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Friday, October 07, 2005

Not at all what is seems

After only two weeks on the job at Google, I gladly terminated my contract assignment. Like most people, I was drawn to Google by the hype. The never ending saturation in the media, the aggressive approach to recruiting and the "we are the best and brightest" hoopla that permeates from the Mountain View headquarters like Microsoft of old. Walking into the lobby on my first day was akin to boarding the starship Enterprise. My feelings of having joined the hottest company in the world quickly fizzled.

I joined Google to lead staffing programs as part of the Recruiting Recruiters Team. This was a very small group faced with the daunting task of bringing on board every recruiter they could find that had a credit score of 750, an MBA and the intestinal fortitude to be subservient to a process that defies logic. On my first day I was introduced to the team, given my Google bag of goodies, walked to my cube and given the task of reviewing the competitions career pages for ideas. Mindless work, but this gave me the opportunity to settle in and get comfortable with the balls in my cube and the lava lamps.

Around the middle of my first week the Recruiter that had brought me on board approached me to say there was a problem. The background investigation revealed an issue with a title on my resume. Simple enough I explained, my working title was different than the HRIS classification. For the sake of clarity about my role, at said company, I chose to use a working title on my resume. However, I did not give myself a promotion and was not misleading about my responsibilities. The Recruiter confirmed that this was the case as verified by my references. The issue, as the Recruiter described, was that the Team was concerned about the discrepancy. The Team had all reviewed the background check and raised a flag of concern holding the Recruiter accountable to approach me for an explanation. I was stunned at first. I very quickly grew offended and violated. To think that the team of people that I would be working with everyday, leading in some cases, had openly passed around my most personal of information was mind numbing. The Recruiter let me know that this had a dulling effect on my reputation and would be viewed very badly by the senior staffing leadership. That said, I scheduled time to speak with senior leadership and was told that it would not have an effect on potential opportunities for me. I walked away feeling like my days were numbered. In hindsight they were.

Monday, December 27, 2004


There are Two Main Leadership Drives:1. Dominance: Desire to dominate (manage) other people.2. Eminence: Desire to achieve status through competition based on ability.These two drives can be combined in four ways. And each combination creates a different type of leader.
Dominance Drive------Status Drive
A: Dominant Boss------high--------high
B:Ambitious Professional--------low---------high
C: Informal Influencer-----------high--------low
D: Reluctant Leader-------------low---------low
TYPE A: DOMINANT BOSSES have the desire to dominate plus the desire to achieve status through competitive striving. Included here are political and business leaders like Lee Iacocca, Castro, Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton.
TYPE B: AMBITIOUS PROFESSIONALS have little interest in dominance over others. They are leaders because they possess some technical ability.
Examples: Faceless technocrats running investment banks and science-based firms. Or colourful creative people who lead media and arts organizations but have no real interest in managing people.Extreme A's are often followed by B's because B's are not so pushy.
TYPE C: INFLUENCERS don't want to compete because they fear failure. But their high dominance drive makes them want power. So they gravitate to roles in which they have power without responsibility.
They can be cheerleaders for the boss or rebellious dissidents who sit on the sidelines working the crowd against him.They only become leaders if there is little risk attached. (eg. in organizations which are run collectively or where the leadership role merely represents a higher power).TYPE D: RELUCTANT LEADERS prefer a safe, rewarding niche free from competition. They become leaders when no one else is available or when the leader role confers little status or power. They can also come to power via natural succession in a family firm but when they do they are usually awful. Reluctant leadership is also common in bureaucracies in which people automatically inherit the the role via rules of seniority. From Executive Instinct via Canadian Headhunter

