A special shout out to Naa Anyele Perbi, my wife, economist-entrepreneur and CEO of Perbi Cubs. It’s my wife’s birthday (October 3), my wife of 15 years and counting, and as I celebrate her it seems to me that the rest of the world could benefit from 4 F’s that are critical in building a lasting marital relationship a.k.a. life partnership. Marriage is tough in and of itself and so starting with the ‘wrong’ partner is literally starting on the wrong foot. Anyele and I have been asked “how do I know for sure this is the right life partner for me?” so many times that we’ve distilled the answer down to a simple 4 F criteria. Of course, you could have 100 characteristics of the (wo)man of your dreams–why not?–but if you get these four wrong, forget the other 96!
Now, this is not just for young(er) people. Increasingly many people are getting married later in life but not just that, stuff happens. There are those who marriages end sooner than they had hoped and choose to remarry–and want to have a partner that will last this time. Here are our four: faith, future, friendship and feelings.
Faith is number one because it drives everything else. I’ll explain: people do not realize that our entire existence and behaviours our shaped, driven and undergirded by values, which in turn are determined by our beliefs (or as some call them, ‘faith assumptions’) which at the very core come from our worldview!
There is a lot of talk about values-based this and values-based that but values are only fruits of the tree; the roots are fundamental beliefs in the fertile soils of worldviews. So what kind of faith do you subscribe to, or no faith? I know people try to cross faiths, like Christian and Muslim marriages, but we really believe it is important to share a common faith because then you have a common worldview, common belief system, and common values which should lead to common behaviours to do life together that lasts, with unnecessary tensions and fight.
The apostle Paul, who incidentally never got married, waxes lyrical about this to the Christ followers in the ancient Greecian city of Corinth. He pulls no punches as he gives it to them straight up: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” For Christians who are true disciples of Christ, the reasons and reasoning I’ve provided above which must’ve informed this command, in additional to spiritual reasons he gives in the text, may be useful to know but obedience nevertheless is the highest value in the kingdom of God. It’s also known as love for God.
You may be two people of the same faith (so values, beliefs and worldview are in sync) but if you are going in two different directions in life, it’s not going to work. First it’s a tension and soon it’s a tear. And this has nothing to do with someone being a ‘bad person’ or the other having ‘no love’ but just because you have two different life purposes that aren’t complimentary let alone synergestic. By future we are talking about purpose compatibility. Two people may have common faith but if they are traveling in two different directions because they were made for two different destinations and destinies, the marriage partnership won’t work. I like the way a friend put it: “we are good; but we’re just not good together.”
Everyone has a specific God-given purpose that must not only be discovered but developed and fully deployed if we are to feel fulfilled. It doesn’t mean both must be doing the same sort of work or in the same field even (all they better if they are). It just means they have the passion and compassion (and perhaps even talents) to contribute to the purpose. Being fulfilled can be described as getting oxygen, and you know how any human being will instinctively fight for air if they are being choked. A life partnership will never work even if you are two people of the same faith yet moving in opposite directions, or towards different destinations and destinies.
It is critical that you discuss the future and truly understand what you are getting involved in during courtship. During courtship, the lips are for talking primarily, not kissing. You can never suck information from the mind of another no matter how much you French kiss a loved one! Decide to go into details about where you’re headed and how you envisage life in the coming years. It is not for nothing the good book inquires, “Can two people walk together unless they agree?”
Friendship is the cornerstone of a lasting relationship, and a good friendship is intentionally formed over time. One of life’s greatest pleasures is friendship. Friendship is wonderful because it is one of the few relationships in life that fosters equality and mutuality. Almost every relationship in the world has a power differential, someone one higher than the other; not so with friendship.
If the creation account is true, then man and woman were made for each other for companionship (friendship) even before parenting for their life’s work (‘future’ above) or procreation. The other thing is that emotions come and go, but friendship endures and transcends the passage of time. Affect(ions) alone cannot always sustain a marriage. Friendship with all it entails is a truly priceless relationship. Life can become monotonous if we do not have some true friends to share it with.
It’s so cute to find an elderly couple who are truly friendships–the body language, the mannerisms. I’ve met many people, especially young ladies, who somehow seem to believe that they will never be able to marry their friends. Au contraire! Marrying your friend is the best decision one could ever make!
Finally, feelings are the icing on the cake of a life partnership that literally lasts a lifetime. Emotions are extremely important and should never be overlooked. They are powerful. They are called e-motions for a reason. They move us. There is a need to feel and this is a requirement for you and me to be exceptionally attracted to our partners. There must be a special thing that draws you to the individual and creates a natural flow between you two. Call it ‘chemistry,’ if you will, or that the person lights your fire. There is a need for connection and a spark between the individuals. It is key because you’ll be waking up by the side this person almost every morning for the rest of your life–you had better get some kick out of that!
There tends to be two extremes when it comes to the role of feelings in choosing a life partner. There’s the feelings don’t matter camp which gets it wrong (of course they do!) as well as the feelings first (or even feelings only) base as well. We absolutely need the feelings to make any life partnership last, but I won’t make them first or foremost. Take a look at Hollywood: more than half of the hunk-ness, über beauty, sexiness and extreme marriage proposals (on helicopters and such) result in divorces within months. Months!
Feelings are important but there aren’t everything. I remember learning 25 years ago when I was a World Vision Youth Ambassador that generally people in the West marry the one they love (have feelings for) while those in the Eastern hemisphere love the one they marry. Even arranged marriages can work if they get the first three F’s right. The fourth ‘F’ can eventually come along. In fact, many of them outlast the so-called “love marriages’ which largely focus on just the fourth ‘F.’
Many people I know have a long list of life partner criteria. Every one of those lists can be divided into two: essentials and desirables; or non-negotiable and negotiable. You can add a whole list of both categories to Faith, Future, Friendship, and Feelings but these four are non-negotiables. You can have an expanded list of 100 criteria but you cannot do without these four–not if you’re serious about a life partner for a lifetime. Ascertain that these 4F’s are in place for a future with your partner that has a lifelong glow and not just a shooting star. The quality of the information you have directly impacts the quality of the decisions you make. You are in charge, therefore, make the best decision. See you at the summit!
Please share your thoughts and experiences too!
Have you ever come across a ‘WANTED’ notice? Have you ever been on one? People can be wanted for good and bad reasons. Today, I’m here to share a WANTED notice with you on behalf of several business owners I get to coach and on my own behalf as a serial entrepreneur, WANTED: INTRAPRENEURS!
