Jessica, who has just received a major promotion, described the situation concisely. In her words:

I have just received a huge promotion to sales executive vice president for a major software company. I have worked toward this job for over ten years … slaved may be a better word. I handled lots of tough crappy jobs on the road up. And here I am at last. Why am I not ecstatically happy?

Process Narrative

Jessica   9:21 AM Apr 4

I kind of knew this going in but my new job is basically travel. Internationally as well as nationally. It offers a huge pay increase, lavish expense account, a fancy car, a big staff, stock options. Just what I always wanted. Unfortunately, I have a family – husband and three kids – who have put up with my long hours and regular absences for years. Ken, my guy, is hugely supportive even though he runs his own small construction business. My earnings helped Ken get his now-successful business started.

Here I sit in my palatial new office, with too many lackeys (like I was for years) ready to do whatever I ask. Reality has just hit me … hard. I am beginning to think that I simply can’t abandon my family at this point when they probably will be needing me most. Kids all early- and pre-teens. They didn’t get a lot of my time growing up this far and my conscience is having a fit as I think about being gone even more of the time. We now can afford a live-in nanny but I don’t think that she will be able to be a surrogate mommy. Or so my mostly-divorced friends tell me.

So here is my question for you: I have just accepted my “dream” job and already I see it turning into a nightmare for my family. I am pretty driven and ambitious, obviously, but is there a time when that becomes a liability? What should I do?

About me:

I am 39, married, three kids, great husband. Things are pretty okay on the home front. Ken’s business has finally begun to pay back for the years of work he gave building it and we can afford the good life at long last. We just moved into our McMansion that Ken’s company built (and couldn’t sell so we got it cheap). I have a degree in computer science and an MBA in marketing (MIT Sloan). I worked for a few years in software development and customer training, which led me into sales where I really belong and do best. Not sure what else you need here.

What are my dreams or goals in life?

My goal, or better called obsession, has for most of my career been to move into the big time – sales management. In my company, these people are kings (and queens). They all walk on water, or so I thought. Not so much anymore. Now I have achieved my “goal in life” and am becoming increasingly unhappy. Not what I expected or hoped for.

What have I tried to do about this so far? Nothing much except get really depressed and angry with myself.

How important is this to me? It is my life. I love my work, or mostly so, and I love my family. Family has come second for too long. I can now afford to buy them whatever they may want but I am sure that what they need from me can’t be bought.

Time frame for resolution? Pretty urgent decision on what to do needed here.

My thoughts on your approach to executive coaching going in: My schedule is so crazy that e-coaching seems like a natural for me. I am good at written communications after so many years in marketing and sales. Let’s get moving.

Coach   3:01 PM Apr 5

Hi Jessica — Thanks for telling me about your situation so clearly and frankly. It is unfortunately a pretty classic dilemma among ambitious, talented people as they move into upper management.

My sense is that you have been concerned about your family obligations for quite a while and that this new job really brought them to the front-and-center. While it may have been hard to maintain a balance as you worked so hard to advance, you may find that your new job offers some flexibility that you can’t see or fully appreciate right now. It may in fact be the solution to making your family-work balance far better.

First step that I see is to put some early boundaries around where the solution for you must lie:

  • You have worked for years to get your dream job.
  • You are very good at what you do.
  • You have a great family and do not want to lose it or hurt it.
  • Money now is no longer a problem.
  • Ken is fully supportive and will probably back you on whatever you decide.
  • You now have a big staff available.
  • Job and family responsibilities have to both be satisfied.

Your goal is now is to figure out how to achieve this balance.

Let me know if you see anything important that I have missed or stated incorrectly before we get moving.

Jessica   10:10 PM Apr 5

Your list of “boundaries” seems pretty much on the mark. I hadn’t really thought about them as a group. Just individually as situations arose.

I tried to rank your list in terms of importance to me but didn’t get anywhere. They are all top-of-the-list. I really need some guidance here.

