As an entrepreneur and CEO of a start-up, the majority of my energies is spent on my company. I am often accused of spending too much time planning for future risks and events, and not focusing on today. What those accusers don’t realize is that I do split my time between the now and the vision of what is needed for tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. It’s not lack of focus on the now, I’m very aware of the now. It’s a lack of focus on anything that is not benefitting my business. That focus comes as a detriment to those around me.
I had forgotten, over this COVID-19 winter of isolation, just how much joy I get when I see forsythia in bloom. Those yellow entrepreneurs of the flower world, first out to announce that winter is soon to end. Then come the crocus, the daffodils, then tulips and azaleas and dogwood. And before you know it, it’s strawberry season, followed by fresh blueberries and soon summer with crepe myrtle in full bloom.
Seeing the flowers of spring always gives my outlook a huge boost. Those flowers also pull my attention back to the personal world that I need to remain connected with.
The importance of changing focus hits home when I am stopped in my tracks by a wildflower that demands my full attention right then. Its presence is fleeting—it might be stepped on, picked, mowed, or eaten, and likely will not be the same if I am given the chance to see it later.
It is the same with people and relationships. When my children were young, they were the flowers that demanded my focus on the now. With them grown, it’s easy to forget myself and everyone else in the millions of details that crowd my desk and my consciousness. The outcome of that indulgence is neglected friends, family and self.
Charlene Walters, in an article for Entrepreneur.com1, writes that the temptation to overwork for entrepreneurs is always there, but cautions that working longer is not usually more productive and if your life is out of balance, you won’t be able to excel in any area.
Steward D. Friedman, in an article for Harvard Business Review’s Leadership and Managing People magazine2, defines life’s “domains” as work, home, community, and self. He conducts workshops to aid individuals perform Total Leadership to achieve what he calls “4-way wins” through pursuing excellence as a leader in all four of these domains. He attributes feelings of unfulfillment to neglecting to bring personal leadership skills to bear in all of life’s domains.
This past year of COVID made me aware of how important each of those areas are. I’ve not been active in my volunteer work due to social isolation. I have not been seeing friends. I have been focused on work and I can’t say that I’ve seen a significant uptick in business because of that additional focus. I can say that my attitude is not what it needs to be for success going forward. I need to reclaim the joy in my step.
Friedman’s Total Leadership approach has caught my attention because it is effective. He reports that satisfaction increased between 20 to 39% in each of the domains with the most significant satisfaction growth found in the domain of self. Performance also increased between 9 to 25% with personal performance seeing the greatest gain. There were no decreases in satisfaction or performance reported!
The approach is straight forward, per Friedman:
First, take a clear view of what you want from and can contribute to each domain of your life, now and in the future, with thoughtful consideration of the people who matter most to you and the expectations you have for one another. Second, design and implement experiments—doing something new for a short period to see how it affects all four domains. If an experiment doesn’t work out, you stop or adjust, and little is lost. If it does work out, it’s a small win; over time these add up so that your overall efforts are focused increasingly on what and who matter most. Either way, you learn more about how to lead in all parts of your life.
I am fortunate to be given gifts of florist shop flowers almost every week. The giver claims that flowers fill a room with color. That is true. However, those flowers walk into my life and recharge my gratitude battery. I usually keep them in the kitchen where I see them frequently. My first experiment towards Total Leadership is a small one—to see if the flowers are able to help me not overwork by reminding me of the giver. I just moved them to my desk where I will see them for most of the hours I am awake today. I’ll be able to watch the peach miniature rose buds open against the backdrop of yellow pompoms and a showy chrysanthemum.
As I write this, I am aware of being very grateful for the plant world, for being able to turn my attention, from the future to the now, and filling me with calm and gratitude. I’m grateful for friends who make multiple visits every year and demand I spent time in the now in non-work pursuits. I’m grateful for the many in my life who care about me.
Will these flowers, now on my desk, succeed in giving me a more balanced life? Time will tell. They already serve as a reminder that I do better work when my life is balanced and I get a chance to refresh and recharge.
Change is hard. But it’s easier when its done in small steps. During this past year, I’ve already incorporated two small life changes that I hope will maintain the health of my eyes—Looking at a distant horizon every hour or so to maintain distance vision after staring at a computer screen and remembering to blink to maintain eye hydration. I’ve also taken a cue from a former colleague who showed me the importance of gratitude in the workplace.
If you have little experiments that you have tried, please share them.