This was my passionate call during the final day of a whole week’s orientation and training of two dozen staff of Perbi Cubs Library Services, an evidence-based, cost-effective, literacy-promoting endeavour co-founded by my wife Anyele Perbi and I. This social enterprise has grown to serve 2,000 children in 200 schools and is set to scale some 10 times in the coming new school season (Deo volente) as a result of an innovative digital online library solution we’re partnering with various leading schools to roll out. The ‘problem’ of Covid-19 presented this entrepreneurial opportunity. I challenged our employees to become intrepreneurs. Here’s why.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
First of all who is an entrepreneur? An entrepreneur is simply a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit. Investopedia offers an expanded definition of this as follows: “An entrepreneur is an individual who creates a new business, bearing most of the risks and enjoying most of the rewards. The process of setting up a business is known as entrepreneurship. The entrepreneur is commonly seen as an innovator, a source of new ideas, goods, services, and business/or procedures.” My definition is as simple as this: an entrepreneur is a problem-solver for profit.
Entrepreneurship is certainly not a job, it’s not even a profession or career; it’s a mindset and lifestyle. It is a mindset and lifestyle of taking ownership and risk to innovatively solve problems for profit. Hence employees who think and act like entrepreneurs are called intrapreneurs.
Intrapreneurs are employees who behave like Entrepreneurs. They have a work attitude and style that integrates response-ability, risk-taking, ownership, innovation (ROI). I like the acronym ROI because intrapreneurs really provide the best Return on Investment for their employers, business owners and indeed all stakeholders. The first written use of the term ‘intrapreneur’ appeared in a 1978 paper by Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot entitled Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship but prior to that the poster child for intrapreneurship had been Art Fry of the 3M company, four years before (I shall summarize his story shortly). The Pinchots’ first book, Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur (1985), presented an expansion of the intrapreneurship concept where they defined intrapreneurs as “dreamers who do. Those who take responsibility for creating an innovation of any kind within an organization.”
Here’s a more elaborate definition of Intrapreneurs by Jordan Daykin in Forbes magazine: “A team of competitive, confident individuals who are committed to innovation, passionate about work and producing higher value for their employer [indeed, all stakeholders]. They will need to have an entrepreneurial spirit, be activators of ideas and have a willingness to take calculated risks. In return for their desire to help the growth of the company over financial reward, they will receive support and resources to help make their ideas a reality.”
ART FRY THE INTRAPRENEURSHIP POSTER CHILD
Today, it’s hard to avoid 3M products, especially those sticky notes of theirs. The company is worth $5 billion with a recurring spot on the enviable Fortune 500 list but what most people don’t know is that its success is largely one of the power of intrapreneurship. In 1968, a 3M engineering employee called Art Fry attended a seminar given by another 3M scientist, Spencer Silver, on a unique adhesive the latter had developed. This innovation had an unusual molecular structure that gave it the unique characteristic of being strong enough to cling to objects but weak enough to allow for only a temporary, non-damaging bond. It is reported that the scientific community didn’t take Silver seriously and he himself was still searching for a marketable use of his invention.
As the legend goes, Fry sang in his church choir on nights, and he used slips of paper to mark the pages of his workbook. When the book was opened, however, the makeshift bookmarks often moved around or fell out altogether defeating the whole point. On a Sunday in 1973, it occurred to him that Dr. Silver’s adhesive could be put to use in creating a better bookmark. If it could be coated on paper, Silver’s adhesive would hold a bookmark in place without damaging the page on which it was placed. Being the intrapreneur that he was, the next day, Fry requested a sample of the adhesive and began experimenting with it, coating only one edge of the paper so that the portion extending from a book would not be sticky. Fry experimented with writing notes to his boss, which broadened his original concept into the innovative Post-it Note product.
In 1978, 3M marketed the sticky notes under the name “Press ‘n Peel.” Two years later, after sampling in 11 states across the country, 3M officially released the first Post-it Notes. They were a massive success right away, resulting in over $2 million in sales after only a year on the marketplace.
IF YOU DO GOOD…
The company 3M isn’t the sole beneficiary of Fry’s intrapreneurship. Time and space wouldn’t allow me to list all the accolades and achievements of Art Fry as a result of his intrapreneurship. As the saying goes, “If you do good, you do it for yourself, really.” Things have a way of coming back to us, don’t they? What we sow, we reap. In return for their desire to help the growth of the company over financial reward, not only do entrepreneurs “receive support and resources to help make their ideas a reality” (as Daykin says above and the Fry-3M story shows), they also obtain skills for their own concurrent or future enterprises, they can expect that others would treat them and their businesses the way they treated another’s. Intrapreneurs are singled out for extraordinary opportunities (I’ve done that for several people) and can always come back for referrals and recommendations from their managers/leaders/business owners. Above all, if you do good, you do it not only for yourself but also for your God. Then His kingdom will come more fully on earth as it is in Heaven.
“THIS IS MY FATHER’S WORLD”
The Good Book exhorts all and sundry, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” That is more than stewardship, I think. That is ownership right there. Taking ownership of the work one does not because they are owner per se, but because their Father in Heaven owns all things. “For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.”
Sadly, I’ve heard people in Ghana who should know better, questioning a diligent and passionate worker taking risk and ownership and being innovative, an intrapreneur, as follows: “Adɛn? Adwuma no ɛyɛ wo papa dea?” To wit, “Why this hard work? Is this enterprise/organization your father’s?” The answer is supposed to be an apparent “no” but what if everyone of us who calls God “Father” responds, “Ampa! ɛyɛ me papa dea!” Meaning, “Yes! Of course! It is my Father’s. This is my Father’s world.”
LET’S DO THIS!
I wish everyone was an entrepreneur like my wife and me since there are enough problems to be solved in our world and profit to be made as a reward. Besides, I encourage people to separate their profession from their business, meaning, the fact that they have some employment or career does not exclude them from owning a side business for multiple streams of income (as long as you’re doing excellently well in your regular job and not robbing Peter to pay Paul). But the reality is that not everyone will be a business owner. Indeed, everyone doesn’t have to be an entrepreneur but everyone can (and must) be entrepreneurial, especially as an intrapreneur.
Life is lived forwards but understood backwards. That sounds very much like one of those witty sayings from my bank of African proverbs but the person I read that from first was the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. In his own mother tongue “Livet skal forstaas baglaens, men leves forlaens,” translates into “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
In a recent conversation with my brother and friend of nearly two decades, Rev. Albert Ocran, he prophetically said to me without butting an eyelid that when he looks at my entire life it can be distilled into one word: leadership, to which I replied with my head bopping like an agama lizard, “That is true, you are right!” (By the way I have given him the title, “Thought Distiller.” He’s doing a wonderful job distilling the life lessons of several leaders in society for the general public on his Springboard Road Show.) Albert is one of the few who ‘gets’ my life, probably because he is an ardent believer in something he himself calls “convergence.”