Coach   4:28 PM Apr 6

Okay, here are some ideas that you might think about as a way of getting started:

The Big Promotion:     You worked long and hard to earn this. Among the major benefits are a large staff and the ability to redefine your job to at least some degree. Large staff means more resources for delegating work. You need to make the transition from worker to manager. More freedom in terms of action should give you the opportunity to manage your travel commitments to a reasonable level.

Family:     A great time to bring family explicitly into your work-life. Your flexibility until now has probably been pretty limited. You did what your job required. You made room for family as best you could. Now you have the opportunity to give back to them. Don’t let it pass.

Balance:    Sales normally involves a lot of entertaining even if you are in town. This can be breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and often weekend events – customer training, product introductions, and the like. Many sales managers thrive on these activities but it is clear that you are not one of them. There are some must-do meetings and events, many if-time-permits requests, and quite a few completely optional ones. A big part of your balancing job is to sort these out and delegate as many as possible.

Your Job Comes First … But:

You haven’t given me any indication that you are unhappy with the new job itself. It is what you love to do for the most part. A big win that was well-earned. Give it your best. But, while travel is a necessary part of nearly every manager’s work, especially in sales, it normally has a great deal of flexibility, more so at your level. Keep in mind here that you are now an executive first and a worker only as needed and if needed. Managing travel is a critical responsibility to your family as well as to your company. Tell me where this picture may miss the mark.

Travel:     In my experience, I have found that some managers love to travel but a good number don’t. Those who do build their jobs around travel. Those who don’t work to minimize travel as much as possible. Some travel is necessary but much is not. Your job is to figure out what is essential and what can be delegated or dropped. 

Your job:     Make a list of your travel commitments for the next three months and sort them into three categories: (1) Must go myself; (2) Can be handled by one of my staffers; (3) Candidate for the round file.

Your Family:     This might be a good time to set up some family commitments that you may have been neglecting in past. School and sports events. Shopping. Weekend getaways. Camping. Not sure how any of these fit your family but there will certainly be some activities that can be shared and enjoyed. Make a list of family commitments that you might be able to work in. Don’t firm these up yet. Get the kids and Ken involved in figuring out what they’d enjoy doing with you.

Send me a message if you have any questions or thoughts.

I am looking forward to seeing what you put together on these.

Jessica   11:59 PM Apr 8

From yet another airport somewhere …

Am I ever psyched!!! I have never been a top manager before so I didn’t see a manager’s job as being any more flexible than my lower-level and worker-bee jobs. I had even thought about quitting and looking for something with minimal travel. I now see the opportunity to make travel fit into my life rather than my life fitting into my travel schedule.

Travel Commitments:   This list is a doozy. If I hadn’t generated it myself, with the help of my admin Craig (really capable guy), I wouldn’t have believed it. This is what my predecessor managed to do so I thought that this was what the job required. Craig spent a couple of days digging into each item on the schedule and then we got our heads together to figure out what I couldn’t get out of. Turns out my hard commitments are less than a quarter of the full list and maybe less if we get really creative! Another quarter can be handed-off as a non-brainer. The rest seem like … how on earth did they get into my schedule anyway?

Current rescheduled schedule has me traveling one or two days a week max and only a single weekend event in the next three months! I cannot tell you how happy this makes me. Better yet, some of my best people now have a bunch of travel that they are really looking forward to. What a great way to start off the new job!

Family Stuff:   You have no idea what a commotion my suggestion that we schedule some truly shared time together caused. I think that they all thought I had lost my mind, or something even worse. Then they all, including Ken, got really excited and into some planning. It was a bit of a shock to learn about how much stuff I was missing, much that I didn’t even know about until now. We have set up some drop-dead commitments for the next month or so. I know you said not to do this yet but I was completely out-voted. I think that they all are testing me to see if I can really keep them. I am testing myself here as well. So, we’ll see what happens. I want so much to succeed here.  

Your quick solution to what I thought was an insurmountable problem – yes, problem solved so far as I can see – has brought up something else that I would like to work with you on. I am a real rookie as a top-level manager. MBA background not useful except in a few areas. I think that my management courses were taught by people who had never managed anything. I am looking at my calendar – mostly meetings – and wondering how much of it is truly required and productive.

