Practices.
In the legal services industry, where the client is the boss, the traditional expectation is that we have to be available 24/7 for whatever the client needs. When you're single and childless, that's a challenge in itself. When you're married and a parent, it's significantly more difficult!
My first child was born when I was 45. I'd been a lawyer for over 20 years by that point, and a partner for more than half of that time. I'd never had to deal with the additional pressures caused by sleepless nights, nursery drop-offs at the beginning of the day and baby bed-times at the end of the day. My suits were relatively vomit-free and my house was clean and tidy. My working life changed overnight when Clara was born.
I'm now much more focused and efficient during the day. My time management has improved immeasurably and I'm more willing to say no to things. My working day in the office has a definite end-point, early enough for me to get home for bathtime and put Clara to bed. That time is precious for me, to such an extent that one of my performance objectives at work is now tied to the frequency with which I get home for baby bedtime.
There's no doubt that technology and agile working are hugely important as a family-friendly measures which companies can take to support the family goals of their staff. I can do the same volume of work that I did prior to becoming a dad I just do it at different times of day and in different places. Laptops and smartphones mean I can work virtually anywhere, at any time. And I'm very lucky that Pinsent Masons embraces the concept of agile working with the enthusiasm that it does.
The focus of workplace policies is typically on working mothers, but it's important not to forget about the dads. I want to support dads in our firm to share equally in the care of their children. I know from my own experience that a positive family life is also beneficial for your working life.
Sharing Parental Leave
When my partner first described the idea of sharing her maternity leave (where she would return to work and leave me flying solo for two or three months), I listened and pretended to take her pitch seriously, nodding along as you would to a suspicious-looking, unsolicited door-to-door sales person.
My job is with a large Oil & Gas Service company, serving in a small engineering department which is almost exclusively male and, sadly, involves working alongside one particular colleague who has a 'less progressive' opinions of such matters. I was already imagining the Queen video of Freddie Mercury / me vacuuming, going round his mind.I'll be honest, at that point, I wasn't even aware that sharing maternity leave was an option for me.
My daughter was nearly five months old and after work and at weekends, I was already a hands-on dad. It's a cliche, but true all the same. Common sense paralleled with antenatal classes warned me that caring for an infant was going to have its ups and downs and if I wasn't going to pull my weight, I was going to create a great big trouble generator. The more I thought about sharing the leave, the more it became obvious it was an absolute no-brainer... my partnr's employer was offering a "returner's bonus" and I would get to stay at home with my only child, plus I would get to catch up on some quality daytime TV!
My mind was made up and now almost completely at ease with the idea, I broached the subject with my boss as early as I could: "A sabbatical?" he questioned. I was treading carefully so as not to patronise him, as this concept was new to him as it was to me not so long ago. I found myself reassuring him that unlike a sabbatical, this was two months unpaid leave. The meeting ended abruptly with the suggestion that I would need to apply and wait for a verdict from "senior management". Fortunately, the company, as a whole, is very forward thinking and prides itself on personal as well as professional development, and most importantly understands employees' legal entitlements - our Human Resources team was able to supply me with all the necessary information and guidance, as well as for my manager. Before I knew it, it was time.
That first Monday was not fun. Not for me and not for my partner who was back at work dealing with adults again while also having the distraction of trusting another human to look after her daughter all day. By now, I was confident looking after a nine month old but if I was going to enjoy this, I was going to have to organise some sort of structure to our days together - avoiding the rain and staying indoors all day with a teething poo machine was not it!
I bought some waterproof walking shoes and made it our thing. Whatever the weather, my daughter the pram and I became best daytime buddies. We got to know every local play park, library, cafe and not a single community centre sing-along mums' group within a five mile radius.
By the end of my leave, I was absolutely gutted to be returning to work.
In the end, readjusting to work only took around a week for me. Standard work issues were easier to cope with and with perspective, these issues now seemed slight compared to before my leave. One colleague (the misogynist relic) thought I had "sold out" and that my Mrs "must wear the trousers". He was definitely the exception rather than the rule. The rest of my colleagues were really cool about it and wanted to know what we had done to fill the days. To my surprise, the most interested were actually the older dads with grown up kids. I felt like a bit of a trendsetter and I think they felt a bit hard-done by.
Even three years later, very occasionally, the new dads at work are referred to me by word of mouth. They ask "how long can you take?", "how do you organise it?“ the same stuff I sweated about. I point them to HR, knowing they'll find the answers and hope their manager is understanding.