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Cedric, the chief information officer of a regional software company, sighed with contentment. He had just finished up five hours’ worth of rearranging his office. Everything felt like it was in the perfect spot. “At least for now,” he chuckled to himself. He knew he’d be doing this again in a few months.

“Come in,” he called in response to a knock on his door. He turned around as Benjamin, one of his directors of engineering, came in.

“This, um, looks different,” Benjamin commented uncertainly.

“Every few months, my office starts grating on me. That’s my signal that some adjusting of furniture is in order.”

“Um, great. So, have you looked at that draft of my presentation for the all-hands next week yet?”

“You need that by lunchtime tomorrow, right?”

“Yes, please. That gives me plenty of time to make any adjustments and get it back to you for final review before the meeting.”

“Great. I’m planning on reviewing that first thing in the morning.”

“Um, okay, thanks.” Benjamin stayed where he was, not turning towards the door.

“Was there anything else?” Cedric asked.

Benjamin chewed his lip, not saying anything.

“Benjamin?” Cedric prompted.

“Permission to speak freely, sir?” Benjamin said.

“This isn’t the military,” Cedric smiled. “And yes, I always want you to speak your mind with me. I’ll never get angry at anyone for asking a question.”

Benjamin took a deep breath, then said, “So, you’ve spent work time redecorating? Aren’t you worried about what people are going to say? You have so much to do. How can you justify moving furniture around for even five minutes, let alone the hours all this must have taken?”

“And why am I doing this rather than reviewing your presentation?” Cedric added gently.

Benjamin squirmed a minute, then acknowledged that additional question.

“Let me turn this around,” Cedric said. “What do I pay you to do?”

“Well, a lot of things.”

Benjamin started reeling off all the work on his plate. A few sentences in, Cedric held up his hand. Benjamin faltered to a stop.

“Those are all the tasks you’re working on,” Cedric said. “They’re not what I pay you for.”

“They’re not?” Benjamin asked.

“They’re not. I pay you to help your part of the company do their best work. Everything you just listed are the details involved in helping them do that.”

“Okay, I can see that,” Benjamin said, nodding. “What does that have to do with you taking work time to rearrange your office?”

“How often does one of your engineers request a license for some new tool to help them write better code?”

“All the time.”

“And what’s your response?”

“If they’ve clearly stated the benefit, I approve it; if they haven’t, I ask them to. Sometimes, we discuss alternatives. Usually, I end up approving the purchase. Occasionally, our discussion leads us to decide that the tool isn’t worth the cost.”

“And how often do your engineers ask for better hardware?”

“All the time. And we have the same discussion.”

“And what about bigger monitors?”

“Less often. We’ve already given everybody two giant monitors.”

“And what about different lighting?”

“Never. But the lighting in our office is already amazing. Visitors always comment on that.”

“Would you be surprised to learn we spent three months evaluating lighting before we selected what we have?”

Benjamin blinked. “Three months?”

Cedric nodded confirmation.

“Who’s we?” Benjamin asked.

“The executive team. It was always the first item on the agenda. That, and which desks and chairs to buy, and the colors for the carpet and walls, and so much more.”

Benjamin stared at Cedric unbelievingly. “Why?”

“Because the environment we work in affects the work we produce. The better that environment supports and recharges us, the better we can do amazing things.”

“And that’s why you spent all afternoon reorganizing your office,” Benjamin said slowly, starting to understand.”

“Exactly. I am constantly growing and changing. So, eventually, the environment that used to support me no longer does. And then I take a few hours to make it feel easeful again.”

“And no one complains because they understand?”

“I don’t know that anyone understands. No one has ever asked me about it. Whether they’ve noticed, I don’t know.”

“You still get your work done, and that’s what people care about,” Benjamin noted.

“I always do my best to meet my obligations,” Cedric agreed. “When I feel my environment starting to grate, I schedule time to fix that.”

Benjamin thought about this for a moment. “Can I do this, too? Take work time to move things around in my office? Take time to meditate? Go for a walk?”

“Absolutely. In fact, I expect you to. You have to take care of yourself in order to do your best work.”

“Which is what you pay me for.”

“Which is what I pay you for.”

Benjamin paused, then said, “You might want to tell everyone this. I don’t think they know.”

“You’re right, they might now. Even if they do, reinforcing it can’t hurt. Thank you for the suggestion, Benjamin. I’ll work that into next week’s all-hands.”

“You’re welcome, Cedric. This whole conversation has helped me a lot; I’m glad I could help a little in return.

As Benjamin turned around and left Cedric’s office, he thought, “Cedric sure is different from the other bosses I’ve had. What else does he have to teach me?”

Meanwhile, Cedric was thinking similar thoughts: “What else am I assuming everyone knows that they may not? How can I find out?”

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