Given the pace of business today and lengthy work days, is it possible to balance a high-level career with family life? Natalia Gómez del Pozuelo, a professor at ICADE and the University of Nebrija in Madrid, believes that we can combine aspects of business and family life in order to achieve success in each of them. In her book, Good Father, Good Boss, Gómez del Pozuelo attempts to apply the advice and formulas that we use in the family arena to our careers, while also using professional and managerial skills in ways that improve our performance as parents. In an interview with Universia Knowledge@Wharton, Gomez discusses her philosophy for balancing work and life.
Universia Knowledge@Wharton: Where did you get the idea of leveraging synergies between work life and personal life?
Natalia Gómez del Pozuelo: It occurred to me two summers ago, [when I was] in Zahara de los Atunes [in the south of Spain]. I was sitting in a bar called la Ballena Verde (“The Green Whale”) watching the sunset and listening to a jazz concert. My four sons were in Africa with their cousins, and I started writing down stories about them. I do that from time to time in order to tell them when they get older. I wrote in my notebook: “I am sitting, facing the sea at Zahara, and you are in Africa watching lions, but I continue to be with you and, probably, in a more intense way than when you are here, because I don’t have to scold you or order you to do things, or motivate you…. And that emptiness in my obligation as a mother brings to the surface the person who analyzes and thinks of you as individual people with your own characteristics. The first thing that comes to my mind is that I should educate each one of you in a different way, while appearing to be the same to you.” I continued to dig deeper into that idea, and I thought that in reality, the same thing was happening with my co-workers [who were elsewhere], and I wrote in my notebook, “This would be a good book.”
I also remembered that a friend always told me that we should try to make everything we do useful in various ways. I thought that I could combine the most important aspects of my life — family, work, vocation — into a book that dealt with my experiences, and those of my friends and partners, so that by collecting experiences and advice, it would help other fathers and mothers who are also – or will become — bosses, to live their lives better.
At the time, I was writing a novel, so I didn’t begin this project until another year later. When I returned to the subject, I did numerous interviews; I read dozens of manuals about management and education, and I consulted with various specialists until the book was taking form, and the result was Good Father, Good Boss.
UK@W: In which aspect of life is it currently the hardest to be a winner?
Gómez del Pozuelo: I believe that our work as parents has much greater significance because in that work, we are indispensable for our children. If things go bad on the job, we can look for another [job], but our children are [ours] forever.
So I believe that parenting is harder work, but at the same time I believe that it is easier for us to reflect on being a parent, and find areas where we can improve, because we are probably more modest or, perhaps, more insecure in our work as parents — precisely because of its greater importance, which is why we question ourselves constantly.
In addition, for the sake of your children, you are capable of giving up many things — among them, your ego, and that kind of work is more emotional. Wouldn’t it be good if we were more modest when we worked, and reduced our ego? So I have focused the book to a greater extent on the attitudes that we have on a family level that can be transferred to the working environment. This is a two-way street because when all is said and done, each of us is a single being, although at times we manage our activities as watertight compartments.
It is interesting to reflect on these two facets [of life], and to train ourselves, each of us, using our own criteria, to adapt to our personalities and our capacity as a function of our character and how much time we have at our disposal. [We should] plan small, attainable changes that help improve our attitude — not at home or on the job, but in life, which is one [integral] thing.
UK@W: Do differences exist between the "good father/good boss," on one hand, and the "good mother/good boss?"
Gómez del Pozuelo: Although [men and women] have different ways of managing [both at home and in the office], and although various studies show that mothers usually register higher levels of overload and stress because of the shortage of time, in reality, everyone [male or female] who wants to be a good father and a good boss – or a good mother and a good boss – depends fundamentally on his or her capacity as a person to question himself or herself, so that he or she can avoid being arrogant and desire to improve.
Starting from this point of departure, a person will be receptive to the different possibilities for improvement; to theories about management and leadership; to the opinions of his or her children and co-workers … and he or she will therefore progress and get better results.
UK@W: How do you feel about paternalistic bosses? Do you believe they are currently in vogue or obsolete in companies?
Gómez del Pozuelo: Although paternalistic bosses continue to exist, they are the sort of figures who, in my opinion, do not produce good results. So the book does not promote this sort of management. I believe in the "professional" boss; the sort who does his job well and gets the best from his team. And I believe that the person who has authority in the company should have goals.
UK@W: Is it possible to be a permissive manager and, at the same time, be an authoritarian family head — or vice versa?
Gómez del Pozuelo: We probably all know the sort of amiable and sympathetic professional who is a bit tyrannical at home or the sort of person who is very authoritarian at work but is a sweetheart when surrounded by his family. But I don’t believe that is a healthy thing.
In his book, I am not Superman, Santiago Alvarez de Mon says,“If my different realities are divorced from each other and incapable of living together and contributing to a richer and multi-faceted being, there will be a high price to pay in the form of an internal rupture.” Why should such differences exist when life permits us to improve in both aspects simultaneously? Why not continuously learn and improve, and enjoy this learning process?
It is very healthy to think along the way, and keep taking steps that bring us closer to the improvement we desire, without overwhelming us and without preventing us from enjoying both our parenting and our work.
UK@W: What about the idea that our children and subordinates participate in making decisions? Is it good in every case, or can it lead to problems when it is time to manage the business more efficiently?