I have been accused by some of living a scattered life (“all over the place”) while others have expressed concern I might not make much of a dent in the universe (impact) because of how spread my life has been (and continues to be?). I have been a medical doctor, award-winning speaker, punching preacher, best-selling author, publisher, military officer, U.N. peacekeeper, cross-cultural pastor, serial entrepreneur from media to real estate to education, president & CEO, television presenter, financial advisor, investment consultant, founder of many things, corporate trainer, life and executive coach, inspirational teacher, lived in three countries over the last dozen years and served in 45 … So who are you, what are you? people wonder. Although I owe no one an explanation except the One who gave me life, permit me to share two pivotal paradigms, nay convictions, with you.
(1) META-PERFORMANCE–Milking Your Full Potential
First of all, there is the notion of meta-performance. Many of us never explore or exploit our full potential because we get stuck in being the best at something in comparison with others, rather than constantly exploring the question, “What am I capable of?” There is no reason to be stuck in a hospital because I was trained as a medic when I have the ability to author books as well, something the majority of my med school mates may not have the aptitude for. Shall I therefore not write because other doctors cannot? I resolved when I was but a youth, as entrenched it in my personal mission statement, to “die empty.” To die having utilized and exhausted every gift in me, but now I add, “within my God-given limits.” After all, like you I have only one life to live and have only 24 hours in each day. Besides, with a wife and seven children, family is a blessing which comes with its own limits as well.
Suffice it to say I encourage the youth in particular to spend their first 30-35 years at least, exploring and exploring and exploring until they finally hit oil. Don’t forget the parable of the talents: one was given five, another three, and a third servant, one, each according to their ability. Why should the chap with five compare himself with the person with one and underperform? As has been wisely said, the talents we have are God’s gift to us; what we do with them is our gift back to God. Meta-perform!
(2) CONVERGENCE–Connecting the Dots
But I digress, which is funny because the point I want to make next is about (a word that Albert loves): CONVERGENCE. We all must get to a point in our lives when we can look back and connect the dots, and see that all these seemingly scattered and unrelated aspects of our lives, including the lows and the pains, can all really come together to make one huge statement and result in an integrated life. The reason Kierkegaard’s words speak profoundly to me is that when I reflect on my seeming scatteredness, when I look backwards, I see that the many different-coloured strands have a common thread: leadership. That is why I doff my hat to Albert for being so spot on. I have not been called to be a medical doctor or military officer or media man or investment guru per se but a leader in every sphere I’ve been given talent and opportunity in. Is leadership a career? If it is then, then that’s mine. If it isn’t then I do not have a career.
The late Apple founder Steve Jobs put this Kierkegaard philosophy of looking backwards and Albert Ocran’s love of convergence into a very powerful statement: “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
This issue speaks to a powerful leadership practice we must all have: reflection. Reflection, really, is the rhythm of leadership. There is no understanding without reflection. Unless we lead from a place of pause, we will not be able to distill the lessons in life. Not only will we miss out on ourselves, others and even life itself but also our lives and leadership will be shallow. Take it from a guy who is almost always busy running around and has been described by my nonagenarian mentor in Britain as peripatetic. I’m learning more and more to be in solitude and silence, otherwise there is no understanding of the life lived or the thrill of the act of connecting the dots. I would wish that we all, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, can say after our own backwards reflection, “later the true significance of what happened would inevitably become clear to me, and I would be numb with surprise.”
The fuller philosophy of Kierkegaard is this: “It is really true what philosophy tells us, that life must be understood backwards. But with this, one forgets the second proposition, that it must be lived forwards. A proposition which, the more it is subjected to careful thought, the more it ends up concluding precisely that life at any given moment cannot really ever be fully understood; exactly because there is no single moment where time stops completely in order for me to take position [to do this]: going backwards.” Don’t keep looking only in the rearview mirror, that’s not where you’re going. But surely do look into it momentarily from time to time for the wherewithal to live and lead forwards with meaning. Life is lived forwards but understood backwards.
First of all, my wife (Anyele) and I humbly acknowledge that “15 years is nothing” compared to our parents’ (both sets) over 40 years of marriage and the 70 years some awesome couples we’ve come across have done! Wow! That’s incredible! Yet at the same time “15 years is something” considering that we’ve also come across marriages that were done, finished, caput, in months. In our short 15 years we’ve seen so many do shorter than five years, let alone 10. Fifteen? We’ve tried. We’ve even been used by God to salvage some marriages but have also heartbreakingly seen others dashed right before our eyes despite our efforts.
Secondly, I’m very wary of ‘3 secrets,’ ‘7 keys,’ ’10 ways,’ ’12 steps’ and what have you. So why am I sharing ‘3 Secrets to Lasting 15 Years in Marriage’? Well, Anyele and I just clocked 15 years on August 12, 2021. For us, the bottomline is God’s grace–and right from the start Prof. Kwaku Osam of Legon Interdenominational Church had told us during our pre-marital counselling sessions that “there is a grace for marriage” and we claimed it–in good measure. Maybe it’s true after all, but the thing about grace is that it works; and it has to be worked. Allow me to share three means of that grace for marriage that have made us largely survive (and even thrive in certain specific areas). No, I wouldn’t saddle you with ’15 lessons I have learned in 15 years of marriage’ so be grateful for just three (Lol!).
When we clocked 10 years the main thrust of our marriage lessons thus far was that marriage is the greatest character-forming school ever–even more than med. school. I’ve been to both marriage school and medical school so trust me, I know what I’m talking about! We called it the #1 Marriage Lesson That Nobody Talks About Much. That blog really seemed to resonate with the 50,000 or so it reached within weeks, thanks to social media, and was reproduced on some prominent news agency websites. It made me realize I shouldn’t play down on these key lessons, no matter how few and unwow, no matter how seemingly insignificant, no matter how humble they may be. You might scorn them; they might be life-saving for someone else.
Between year 10 and year 15, we have seen many people get married. Sadly we’ve not only seen many separations first-hand, we’ve witnessed more finalized divorces than within our first 10 years–real people, not just statistics. These three things I’m going to share have been a means of grace for us to do 15 years, especially the last five: Caring Counsellors, Close Cohorts, Cool Tools.
The most stupid thing I’ve done in marriage has been to not seek professional counselling till after year 10. We certainly have never brought any marital issue to any of our parents–it’s a no, no for many reasons that warrant a whole blog. I’ve come to realize, though, that there are certain issues that can never be well resolved between just the couple without a third wise party who is close enough (caring) yet far enough (outside the cleavage of man and wife) to be able to see clearly and share candidly. The notion, or even culture, that suggests that seeking professional counselling means one is weak or sick is toxic, it kills. Even if one were weak and sick, that’s fine too (everyone is at some point in our frail humanity and wretched world). We have seen people reach out when it was too late to salvage a totally hitherto salvageable situation (in our opinion).