Also, can you help me figure out what a good sales exec VP really does?

Coach   7:26 PM Apr 10

Hi Jessica — Glad that you are on the way to solving your big problem so quickly. Sometimes it just takes a fresh idea to get things rolling.

My only caution in all of this is that you make a special effort to fulfill every one of your family commitments no matter what. Take some personal time off if you have to. Don’t let them down. Get back into their lives and stay there.

I would of course be delighted to help you figure out what a good sales exec does to be effective and productive. You need to be both. And they are different.

Do you have a formal job description that you could pass along or extract? Extract is better because I’d like you to add your comments on the percentage of your time that each one might require over, say, a typical month. Then rearrange the list by how important to success in your job each one is. Use an ABC ranking to get started. Finally, flag any item that you feel can be largely or completely delegated.

Lastly, could you make a list of your MBA courses that you felt were of most value. From your comment, this will probably be a short list.

These will give us a starting place to defining your job for best results. And for you.

Jessica   9:41 Apr 30

Sorry to have been out of touch for a while. Job stuff really got going. I have had a rough time keeping all of my family commitments as you advised but score here is 100% so far. What a bunch of happy kids. I feel like I’m getting to know each one again after a long absence. This is so important to me. I think that it is going to work.

Below is what I came up with on the sales VP job and my take on it. I had not seen this before and HR didn’t even mention it to me during a couple of pre-promotion interviews. Guess that says something about the value they place on job descriptions. I’ll keep that in mind as I do some necessary staffing adjustments shortly.

This one looks like it was picked out of an online job site but anyway that’s what they gave me. It doesn’t even include selling (sales calls are different), which is a big part of what I really have to do. Calls on our top customers account for most of my travel obligations. These calls do not include enough selling, which is what I do best.

Position Description: Sales Vice President

Position Responsibilities:

(A) Calls on major customers with sales teams (managers and reps) (25%)

(A) Completes national sales operational requirements by scheduling and assigning employees; following up on work results. (20%)

(A) Maintains national sales staff by recruiting, selecting, orienting, and training employees. (10%)

(A) Maintains national sales staff job results by counseling and disciplining employees; planning, monitoring, and appraising job results. (5%)

(B) Determines annual unit and gross-profit plans by implementing marketing strategies; analyzing trends and results.  (1% – staff does this)

(B) Establishes sales objectives by forecasting and developing annual sales quotas for regions and territories; projecting expected sales volume and profit for existing and new products. (1% – staff does this)

(B) Implements national sales programs by developing field sales action plans. (1% – staff does this)

(B) Maintains sales volume, product mix, and selling price by keeping current with supply and demand, changing trends, economic indicators, and competitors. (1% – staff does this)

(B) Establishes and adjusts selling prices by monitoring costs, competition, and supply and demand. (1% – staff does this)

(C) Maintains professional and technical knowledge by attending educational workshops; reviewing professional publications; establishing personal networks; participating in professional societies. (<1% or less)

(C) Contributes to team effort by accomplishing related results as needed. (This is really useless.)


Meeting Sales Goals, Negotiation, Selling to Customer Needs, Motivation for Sales, Sales Planning, Building Relationships, Coaching, Managing Processes, Market Knowledge, Developing Budgets, Staffing
I don’t even know what most of this really means in practice.

There is quite a bit more but I deleted it since it was worse than useless. I’m not too sure what any of this really means in any case. Maybe we should develop a real description around what I want to do. Won’t look much like this one.

Family stuff is now pretty much what you’d expect when you actually have a family life. A school play. PTA sessions. A church picnic. Pizza-lunch with my son (youngest). Girl talk with my oldest (daughter) who is having boyfriend problems. Tennis matches with my younger daughter who is a real athlete like her father. Even had an evening or two to spend with Ken, much to his surprise. We talked a lot about his business, which has hit some rough spots. I am getting to know my family again. Wouldn’t trade this time for anything. You will probably be pleased to know that I cancelled on a couple of “important” (useless is a better word) meetings to keep my family dates.

