June 15, 2021
Interviews 01 November 2017
Interview: Stever Robbins
Dillon Chen

Stever Robbins is an executive coach who helps people live an extraordinary life. He is an advisor and mentor to several senior managers and CEOs in several high-growth companies. 

Stever co-designed the “Leadership and Learning” curriculum at Harvard business school and his Get-It-Done-Guy podcast about productivity and success at life/work has spent weeks as #1 in the iTunes business category and has been downloaded more than 30 million times. Check out how his coaching can improve your life or your company by visiting http://www.steverrobbins.com/.

What does work/life balance mean to you?

I believe there is no such thing, there is only life and how you spend your time with it. You decide how you spend your time and have to accept the consequences of it. 

I don’t believe it is ethical for a company to ask you to work over 40 hours a week. Many companies expect you to work over that amount, and if you don’t, then it’s reflected in your performance review. However, corporations do not own you and it’s been shown that 40 hours a week is the most productive amount of hours for employees.

Places like to say that performance reviews are based on results and merit, but in my experience, most people care whether you have enough “face time” in the company. There is research out there that shows whether your boss likes you is the number one factor that determines your promotions and not whether you do a good job. 

I’ve had some personal experience where people do many times the work than those around them, but if you leave early after accomplishing all that, it won’t go well for you.

So when I think of Work/life balance, I think in terms of "what are the tradeoffs?". How do I want to spend my time, and what are the consequences of that going to be given my work situation?

In an environment where you have a lot of face time with people, people tend to look at the hours you work and not at your output. One of the reasons being an independent consultant or someone who works from home is attractive to me is that if you are someone who is unnaturally productive, you can capture the value of productivity. The more productive you are, the more free time you have. 

I don’t believe there is a correlation between hours worked and promotion or happiness in life. This is measurable! A greater number of people work long hours than the number that are promoted. Therefore, you can conclude that working long hours does not necessarily lead to promotion. 

Many people work more hours thinking they will have better outcomes. I would say, test it in your environment with the type of work you do and the corporation. Is working more hours correlated with getting more career results for yourself? Some people live to work, some people work to live. Decide which one you are and manage your time accordingly! 

Do you find it a challenge to balance work and life?

All the time! As an independent consultant, I can decide my own schedule, but I can’t decide how my brain works. I’m the sort of person that when I’m working on a project, I’m thinking about it 100% of the time. So even if I'm not at work, I’m thinking about the things I'm working on. 

A lot of this comes from me being ultimately responsible for myself. If stuff is not getting done, I’m the one who’s not doing it. Being in business for myself, there’s pretty much always stuff that needs doing! It’s more of a challenge to balance work and life in terms of my attention and thinking, but not my time.

According to you, what are the qualities that a Leader or Manager must have? 

Leading and managing are two different things. All you have to do to know they aren’t the same thing is to go ask people tell you about a leader in their life. The majority will probably not give you the name of their manager!

A quality of a good leader is the ability to give clear direction. They must have a strong vision and a clear sense of direction that they can convey to people so that people can make progress on their own. 

Managers understand what people need to get their job done and make sure they have it. It might be schedules, resources or training, it might be protection from the corporation to pursue what they want to do.  

What are your views on evaluating candidates? 

Evaluation should be done before hiring. Decide the skills that are needed for a specific job. If you have hired somebody that doesn’t have the skills to do the job, get them coaching/training or get them out of the job. 

Some people, including myself, like to hire for talent or potential, and train for skill. That’s a legitimate way to go, and if done well, will eventually build a team that has the potential to keep improving as the business becomes more successful. Here, the skill you’re hiring for is … the ability to acquire more skills. If you hire for potential, and the person doesn’t live up to that potential however, then you have a situation to deal with.

Nothing controversial about it! I really believe the purpose of business is to provide people employment, not just to make profit. Throughout history, employment has been about providing jobs and keeping people fed and clothed. If you believe that business is about more than just profit, you need to decide what to do when someone does not have the skills to perform their job. 

What kind of qualities or attributes do you look for in new hires? 

Someone who understands the needs of the job and either has or can acquire the skills necessary for to meet those needs. They know how to use management as a resource but they don’t rely on it to drive the learning process. A self-starter who takes responsibility for their own growth and abilities within whatever the job is.

What do you do when you find there is a disparity between the skills needed for a position and the talent available? 

In a business, if you are paying someone to fulfill a purpose and they aren’t up to the task, you need to have a talk with them. The solution might be to get them training, or moving them to another job. If they can’t do the job, then move on to someone else.

If people don’t have the skills, they don’t need to have the skills, they need to hire someone with the skills. I don’t care how they get the job done, the number of hours, or who does it, I just care that the job is getting done!

For example, I need a project managed and I’m willing to pay $60k/year. I can hire a project manager to take care of it, then that project manager can subcontract out or use online tools to get the job done. It doesn’t matter what he uses as long as the project is managed.

Any final advice you want to say about careers?

It’s always going to be a balance between getting what you want out of life and giving up your time and effort. 

If you can find a way to make your career something deeply satisfying, take it! Keep in mind that it's a series of tradeoffs. It’s not about "do what you love" or "do it for money", The truth is somewhere in between and different for every person. 

Define things that need to be done and get it done without distraction. Some people have a problem like me where they never go home from work because the home is the office. People like me need to “go home” from work. 

For people who have the problem where they can never get work stuff done because of all the home stuff, they need a good division between work and life. 

Tell us something fun about yourself that not many people know? 

I was raised in traveling hippy commune. I often joke that my “rebellion” was going to Harvard Business school.

What do you do in your free time to unwind? 

A lot of the time, I go to the gym. Since I work from home, the only times I get to see other people is when I’m out at the gym. Weirdly, I kind of go to the gym for my social life. 

I’m also really involved in the Arts world, not the fine arts, but more of the participatory arts like Burning Man and theater-related events.

What’s the last thing you watched on TV or book that you read and why did you choose to watch/read it? 

I’m currently reading 2 books and watching 4 TV series! One TV show I’m watching right now is Riverdale. I watch it because I love Archie comics and I found it’s reasonably addictive. Archie Comics was a comic book I read when growing up and it was a very wholesome comic book that they turned into a tv show by making it not wholesome anymore.