Friday, December 10, 2004

Market Your Opportunities with Blogs

By Christine Hirsch

Blogs have become mainstream in Internet culture and their influence has not escaped tech-savvy recruiters. Today, more and more corporations, from Microsoft to Stonyfield Farms, are using blogs to attract candidates. An innovative way to extend an employment brand, blogs are helping companies better engage candidates in the recruitment process. Full of light, off-beat content, blogs appeal to potential hires with content that frequently involves and entertains prospective hires.
A weblog, or simply a blog, is a frequently updated web site containing informal commentary and links to news, websites, and other blogs. Blog formats vary from personal diaries to subject-based sites and business pages. Some are maintained by a single person and others are updated by a group of people. It is common for visitors to leave comments, creating a community of frequent users. The ability to leave comments creates an ongoing conversation with users, encouraging them to return daily for fresh content.
According to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than two million Americans are blogging. Eight percent of those surveyed report that they have personally posted material on corporate blogs. These numbers indicate tremendous marketing power is available. Blogs also attract an audience prized by recruiters. A 2003 study conducted by Jupiter Research found that 61% of Internet users who read blogs have an annual household income above $60,000.
Corporate blogs can vary widely in content and format, though they generally work to introduce candidates to a company and its culture. Blogs can host a range of interesting information, such as reports from employee travels, problems surrounding a current project, a play-by-play of the latest company softball game, profiles of employees…you name it. Some companies, such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, have set up primary blog sites that link to individual employee blogs. The Stonyfield Farm blog, updated by a single writer, contains a series of online journals categorized by area of interest.
There are certainly things to consider before building a blog community. It's easy to put up a blog, but their appeal lies in fresh content. If information is not updated often and kept interesting, you will quickly lose your readership. If a group of people is responsible for generating content, this may be less of a problem. Also, recruiters need to work with the company's marketing, public relations, and legal departments to determine content parameters. Allowing workers to freely disclose information has its risks. Creating a set of guidelines can protect the company and prevent conflicts before content hits the web.
Today, most online recruiting systems feel highly technical and fail to involve candidates. Blogs represent an opportunity to personalize the hiring process by reintroducing a human face into the hiring process. Thought blogs require dedicated resources to manage, the technology is flexible and interactive and has a growing audience. An investment in blogs can expand your recruiting network while giving your company an edge in the talent market.

Monday, November 15, 2004

From the November 15, 2004 print edition
Nonprofits' finance under Spitzer's watch
Annie Deck-Miller, Business First

If you're an executive or board member of a nonprofit, you may sometimes get the sneaking suspicion that your every move is being observed and judged.
Chances are, that suspicion is not far off the mark.
As accounting and management scandals wend their way through the corporate and nonprofit worlds, ripple-by-regulatory-ripple, charities and their leadership are increasingly expected to account for their activities and finances in careful, controlled, demonstrable ways.
This transparency is demanded both by a public that's grown skeptical and by lawmakers who want nonprofits to follow corporations down the path of fiscal accountability à la Sarbanes-Oxley, the 2002 federal legislation also known as the Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act.
New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was an early proponent of such reform, submitting a proposal to amend the Not-For-Profit Corporation and Religious Corporations laws to the state Legislature in early 2003.
Legislators in both houses agreed to sponsor the bill, which would expand protections against financial fraud or abuse. While it stalled in both the Senate and Assembly, it remains a priority for the Attorney General's Office and will be taken up in the session beginning in January by its sponsors, Sen. Vincent Leibell and Assembly Member Richard Brodsky.
"It's a priority because not-for-profit entities do not pay taxes, and we have to serve as the guardian of the public trust in that regard," said Brad Maione, spokesperson for Spitzer, who was not made available for comment.
The legislation would require the chief executives and chief financial officers of larger nonprofits -- those with gross revenues over $1 million or assets over $3 million -- to not only approve financial statements, but verify the accuracy of their contents. Other provisions encourage larger nonprofits to establish executive and audit committees and lay out new policies and penalties targeting board member conflicts of interest.
Since government, at all levels, awards hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to nonprofits, Maione said, "We believe it's an obligation to protect those investments by the public, which is taxpayers, to ensure that the funds are spent for their intended purposes."
Cause for concern?
How have area nonprofits reacted to the word that an already highly regulated sector is likely to be subject to yet higher standards?

"They're not obsessing," says Michael de Freitas, an attorney with William C. Moran & Associates PC in Williamsville. "But I think it will also scare a lot of people."

