Mentorship over Coffee, Lesson #2: Define your Non-negotiables

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As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve started a mentorship at Rackspace. I had my second session and wanted to share the lesson I learned, which was “define your non-negotiables.” What does this mean? Well basically what it says, what are you not willing to negotiate on? If you define early on what you stand for, what you believe in, what you will not negotiate on, you could not only potentially prevent yourself from being in many unwanted situations but feel incredibly empowered to do things you didn’t realize you could do. I can name 3 different scenarios where defining your non-negotiables would help you in a work environment:


Know when to go home

There was an article recently published on how Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, leaves the office everyday at 5:30 and you should too. She quotes:

“In high school, my friends used to always say they envied my family for making it a rule to have dinner as a unit at least five nights a week, and I honestly feel I would have become a different person had my parents not prioritized it.”

When I became pregnant, I couldn’t fathom myself leaving my work behind for 10 weeks straight. I know it sounds funny because of course, I was going to have to leave, but I could not imagine myself away for that long, not even longer than a weekend. My life changed and I’ve definitely re-prioritized my life but that doesn’t mean work isn’t important. There just has to be balance and that goes for anyone, children or not. There’s a long time Racker, Tony Barrerra, that took a sabbatical to travel the continent over the course of 6 months. He came back to the same work he was doing before. It’s like the saying goes, “work will be there when you get back.” The world will continue to turn even if you step out of it for a minute and it’s a good thing it does. If we define what’s important to us in our lives, whether it’s our family, school, recreational activities, etc, we’ll know when it’s time to leave work – and that is when your time is not negotiable.


Hire an awesome team

If you’re in fast paced, high growth work environment (like that of Rackspace), it can be easy to “settle” on someone to join your team just so you can get some extra hands in to help right away. This only creates a problem that you’ll have to address sooner than later. Fortunately, Rackspace has a set of core values that Rackers believe in and incorporate into their everyday work habits. Our set of core values lays the foundation for the hiring process by providing us a baseline on what to look for in a candidate. As the company has grown and evolved, teams have built their own cultures based off of the core values. As a hiring manager or someone that sits on hiring panels, it’s important to know what you and your team view as important qualities to have in a candidate (in addition to of course being qualified). This will help you connect with those that believe in the same thing you do and consequently, you’ll know the answer on whether or not you should hire a particular person to join your team. And maybe this process takes longer than you want but at the same token, you’re building an awesome team that will endure the long road ahead alongside you – and you shouldn’t let that be negotiated.


Handle crucial conversations

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in one of these (**as I raise my hand**). We’ve all been in them, some more than others. I can tell you that I repeatedly kick myself in the butt every time I leave a difficult conversation because I discover what I “should” have said and didn’t take the opportunity to say it when it was most relevant. You might think that by my writing style, I’m a super confident person. Unfortunately, I have a habit (that I am trying to overcome) of letting down in difficult conversations. I lose confidence and allow people to talk over me and through me. One of the things that my mentor is encouraging me to do is build a game face and attach a name to it. Sometimes we have to envision ourselves as a strong, confident person and define what you will not let yourself lose ground on. The next step? Practice. Sounds funny I know (and I haven’t done this yet) but it’s good to practice being in difficult conversations even if it’s just talking to yourself in the mirror or in the car on your way to work. So don’t laugh if you see me talking to myself as you drive by me on the road! It is important to me, however, to be respected for my work and I should never let that be negotiated on.

These are three areas where I think defining your non-negotiables is incredibly helpful. I think I have #1 and #2 down but have a lot of work to do on #3. I will probably write a whole separate post just on how to handle crucial conversations, once I’ve learned how to do it myself!

One last note. I will eventually disclose my mentor but for now, I think it’s fun to keep you guessing.

As always, your comments are welcome.

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