Whether it’s through our conversations, their conferences or media (from books to YouTube videos), we really want to thank God for giving us the benefit of having Pete & Geri Scazzero (see picture above), Gerry & Kathy Kraemer, Carsten & Linda Pellman and indeed Shepherd’s Heart Ministry.
Apart from the listening ear, emphatic heart and vulnerable sharing of these caring counsellors, the ‘cool tools’ we’ll be sharing shortly have largely been learnt from them. An underlying paradigm that has buoyed everything else has been the Scazzeros ramming into our heads and hearts to lead in ministry and the marketplace out of the strength of our marriage, not out of the stress/strain of it–or even the death of it.
Of every single one of the divorces I’ve witnessed at close range, the couple did not have clear, regular, serious mentoring relationships. It’s worse when the man especially submits to no one on earth and is a law onto himself. Ha!
You think the things you’re going through are unique to you until you are vulnerable to share with a close community of others. This must be a close community you can be vulnerable in because you are contemporaries (all in a similar stage in life), and are all truthful, honest and committed to the institution of marriage and the principles that make it work.
On WhatsApp, Anyele and I have labeled that close cohort, “inner circle.” We inspire, encourage, teach, tease, correct, rebuke and hold each other accountable. On occasion we meet in person (see picture above). God bless Nana Yaw & Beth Offei-Awuku, Victor & Esi Obeng, Amos & Evelyn Kevin Annan, and Franklin & Amma Eleblu. Franklin is my best friend, was my best man when we got married and soon after became my brother-in-law too!
“Love your wife, Yaw.”
“OK, thank you very much. I would like to.”
“Just do it! Obey the Bible.”
One thing I like about Westerners is their propensity to develop tools to make life a little easier. The Physics I recall says a tool is something to make work easier, any work, but especially hard work. Marriage is work, hard work. How then do we dare think we can make it without tools? There are many marriages that shouldn’t have ended if only the two involved had some of these cool tools.
This year I decided to run Family Foundations Masterminds and share some of these tools like the Community Temperature Reading, 10/10, Genograming Your Family, Family Vision & Mission Statement, Mapping out Emotional Needs & Action Points etc. Even in fighting, there is a tool to fight cleanly! The Kraemers, Scazzeros and Pellman’s, together with Shepherd’s Heart Ministries have blessed us with all these tools! People, we’ve got to invest time, attention and finances in our marriages to obtain and utilize such tools.
On this occasion of our 15th anniversary, it’s really a celebration of Ubuntu–we are because YOU are. Anyele and Yaw will have no marriage but for the community of caring counsellors and close cohorts with cool tools. We’ve not made it because we’re super smart, über skilled and have impeccable character. No. We feel overwhelmingly thankful for the cool tools and community of counsellors and cohorts–three secrets to lasting 15 years (and more) in marriage.
PS. You may find a seven-minute video of the essence of this article here.
Earlier this year, my homeland Ghana was in the news again, trending on social media for all the wrong reasons. Citizens were tired of apparently failed campaign promises and mounting socioeconomic challenges from illegal mining destroying our ecology to pot holes, no, man holes, in our streets. All of these complaints were bundled together in a #FixTheCountry campaign that made a dent in Twittersphere. Some ill-advised government sympathizers then began a #FixYourself counter-tweet, which only added insult to injury. A much more compassionate and smarter response, which might’ve calmed nerves, would’ve been #LetUsFixItTogether but be that as it may, as a student of leadership let me show you how both sides got it wrong in the first place.
There are officially over 360 definitions of leadership. The simplest yet most profound one that makes the point I seek is this: a leader is a Person who influences People to achieve a shared noble Purpose. Although there are three ‘P’ players in this equation, the tendency for most, and not just Ghanaians, is to focus on the third ‘P’ (Purpose), in this case the country that needs fixing. That makes sense because it is often what pinches and the thing we would’ve been sweet-talked about during the animated political campaigning prior to elections. So the citizenry said #FixThePurpose and what some government functionaries did was to then shift what needed fixing to the second ‘P,’ the people i.e. #FixThePeople.
As I prepared to speak to alumni of the Central Leadership Programme a couple of weeks ago on ‘The Impact a Transformed Leader Can Make‘ it dawned upon me heavily that while both sides of the hashtags might bee sincere, they are both sincerely wrong. The most important ‘P’ that fixes the other two ‘Ps’ is the Person of a leader! We can cry #FixTheCountry all year long and hear a minor counter-chorus of #FixYourself all year round but until the primary hashtag and passionate focus becomes #FixTheLeaders, it’s all a waste of time, energy and a whole lot of other scarce resources!
PRINCIPLES AT WORK
You might not like what I’m saying, or even not believe in it, but the thing with principles is that they are timeless, universal truths that don’t care a hoot what you and I value. As the famous director of the 1956 epic movie The Ten Commandments said, we cannot break commandments, we can only break ourselves against them. Until our leaders are transformed, the people will not be transformed, neither will the situations that need transformation. In other words, until and unless the leaders are fixed, the people will not be fixed and the problems will not be fixed. It doesn’t matter how sincere and passionate we are about the latter two, we would ironically only be breaking ourselves against leadership principles, rather than fixing anything.
In transformational leadership, the following principles hold true:
Principle #1: Transformational Leaders are transformed first, then their community (from family to town/city to district to region to country and continent)
Principle #2: The Person (of a Leader) gets fixed first, then the People, before the Purpose
Principle #3: Only deeply transformed leaders can deeply transform society.
PORTRAITS OF THE POINT
In my talk, I shared examples of the impact transformed leaders have had on society, irrespective of the era, whether 2,000 years ago like Zacchaeus, 200 years ago like William Wilberforce or barely 20 years ago like Nelson Mandela. When Zacchaeus, the short and filthy rich chief tax collector, encountered the rabbi Jesus Christ, he was transformed. That’s what led to his unforced famous declaration: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
What do you suppose was Zacchaeus’ impact as a transformed tax leader (say, as the head of the Ghana Revenue Authority)? If every African politician since 1957 said and did similarly, not only will we hardly have the poor amongst us, our socioeconomic indicators will drastically improve overnight as Swiss banks and vaults are emptied swiftly! That’s the impact a transformed leader (#FixedLeader) can make in transforming a people and a context. This brings to the freedom two more faith-based transformational principles: #4 No one can truly encounter the transformational Jesus and not be transformed and #5 No one can be truly transformed by the transformational Jesus and not transform society.
These principles are again exhibited in the modern story of William Wilberforce and the contemporary biography of Nelson Mandela. You might want to check out the video of the said talk to appreciate how the transformative societal impact of both, also came from the fountain of their personal transformation as leaders. For Mandela, see the quote below that summarizes well his transformation and transformative leadership:
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki makes the point for me about fixing leaders first to get the product in society we want in this video. He challenges incumbent African presidents as follows: for whatever kind of Africa we want, the question is, “what sort of leadership do you produce to get that kind of result?”