De Freitas, who represents both grant-seeking and grant-making nonprofits, is not convinced that the legislation is necessary.
"Financial transparency has already been improving over the years," he says. "So I think there's a real question how effective these additional procedures would be when balanced with the possibility that you're going to scare away directors from joining boards."
Many nonprofits welcome the changes, and de Freitas says he's not aware of any area organization "with financial practices that are so out of whack that they would be in a risky position if this legislation took effect tomorrow."
"People should be available to get information easily that they believe they need to have in order to make a decision about making a contribution," said Arlene Kaukus, president of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County.
She said she hopes nonprofits, particularly small- and mid-sized ones, will take advantage of the agency's four-year-old Not For Profit Resource Center.
"We're trying to help agencies fulfill those higher expectations," says Joe Roccisano, who took over two months ago as the center's director. He points to initiatives to recruit corporate professionals as volunteer advisers, assign college interns and facilitate mergers as ways that the Resource Center can help nonprofits to become more efficient and fiscally sound.
De Freitas positions the trend toward greater regulation within a long-term context.
"In the 1980s," he says, "it was sort of 180 degrees different. Then, everyone was concerned that directors were being scared off by the fear of third-party lawsuits.
"Now, the wave has gone the other way."

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Strategic Recruiter

The Recruiting Profession
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
The Strategic Recruiter

The bulk of recruiting is far more tactical than it is strategic, especially since most of the heavy lifting takes place between recruiter and candidate. Unfortunately, the endless details of dealing with candidates, resumes, interviews, and feedback — while also trying to close the deal — can have you running from pillar to post in a completely reactive style on a daily basis.

This bizarre existence is played out in countless companies across the country, and it is probably the primary reason recruiters lose productivity, become jaded, and burn out. After they snap, corporate America's brilliant response is to replace them, which allows them to burn out new recruiters. As an added bonus, the crowd that's on its way out now has the dubious opportunity to ply their trade at another company and have what usually amounts to same experience. This is one of the reasons why there are very few 100 year-old recruiters around.

Things do not have to be this way. But if recruiters want life to change then they will have to be the ones to drive that change. Change requires power, and power is never granted; power is only taken.

The first step towards empowerment for recruiters is to acknowledge that they are professionals and need to run their job as opposed to having their job running them. Unless you call the shots, you will continue to be hammered by the forces and whims of those dilettantes who believe they know your job better than you do. Your time and energy will continue to be drained by those who are more than happy to burden you with the blame when an offer is turned down, while bestowing you very little credit when it is accepted.

If you have days where you go home exhausted and feel as though you have almost no control over anything, migrating towards a strategic recruiting model might save both your sanity as well as your career.

Strategic recruiting starts with a belief that running around like a kid on too much sugar is no way to live, be productive, or build a company. It is reactive as opposed to proactive, governed by things that are urgent as opposed to things that are important (for those of you familiar with Covey, I am obviously talking about quadrant one versus quadrant two existence).
Interested in getting a bit of control into your function and meaning into your recruiting life?

Consider the following three points:
Stop all activity for a day or two (or three). Find a quiet conference room away from the madness of the phones and email, huddle with your team and do some thinking. An offsite would even be better. This is to be a quiet and reflective time to look at and examine your role, your priorities and how you run your business. If you say that you have no time to stop for a few days then I say you have to follow this advice more than you will ever know. (Charles de Gaulle said "the graveyards are filled with irreplaceable men." Think about it.)

Create a plan with a set of priorities that will govern how you spend your time. Notice I said how "you" spend your time. Not how "others" spend it. You should be the one to determine when you will do interviews, when you will do research, and when you will review resumes. There should be no other modus operandi if you are the one responsible for getting the job done. If you let the organization or politics of the day dictate what you should do, when and how to do it, they probably don't need you in the first place. Personally, I would much rather fail because my plan did not work than fail because someone else's plan did not work.

Armed with priorities and a plan, get your job done more effectively while enjoying a better quality of life in the workplace. For a recruiter, filling a position is no different than building a house is for a developer. Both endeavors require a well thought out plan (think strategy) before the actual work (think tactical) begins. This plan and the ability to stick to it will save both parties' endless time, and the result will be happy customers. Unfortunately, recruiters seldom have the time to really do the kind of planning necessary to prevent them from spinning their wheels on a regular basis. This "no time to think and only time to do" style of living, coupled with a workplace existence that is interrupt driven, makes true growth and a feeling of professional satisfaction hard to achieve. If you believe this type of thinking makes sense, I want to outline just a few things you can do to get back your span of control, sense of well-being, and ability to be productive.

