With Martin G. Moore

Episode #104

Balancing the Load: Keeping Perspective

Leaders often struggle with their workload, as they move to more senior levels in an organisation.

Hard work is a given if you want to be successful in any field, and I certainly wouldn’t make a case for trying to avoid any of that hard work…it builds resilience and character.

However, it’s sad to see people become myopically focused on work, to the exclusion and detriment of everything else in their lives.

To have a sense of balance, you need to choose where to put your energy, focus, and attention.

How do you maximize the return for the energy you invest into work, so that you can make room for the other things in your life that are arguably important?

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Episode #104 Balancing the Load: Keeping Perspective

Hey there, and welcome to episode 104 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. This week’s episode Balancing the Load: Keeping Perspective. One of the things that I saw frequently during my corporate career was people struggling with their workload as they move to more senior levels in an organisation. Hard work is a given if you want to be successful in any field, and I certainly wouldn’t make a case for trying to avoid any of that hard work. It builds resilience and it builds character. Having said that, it’s sad to see people become myopically focused on their work to the exclusion and detriment of pretty much everything else in their lives. It’s critical to have a sense of balance and to be aware of the choices you’re making at any point. You choose where to put your energy, focus and attention. So you want it to be in the right place, right?

If you put your energy into the right things, you can get the biggest bang for buck with the time you invest. In this episode, I want to help you to work out how to maximise the return for energy that you invest into your work, so that you can make some room for the other stuff in your life, that’s arguably important as well. Health, family, hobbies, and so forth. So we’ll start by asking the question, what is balance? We’ll then explore whose job you’re actually doing. I’ll take a tour through how to set the right expectations and I’ll finish by talking about how to get the best out of what you’ve got. So let’s get into it.

Let’s just agree on one thing now. There is no such thing as work life balance. That’s just a bullshit term. There’s just life and in life, we all have to make choices. We’re typically resource constrained. So in other words, we don’t have unlimited time and pretty much all of us don’t have unlimited money. As I said in the intro, you have to work out where to focus your energy at any given point. It’s the metaphor of the spinning plates. The guy in the circus who gets those long poles and at the end of each pole, he starts a plate spinning. And by the time he’s put a number of plates up there, he might have 10, 12, 15 plates spinning, and he runs from pole to pole giving it momentum so that the plate doesn’t fall off and break. Now for me personally, I can only focus properly on one thing at a time.

And while I’m focusing on that, I tend to put some other things on life support for a little while. When I was running marathons, I was incredibly fit and healthy, but my career was sort of going nowhere. When I focused on my career, my fitness took a dive, and that’s just the way it is for me. The constant juggle, to keep everything going, without letting any one area crash and burn too badly. Now about five years ago, I sustained a debilitating back injury. It was a result of many years of contact sport, running too many miles on hard surfaces, and worst of all, over 30 years of sitting at a desk all day. I was carrying too much weight, and my core strength was almost nonexistent. So I developed bulging discs in my lower back, which put pressure on the nerves in my spinal column.

And I’ve got to tell you, I was seriously hobbling around like an 80 year old. It stopped me from doing a lot of the things in life that I actually enjoyed. Now for me, this was a huge wake up call. I went through a few rounds of unsuccessful physio treatment. And when I was referred up the chain to an excellent sports medicine specialist, he gave me a view of the cold, hard facts. After he saw my MRIs and CT scans, he said, “Mate, if you don’t fix this, your next conversation is going to be with the surgeon”. If YOU don’t fix this. Now here I was looking for medical science to put me back together again. I wasn’t taking accountability for my own health because there was always something else more pressing, that demanded my time. So basically, I just had to stop the excuses.