Where do we go from here?

Coach   9:41 PM Apr 30

Hi Jessica — Your feedback is about as encouraging and uplifting as I could have hoped for. It appears that family has at last made it into first place. Very tough to do at your level. It is a major accomplishment! Hang in there.

On your time-spent estimate, your first four items add up to only 60% of your time. Ignoring the “staff” items, how do you think you spend the remaining 40% of your time?

Jessica   12:10 PM May 18

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. But you will be happy to know that I was fully-booked with family and job. In that order, still. You are #3. I do think about you and your questions a lot if that counts. Mostly on airplanes.

Your question about how I spend 40% of my time certainly got me to thinking. The top four items are mostly wild guesses and could be higher, or lower. Probably add up to 60% anyway.

I finally caved in and got a time-tracking app for my phone. I now feel like a lawyer who bills by 15-minute intervals. In any case, what I learned was – are you ready for this – just how much job time I was totally wasting. Sure looks like at least 40%, maybe more.

[This has me just screaming at my stupidity! Literally. Good thing my office is well-soundproofed and in a corner. I am now feeling a little better.]

The big time-killer appears to be unscheduled meetings of all kinds. Scheduled meetings are just as bad but those I mostly can’t get out of. Yet. Unscheduled ones – I call them “meetings” because we talk mostly business seem to be not much more than business-social chit-chat anyway. I guess that some of this is okay but I have just discovered that I am a major yapper! Now that I am aware of this, I can see that it is me who initiates the majority of these sessions. And prolongs them. No wonder I feel so much time pressure!

We have a great communications staffer in HR who has offered to help me break this disgusting habit. I’ll let you know if it works out.

Let’s take a break in our interactions for a while. I am going on a nearly month-long family vacation as soon as school ends. First real vacation I can remember in years. Even Ken has managed to break away (but he’ll be on his phone frequently no matter where we try to hide). I’m going to attempt a limit of a single call to the office a day.

I think that we need to work next on what I am doing with my work time. My time-tracker says that I am not well-prioritized. To say the least. I flit from thing to thing as emails and calls and meetings dictate.

My goal is to be the best sales EVP this place ever had. Not by working harder but by working smarter. Can you help me work smarter?

Thank you so much for what you have done. My kids say to thank you from them. My life has at last become whole, I think.

Jessica   11:30 PM Aug 2

Hope you are ready to go again. I am getting overwhelmed by new demands on my time that I had not in my worst nightmares imagined. Many of these are exec-level happenings that I have no idea about how to manage or extract myself from.

Seems like half my time is now spent with the CEO or on his requests. He once had my job and really knows his stuff, sales-wise. Great training for me but I’m slipping back into the abyss.

It gets worse.

Husband Ken’s construction business, mostly high-end homebuilding, has hit a truly bad stretch of trouble. Not sure whether I mentioned that I was deeply involved in his business from its start until quite recently. Maybe had something to do with my time pressure, you think?

Anyhow, Ken feels that his troubles are at least partly due to my moving away from this involvement. Which may well be true. There Is no way that I can’t get involved somehow in helping him get back on track.

Ken was so happy with what you and I managed to do in getting my work-life balance into a reasonable, well, balance that he just asked me if the three of us might be able to work together on his business situation. Completely separate issue from my executive coaching activity (which, you’ll be not-surprised to hear, is being picked up 100% by HR). I knew they were good for something. Sorry, not nice. They have actually done a lot for me in my new life as a big exec.

Let me know as soon as you can. We are both drowning, I fear.

Coach  9:29 AM Aug 3

The answer is yes, but these have to be handled separately at my end. Making you “effective and productive”, whatever that means in practice, is one issue. The second one appears to be some joint coaching involving you and Ken as a team. I have not done this within my current messaging context so this will be a learning process for me. It should involve nothing more than adding Ken to the messaging contact list so he can provide separate input and receive anything that you or I send.