The first and most crucial step is to learn the importance of planning. The second step is to learn the importance of working that plan as close as possible and resisting the endless distractions that are the enemies of real progress. I suggest that you look at planning in the following manner and remember that long-term planning is more strategic while short-term planning is more tactical:

Plan quarterly for long-term conceptual workforce type issues. How many requisitions do you have on your plate, what are the priorities, and how will you manage this workload? Put your plan in writing. Don't worry about it being perfect because that will never happen.

Plan monthly. How are you progressing based upon your workload? What midcourse corrections should be made to have things come together for you to meet your goals?

Plan weekly. Do it every Friday after lunch. Do not wait till 4:00. If you do, there's a good chance you will not be able to get it done and will have to play catch up on Monday, and we all know how happy life can be on Monday.

Plan for tomorrow. This plan should be specific to the next day's activities. Remember to put the most important things at the top of the list. Furthermore, don't schedule every minute of the day; you need time set aside to deal with life's unexpected problems. Empowered with this new and different way of dealing with your work, be aware of the main enemy confronting a person with a plan, the time-waster. It could be anything from useless meetings to nonsensical paperwork to people stopping in your office for the usual five minutes that turn into an hour.
There are many ways to deal with time-wasters.

Here are just three:

Feel free not to answer your phone every time it rings. A ringing phone says, "I want you now." Well, perhaps they want you now but that does not mean they can have you now. Let voicemail handle your calls. Check voicemail at noon and about an hour before you end the day.
Do not check email every four seconds. It causes you to lose focus, increases stress, and reduces productivity. If you do not want to operate in an interruption-driven manner, do not invite interruptions. I can assure you your emails will not disappear, and if someone dies, you will get the word soon enough.

Schedule meetings with hiring managers. Discourage them from popping in on you (when they show up ask them, "What can I do for you?") and do not drop in on them. This demonstrates a respect for their time as well as yours and gets them in the habit of communicating on a regular basis as opposed to hit or miss. By the way, have meetings in other people's offices as opposed to your own. It is relatively easy to get out of their office when you are finished, but far more awkward to throw them out of yours. Buckminster Fuller, the great inventor and architect said, "Our power is in our ability to decide." If you decide to make this change, you are well on your way to seizing all of the power you will need to make this all-important transformation. There really is no other way.

As an aside, I seldom recommend any books I've read, but I do hope that you will read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. It outlines some interesting practices and attitudes in companies you know well and is both informative as well as disturbing.

Howard Adamsky is the founder and president of HR Innovators, Inc. He is a management consultant, author and public speaker. As a consultant, Howard's sole purpose is to improve the condition of his clients' business (he has to or they don't pay him). His presentations, all customized to audience needs, include the importance of ethical and proactive leadership, creating the perfect candidate interviewing experience, and how to turn your company into an effective recruiting machine without really trying. Howard's new book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike, has been published by McGraw-Hill. He is currently finishing the last edits of his new book on people skills and had just completed development an interviewing program entitled The Other Side of Experience/Six Critical Assessment Tools for Long Term Thinkers.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Balance is Bunk! Continued

This is an excerpt from "Fast Company Magazine",
From: Issue 87 October 2004, Page 68 By: Keith H. Hammonds

Balance Is for Fat People

Pavan Vishwakarma is a 25-year-old freelance Web and e-commerce software developer. He lives and works in Bhopal, India, but he has done work for companies in Illinois, Nevada, and Canada. And he has, as he advertises, "no working hours limitation. I can work up to any stretch of time."

You want balance? Vishwakarma doesn't, particularly. He wants to work, and he'll work cheap -- a lot cheaper than you will.

The global economy is antibalance. For as much as Accenture and Google say they value an environment that allows workers balance, they're increasingly competing against companies that don't. You're competing against workers with a lot more to gain than you, who will work harder for less money to get the job done. This is the dark side of the "happy workaholic." Someday, all of us will have to become workaholics, happy or not, just to get by.
Tom Patterson has spent the last year setting up a technology operations center in Hyderabad, India, for MarketTools, the Mill Valley, California, marketing-research company where he's senior vice president of technology and operations. And he has been stunned by what he sees there.

