In the run-up to the Democratic party convention this week, I’ve seen a number of profiles of President Barack Obama. Some are fawning, some a lot less so, but most are in agreement on one factual point: Obama has much younger children at home than other recent presidents. He also has a Sheryl Sandberg style approach to seeing them. If he is in town, he will be home and eating dinner with them at 6:30 p.m. If at all possible, he would like not to miss family dinner more than two nights per week — and one can imagine that two nights per week are quickly consumed by various pre-scheduled functions of the presidency. This schedule does not leave a lot of wiggle room.
Washington culture, at least in the popular telling, has long been based on after-hours deal-making. Legislators on different sides of the aisle socialize together. Over drinks (or cigars in a smoky back room) they hammer out a compromise. That is how things get done.
There is some question of whether things get done this way any more. Certainly, people claim there’s less cross-party socializing, and in a 2-party system with the country split 50-50, there may be little room for compromise anyway. For you to win, the other guy has to lose. From Obama’s perspective, why would he spend time he could be hanging out with his family trying to make connections with people he doesn’t think will work with him?
It makes sense. But what if that calculation is wrong? Would a grand bargain on taxes and the budget have been possible if the president had been spending his evenings schmoozing with various congressmen? Party discipline is strong, but people also enjoy the attention of more powerful people, and will do various things to keep it.
This is not a political blog, but I think Obama’s situation is an interesting one to ponder, because it’s a much more high profile version of the dilemma many of us face in our professions. How much after-hours schmoozing is necessary to move ahead and get things done? If we cut ourselves out of the networking in order to be home in the evenings, do we undermine all the hard work we’re doing during the day?
If you think in terms of 168 hours, sometimes it’s possible to work around this dilemma. If you have little kids and stay late at work, maybe you can spend the early mornings with the kids and come in to work a little later. Or if you live close to work, maybe you go home at 5:30, grab dinner, and then head back out to schmooze at 7:30 or 8 (or summon the congressperson to the White House for a drink at that time). You can get creative on the schmoozing. I am a big fan of the power playdate, in which the kids play while you do business with someone who has kids the same age as yours, though I realize this will never be as popular as grabbing a (grown-ups only) drink. You can also remember that networking need not consume every night. Putting your children to bed four nights a week is still doing bedtime duty most nights.
But I do think this is an area of career building that many parents under-invest in. We see the schmoozing as wasted time. But sometimes a little wasted time can make big things happen. What’s your approach to after hours events?
Photo courtesy flickr user BeckyF