It’s easy to be impressed by Wilberforce’s purpose, which he influenced thousands to share in: ““God almighty has set before me two great objects: the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” But what you might not know is that his wasn’t always a noble story. Although young and gifted, his biographer Eric Metaxas wondered, “But to what would he rise? For beyond making it to Parliament and succeeding there …he had no dreams. He was ambitious and he was talented, but he was also directionless.” Years later Wilberforce himself remarked, “The first years I was in Parliament I did nothing—nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object.” What changed everything and began a life-long pursuit of the abolition of the slave trade and emancipation was how all that pre-occupation with himself, his status and ‘success’ began to change in 1784 (at 25) when he started to explore the religious faith of his youth. Again, the transformed Person he became, influenced a People to transform, and together they transformed and reformed the world!
Citizens are powerful. “Power to the people,” was the mantra in the revolutionary days of the 1980s in Ghana. I was a only a lad but I still remember. And it is true. But leadership is incredibly important, as everything rises and falls on it. True, citizens (People) can use their thumbs to vote leaders (Persons) in and out of office and press their demands on them. True, citizens can campaign ad nauseam about the plights and dreams (Purpose) that matter. All I’m asking is that if principles are true and cannot be broken, then our strongest and loudest campaign should be #FixTheLeaders. If we do, the people will be fixed (#FixYourself) and so will the country (#FixTheCountry). There’s no other way around this. If we do not go this route, come 100 years from now, those two #FixTheCountry and #FixYourself hashtags will still be trending. We would only have have successfully recycled unfixed leaders of fixed colours every four years while the country itself remains unfixed. Leaders must fix themselves first, then serve and influence the people to be fixed and together, fix the country.
As someone with an advanced degree in leadership and being a leadership practitioner across various industries and on every continent, I do reckon that this issue is nuanced. It takes an entire ‘leadership ecosystem’ and multi-dimensional, multi-directional processes. Yes, I agree there has to be 360 degree leadership. We can play around with all the possible permutations there are but we fool ourselves without this primary transformed/transformational leader —> transforming people —> transformed society piece. It is akin to what will be referred to in Chemistry as ‘the rate determining step.’ If that (#FixTheLeaders) doesn’t happen and in ample time and measure, we will still be arguing about #FixTheCountry and #FixYourself 100 years hence. We’re in a fix (pun intended).
“Can you go beyond high performance?” That’s a penetrating question Jason Jaggard, founder and CEO of the executive coaching firm Novus Global, asks in his powerful and popular article that bears that title. My good friend and StrengthsFinder coach, Dan Leffelaar, who is COO and partner at Novus Global, had exposed me to the company after he joined. Later he would introduce me to one of their very competent coaches, Joseph Thompson. It was Joseph who then drew my attention to this article even before we would have our first formal coaching session. By the way, I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating, never hire a coach who doesn’t have a coach!
DIFFERENTIATION–OR WHATEVER YOU CALL IT
It is not uncommon for managers to categorize workers in the marketplace into three: low performers, performers and high performers. Over a decade ago, I remember reading about this idea from long time General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s book Winning. He called it differentiation, separating the sheep from the goats. According to Jack, differentiation is a process that requires managers to assess their employees and separate them into three categories in terms of top performance: top 20 percent, middle 70, and bottom 10. Then—and this is key—it requires managers to act on that distinction.
Whatever different percentages one uses to divide the three levels (and some just use the Pareto principle to divide the top 20% from the remaining 80%), the questions the people in each band ask themselves that result in their kind of performance are intriguing:
- Low Performers–“What is the least we can do to get by–and not get caught?”
- Performers–“How can we be good at our job?”
- High Performers–“How can we be the best?”
Often the morale of the story is “be the best,” be a high performer. Or, in the precious words of my dad’s alma mater (in Latin), Vel primus vel cum primis. To wit: either the first or with the first. But that is precisely the problem. High performers typically stop growing because they feel (or are made to feel) they are the best, or among the best, and have hit their peak when that is far from the truth! That’s the challenge of comparing ourselves to others instead of to our own potential. Don’t forget the saying that “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” What is high performance about one eye just because everyone else you’re compared with is blind?
In fact, not only does Jason point out two common mistakes of high performers here but Novus Global as a practice firmly believes “attracting and retaining high-performers is a mistake and doing so creates a predictable set of problems.” You probably have met a lot of high performers who are still unhappy. Barring greed and envy, could Abraham Maslow’s observation be the cause? “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”
So “can one go beyond high performance?” remains the question. “What comes after high performance?” I’m glad you asked. “If your team doesn’t have a clear and compelling answer to the question “What comes after high performance?” then you absolutely have an unnecessary cap on the possibilities of your leadership and the impact of your organization,” says Jason. The answer lies in a word he’s coined: meta-performance. And this is “meta” is not like “meta-data” but “meta” as in “metamorphosis,” like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. A meta-performer isn’t committed to being the best (“how dull,” Jason says)… a meta-performer is committed to constantly exploring capabilities.
Unlike “What is the least we can do to get by–and not get caught?” (Low Performers), “How can we be good at our job?” (Performers) or “How can we be the best?” (High Performers), Meta-Performers ask themselves, “What are we capable of?” That is a potent question in and of itself, but to process that with a competent and caring coach is even more powerful!
I often say to people, I may not have been the best of medical students (I was a low performer) but I was a very good doctor (high performer). But as good a doctor as I was, the question of what I was capable of sent me on a totally different trajectory from my peers, from authoring books and motivational speaking through military experience and peacekeeping with the United Nations, to pastoring, restarting life as a Canadian immigrant and becoming CEO of a number of non-medicine related ventures, some with a budget of a few million dollars.
Meta-performance is akin to what my mentor John C. Maxwell calls The Law of the Rubber Band: Growth Stops When You Lose the Tension Between Where You are and Where You Could Be. The meta-performance life happens somewhere between feeling ‘just right,’ taut enough to be best at tying things up, to tearing up because we fail to embrace our God-given limits. Often times, we are poor judgers of thse book ends, and having a discerning coach to assist on this journey is vital.
“IMPOSSIBLE” ACCORDING TO WHO?
In what area(s) of your life have you lost your stretch and settled? Create some specific means for stretching in these areas of your life. Go back to your 2021 goals and ensure they’re not only S.M.A.R.T. but that they also STRETCH. Remember, “Only a mediocre person is always at his best,” saysW. Somerset Maugham, putting things in a way that hits home, hard. “Ouch,” says the best performers.