"I'm amazed at the work ethic," he says. "People are hungry, entrepreneurial, and willing to do whatever it takes at great sacrifices. These kids are working for a change in economic status. Things that we take for granted like housing, health care, vacations -- this is what they're looking at. And the difference to them between $6,000 a year and $10,000 is huge."
Protest, if you like, against labor exploitation or unfair competition. The reality is, workers in India, China, Brazil, and, inevitably, everywhere else aren't stopping long to worry about it. They make our developed-world notion that workers actually are entitled to balance seem quaintly dated.

For years, work-life advocates have held up as a model the "work to live" ethic of Europeans, who historically have toiled fewer hours than Americans. But those would-be paragons are failing, too. The French government is reconsidering its decision in 2000 to reduce the national workweek to 35 hours. And two of Germany's largest companies, Siemens AG and DaimlerChrysler, have (with popular support) won union concessions that will force longer hours for employees.

If you're competing against Pavan Vishwakarma -- and ultimately, we all are -- you can't have both a big paycheck and reasonable hours. The laws of economics won't allow it. If we want time with our families, time to give back to our communities, time to stay slim, we're going to have to accept a pay cut -- and even then, we'll have to work darned hard. Hungry beats fat, every time.

The Superman Trap

For many, the great fallacy is not that we aspire to accomplishment but that we aspire to everything else, too. Unwilling to prioritize among things that all seem important, we instead invent for ourselves the possibility of having everything.

In part, this is the inevitable result of the rush of women into the workforce and the proliferation of two-income families. Can any couple facing two full-time jobs, kids, aging parents, groceries, the dog, the bills, and telemarketers at dinnertime expect anything but all stress, all the time?

But it's not just demographics; it's also desire. If women's inner voices in 1963 were saying, as feminist writer Betty Friedan surmised then, "I want something more than my husband and my children and my home," then today many (and many men, too) are saying something different: "I want it all."

So it is that Tina Sharkey, AOL's senior vice president of life management and community, finds herself on a plane two or three days a week, taking photos of her meal, the flight attendants, everything, so her two young kids will know what she does.

Sharkey's routine seems, to many who know her, mind-boggling. She and her husband, fully employed entrepreneur Seth Goldstein, live with their kids in New York. But many of her 250 employees are at AOL's Dulles, Virginia, headquarters. So she spends one or two nights a week at a hotel nearby. Even at home, her workday is a whirl; she typically breaks at 6 p.m. to go home but is back online from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. As "chief everything officer" of her family, as she puts it, Sharkey coordinates the children's care and family meals, and participates in what school functions she can.

She is an extraordinary woman who evinces both intensity and empathy. But her regimen poses a trap for the rest of us. If we work hard enough, we imagine, we can do anything -- and, therefore, everything. "Balance is misleading people," says Laura Nash, who with Howard Stevenson surveyed hundreds of professionals for their new book, Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). "The problem is, they're looking for a magic bullet, a one-stop solution." It is a peculiarly American quest for perfection, for "a solution in achievements."

You've seen supermen and superwomen: They're the ones at their kids' baseball games, half-watching while tethered to their cell phones (been there). Or they're on the phone at work, sorting out child-care schedules and meal assignments with their nannies and spouses.
The problem, as Nash points out, is that while success at work is largely rooted in achievement, success outside of work mostly isn't. The things most of us say we value in our nonwork lives -- simply caring and being there for others -- aren't a function of accomplishing anything per se. Contentedness in that realm is less a matter of doing more than of cutting back.
Obvious enough, isn't it? Life is about setting priorities and making trade-offs; that's what grown-ups do. But in our all-or-nothing culture, resorting to those sorts of decisions is too often seen as a kind of failure. Seeking balance, we strive for achievement everywhere, all the time -- and we feel guilty and stressed out when, inevitably, we fall short.

The Book of Life

Do we throw up our hands then? We can't do everything, but neither can we retreat from the things that are important. How do we make work and life happen on our terms?
The short answer is, we don't entirely. But there are saner ways to confront the problem. One is rooted in the short term. In their interviews and surveys, Nash and Stevenson learned that successful professionals who were also happy had found ways to "switch and link" -- to switch the focus of their full attention with lightning speed among activities and people in different realms.

