How Your 'Power Drain' Ruins Your Work

Henry Cloud talks about the personal issues that ruin work-life balance and turn companies into chaos.

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Is your Blackberry taking over your Sunday afternoons? I recently chatted with Henry Cloud, a clinical psychologist and author of The One-Life Solution, about establishing boundaries at work (he's coauthor of the book Boundaries ) and finding a successful balance in our personal and professional lives. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

What are some of the practices that support a successful work-life balance?

The simple answer that never works is time management. Every now and then I get a call from a company that asks: "Can you do something on time management?" And I say, "Well, haven't you done that before?" They go, "Yeah." And I go, "Well, isn't it the same people who are out of control now who were out of control before they got the little notebook?" The real issue is always, is someone spending their time and their energy—which are really the only two resources we have—on the things that they have determined to be vital, both personally and professionally? Or, is their time and energy going to all sorts of stuff including dysfunctional or toxic people or clients or other relationships or other people's agendas instead of the things that are going to bring about success and profits and fruitfulness in their own agenda?

So, what time management does is it takes a surface swipe at that. It says: "Get your priorities straight." But if you want the real answer, the real answer is that it's people's personal issues that cause them to be unable to really stick to their priorities. Because they have "power drains"—sort of leaks in the power current—a certain kind of person that's able to manipulate them, or a person they feel sorry for or can't say no to, or they're afraid of getting them upset.

It's not until they really come to grips with "Where do I lose it? Where's my crack in the armor?"

Can you give an example of how a "power drain " plays out at work?

Take, for example, a nice person who's highly responsible. What happens to nice, highly responsible people? They get promoted, and they get more responsibility, and the higher they go up the ladder, they're responsible for more and more people under them, and more and more agendas, and this, that, and the other. Commonly, what a nice and responsible person does is to try to be nice and try to take responsibility, but you get somebody underneath them, or a peer, who's maybe not so nice and not so responsible. A lot of times, they'll try to help and they'll try to please them, or they'll try to cover for them or they'll try to help them out, when really what's needed is for them to set some limits with that person and hold them accountable and, sometimes, have a difficult conversation. If you're in that scenario, and you can't stand it when someone's upset with you, then you're not going to have that difficult conversation. You're not going to set that limit or do something that leads to firing the person. I've seen high-level leaders be so conflict-avoidant that chaos just reigns in their company or their organization or department, because they just can't stand it when someone's upset with them or they have to hurt their feelings. And when you're in that position, then the dysfunctional person's got control of the team, the organization, or the mission.


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