How to deal with an unreasonable boss

people quit because of bad bossesThere’s a new book I’ve put on my summer reading list: Colin Powell’s My American Journey. Here’s a great quote from it:

“The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” —Colin Powell

Oren Harari, a professor at the University of San Francisco says if this was a litmus test, most CEOs would fail. I couldn’t agree more.

Powell talks about busy bastard bosses, bosses that never rest, and as a result never let their staff rest. It’s sad, but I’ve heard of more busy bastard bosses making life hell for their employees in organizations and it’s time we put a stop to it.

Powell advises against being a BBB. He writes, “Be busy, work hard, but don’t become so busy that you cut out other things in life, like family and recreation and hobbies. And never be so busy that you’re not giving your staff and your followers enough time to do the same thing.”

Here are tips for dealing with an unreasonable boss:

  • Don’t check email at night unless it’s a crisis. Just because someone sends you an email at 10:30 at night doesn’t mean you have to answer it at 10:30 at night.
  • Watch and learn how they like to work. Some bosses want everything by email. Some want updates in a meeting. Learn their preferences and as long as they’re reasonable, change your habits to accommodate them.
  • Set limits. If you need to be home with your kids in the morning, but can stay late if needed at night, make them aware of this.
  • Be concise and to the point, and ask for clarity. Unreasonable bosses often think they communicate well, but they don’t. They’re so focused on being busy, and moving on to the next thing on their list, they gloss over instructions and fail to provide clear direction.
  • Figure out how to get what you need or get things done through other people so you don’t have to deal with them.
  • If they give you an unrealistic deadline, ask for more time. If they say no, ask which other work can be put on hold so you can meet the deadline.

Most bosses aren’t bastards, but they are busy. If you set limits, learn how they like to work, and do good work, you’ll have a good chance of establishing boundaries and a good work life balance.

And for those poor souls who work for a busy bastard boss who are hopeless—bosses who are so unreasonable or disorganized they make it impossible for you to do your job, who don’t care or even know about what’s going on in the lives of their employees, and only see employees as a head count or resource, find another job.

What a joke

trump hell toupeeThanks to our holidays, killing time in the car and Donald Trump, I’ve heard lots of great jokes lately. Joke telling is a dying art, unless you’re a late night talk show host or you’re an internet joke junkie. My Dad used to be a great joke teller. I don’t have his gift, but luckily I do have one good friend who still loves to tell a good joke and make us all giggle.

Here are some giggles to make you smile this week. And in the interest of full disclosure, some of these were told to me by my kids or kids we met in campgrounds, so they might be a bit corny.

How is a wife like a hand grenade?
Remove the ring and your house is gone

What day does an egg fear most?

How did Captain Hook die?
He got distracted and wiped his bum with the wrong hand

What’s the difference between an angry circus owner and a Roman barber?
One is a raving showman, and the other is a shaving Roman

Here are some Donald Trump jokes. He started out as a joke, now he’s the joke, but the joke will be on us if he wins (shudder).

What instrument does Donald Trump play?
The trumpet

Why is it impossible to finish a Donald Trump biography?
Because every page goes back to Chapter 11

How does Donald Trump plan on deporting 12 million illegal immigrants?
Juan by Juan

What airline does Donald Trump aspire to fly?
Hair Force One

Whats Donald Trump’s favorite nation?

And finally for the kids going back to school…

Teacher: “Kids, what does the fluffy chicken give you?”
Students: “Eggs!”
Teacher: “Very good! Now what does the pink pig give you?”
Students: “Bacon!”
Teacher: “Great! And what does the fat cow give you?”
Students: “Homework!”

This week’s #HappyAct is to tell a joke and bring a smile to someone’s day. I’ll end with this one on this week’s Happy Act:

“They say money doesn’t buy you happiness. Still, it’s always better to verify things for yourself.”

Life’s a beach

Girl riding beach toyWhat a summer we’ve had in eastern Canada—one of the hottest on record. The best way to beat the heat is to hit the beach with your favourite floating toy.

This year on the July long weekend, my brother and his wife brought the kids the latest installment in our collection of exotic beach toys: a big yellow banana. Yes, riding the Big Banana has taken on a whole new meaning in the Swinton household this summer.