Walt Disney used to say, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” I know the feeling, a little bit. Nelson Mandela was right: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” I find it not only a powerful meta-performance question to ask “What am I capable of?” but also in line with that to inquire, “What sort of person must I become to be capable of that?” Then with Almighty God’s help, “just do it,” do the “impossible.”
Here is a list of about 50 kinds of coaching:
❖ Academic Coaching: Helping One Achieve Academic Excellence
❖ ADD/ADHD Coaching: To Understand the Most Common Learning Disorder – Attention Deficit Disorder / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
❖ Alternative Lifestyle Coaching: To Get You Motivated, Strengthen Your Commitment and Re-align Your Goals
❖ Athlete Coaching: To Help Athletes Live a Balanced Life, Both Personally and Professionally
❖ Assessment Coaching: Walking Through Behavioral, Personality and Other Assessments Like the DISC
❖ Bereavement Coaching: Walking Through Painful Events with a Like Mind
❖ Business Coaching: Your Way to Business Success
❖ Career Coaching: Your Way to Fulfilling Your Financial Dreams
❖ Christian Life Coaching: Your Way to Emotional Maturity and Spiritual Fruitfulness
❖ College Entrance Coaching: Helping You Attend the School of your Dreams
❖ Communication Coaching: Opening Up the Link Between People
❖ Conflict Coaching: Working One on One to Achieve Balance
❖ Co-Parenting Coaching: Helping Divorced Parents Create a Positive, Workable Parenting Relationship
❖ Couples Coaching: Improving Communication Between Partners
❖ Creativity Coaching: Creative Struggle is Integral to the Life of the Artist
❖ Divine Purpose Coaching: To Re-Identify and Connect with One’s Centre
❖ Divorce Coaching: Helping People Transition to a New Life
❖ End of Life Coaching: Helping Those Left Behind
❖ Entrepreneur Coaching: For More Than Starting up a New Business
❖ Ethics Coaching: Living with Authenticity
❖ Executive Coaching: Moving the C-Suite On an Up to Take Your Team to the Next Level
❖ Family Coaching: Helping Families Work Through Difficult Issues
❖ Health and Wellness Coaching: Focusing on the Whole Being
❖ Holistic Health Coaching: Finding the Light at the End of the Tunnel and Balancing the Mind, Body and Spirit
❖ Laughter Coaching: To Bring More Lightness and Freedom
❖ Leadership Coaching: Putting You in the Right Direction to Chart the Course for Others
❖ Life Coaching: Your Way to Personal Success
❖ Men’s Empowerment Coaching: Helping Men Succeed with Excellence
❖ Military Transition Coaching: Helping You Adapt to Civilian Life
❖ Motivational Coaching: Helping One Achieve Personal Excellence
❖ Nature Coaching: Helping to Become One with Nature
❖ New Age Coaching: Self-help and New Thought Modalities
❖ Organizational Coaching: Clearing the Way to Clarity and Direction
❖ Parenting Coaching: Helping Parents Communicate and Understand their Children
❖ Pastoral Coaching: Coming Alongside Shepherds of God’s People
❖ Peer Coaching: Coaches Coaching Coaches
❖ Personal Development Coaching: Centers Around the Aspects of One’s Personal life
❖ Personal Finance Coaching: Your Way to Financial Freedom
❖ Physician Coaching: Helping Physicians Find a New Journey
❖ Recovery Coaching: Your Way to Recovering with Success
❖ Relationship Coaching: Building Personal and Professional Relationships
❖ Retirement Coaching: Transitioning to a New Life Stage
❖ Sales Coaching: Your Way to Increased Success and Profitability
❖ Self-Esteem Coaching: Helping People with Feelings of Value and Worth
❖ Singles Coaching: Helping Singles Find Healthy, Loving Relationships
❖ Special Needs Coaching: Helping Disabled Families and Individuals
❖ Spiritual Coaching: Helping People to Connect to the Divine
❖ Stress Management Coaching: Helping People Identify and Reduce Stress
❖ Success Coaching: Your Pathway to Personal and Professional Success
❖ Transitional Coaching: Helping People Through Big Life Changes
❖ Transpersonal Coaching: Finding Your Greatest Potential
❖ Weight Loss Coaching: Discovering New Healthy Lifestyles
❖ Women’s Empowerment Coaching: Encouraging Women to Embrace Their Talents
❖Youth Empowerment Coaching: Encouraging Young People to Discover and Fulfill Their Potential
This list is an adaptation of a list of 52 Life Coaching Niches Working Miracles Everyday by our coaching partner Barbara Wainright. You may go here to download a free copy of the book to discover which coaching niche is right for you!
The first time I heard the story about the little cow, it was from the lips of a millionaire. Gathered in the conference room of some hotel in mid-town Montrèal, this man who had made his money from the financial services industry was urging us on to let go of our little cows, mainly JOBs (which people in his circle called “Just Over Broke”) and go chasing those dreams that will stretch us, pain us but in the end be most gratifying.
Recently, I decided to search online for the story and finally found it, author unknown. Here goes.
The Little Cow – Unkown Author
A master of Wisdom was traveling through the countryside with his apprentice when they came to a small, disheveled shack on a meagre piece of farmland. “See this poor family,” said the Master, “Go see if they will share with us their food.”
“But we have plenty,” said the apprentice.
The master said, “Do as I say.”
The obedient apprentice went to the home. The good farmer and his wife, surrounded by their seven children, came to the door. Their clothes were dirty and in tatters.
“Fair greetings,” said the apprentice, “My Master and I are sojourners and want for food. I’ve come to see if you have any to share.”
The farmer said, “We have little, but what we have we will share.” He walked away, and then returned with a small piece of cheese and a crust of bread. “I am sorry, but we don’t have much.” The apprentice did not want to take their food but did as he had been instructed. “Thank you. Your sacrifice is great.”
“Life is difficult,” the farmer said, “but we get by. And in spite of our poverty, we do have one great blessing.”
“What blessing is that?” asked the apprentice.
“We have a little cow. She provides us milk and cheese, which we eat or sell in the marketplace. It is not much but she provides enough for us to live on.”
The apprentice went back to his Master with the meagre rations and reported what he had learned about the farmer’s plight. The Master of Wisdom said, “I am pleased to hear of their generosity, but I am greatly sorrowed by their circumstance. Before we leave this place, I have one more task for you.”
“Return to the shack and bring back their cow.”
The apprentice did not know why, but he knew his Master to be merciful and wise, so he did as he was told. When he returned with the cow, he said to his Master, “I have done as you commanded. Now what is it that you would do with this cow?”
“See yonder cliffs? Take the cow to the highest crest and push her over.”
The apprentice was stunned. “But Master…”
“Do as I say.” The apprentice sorrowfully obeyed. When he had completed his task, the Master and his apprentice went on their way.
