He had been referred to me for executive coaching by his senior executive, a person I had known and worked with for 15+ years. We were to discuss team building, communication, and goal setting.
When the appointed day and time arrived, he called me and we dived into the topics with great gusto. He was interested and asked good questions. He listened well and was genuinely intrigued by my perspective on these subjects.
As we started to wrap up our one hour phone visit, I asked him the following question.
“So, how is the rest of your life going?”
He paused and replied, “This subject is not part of this coaching session. Furthermore, you would never ask my boss that kind of question.”
I replied, “OK. Let’s pause here. Do you know your boss’s cell phone number?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Please call him right now, and ask him if I ever ask him the question, ‘So, how is the rest of your life going?’. I will wait here while you call him.”
He hung up and I waited.
A few minutes later, he called me back.
“I apologize for my response. This is unbelievable. You not only ask him how his life is going. You have met his wife, gone out to dinner with them, and discussed the subject of leadership and organizational change. You have even met his kids. He also said that every year you ask him if he has scheduled his annual physical. You tell him to do this for his family and for his team.”
There was a long pause and then he continued.
“The rest of my life is barely OK. I am burning the candle at both ends. I leave before the kids are up and often get home after they are in bed. My wife is upset with me about the pace of work. I sleep poorly and I am constantly worried. Do you think I should schedule a physical?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I haven’t had one since my high school football physical, and that was a very long time ago.”
“Becoming a leader,” I explained, “who can build and maintain a strong team is hard work. Communicating clearly with this team takes great thought and attention. Setting goals that are actually owned and understood by those who will have to execute them takes time and patience. Burning out is not a good choice personally or professionally. So, yes to the physical, and yes to reprioritizing your life so you do not win at work and lose at home.”
“I like that idea,” he replied. “Let’s schedule another time to visit and I will get things lined up on this end to be checked out by my doctor.”
Three weeks later, he called in for his executive coaching session. As always, I started by asking a question, “What’s going right?”
With great enthusiasm, he replied, “Lots! I went to my doctor and had a physical. I learned that my cholesterol was so high that I was in serious danger of a major heart attack. I am glad we caught that before it changed everything.”
He continued, “I sat down with my wife and we had a big conversation about my work habits and focus. We are rebuilding our family life. And I sat down with my team and we discussed the pace of change and what was realistic. This led into an important discussion about team work and goal setting.”
For the next 45 minutes, we explored leadership, team work, and goal setting at a greater depth than before. As we started to wrap up our one hour phone call, he paused and said, “You didn’t ask me how the rest of my life is going.”
“You are right,” I responded. “So, how is the rest of your life going?”
“Much better. Thanks for asking.”
As we hung up, I thought of a comment by Kevin Cashman from years ago who pointed out that if you want to become a better leader, you have to become a better person. Leadership is not just a work thing. It is a whole life thing and the journey to becoming a better leader is worth every step of the process.
So, how is the rest of your life going?
It is time to answer the question.