There have been epic noodle fights, rodeo rides and spectacular spills on that banana, especially the time Dave tried to ride it. I can’t help but wonder what the cottagers across the lake think when they look across and see The Big Yellow Banana.

Beach toys are a part of summer. We have a raft of old beach toys crumpled up in a deflated pile in our barn. Oh the memories. There was Homer Simpson, who one year we found floating at the other end of the lake in early spring. The Montreal Canadiens life raft—symbolic I think. And too many floating chairs to mention now sunk in the graveyard of water toys in our barn.

This week’s #HappyAct is to keep cool with a cool beach toy–whatever floats your boat. Ours just happens to be a big yellow banana.

Ed. note: As a kid cottaging on Lake Simcoe, I remember we used to dive off huge inner tubes that came from military truck tires. There was a guy in Port Credit who used to sell those inner tubes. They’re fantastic for jumping and diving, and rafting. If anyone knows where you can get inner tubes, post a comment.

Girl on a floating raft

Be a thermostat, not a thermometer

thermometerDave and I have a standing bet when we get back from vacation. Who has more emails sitting in our inbox and how many days will it take for each of us to go from feeling completely relaxed to stressed out and tired?

This time, we were really lucky. For two weeks, we were able to disconnect from work, which in today’s day and age is a luxury. But I did find by the end of the second day back in the office, I was thinking about work after hours, feeling tired again and feeling my stress levels rise.

In order to be successful and happy in today’s business world, we need to learn how to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Last fall, I had the pleasure of attending Queen’s Leadership Course. One of the instructors was Peter Jensen who has made a name for himself coaching business people and Olympic athletes on how to manage stress to achieve high performance.

In his book, “Thriving in a 24-7 World”, Peter says we have to be thermostats not thermometers. What does this mean? Using the analogy of stress instead of the weather, a thermometer merely reacts to the stressors going on around it, dipping to severe lows or spiking high when things get heated. A thermostat sets an ideal setting, based on the conditions it finds itself in, and is able to regulate and manage stress, and further, harness it to achieve high performance.

Let’s take the case of the Olympic athlete since Rio is only days away. There are times when athletes need to increase their stress and performance levels—the days when they are slugging through endless hours of training. This can be a challenge, but the even greater challenge is during competition. Olympic athletes face incredible pressure and stress. They need to find ways to regulate that stress and channel it into their performance.

How? Peter offers up several strategies in the book on how you can turn your thermostat up or down to manage your energy levels and stress. Definitely read it, but I’ve summarized a few here:

Techniques for turning down your thermostat in times of stress:

  • Centring or breathing. Try inhaling, breathing in deeply through your nose then exhaling deeply, focusing on your diaphragm, then on your shoulders and upper body.
  • Never multi-task. Studies show people are not as productive when they multi-task. Focus on one key task at a time.
  • Learn different techniques to let it go.
  • Challenge negative thinking. Try to reframe the conversation or your thinking into what opportunities are available.
  • Break up big tasks into little tasks to create a sense of accomplishment

To turn up your thermostat when you’re feeling flat or lacking energy

  • Take a break, get sleep, go for a walk. All of these things will help you focus.
  • Try something new or different—it may just be what you need to create positive energy.
  • Remind yourself of your purpose or meaning.

The final word: Remember stress can be a positive. It can help you harness energy to achieve performance. The key is to recognize your stress levels, and set your own thermostat to help your body prepare for the challenge ahead.

This week’s #HappyAct is to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. And for those of you curious who won the bet—I had over 500 emails in two weeks (but a lot of mine are social media notifications, media alerts and newsletters) and Dave had 64.

Explore a National Park

acadia national park beach at sunset

Exploring the tide pools at sunset outside Seawall campground, Acadia National park

Yesterday we returned home from two weeks down east. We spent time in Quebec City, Halifax, Nova Scotia and Maine. By far, our favourite days were exploring our continent’s beautiful national parks.

In the United States, the National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The first National Park in the United States was Yellowstone in Wyoming. In Canada, our national park system is even older—the first national park established in Canada was Banff National Park in 1885. Dave and I have been to both of these remarkable places and I encourage you to go.