Over the next years, the apprentice grew in mercy and wisdom. But every time he thought back on the visit to the poor farmer’s family, he felt a pang of guilt. One day he decided to go back to the farmer and apologize for what he had done. But when he arrived at the farm, the small shack was gone.
Instead there was a large, fenced villa.
“Oh no,” he cried, “The poor family who was here was driven out by my evil deed.” Determined to learn what had become of the family, he went to the villa and pounded on its great door. A servant answered the door.
“I would like to speak to the master of the house,” the apprentice said.
“As you wish,” said the servant. A moment later a smiling, well-dressed man greeted the apprentice.
“How may I serve you?” the wealthy man asked.
“Pardon me, Sir, but could you tell me what has become of the family who once lived on this land but is no more?”
“I do not know what you speak of,” the man replied, “my family has lived on this land for three generations.”
The apprentice looked at him quizzically. “Many years ago I walked through this valley, where I met a farmer and his seven children. But they were very poor and lived in a small shack.”
“Oh,” the man said smiling, “that was my family. But my children have all grown now and have their own estates.”
The apprentice was astonished. “But you are no longer poor. What happened?”
“God works in mysterious ways,” the man said, smiling. “We had this little cow that provided us with the slimmest of necessities, enough to survive but little more. We suffered but expected no more from life. Then, one day, our little cow wandered off and fell over a cliff. We knew that we would be ruined without her, so we did everything we could to survive. Only then did we discover that we had greater power and abilities than we possibly imagined and never would have found as long as we relied on that cow. What a great blessing from Heaven to have lost our little cow.”
COW & COIN CONCLUSION
Everyone of us has a little cow that stands in the way of fulfilling our full potential. So what’s your little cow? Now imagine a little child who remains tight-fisted over a quarter, a 25-cent coin, when you are eager to give them a $100 bill you’re hiding behind you and encouraging them to ‘open up’ and ‘let go’ of the quarter to receive. They aren’t able to receive the $100 because they would rather keep the little that’s surely in hand than open their palm and risk losing the quarter, although they might very well know that what they could gain might be way better.
You probably have heard it said that often the enemy of the best is the good. What is your little coin or little cow. Let it go; kill it!
This tweet by Rebecca Sloane garnered so many responses last week. And it really ticked me off. It said, “I don’t want a 25 year old life coach. I want a 93 year old to tell me the best way to live my life.” It was sassy and seemed sensible at first sight, on the surface, but I just couldn’t shake it off or let it go scot-free. I’ll tell you why. To be clear, I’m going after the thought; not the person. “Ideas have consequences,” you know.
HUMILITY IS AN ASSET
In the first place, with humility anyone can learn from anyone. Everyone can learn something from anyone. The older can learn from the younger, atheists from people of faith (and vice versa), Christians from Muslims (and vice versa), CEO from new hire etc. This was actually better put by Bill Hybels during one of his Global Leadership Summits I attended: “Armed with enough humility, leaders can learn from anyone.” We can learn from children. Heck, we can even learn from flora and fauna! The greatest teacher that ever lived would place a little child in front of his class and say, “unless you change and become like children…” The good book says, “go and learn from the ant.” With enough humility, everyone can learn something from anyone and anything. Point made.
More substantively, this statement of Rebecca’s is a gross misunderstanding of coaching and as a certified professional coach I would like to set the record straight.
Apart from a number of group coaching sessions I run, I am personally dedicated to about a dozen one-on-one coachees, mainly C-level executives ranging from a CEO in agribusiness to deputy CEOs in mining and banking. How does a trained medical doctor get to coach these leaders in such different fields? Meanwhile, some of my coachees are much more advanced in age than me as well. What do I have to offer them then?
Coaching is an inspiring and empowering process that utilizes cogent questions to draw out and clarify thoughts and desires and facilitates a path and framework for their successful implementation for the growth, success and significance of the coachee. As my friend Barbara Wainright, a certified professional coach and trainer of coaches herself, puts it, “Coaching is about empowering your client by asking questions, facilitating strategic planning and monitoring tactical execution.” That is the number one tool of a coach: questions. In fact, with their penchant for asking question upon question, children would probably make much better coaches than adults with a little training and guidance! Yes, that’s how come a 25-year old can coach the writer of the tweet and anyone else twice or thrice their age.
I know I’ve hit a spot whenever a coachee goes, “good question.” The questions a coach asks bring clarity to one’s thoughts and desires, the coaching process inspires coachees to want to be the best versions of themselves they dream of and provides a framework of accountability to make their own word come true. One of my favourite preambles I love to hear from coaching clients is, “I’m beginning to realize…”
Successful life coaching isn’t about the coach–whether they are a 25-year old novice or a 93-year old veteran. It isn’t about what the coach knows, what they’ve accomplished, or even what they are doing in life. It is all about the client.
In fact, as Ms. Wainright reiterates, “coaching is about empowering your clients to decide for themselves what their goals are. It’s about Socratic Questioning and attentive listening. Coaching is about understanding your client’s needs, goals, desires and life purpose. Coaches help their clients to identify and clearly articulate their goals and dreams. Coaches help their clients to remain accountable and help strategize the action steps required to achieve their objectives.”
COACHING ISN’T COUNSELLING OR CONSULTING
I have been wanting to make these distinctions between coaching, counselling and consulting clear for quite a while as even prospective clients sign up for coaching with me expecting a masterclass or therapy session of sorts. Ms. Sloane’s tweet was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. As a student of Dr. Robert J. Clinton’s work at Fuller Seminary, I am of the opinion that coaching, counselling, and consulting are all types of mentoring (see an earlier blog here). Counselling, consulting and coaching have at least one thing in common: they all require great listening skills.
However, counselling is about helping your client by listening and offering advice and sharing coping skills. Consulting is about having all the answers and solutions to help your client with a specific task (hopefully after listening well). There is some form of mentoring (I’m not sure what to call it, perhaps ‘combo-mentoring’?) that combines coaching, counselling and consulting where the mentor empowers the mentee by asking questions, sharing valuable experiences, giving advice for growth and solutions for success. Strictly speaking, that isn’t life coaching in the purest sense of the art.
As may be obvious to you by now, counselling, consulting, and this combo-mentoring all require one to be significantly knowledgeable about the issues being addressed. That would make Rebecca Sloane’s tweet understandable but coaching on the other hand, requires the ability to ask contemplative questions, listen incarnationally, and ask even more profound follow-up questions till the client finds their own answers and makes their own commitments. Consequently, the coach doesn’t need to even know about the client’s field or have experience in the area of life they want to be coached in to help them. With the others, the professional is the driver; with coaching the client is.