David Zelman, a psychotherapist and executive coach, sees this as a crucial skill successful people must learn. "Can you leave the office in the office? Can you give someone outside the office the same attention you gave your CEO? If you can give your children or your spouse 100% of your attention, even for a brief period, it goes way longer than compromising and giving them some time because you think you should."

The other solution is more about structure. It forces us to take a long-term view. Give up on the promise of balance at any point in time. Instead, consider a life and career as a portfolio. In each chapter, we have different responsibilities and priorities: children, home, travel, aging relatives. We face a corresponding variety of roles and opportunities on the job: a big project, moving up the managerial hierarchy, consulting, a startup, a top leadership role.

Balance, for what the word is worth, then becomes a lifelong quest -- balance among chapters rather than within each chapter. "It gets in people's heads that the ultimate goal is a 50-50 split between work and life," says work-life consultant Cali Williams Yost. "But there are times when I've happily devoted 80% of my time to work -- and other times when I couldn't." The tough part is recognizing the chapters for what they are -- just temporary episodes that together make up a coherent and satisfying whole.

"This is just one chapter in my life. I feel I have so much to contribute. I have to leverage myself and contribute in the way I can."

That's why Sharkey finds her current manic lifestyle acceptable -- because, she says, "this is just one chapter in my life." The opportunity to fix and build a business at AOL -- and to create something that brings lasting value to women and families -- is, she believes, worth the frenzy and the compromises. "I feel like I have so much to contribute. I have to leverage myself and contribute in the way I can."

Consider it an exercise in continuous redesign, in adapting to ever-changing circumstances and priorities. For couples, this also requires constant rebalancing of roles and responsibilities: You got the promotion, so I'll telecommute for now -- until my next big opportunity comes up. Those who succeed, says Zelman, are "the people who learn to dance with change, who create and ride the wave." They don't make decisions once or twice, but all the time.

And here's what's crucial: With each decision, these people invest themselves, their passion, and their time in what is most important to them. They also agree to give up something important; a portfolio life doesn't excuse them from the need to make trade-offs. The decision to reject the mirage of balance requires the discipline to continually prioritize and compromise.

Is that balance? Only in the sense that, over time, things more or less balance out. But that doesn't make it perfect, or easy. In some ways, it's counterinstinctual. It forces us to think differently about our careers and about the contributions we make in all realms of our lives. And it gives us a plan that's valid only until the next baby, project deadline, layoff, or illness.

But all things considered, it could prove a lot saner.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Balance is Bunk!

This is an excerpt of an article in Fast Company Magazine
From: Issue 87 October 2004, Page 68
By: Keith H. Hammonds

It's the central myth of the modern workplace: With a few compromises, you can have it all. But it's all wrong, and it's making us crazy. Here's how to have a life anyway.
It may be that you recently had a week that defied sanity. You faced an impossible deadline at work. You were expected at your daughter's dance recital, at a soccer game, and at a meeting with the kitchen contractor. Then another big project landed in your lap (thanks, boss!). You were exhausted, and your spouse was miffed. And your job? Well, at 11 one night, you finally bailed on that deadline.

And you wondered, What's wrong here? Whatever happened to balance?
The truth is, balance is bunk. It is an unattainable pipe dream, a vain artifice that offers mostly rhetorical solutions to problems of logistics and economics. The quest for balance between work and life, as we've come to think of it, isn't just a losing proposition; it's a hurtful, destructive one.
This is not, of course, what many of us want to believe. In the last generation, balance has won huge cultural resonance. No longer mere cocktail conversation fodder, it has become something like a new inalienable right, creeping into the American ethos if not the Constitution: life, liberty, and the pursuit of balance. Self-actualization and quality time for all!

This hopeful premise, born of the feminist movement, has been promulgated relentlessly since the 1980s by writers like, well, me. (At one point, in the name of balance, I actually diapered my infant daughter on CNN.) The froth fed a sort of industry, as consultants rushed to help businesses help employees balance work and life. That's the point of on-site day care, of breast-feeding rooms, of flextime and telecommuting and take-home dinners from the company cafeteria -- and, more notorious, in days of dotcoms past, of take-your-pet-to-work policies and foosball tables.

But the balance movement is fatally flawed. For those of us trying desperately to keep up with everything that needs doing, it poses two mythical ideals. If we work hard enough at it, one goes, we can have everything. Or if we cut back, we can have just enough to be truly content. The first obliges us to accomplish too much, often at too high a price; the second doesn't let us accomplish enough. Either way, balance is a relic, a fleeting phenomenon of a closed, industrial economy that doesn't apply in a global, knowledge-based world.

There's a better way to think about all this, one that requires us to embrace imbalance. Instead of trying to balance all of our commitments and passions at any one time, let's acknowledge that anything important, and anything done well, demands our full investment. At some times, it may be a demanding child or an unhappy spouse, and the office will suffer. At others, it may be winning the McWhorter account, and child and spouse will have to fend for themselves. Only over time can we really balance a portfolio of diverse experiences.

For now, the balance mania persists: Media mentions have soared in the past five years, and executive coaches say their clients are as consumed by the problem as ever. Employers, meanwhile, are trying desperately to say the right things: Accenture, the big professional-services firm, knows "how important it is for our employees to strike a balance between their work and personal lives." Google offers workers a slew of benefits (On-site dental! Dry cleaning!) billed as "balance enhancers."

But this passion and fury is misspent. All our striving for balance is only making us crazy. Here's how to think about living in a postbalance world.

The Happy Workaholic

Sigmund Freud suggested it first: Imbalance is part of the human condition. The father of psychoanalysis observed that anxiety is a crucial "signal" function, a response to danger -- either external physical danger or internal psychological danger.

That is, anxiety is a central part of our existence. It is a source of creativity and drive; it spurs us to accomplishment. Great leaders, serial innovators, even top sales reps may be driven by a kind of inner demon -- the need to prove themselves, to achieve for fear of being worthless (or, as Freud postulated, for fear of castration).

But it's hard to argue with the result: Such people are incredibly productive. They drive change. And that cuts to the problem with a reductionist view of balance. Simply cutting back on work inevitably fails, because in real life, success in work is predicated on achievement. In a competitive business environment -- which is to say, every business environment -- leadership requires commitment, passion, and, to be blunt, a lot of time.

This isn't a cynical argument in favor of clocking the hours -- though let's face it, in some organizations, that pressure is all too real. Rather, building something great, leading change, truly innovating -- "it's like falling in love. You have to abandon yourself to it," says John Wood. "There's the risk of inherent contradiction between wanting to do something entrepreneurial and wanting to have balance."

Wood is 40 years old. He helped build Microsoft's business in Asia until 1998, when, trekking through Nepal on vacation, he saw villages with few schools and bookless libraries. In response, he started Room to Read, a not-for-profit group that builds schools and libraries and provides books and scholarships to Asian children.

Wood isn't married, though he does date. He loves biking, running, and the annual trek that he takes with friends through Southern Asia. Mostly, though, he loves Room to Read. He'll do 11-hour days in his San Francisco office, have a working dinner, then check email late at night. He works seven days a week, year-round.

"I don't look at balance as an ideal. What I look at is, Am I happy? If the answer is yes, then everything else is inconsequential."

But here's how he thinks about it: "I don't look at balance as an ideal. What I look at is, Am I happy? If the answer is yes, then everything else is inconsequential. If you look at the number of hours I work, it's probably extreme. But those hours talking with an adviser over dinner -- is that work? Well, yeah, but it's also stimulating.

"At Microsoft, my definition of balance was getting a decent number of hours outside the office and off email. Now I don't care about that, because the email I check at midnight may come from a person who says he wants to endow a school in Vietnam. So I can't help but read that email, because it's a chance to change a kid's life."

Most achievers don't work hard just at work. They think about their work a lot of the time outside the office. Even if they acknowledge the value of paying attention to their families or their health, they're consumed -- and thrilled -- by the task at hand. Stewart Friedman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and Sharon Lobel of Seattle University have a term for such folks: "happy workaholics."

Friedman, who has long encouraged business leaders to pursue "whole" lives, thinks it's possible for leaders to be "poster children for balance," as he says. But he also agrees that conventional arguments for balance devalue the work half of the equation. "Work is an experience through which much of life's rewards and opportunities for service can be realized," he says. "Creating value for the world, for the next generation, all our high-minded ideals -- much of work has the potential for giving voice to that sort of aspiration. And most executives are passionate about what they do.

"So if people are fulfilled through their work, why do we question that?"