WANTING IT ALL: I'm good at delegation - I have to employ an army to help me in the house while I sit in the middle like a mamma spider and direct proceedings

WANTING IT ALL: I'm good at delegation - I have to employ an army to help me in the house while I sit in the middle like a mamma spider and direct proceedings - Although it seems obvious to me that running a household has much to commend it as good traini

by DEBBIE SANDFORD, who formerly worked at McKinsey and RandomHouse
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Although it seems obvious to me that running a household has much to commend it as good training for running a business, running a business is rather poor preparation for running a household. Why, you ask? Surely that symbiosis of skills works both ways? Well, no. Putting it bluntly, assuming a free labour market, I would not give myself, as a recovering workaholic, the job of managing my own life. Too many skill gaps, too little relevant experience.

For example, I can't cook, clean, iron, sew, garden or fix all the 102 things in our home that need mending. I was simply never taught, not at school, nor by my parents, who always hoped that I would go to university and get a good job, nor at work. Take cooking. When I met my husband, we both had demanding jobs working long hours and, as I am much readier to eat Marmite on toast for supper than he is, he soon realised that if he wanted a decent meal he would have to make it himself. All very well when I was a full contributor to the family coffers, but it's a division of labour that feels a little unfair these days. So whereas I used to earn a crust, now I burn it.

Yet I have high standards - I want everything to look beautiful and expensive and ideally free of mucus stains. I know the working environment doesn't always live up to this; I've done my share of time in grimy offices with mould-green carpet tiles and no natural light. But most MDs' offices are a darn sight better-looking than my living room, and somebody else hoovers the floor.

Now that's something I'm good at: delegation and people management.

I just have to employ an army to help me in the house while I sit in the middle like a mamma spider and direct proceedings. I can do job descriptions and performance appraisals. Concentrate on what you're good at; isn't that a good recipe for life? As I'm no good at cooking or cleaning there's no point in starting now. (An updated version of the old male argument where he says, after breaking three glasses: 'But you're just much better at washing up than me, darling.')

Yet what about all the things I learnt in business - surely they must be of some help at home? Well, to a varying degree. Marketing, for example.

No matter what your product, you must communicate its benefits. So when I produce some foul-smelling slop with raw meat in the middle made from supermarket ingredients I announce that it is a genuine tagine, home-made from locally bought produce (all my stews are tagines these days.)

Yet, like most mothers, I often feel like a victim of marketing - whether it's Furbies or Barbie or Pokemon or Harry Potter, that particular gizmo is the only one, Mummy, that will make me happy; everyone else has got one, honest. It's enough to make me take to the streets at the next WTO meeting - if we all act together, we can beat the brand bullies! No Lego.

Finance - now that can be useful. I know that you should always squirrel away some reserves to help you make budget despite those unanticipated, uncontrollable costs, such as your two-year-old dialling the Australian speaking clock. On the other hand, discounted cashflow is sitting idle at the back of my armoury, and although I have contemplated an analysis of which child demonstrates more progress per hour of quality maternal time, from which I could calculate my optimum division of attention, it doesn't feel like quite the right route to a happy family.

Leadership is another much-studied aspect of business. As I understand it, a CEO should identify the two or three things that will really make a difference and focus on them; stir in a fair wind and a good team and success will follow. Family and friends, fun holidays and good food would be at the top of my list - but if I focused exclusively on those we would live in a dirty, tumbledown house and never do any homework. The model doesn't seem to hold.

Perhaps the biggest disconnection between business and life for me is that you can't just be in business, you must always be proactive, anticipating, pushing, pulling, moving forwards. If you stand still, you're dead. In life, on the other hand, you must stand still occasionally and enjoy it, because you'll be dead soon enough anyway.

Business people I know find it difficult to un-learn doing all the time and to enjoy being - they are, after all, busy-ness people. Since leaving my job nearly two years ago, I am still learning how to enjoy just being, without feeling that I should always be doing. And it is in this spirit that I confess this will be the last of these columns. Thank you for reading this far, and all the best for the future. I'm off to just be - that is, after I've made the beds, done the laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, fed the cat ...

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