So dear Rebecca, a life coach doesn’t tell you anything, let alone how best to live your life. There are over 50 coaching niches–from life coaching to executive coaching to career coaching. None of them tell you how to live your best life but they will set the table for you and provide a menu of questions for you to figure out what your life meal should comprise of. For sure, find a 93-year old counsellor, consultant or combo-mentor to tell you how best to do life but if it is a coach you’re really looking for, even a 25-year old novice would do. It is about their questions; not their answers. It’s about you; not them.
Even as a boy, I felt there was something not quite right about hardly knowing my dad’s fellow partners and their families at the ‘big four’ accounting firm he worked at. Of course I knew a couple of the names and faces but that was about it. I felt they could organize some social events and such to intentionally bring their families together but hey, what did I know?
In fact, even now I wouldn’t be able to make out the wife of the senior partner when dad was deputy senior partner. The very kind, burly man’s children currently live barely five hours away from my family in the same country (Canada) but we don’t know each other well enough to even give the other an occasional ring. Oh wait, I got to talk to one of them once, when their dad was seriously ill and had been hospitalized in their town, but that’s been about it.
I think what I longed for, even as a boy, was a bit more of work-life integration, without even knowing that was actually ‘a thing’ or that such a term even existed. A feeble attempt at it has become largely known in the corporate space in recent times as “work/life balance” but what I speak of is more profound than that. How can anyone not see that there is a problem pitting “work” against “life” as if life doesn’t encompass work itself as well as one’s personal life, family and community? And it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, work or die, inasmuch as there tends to be many tradeoffs.
BUY ONE, GET THREE FREE!
It’s a no brainer that having a bad home situation can adversely affect your professional performance and vice versa. Also, despite how stringent your personal health routines might be, your community relationships are a significant determinant of your mental and physical health, a 75-year study proves. Life is not as separate as we would like (or like to think). Somehow we know this when it comes to how something negative in one aspect of our life can spill over to botch another aspect but what if I told you that being a great dad can make you a better CEO or that the skills you use in your community can be a life-saver in some work project? Yeah, work/life balance isn’t the way to go; work-life integration is. I’ll tell you why.
Author Stewart Friedman concurs: “From years of studying people in many different settings, I have found that the most successful people are those who can harness the passions and powers of the various parts of their lives, bringing them together to achieve what I call “four-way wins — actions that result in life being better in all four domains.” These four domains Stewart speaks of are illustrated in ‘The Integrated Life’ diagram below. He continues, “My research has shown that there are ways for everyone — from the managers of sales teams, to executives in government agencies, to computer engineers, to florists, to coaches — to achieve professional success without always having to sacrifice the things that matter in their personal lives.”
COVID-19 BLESSING IN DISGUISE
One of the gifts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to not only highlight how important the place we call “home” is, but how it is central to our children’s formal education and our own professional lives. Heck, we’ve even done community, like church, from home! Online. This is perhaps the most physically integrated most people have been in their entire work lives. And those of us who like to keep everything prim and proper with no drama have had a really hard time.
I do a fair bit of social media. I find FaceBook much more integrated in terms of all four aspects of life than say, LinkedIn. Several times, I have seen people literally apologize and “make an excuse” or “make an exception” to post something faith or family-related on LinkedIn. I’ve tried to push those boundaries myself sometimes but it’s a weird, I must say. When I recently shared on LinkedIn that I daily run the daycare at home for the youngest ones of our seven children, I was really honoured to have one of my mentors, Bill George (Harvard business school professor and former CEO of Medtronic), affirm me as follows: “Thank you, Yaw, for being the authentic leader you are.” This must be why: Bill really believes, “For authentic leaders, being true to themselves by being the same person at work that they are at home is a constant test, yet personal fulfillment is their ultimate reward. Doing so will make you a more effective leader in all aspects of life“ (George 2015, 16).
WHERE THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD
At a just-ended eight-week Family Foundations Mastermind I hosted, the prime place of family was underscored over and over again but by the penultimate session we needed to ‘get real.’ How do we do family well while keeping a demanding job, juggling community roles and trying to stay sane? This is where the rubber hits the road.
As I’ve stated before, integrity comes from the Latin root integritas which means whole, entire, undivided. On the other extreme are those who completely separate their professional life from other aspects of their lives. Then there are those who in the name of work/life balance, hop from one of the four parts to the other, trying to “fulfill all righteousness” and tick every box with as little guilt as possible. What I subscribe to and strive for is integration. Bill is blunt: “To lead an integrated life, you need to bring together the major elements of your personal life and professional life, family and friends so you can be the same person in each environment” (159-160).
We’re striving for the word integrated rather than balance. Subtle difference, apparently, but HUGE. Stewart gets it: “The idea I think to replace work/life balance, which treats these categories as independent, is work/life integration. You’re treating yourself whether you’re at work or at play in basically the same way.”
BIG ROCKS FIRST
All the buckets don’t have the same weight. I believe we ought to carry the more important yet not always more urgent buckets of personal and family first, putting the big rocks in first as Stephen Covey would put it, and all the other things will be added to us as well. Easier said than done, but it must be done nonetheless.
My favourite corporate example of this is Nike CEO John Donahoe (former eBay CEO), when he was a consultant with Bain decades ago with a young family. I was most impressed about how he told his client, ”It is important to me to be doing this. I’m committed to working hard, but I can’t be there before 10am.” This is because he insisted on taking his children to school before heading to the client site. The result? Donahoe was amazed that his clients appreciated the choices he was making. “The client responded positively as he appreciated my commitment and contributions even more” he says. “I didn’t have the courage to think about it that way before. There’s an inclination in business to put on a tough exterior to give the impression that you have everything under control” (162).
Bill George reports that “Donahoe learned that the more he integrated his life and embraced his humanity, the more effective he became as a leader … by showing his team and clients his [priorities and] vulnerabilities, he discovered his teams performed better and his client relationships strengthened.” (162)
This is not to say it’s all easy; but it’s worth it–just like med school or doing an MBA. Hear Donahoe: “The struggle is constant, as the trade-offs and choices don’t get any easier as you get older. My personal and professional lives are not a zero-sum trade-off. I have no doubt today that my children have made me a far more effective leader in the workplace. A strong personal life has made the difference” (160).
To be whole (integritas), we need to integrate our personal , family, community and professional lives, not pit one against the other like ‘work/life balance’ suggests. Real life happens were all four meet and they can enhance each other. Indeed, they should. It isn’t easy. How do I know? I’m still trying. So should you. It’s worth it.
In my next blog, I will share a number of practical examples and ideas of how people have made life-work integration happen, and how my family and I have tried to, also.
Friedman, Stewart D. 2014. “What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like.” Harvard Business Review. October 07, 2014.
George, Bill. 2015. Discover your True North. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.