Balancing For Big Shots
The following is an excerpt from my book, “Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day” (2016) Morgan James Publishing. The final chapter is titled, “Balancing For Big Shots.” Here is part of my answer to the question, “How do I balance my life as an executive?”
Selfishness Has A Bad Rep…
Did you know that Winston Churchill took a nap each and everyday while bombs were falling in London during WWII? Applying this habit, a friend of mine who runs a large, very successful law firm does the same thing. Who says it has to be all about billable hours? Sometimes it is about finding balance and alignment.
Just like the phrase “put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others,” you need to take care of yourself if you are going to be an effective CEO. At one point in my life, I quit a big job with thousands of employees. I decided to take a break and skied for 45 days that winter, while also taking my wife and kids to Ireland. After completing my break from work, I realized that my office phone had quit ringing—as though someone had actually unplugged it; this is the reverse of what you experience as a CEO. The higher that you go in an organization, the more people want of you. But the time I took for myself was integral to recharge and rebalance, as I had determined I was quickly losing myself. By taking that personal time, I could continue to lead at a high level.
I believe that giving of one’s self to help others is noble and I greatly admire people who do so. I also believe that if you don’t carve out some free time for family, fun and exercise, you’ll not be as effective in the long run. You’ll eventually burn out and not be able to serve anyone at a high level.
Within my own career, I was able to mix my work with my personal time. As a CEO, it is nearly impossible to separate your work life from your personal life, since we only have one life. If you work in a culture (or would like to build one as such) that allows for flexibility, I suggest that you optimize your time by stopping at the cleaners on the way to lunch, exercising when you feel like it, working after the kids are in bed, taking your spouse on business trips and tack on a day or two for fun, and take a creative attitude to find the all so crucial balance. Furthermore, impart this attitude and practice into your business to show your employees that you not only make work/life balance a priority, but also hope they do as well.
As a CEO, if you are not healthy and able to expertly apply the lessons that you have learned here and elsewhere, you are shortchanging yourself, your shareholders and, most importantly, your family. This means that you have to set boundaries. Within each of our lives, these boundaries may differ. But to get you started, here are a few that have worked for me and my clients:
1. Block out “no appointment” times on your calendar and don’t let your assistant violate them. Leave the office if you must to accomplish this goal.
2. If you just put in two consecutive 18-hour days, enjoy a long morning to read the paper and talk to the kids.
3. When you are the CEO, it isn’t easy to completely shut down on vacations. But how bad is working poolside? When you get back from vacation, take a day at home to catch up on all of the communication that has backed up while you are away. Then when you get back into the office, you’ll be ready to go.
4. In truth, you don’t need to be constantly available. If you are answering calls on a bike ride, you’re cheating yourself of part of the benefit. Throw your mobile phone into a drawer once in awhile.
5. Make sure that you talk to your family or significant other about your three to five year career plans, and discuss how you will balance your work time and family time. Keeping it a secret doesn’t help.
6. If you feel a great deal of guilt, do something about it. If you are guilty about how much you worked in the past, forgive yourself. You did the best with what you knew at the time.
7. You’ll have to set some boundaries with your family as well as your coworkers.
8. A great executive assistant can make you much more effective, eliminate non-productive time from your schedule and, if you give your assistant permission, observe your balance and offer clear and honest feedback.
9. Put showers and a gym in your work environment. A CEO I know is also a Crossfit enthusiast and he has a Crossfit box (gym) complete with instructors on-site. Remember, the Pope put a swimming pool in his summer residence because he liked to swim.
(The Last) Real Lesson: Balance is often where good leaders become great leaders. The reality is that you can only lead as good as you feel and as happy as you are. Balance was the most natural place to finish because I don’t just want you to be a successful CEO; I also want you to have a great life. There is a lot more to life than work, and if you decide to plan and execute the other important levers of your world as well as you do with your business goals, you’ll be kicking up your heels rather than kicking warm cow chips!
Todd coaches CEOs to higher levels of success. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000 people. Todd is the author of, Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing).