Whether you feel in or out of control, it’s probably an illusion. What you choose is what really counts
I’ve always got a lot of satisfaction and motivation from the jobs I’ve done.
Yes, some jobs have been way better than others and, no, I haven’t always enjoyed everything but on the whole I feel I’ve been lucky enough to never have a job that I didn’t feel energised by.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of the term “work-life balance” because, for me at least, I don’t really want the two to be as separate as that phrase implies. I don’t want to have to separate “work” from my “life” because I want meaningful work that is an integral part of my everyday existence. I don’t want to have to switch-off part of who I really am when I’m at work and I don’t want to have to put away my dreams and ambitions about work when I’m not in the office.
Thankfully I’m not the only one who wants meaningful work that they can really throw themselves into. I know this is true, because I’ve coached with lots of other people who are like it too.
But how do you sustain this intensity? How do you have work that you can really give yourself to, but also not lose sight of why you’re actually doing that?
The people I’ve coached with who have solved this, do actually go for something you could describe as a kind of “balance”. However, for them it doesn’t seem to be about work-life balance. Instead, I think it’s about two or three different but important kinds of balance:
1. Don’t try to have all your impact in one place.
Whatever the meaning is that you find in your work, whatever it is that you’re here to give to the world, spread it around a bit. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If all of your life-purpose goes into one workplace, you’re at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of that place. And you also risk your laser focus becoming too bright and hot in one small spot.
2. Think in cycles.
When you step back and take a look, pretty much everything in our world goes in cycles: day-night; Spring-Summer-Autumn-Winter; work-eat-sleep. It’s as if life is all inter-connected sine waves. Nature shows us that there are times to push hard up the slope and there are times to coast easily down the other side. Make sure that your tendency to be always on, always pushing, isn’t getting in the way of your own natural cycle.
3. Raise your head and remember what’s really important.
I’ve written before about how finding purpose is really about finding what we’re good at and doing that (see here). It is possible, however, to get stuck in that virtuous circle of getting even better at what you’re great at, so that you enjoy it and do even more of it. If you’re working really hard because you like being energised by and finding meaning in your work, raise your head from the flywheel long enough to remember that work isn’t the only way to be energised and find meaning. Similarly, if you’re working really hard because you want to give the kids a great future, just remember that working really hard isn’t the only way to do that – and that you might be there just out of habit
A new boss of mine (somebody I liked and respected right from the start) once told me that he now made it a policy to under promise and over-deliver in his first six months in a job. He talked about the expectations that everybody has for you when you start a senior position, especially if you’ve got there because of outstanding performance in your previous role. He also talked about the pressure you might put yourself under, from wanting to make the most of your next great opportunity, to being concerned about keeping your track-record up to scratch.
Since then, I’ve done a lot of coaching with people newly promoted or recently appointed to those kind of jobs. From what I’ve seen, I reckon that my boss was spot-on. Those expectations and the self-pressure are probably two out of three of the main reasons why newly appointed leaders don’t achieve as much as you anticipated.
But the third reason is probably the most important…
Newly appointed leaders can sometimes have a habit of underestimating just how much of their ability to get things done in their old role was down to the depth and strength of their relationships with the people around them.
It seems that it’s not what you know, but neither is it who you know – it’s actually how well you know people.
The depths and strengths of those relationships are like the oil in the engine when it comes to getting things done. You don’t notice when the oil is up to temperature and is at the right level – the engine just works. But take it away and everything grinds to a halt.
So if you’ve got somebody who is relatively new to their position and they’re not delivering as much or as well as you’d hoped, this is the first place to look if you want to coach them. Here are some things to check out:
One of the most frequent times that a medium-sized business will seek out the help of a coach is right at that point when the people who own the business are thinking of stepping-down from its day-to-day management. I’m reminded of the times when business people I know have described the “big gambles” they’ve needed to take to be successful. There’s several such big gambles including: starting-up in the first place, employing your first team of staff, buying or committing to big new premises, expanding to new markets, and many others. One person I know described them each as “an opportunity to bet your house”! Of course, each of those is also something to celebrate and I often suggest that clients regard the decision to step back from the day-to-day running of their business as (just) another opportunity to ‘bet your house’ and something to celebrate!
When I’ve seen this process be successful, here are some of the factors that I reckon were involved in making it work:
1. Start with the end in mind
What do you want to achieve by stepping-back from the day-to-day running of your business? It could be any number of things: from a desire to work less yourself, through to a deep understanding that the business now needs somebody else to take it to the next level.
Imagine a flourishing future scenario, say ten years after you handed over the reins. What positive changes would you want to have seen happen in those ten years; for you personally, for the other owners and for the business itself?
2. Incremental vs Big Bang?
I’ve seen people take both of these options. The ‘Big Bang’ approach is to do the whole stepping-back thing in one go. For example, put a professional management team in place, look for a buy-out/in – any option that gets you and your fellow owners out of the door straight away. The incremental approach is to plan out a sequence of changes that will get the owners out of the business gradually, perhaps starting with the appointment of a professional managing director or even an ops director.
The most important thing is to match the option with your (and the other owners’) style. Look back at those times in the past when you were successful. Did you take a big-bang or an incremental approach?
I believe this is largely a question of personality traits, so you (or someone close to you) should be able to see the patterns in your behaviour. Make sure you play to your strengths.
3 Get the right people on the bus
Experience suggests that this is the time to be really fussy about the person or team you appoint. You’ll have spent a large part of your life building this business, so make sure you carefully consider who you need and invest in them accordingly. Make sure you decide on your Big Bang vs Incremental approach first, and go through the other points outlined here, before you decide on the right kind of person. Building a business is a bit like raising a child. You wouldn’t hand over your child to be looked after by the first/cheapest person you met, would you?
4. Do the Strategic Analysis
There are plenty of tools and techniques to help look at just why your business has been successful. My belief is that it’s essential that you know what has made it work, before you think about handing it over to anyone. Very often, it’s those unconscious factors, the difference that makes the difference, that have led to your success.
It can be a mistake to assume that because you did what came naturally and made your business work, that someone else will also instinctively understand and be able to continue delivering that. Do the strategic analysis, understand at a conscious level what makes your business successful and make sure that you design processes and put in place the right people and other assets to continue that.
5. Step back, but not off
One final thing that makes the whole stepping-back process work well for the owners of a business is to not feel that you have to step-back (or abdicate) entirely. If you have a continued ownership stake, it’s right that you can also (maybe even should also…) continue to have some say in the direction of the business.
You can design whatever arrangement you want, so long as you’ve done steps 1-4 above. Perhaps you’ll decide to restrict your involvement to one of appointing the right people and guiding the strategic direction of the business. Or perhaps you’ll become a kind of ‘ambassadorial’ figure, representing the business to the wider world but not doing anything else. It may be that you become ‘just’ a shareholder, with rights that are exercised only at an AGM. Just make sure that you consciously co-design the relationships and arrangements you’ll have with the people you hand over to. And if you notice that it’s not working – change it