Gómez del Pozuelo: There is a very interesting quotation from [French philosopher Louis Gabriel Ambroise de] Bonald: “Reason is the first authority, and authority is the ultimate reason.”
In the case of the corporation, although it is clear that organizational charts are more than just plans, there is still an important psychological distance between the boss and his subordinates; communication is too hierarchical and there is little debate in the decision-making process.
In the courses about planning management that I give for companies, I use a chart that shows that the fewer people who participate on a decision-making team — i.e., the boss orders and commands others — the less commitment there is among the members of the team. Obviously, it takes less time to make decisions in such a case. When we seek a higher degree of consensus, it means that there is more involvement by everyone in the decision that’s been taken. But that requires more time.
We continue to demand that authority be respected. We want people who are "obedient," just as we saw with our children — that is, [employees] who do not discuss and who accept our criteria. But if we base relationships on responsibility, we will get better results than if we apply strict control [over other people].
UK@W: Is it possible to use the same tools to motivate both your children and your employees?
Gómez del Pozuelo: Every person and, as a result, every child and co-worker, is different and unique. If we let ourselves be swept away by the politically correct idea of treating everyone equally, we will be hurting them and ourselves, too. Many parents have the conviction that they treat all of their children the same way, and that this is appropriate. However, in reality, they are not doing that — although they are not aware of that fact. Being a father and a boss can involve precisely the same thing, and the responsibility of treating each person the way he or she needs to be treated, so that they can grow and progress. But this process requires flexibility, expertise, observation and a lot of time. We motivate each of our children in a way that is specific to them. With some children, we share tasks; with others, we give more responsibility, letting them cook or having an exclusive chat, etc. That’s because each one reacts in a different way to the stimulus that parents can offer them.
We should apply the same approach in our work environment. Each member of the team has very different motivations. For some people, the most important thing is to get training and to be part of a team that is stronger and increasingly responsible. For others, the key is to access necessary tools for carrying out their jobs in the best possible way, and to feel secure. Others need a clear career plan, and a plan for corporate growth….
Although being well paid is of some importance to everyone, in no case is that the most important thing. If we acknowledge the special characteristics of each person, we will have a more motivated team and, as a result, higher performance.
The key should be to treat each person according to his or her needs — even as they all sense that you are treating them equally, and they all have the same rights and opportunities.
UK@W: In your book, you talk about a concept called "positive curiosity." Can you explain what it involves, and what benefits it provides at work and in prívate life?
Gómez del Pozuelo: We live in a society where things are changing more rapidly every day. Technology isn’t just about having new "junk" to use. It profoundly changes our social practices and the way we know things; it transforms our relationships with our children, as well as our way of working.
Let’s start with that last point. New technologies have revolutionized work and communications. Now we can share archives and access databases about clients from anywhere; learn the latest news about the company and every piece of information in an immediate way; work in a team from different places on the planet, and so forth. The same thing happens at home. A child can be in his room chatting [over the Internet] with a friend who is thousands of miles away, yet who seems to be right with us.
The concept of being physically present in a place is no longer the most important parameter that must be considered. It gives way to a new way of doing things based on flexibility, responsibility and confidence, both at home and at work.
This new way of forming relationships is, on the one hand, easier. Although our schedules are complicated, we can, without any need to be physically present, be in contact and maintain personal and working relationships that are fluid and intense. However, to do that, we need an "emotional presence" based on communications, mutual respect and flexibility. Companies are becoming less and less bureaucratic, and their organizational systems are becoming more flexible. Being physically present is no longer so important, and work groups are reorganizing themselves constantly. Meanwhile, in families, there are more and more cases of organizations that are changing because of separations, later [i.e., second or third] marriages; where there are some children of one [parent] and other children of the other [parent]; [where there is] shared custody [of the children], and so forth.
Parents and managers must adapt themselves to these changes, and always retain their curiosity so that their heads remain fresh and creative. It does no good at all if we cling to methods that are old, rigid, and hierarchical. Mental flexibility and the ability to adapt are becoming more and more important.
UK@W: Finally, a common problem in society today is how to reconcile your personal life with your work life. Is it possible to succeed in both areas at the same time?
Gómez del Pozuelo: Stress and fatigue frequently occur when someone tries to harmonize his personal life with his professional life. The main cause of stress is that we have a multitude of tasks; we want to tend to them all and also spend some quality time with our children.
When we are stressed, we have the feeling that we are not controlling our life. This undermines the day-by-day quality of our life and the quality of our relationships with others. So we should try to enjoy the constant stream of moments that we share with our children, and do things with tranquility, because our attitude towards those tasks and our relationship with time influence our way of living and working, and also influence the people around us. If we feel stressed, they will also [feel stressed].
We need to approach time in a different way — not as an obstacle course. To do that, we should make an objective evaluation of how we use it, and rethink our priorities. There are some behavioral steps that are easy to apply, and that can change our perception of time and reduce stress to a great deal: fixing priorities, using new technologies in our favor, learning how to delegate, and a whole series of simple steps that are talked about in the book.
Generally speaking, we fail to engage in critical analysis on day-by-day basis. We are swept up in a whirlpool that it is hard to get out of. It would be very useful to take the time to reflect on that, and change things to the extent possible.
The important thing is to organize our time in a balanced way, with varied activities that don’t leave us exhausted and which develop us in ways that are physical, mental and emotional.
We should be aware that we have to take the steps we need as early as possible, so that our days provide us with pleasure and satisfaction now — not when it is too late.