I did avoid surgery. How did I do it? Well, like anything else, I just had to do the hard work. I started to be more deliberate about my food and alcohol intake. I got consistency back into my exercise regime. I put my diligent attention to doing Pilates exercises every day, gradually building my core strength back to the point where it was better than it was when I was in my twenties. I seriously had a six pack. Well even though I had a little doona over the top of it. Let’s face it, I am in my fifties after all. So after almost 18 months of crippling pain, my back problems were gone in a matter of weeks. Why? Because I changed my focus of attention through necessity. Happy ending, right? Well, let’s fast forward a few years to last week. As many of you know, I’ve been writing my book and concentrating almost exclusively on that for several months.

I’m an early riser and pretty much every day, my feet hit the floor between 4:30 and 5:00 AM. Now while working on my book, I’ve used this part of the day to write because it’s when I faced the least distractions and my brain is at its best. But I’d been neglecting my exercise routine. So last week there I was about to submit the manuscript to my U S publisher and only a week or so before starting the next cohort of Leadership Beyond the Theory, which Em and I talked about in last week’s episode. I decided to take a couple of days off and have a rare round of golf with my wife, Kathy, in between these two critical business commitments. It was a beautiful day on a course we hadn’t played before and we were just having a fantastic time. Then, on the eighth hole, I re-injured my back. Now, even though I’d like to say it was while hitting a 290 yard drive straight down the centre of the fairway, it wasn’t.

I just finished putting out. And when I bent down to pick up my ball from the hole, I twisted awkwardly, and my back gave way. This was the wake up call that I needed. Okay Marty, you’ve got the book done now, so it’s time to get back to that plate that’s just about to fall off the stick. That’s your health and you’re in serious danger of that plate smashing. So here I am relearning the old lesson that’s been coming at me for probably the whole of my adult life. If you lose focus on anything for too long, it falls into disrepair. And some states of disrepair are harder to come back from than others. Now in this case, it’s not a serious injury, but to get my balance back for the next month, I’ve set a few goals. Pilates routine every morning, getting back to the point where I can hold a plank for 10 minutes, and vigorous, cardiovascular exercise, four days a week. I’m going to get a little balance back after being out of balance for just a while.

One of the most time consuming parts of life is our work. For the vast majority of senior leaders and business owners, we tend to try to fit the other things in our life around our work, which is I guess, where that expression came from work life balance. This all starts when we’re promoted to a new role. Our response to that promotion is pretty interesting, because we get little guidance on what to actually do when we go into a new role. It’s almost assumed that we’ll automatically know ourselves. And some of this is our own fault. Let’s face it. We spend time in an interview process convincing those who are hiring us, that we already know what to do. And we generally have poor role models. And we’ll come back to this in a few minutes. We need to learn a critical lesson. And that is how to let go of control.

One of the great leadership paradoxes is that the higher up you go, your accountability increases, but your direct control decreases. Now I know from my experience as a CEO, that it’s impossible to know every decision and action that’s taken three, four, five levels below you. It’s just impossible. Some of those decisions can be mildly disastrous. And if you were there, you’d make a completely different decision, but you’re not. And that leaders is why you get paid the dizzy dollars. Letting go of control as a prerequisite, to being able to spend your time working on the right things, but let’s face it, it’s scary. There’s also the issue of your career identity. I love asking leaders, the question, “How would you describe yourself if I came up to you at a party and asked you what you do for a living?” Even very senior leaders go to their technical background.

I’m an architect. I’m an engineer. I’m a marketing specialist. No, you’re a leader with a background in marketing. Letting go of this can be really challenging because you may feel as though the further away you get from your technical discipline, the more your market value is eroded. Having a more generalist focus can detract from your value as a specialist in your chosen field. But that’s okay. Now to overcome this many leaders resort to micromanaging. It lets you keep your hands on the leavers, but the problem is, it completely demotivates your people. As long as you’re doing their job, you’re not doing your job. I’ve had senior leaders say to me, “If I don’t know how to do it myself, I’m not comfortable”. This is so dangerous. As a leader, you need to know enough to be able to assess someone’s competence, capability, and performance, but there’s no way you can know specifically how to do everyone’s role.