On this trip, we explored three national parks—Kouchibougouac National Park in New Brunswick, Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia and Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine.

ocean inlet

Inlet at Kouchibougouac National Park in New Brunswick

On our last night camping in Acadia, we went to a talk given by the park ranger called “National Treasures: the story of our national parks”. The reasons why these unique places were preserved was because a select few people, visionaries, recognized the importance of preserving these important ecosystems while at the same time, making them accessible to people to enjoy for generations to come.

The park ranger asked an interesting question. What if one hundred years ago, these same people had designated Niagara Falls a national park? How different would that landscape and experience be? It was a theme Dave and I discussed several times this trip after visiting places like Peggy’s Cove, a quaint fishing village now overrun with tour buses and tourists.

This week’s #HappyAct is to explore a national park. Pitch a tent and gaze at the stars or just explore for a day. See why these incredible places have been designated national treasures and commune with nature.

Instead of trying to describe these magical places in words, I’ll share their beauty in pictures.

If you go with kids: both our national parks and the U.S. park service has a “junior rangers” program where kids are given a booklet and encouraged to answer questions about the park’s attractions. In Canada, Clare collected dog tags at each national park and historic site we visited—in the U.S. they give out badges for junior rangers who complete their booklets.

Ed. note: In the U.S., Niagara Falls was a state park but was designated by Congress in 2008 as a National Heritage Area. In Canada, the Niagara Parks Commission was formed to preserve Niagara’s beauty.

cabot trail view

Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park

ocean bluffs

The bluffs at White Point, Cape Breton, one of the most beautiful spots on earth

ocean views

On the road to White Point

mountain view

Panoramic from the top of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park

Lavish praise not criticism

flowers bloomingThe world needs more praise and less criticism.

If you’re a parent, you know the power of praise. Praise is like the warmth of the sun that nourishes and helps the petals of a flower unfold. Criticism will cause the flower to shrivel up and die.

This week’s Happy Act is to praise someone. Your child. Your partner. A co-worker. Tell them what a great job they’ve done then watch them blossom and grow.

Write your own valedictory speech

Girl in grad dress with her grandfather

Grace with her grandfather at her graduation

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honour of hearing Grace deliver the valedictory address at her grade 8 graduation. I am so proud of the beautiful, smart funny person she has become. But I was especially proud because of what she shared that night and how brave she was.

Her words were insightful. She reflected on her classmate’s accomplishments, and spoke with hope and optimism about the future. I think we all need to take a moment for this kind of reflection especially at important milestones in our lives.

This week’s #HappyAct is to write your own valedictory address. Reflect on your accomplishments and look ahead and envision your future. Here’s Grace’s speech.

Ladies and gentleman, fellow students. At this school, we come here for one reason and one reason only, and that is to learn. I have been at Prince Charles since I was in Junior Kindergarten and I’ve had my ups and downs, but overall, this school has helped me to find myself as well as my future.

Every person in this world is smart, whether it is sports, academics or leadership. Every person in this world is smart no matter how you describe it and I’m sure all the parents of the graduates are proud of what they have accomplished in life as a student as well as a person.

Tonight we are celebrating the first chapter in every graduate’s life. On our first day of high school next year we will be starting a new chapter, a new journey and a new way of life. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has made our first chapter incredible—parents, teachers, family, friends, principals, vice-principals and many more.

We have created so many memories in the first chapter. The one memory I’ll never forget is coming second in the girls basketball tournament a few years back. Even though we lost in the finals, we still worked together as a team and we had such a great day.

I can still remember when some of the graduates didn’t know how to tie their shoes and now they are maturing into adults. Even this year as a class, we have created so many memories, such as playing a good game of Dr. Dodgeball in class, our year-end field trip to Canada’s Wonderland or the St. Lawrence Cooking program that we participated in earlier this year. These are all memories that we will never forget.

We all have challenges that we need to face in life, but when we do face them, it makes us stronger, better people. When I was three, I was diagnosed with autism and I had a lot of trouble making friends when I was younger, but I dealt with it because we have to face our challenges in life.

Life is a path and we have to choose our own way. May you always choose the right path. Thank you.”

Copyright Grace Swinton 2016