One of the first things I learned about pursuing personal excellence I found in a book by Robert Kriegel and David Brandt called Sacred Cows Make The Best Burgers: Developing Change-Ready People and Organizations, Warner Books, 1996. In it, the authors wrote that “Overwork doesn’t work.”
On the first day of our annual From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I tell students there are two myths to leadership. First, their job is to come up with all of the answers. Second, their job is to fix everything. And as a Wisconsin executive once told me: “you can’t fix dumb.” Now, I have a third new myth, namely “my job is to get everything done before I rest.” From years of experience and executive coaching, I have learned and witnessed that overwork does not work. We need to learn to take care of ourselves.
Many years ago, I regularly taught at the University of Iowa’s annual summer school for helping professionals. During the faculty orientation for my first year of teaching, I was reminded that we had to grade all of the students and the typical manner to do this was to give them a final exam. Since I was teaching a class on how to teach stress management to patients and clients, I was not sure what I would put on the final exam. Furthermore, I did not really want to fail any one taking a stress management class. It just seemed like bad karma.
So, on the first day, I told them all of them they would all pass the course if they showed up, participated, did the home work and completed the final exam. It sounded like normal University expectations and no one commented. On the end of the first day, I gave them their initial homework assignment: write down 100 things you want to do before you die. The next morning people came in with their “bucket lists” and told me how difficult this assignment was to complete. Most could only write down 20-30 things.
The second day’s homework assignment was to write down the names of everyone who they cared about at this time period. The following morning I asked if they had put their own name on the list. Very few people ever did this. I don’t remember the other two assignment but on the last day of the class I handed out the final exam. It had only one question, “Can a dying person become healthy?” By now, most people were ready for the unexpected. Still, the exam question did cause many people to rethink their perspective.
As all of us know, we are all living and we are all dying. One question is whether or not we are working to live or living to work. Being a part of something bigger than ourself makes a big difference. In the end, we need to give ourselves permission to not live an overworked life.
The second lesson I have learned in the pursuit of personal excellence was from the same book by Robert Kriegel and David Brandt, namely “Don’t plant seeds in hard ground.” We often forget that real change requires real effort. We often forget that working on something to improve it also means working on ways to maintain it. We also often confuse simple and easy. Simple concepts do not always translate into easy execution. Short term results help build long term momentum.
The third lesson is from John C. Maxwell’s book, Winning With People: Discover The People Principles That Work For You Every Time, Nelson Books, 2004, where he writes about “The Satisfaction Principle: In great relationships, the joy of being together is enough.” More and more, I find people in executive positions who have lost their good friends outside of work. They just get too busy to invest in or maintain these relationships. If we seek self-leadership, then we most reallocate time and energy to building great relationships. Everyone should have one to three people outside their family who they can call for support and perspective 24/7.
The fourth lesson was best summarized by James Autry in his book, The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance, Prima Publishing, 2001. As he writes, “Burnout is not a crisis of time, it is a crisis of the spirit.” Many people grasp this perspective instantly and others do not. The later often ask me if this will make a real difference.
My response has always been the same. Listen to the Skin Horse in the book, The Velveteen Rabbit. As Margery Williams Bianco wrote:
"What is REAL?" asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day... "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."
This is so true. I hope this week you can become more real as you pursue personal excellence.
Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257