As CEO I used to say to my executives, “If I went head to head with you for your job, I’m sure I wouldn’t get it. You would. I needed a different skillset”. And this is at the heart of being comfortable working at the right level. You want to get some balance back then at least do the job you’re paid to do and don’t spend your time and energy trying to do everyone else’s job for them. But let’s face it, sometimes it’s easier just to roll your sleeves up and do it than it is to manage someone’s performance and to have the tough conversations that are needed to do that.

How do you set the right expectations? Now your boss may be a workaholic, and this can rub off on you pretty quickly, and into the culture. Problem is, not everyone is prepared to dedicate every waking moment to work and you don’t want to scare your talent away. Don’t make your job look undesirable to your best people. There are three critical pieces you need to learn in order to manage this properly.

We’ve already spoken about the need to let go of control. And this one’s hard because the deep, emotional, and psychological ties that bind us to our current behaviour.

Next, you have to be able to clearly define what brings value to your organisational team. Now this is where you need to spend your time and energy. On the big ticket items, not the rats and mice stuff that only has a marginal impact on the delivery of value.

Clearly defining what creates value is the prerequisite to knowing where to make trade offs and concessions with your time. It’s also enormously helpful to your people when they’re not swamped with meaningless work. Now, I guarantee that if you look at your work programme now, the lion’s share of value will come from a small handful of activities. So why spend time, money, and energy, yours and your people’s doing stuff that isn’t high return work? And finally, you have to understand your role in unlocking the value. And that’s not doing the jobs you’re paying other people to do. It’s doing your own.

Peter Drucker said that “The greatest waste of organisational resources is doing really well those things that shouldn’t be done at all”. So focus on delivering the big licks of value.

After this, it comes down to communication and languaging. What gets measured gets managed and what gets rewarded gets done.

So focus your people on the things they need to do to deliver value, and then stand back and do your job. The guarantee I make to people who tell me they don’t have the time to invest in becoming better leaders, if you learn how to work at the right level, you’ll get somewhere between 10% and 20% of your time back every single week. One chief executive who I’m close to, taught me a little while ago that by applying the principles, his whole executive team managed to get 20% of their time back. That’s a full day each week. And as an executive team, they’re challenging that into two half day strategy sessions every single week. Now that’s got to free up some options for you.

Okay, let’s just finish by working out how to get the best out of what you’ve got. You want to get some time back in your life. Well here’s the place to start. You need stronger capability below you. Capability building is a core function of leadership at any level. If you have weak capability, you’ll always feel the need to get control by holding the leavers yourself. But developing people as a leader is key. Many people tend to over-function for their people for one reason or another. But normally it’s because you haven’t got the right base materials. You need the right people to work with. People who understand accountability and the obligations they have individually to perform. It’s not your job to make them successful. It’s your job to lead them to elicit their best performance. They’ll choose how they want to behave and perform, and then you get to respond accordingly. Setting a strong standard for excellence, and then enforcing that standard is the critical part of your job as a leader.

And if people choose not to perform, as they sometimes do, you may need to free them up to be successful in another organisation. If you have the right individuals, it’s much more likely that you’ll get team results without having to intervene yourself and spend your time and energy doing a job that you’re already paying someone else to do. So I say, start there. I know you all have work to do in that regard. Why? Because I always did. And I was probably more diligent than 99% of leaders when it came to performance and talent management. Like I said at the start, I’m not suggesting you ease off on your work and your career. What I am suggesting is if you work on the right things, at the right level, you’ll get the maximum return from the time you do devote to your work. That way, you’ll be much more likely to make room for the other important things in your life without sacrificing one iota of your career aspirations.

In fact, if nothing else, it’s going to force you to be a better leader. And isn’t that what we’re all trying to do here? All right, so that brings us to the end of episode, 104. Thanks so much for joining us. And remember at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally. So please take a few moments to rate and review the podcast, as this enables us to reach even more leaders. I look forward to next week’s episode, Steadying the Ship.

Until then, I know you’ll take every opportunity you can, to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.


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